It’s easy to get caught up in the rush of day-to-day tasks. Sometimes, we get so busy that we don’t have time to fully assess what we’re doing or why we’re doing it. We just know it’s a regular task on the checklist. We’ve always done it, so let’s get it done. Unfortunately, this approach can lead to unnecessary effort. It’s important to take time to reflect on our current practices. Self-reflection, while it will take an initial investment of time, can help us fine-tune our day and reduce workload by eliminating unnecessary work or duplication of effort. Here are some questions to consider as you reflect on your current workload and daily practices.
The typical reply to this question is “no,” so if not, what usually gets left off the plate? What are the consequences of not getting this work done? Do you need to reprioritize this task, or can this often missed to-do item be eliminated?
This question can help you identify the biggest stressors in your day. Once you’ve identified these tasks, ask yourself how important they really are. Can they be eliminated, or do you need to find a way to make them more achievable?
Make a list of the tasks that take up the majority of your time. Arrange them in order from most to least important. How far down the list do you usually get before things don’t get done? Can these items be eliminated, or do you need to reprioritize items on your list?
Are you doing the same tasks that someone else is doing? If so, consider teaming up to reduce both of your workloads. A good place to begin looking is with your immediate work team. This may be a grade level, department, or office team.
When we feel overworked and beaten down, it’s easy to punish ourselves by skipping lunch or isolating ourselves in our room to get some extra work done. While this sacrifice may be needed occasionally, staying connected to your work community is important. When we bond together, we can support each other, and through our conversations, we may learn from the efficiencies discovered by others.
Like the previous point, identify those who inspire and lift you up. As humans, we need the positive energy of others, and we can boost our moods and increase our energy by surrounding ourselves with positive people. These positive people are our marigolds.
The more we can collaborate with each other, the more we can divide and minimize our work. This works best in an environment where everyone feels respected and empowered. This collaborative and supportive environment helps facilitate a spirit of sharing the work and supporting each other. Instead of a me first work environment, the driving philosophy becomes we first.
Prioritize your work. Ask: What must get done, what’s nice to get done, and what can be let go? Time is limited, so focus on what is most important first and give yourself permission to let the rest go. Sometimes “nice to do” tasks can become unrealistic and self-imposed burdens. Perhaps put these tasks on a separate list that you might get to later. The Eisenhower Matrix is one approach you can use to prioritize your work.
It’s easy to crash emotionally during a prep period and get very little done. Sometimes an overwhelming list of things to do prevents us from even starting. To overcome this, consider making a short, manageable list of items to get done during a specific period. These smaller, more reasonable goals can help motivate you to action and help you maximize your time.
Skipping a walk to correct a few more papers might seem reasonable, but denying yourself self-care can have negative, long-term impacts. While it might seem counterintuitive on the surface, taking time to care for yourself can help you be more efficient when you do get back to work. A healthy you will likely be more efficient and effective which can, in turn, lead to getting more done in less time.
Create a jar of inspiration or a folder of self-worth where you put things that make you feel good about yourself. This might include a thank you card, an email from a former student, kind words from a parent, or even a piece of art you made. Put these in one place, and take them out when you’re feeling down. They can remind you why you do what you do and help lift your spirits. While this doesn’t reduce your workload, it may improve your mood and make getting work done a bit easier, which eventually does reduce the work that is left to do.
It’s great to have high standards, but don’t let them paralyze you. At times, we must fight off perfectionism and recognize that we’ve done the best we could in the available time. Think about reaching high-quality work as a progression, not a one-time event. Perhaps the first run-through requires you to focus on creating the basics of a good, solid lesson. Then, the next year, you can focus on making it visually look better. On the second and third run-through, you can also use learner responses to inform your revisions. If it didn’t work, you might decide to trash it. There is no sense in wasting time on something that isn’t going to work. By releasing the need to be perfect the first time, you may find that you are much more efficient and intentional about how you are spending your planning time.