How to reduce teacher overload and get it all done
How to stop thinking about school when you're not at school
How to handle an overflowing teacher workload
After much trial and error, below are some of the best habits I adopted that helped me get that bit closer to working contract hours as a teacher:
Your power hour is the time of day when are you at your best mentally. Are you a morning person or an evening person? How can you tell? Well if I told you that you had to write a list of reports for an hour, when would you most likely get it done effectively? Still not sure? Test it out! Give yourself a task that usually takes up a lot of mental energy and experiment working on it during different times of the day. When did you produce the best results? That’s your power hour! For me, it’s the morning (or after a nap). As much as I wish it wasn’t, it just is! I know as much as I’d rather be doing other things, I can work faster and produce the best results when my mind is fresh. When it comes to wanting to only work teacher contract hours, I’m afraid time is not always the problem, it’s often how you use it. So make a list of the tasks you know will ask the most from you and do them in the morning!
If you want to make better use of time to work teacher contract hours, then you need to keep up the flow of what you are doing. That means grouping the same tasks together, for example, grading, photocopying, prepping lessons etc. How much time would you save photocopying everything you needed for the week in one session rather than running back and forth to the copier at various points during the week? This habit will help you get one step closer to only working teacher contract hours.
Another time-saving trick to help you work contract hours as a teacher, is to limit one of the greatest time sucks teachers have, especially now, and that is emails. What I found worked best for me was to resist the temptation to check my emails first thing in the morning as I know that was my most productive time, and quite honestly I did not want to waste my brain power on writing emails and being bogged down with other peoples’ problems (which, let’s be honest, 95% of emails for teachers are problems that need solving!)
So the habit I advise is to check and respond to emails AFTER you have done your power hour tasks. Now, you can check emails more frequently if you want so you are kept up to date with what is going on, but I’d limit actually responding to just one or two sessions a day. I have a whole podcast episode that goes into much more detail about how I manage my emails, so be sure to listen to that if you’d like more help on the topic: episode 144 - how to take control of your email inbox.
Way back in 2017 I started the habit of creating a short power list of 1-3 important things I want to achieve in the day. We all know a teacher’s to-do list can be pages long and seemingly never-ending, so when you look at something like that, it can make productivity wane as you have that resistance knowing it’s a daunting task. Then creeps in procrastination and it’s goodbye free time. For this reason, I suggest you limit your power list to just a few things each day. But it’s also important that they are achievable! There’s no point giving yourself 1 enormous project knowing full well it won’t get done. That just destroys your self-confidence and you will waste a significant amount of time that you will end up having to make up for out of contract hours. Instead, break down projects into small, achievable chunks. The goal is to move the needle forward and not waste the little precious time you have during contract hours at school by procrastinating.
This is just as important as planning your most productive time of the day! Just as you know when you are at your best, you also know when you are not (which is likely at the end of the day when you have given every ounce of your soul). At this time, you know you could be productive. You could squeeze in a 30-minute work session to help you move the needle forward, but if you try and work on a high mental energy task, then you will come across resistance. I mean, think about how *well* you concentrate in meetings after school… I’ve always said they should hold meetings at the start of the day instead of the end, but I digress. Knowing you are not at your most mentally powerful means you have to plan ahead for that. What tasks can you do that don’t take up much brainpower but will still help you get things done and waste less time? If you’re stuck for ideas, you can download a list of “tiny tasks” right here that don't take much brainpower which you can do at the end of the day to help you maximise your time and stick as close as you can to contract hours.
Stop thinking about school when you're not at school! That’s the goal right, but how do you do it? I also created a podcast episode about this which you can listen to here and in it, I talk about how I experimented with training my brain like a puppy. You need to acknowledge that when you are out of contract hours, your brain is reminding you of concerns to be helpful! It’s like an enthusiastic puppy trying to please you and keep you safe, even though you’d rather not know about it! When you think of your brain like a puppy, it almost makes it easier to cope with. The best habit you can try when you struggle to stop thinking about school out of contract hours, is to acknowledge the concern your brain is trying to tell you, write it down, then put it aside and go and spend time on your hobbies or sleep if you’d prefer!
My final habit for helping you stick to working teacher contract hours, is how to tackle your daily tasks. You can use this 4 step DRAG task and that is:
1. DO - what do you HAVE to do, non-negotiable and add it to the urgent list. This includes things such as teaching, attending meetings etc. That’s a designated block of time or task that just has to get done and by you.
2. REVIEW - review or assess what can/cannot wait and decide when you can do those tasks. I know everything might *seem* urgent, but there are always things that can be pushed around if necessary.
3. ASSIGN - you don’t have to do it all alone. Who can you ask to help or delegate tasks? Do you have teaching assistants or colleagues who can help? Can you get the students involved in doing some tasks? You’d be amazed at how much time you can save if you delegate some tasks.
4. GET RID OF IT - this one is empowering! Honestly ask yourself, do you really need to do it? Sometimes B+ work is ok, you don’t have to do it all and right now. So while that display hasn’t been changed in a year and it really could do with being updated, does it *have to* be done? Do you have to create that lesson? Is there a ready-made one for you on TpT for example that will save you hours of time? Get creative and be ruthless here. If it doesn’t have to get done and you are struggling with the amount of out of contract hours you are working, then get rid of it, no guilt. B+ standard is perfectly ok and self-care matters.