Time isn’t exactly an easy gift for educators to find or receive these days. Even if you want to be more efficient, it always feels like there’s one more email to answer or another lesson to write. Yet, all the extra hours you put in as an educator isn’t always the best for your mental health and well-being. Teacher burnout is very real, and many districts and organizations are trying to figure out better ways to tackle this issue.
So, what can you do to gain back some much-needed “me” time? Here’s some hacks you can immediately put into practice. Whether it gives you back hours each week or 15 minutes here and there, it will definitely help you start to build a practice to set limits and preserve your personal time.
1. Find free lesson plans.
Most teachers rarely lack ideas or creative projects they want to tackle with their students. But it can take a lot of work to put those ideas into standards-based lesson plans and activities. Instead, give yourself a break from time to time and use free lesson plans instead. Here are many to choose from, including lessons in math, science, STEAM, art, and more. This is one of the quickest ways to give yourself a break and get some time back each week.
2. Discover the power of learning kits.
If you haven’t yet discovered the benefits of learning kits, then now is a great time. These all-in-one kits have everything students need for hands-on learning. You’ll find more than 20 kits available here in subject areas like math, STEAM, science, and art. You can use these for in-class learning, hybrid, or virtual. No more spending long hours prepping the perfect project or activity!
3. Set timers for yourself to be more efficient.
This idea is so simple and so genius at the same time. It can be easy to get overly involved when doing simple tasks like answering a parent’s email. So as you sit down to tackle your inbox (or other activities), use a simple timer like this sand timer to hold yourself accountable. Give a time limit of one, three, or five minutes to get through each one, and then move on. This is a great way to set good habits for yourself a little at a time.
4. Lose your traditional classroom newsletter.
If you find yourself spending way too much time on a classroom newsletters or just dreading it overall, consider turning it into a video update (or a vlog) instead. Just turn your camera on, hit record, and knock out your weekly classroom update in just a few minutes. You can upload it to YouTube (unlisted) and share the link in an email with families. This will definitely save you time, and it’s a lot more personal than a written newsletter anyway.
5. Try holding virtual office hours.
Do you spend a lot of time trying to answer parents or connect with them outside of regular class hours? If so, consider implementing an office hours policy where you’re available virtually at the same time each week. You can even create a sign-up sheet for those who want to attend. Really stress that you’d like families to utilize this resource as much as possible to help you streamline communication. It might mean that you have to set aside after-hours time to account for these hours, but it could actually save you time in the long run.
6. Schedule out your personal time.
If your personal time if important to you, then put it on the calendar and block off the time. Then hold yourself accountable and don’t let other things get scheduled on top of it. For instance, if having time for lunch every day is important for you to take a break and recenter yourself, mark that off and stick to it.
7. Find small ways to combat stress.
Stress—we all have it and we all struggle with how to deal with it. Look for small ways to fight stress every day. Only you know what works best for you. Here’s a teacher planner that specifically tackles stress and gives small reminders and ideas. Whether you use this or something else, keep working on this goal. It’s worth it.
8. Re-evaluate priorities.
It’s funny how our to-do lists always seem to grow instead of shrink. If you find that you’re just trying to do too much, then take a look at your priorities. Does everything on your list really NEED to be done? Is there something you can switch from weekly to bi-weekly? Or is there a different, more time-efficient way, to tackle something? Better yet, if you can get something off your list completely, do it.
9. Discover your most productive time of the day.
Perhaps you’re someone who can get twice as much done in the early part of the day. Or maybe you’re really efficient at night after everyone in your own family has gone to bed. Whatever your most productive time of the day is, capitalize on it. You can get more done in a short amount of time, leaving you more free time each week.
10. Be more efficient by making yourself leave on time.
Whether you’re in a virtual setting or physically at school, give yourself a hard stop with work. Yes, things will always come up that you’ll have to handle. But if you’re finding yourself consistently leaving later and later (or never on time), try to get yourself back on track. It might even help to set an alarm.
11. Have purposeful conversations.
All teachers know how quickly they can go down a rabbit hole when talking to other teachers or even parents. A quick 10-minute conversation quickly morphs into an hour. Be aware of this and try to reign yourself in (or others) so you don’t lose valuable time in your planning time, thus creeping into your personal time.
12. Focus on one task at a time.
Multitasking seems like a good idea, but research shows it can actually reduce productivity. Try closing all those tabs on your browser and just do one thing at a time. Or create a list and then make yourself get through an entire item before starting on the next. It’s so easy to get distracted and remember something you should be doing instead. But if you can make a conscious effort to conquer one task at a time, it’ll save you precious minutes and you’ll be more efficient overall.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with everything going on, but try picking a couple things from the list to try. It’s a positive way to take matters into your own hands and create a better working environment for yourself.