Tales From the Classroom: The Importance of Time Management

During my first two years of teaching, it seemed as if I had no personal life. The demands of learning the craft required so much of my time and energy that I would often work 12 to 15 hours a day, with little energy or free time left over. I felt stressed and personally unfulfilled. I started to question whether teaching was a viable career for me.

This year—my third—I decided that things would be different. At the beginning of the school year, I made a list detailing what I wanted to accomplish in my personal life. Here’s a sample of what I wrote:

  • Exercise for 30 minutes at least five times a week
  • Spend one weekend day work-free
  • Read one book a month for pleasure
  • Spend 15 minutes (minimum) a day reading the news
  • Attend church every Sunday

This might not sound like a terribly ambitious list, but any early-career teacher can tell you that completing these tasks within the context of the job’s responsibilities would definitely be challenging. As a result, I knew I’d need to make some changes to how I managed my time if I was to make any of this happen—and over the past four months, I’ve found these five strategies pretty effective:

1. Plan your day the night before. Every night, I sit down and make a list of what I need to accomplish the next day. I then create a realistic schedule that lays it all out hour by hour. If something doesn’t fit, I have to decide whether it’s really that important and if so, what else needs to be taken out of the schedule to accommodate it. This only takes 10 to 15 minutes, but it dramatically increases my daily productivity by forcing me to think through what I can realistically accomplish on a daily basis.

2. Focus on what’s important, and de-prioritize what’s not. Take some time to identify the things that aren’t too important and the things that don’t need to be done right away, both professionally and personally. This allows you to make time for the things that you do want to make a priority.

For example, I sat down over this Christmas break and realized that I was spending an incredible amount of time on something I placed a low priority on—grading—but next to no time on a very high-priority item: parental contact. As a result, I’ve worked out several classroom systems to both decrease what I have to grade and grade what I have more quickly. I’ve been able to then take a large chunk of the time I formerly spent grading to make parent phone calls every Wednesday after school.

If this sounds like something you need to do, check out the important/urgent matrix from Covey here.

3. Work when you’re at work, and play when you’re at home. It’s tempting to use free time during the school day to kick back and relax for a few minutes on Netflix or YouTube. But doing so means you’ll have to spend the time later to complete what you’re not doing now. For early-career teachers, this often means losing time from our personal lives. By using work time, you ensure that your work is finished before you go home—so you can truly fulfill your personal goals.

4. Learn how to say no! It can be tempting to take on every new initiative that comes your way, but it can also sap your energy and take away from both your professional and personal happiness.  By December in my first year, I found myself running three different extracurricular activities simply because I hadn’t learned how to effectively say no when an opportunity arose.

Today, I only coach one after-school activity (debate), and although I’m often offered chances to take on more, I remember that by saying no I’m able to better focus on what I’m already doing and do it to the best of my abilities.

5. Think outside the box.  If I find a personal goal challenging to accomplish, I come up with a creative way to make it happen. For example, I realized early on that I wasn’t going to be able to complete my goals of reading one book a month and reading 15 minutes of news a day—I didn’t have the time or mental energy at the end of the day. Instead, I started downloading news podcasts and audio books to listen to while I clean, exercise, or grade. This has enabled me to actually exceed my personal goals for reading in each of the last two months!

So where am I in pursuit of my goals? I’m able to typically work out at least three times a week, and I’m working towards five. My Saturdays are almost always free, and I’m able to make it to church almost every Sunday. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not perfect in the pursuit of my personal goals, but I’m making progress compared to where I was.

If you, like me, are looking for ways to take control of your personal life, I hope some of these strategies might be useful for you. Who knows—they just might save your career!

I’d also like to thank Robbye Good and Embark at new Memphis for connecting me with the time management techniques outlined here!

By Jon Alfuth

Follow Bluff City Education on Twitter @bluffcityed and look for the hashtag #iteachiam and #TNedu to find more of our stories.  Please also like our page on facebook

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8 comments for “Tales From the Classroom: The Importance of Time Management

  1. February 5, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    I have been following your articles and am absolutely convinced that you should be cloned and your replicas placed in every school in Shelby County! Really! Your honesty and candid assessment of our educational climate should be required reading for every teacher and especially every teachet’s boss-where I believe a lot of the problems lie.
    My children are adults now but I am extremely involved with my 5 yr. old grandson’s education. Already I am unhappy about some of the things I see at his school.

    • February 5, 2014 at 10:19 pm

      Thanks for the kind words! If you have any ideas for topics you’d like to see written about especially early childhood education, I’m always open to suggestions!

      • February 6, 2014 at 10:00 am

        Hmm…decided to change my ID…..certainly don’t want the child to be ridiculed.

  2. February 6, 2014 at 7:21 am

    I thought I didn’t have an outside life while I was teaching, but I definitely exceeded your goals. I think you should have more of an outside life than you are aspiring to, even. When I teach again, I plan to really leave at the end of the day, and work on outside projects such as art or writing. If people can raise kids while teaching, I guess I can do that!

    By the way, Peggy Bentley, I wish you would explain further your dissatisfaction. I would bet we can get to the bottom of it, and it will have something to do with standardized testing or developmentally inappropriate education of kindergarten students — which CANNOT be blamed on the teacher. That blame belongs to the state and federal legislature, and I would love to see you and other parents advocate for a developmentally appropriate education.

    Jon Alfuth, as far as squeezing exercise into your life goes, I highly recommend bicycling to work.

    • February 6, 2014 at 8:59 am

      Thanks for the comment Megan. That list was not meant to be exhaustive, I do a ton of stuff outside of that list (such as blogging!) but rather a snapshot of those things that often fall by the wayside because they are low on the priority list. The post was meant to be some suggestions of how to manage you time to get to everything on the list.

      Any suggestions for where to bike? I used to bike all the time in Wisconsin but I question whether or not I’d really enjoy it given the roads around here…

  3. February 7, 2014 at 8:28 am

    Bike to work! I believe you work at Stax; I’ve bicycled there a couple of times in the last few weeks. It’s not too bad. Just take Southern (and a stun gun for any loose dogs!). I bicycle everywhere around here, there are a lot of side streets you can take. Depending on where you live, I would recommend bicycling to a coffee shop or a grocery store once a week, if you’re sure you don’t want to bike to work. Of course, if you’re dead-set against being around cars, there’s always the greenline.

    In my opinion, the roads around here are great for bicycling. I’m comparing it to Nashville, though, which is terrible for bicycling. Wisconsin may have better roads for it, but isn’t it cold a lot of the time there? We have great weather here most of the year.

    I meant that I probably spent an hour a day reading the news (I would get up at 4, though…) an hour at least bicycling (often two) on schooldays, and I probably read a novel every two weeks. I think it’s important for the children that their teachers have a life outside of work; what kind of example of a fulfilled life are you setting for them if you don’t?

    But I’m glad you write blog posts; I certainly didn’t do that, and I know how much time it takes.

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