Do you feel like your work never ends? Like you just can’t keep up with everything?
Most teachers do. After all, your instructional time is only part of your workday. Then you’ve got a mountain of tests and papers to grade, several meetings to attend, and a classroom that constantly needs to be organized by the next morning. How is a busy teacher supposed to handle it all?
Look no further than these eight time-saving tips to incorporate into your daily routine.
1. Teach classroom expectations.
At the beginning of the year, spend a little extra time explaining class guidelines for requesting to go to the restroom, turning in homework, and asking questions during class. Make sure to enforce policies consistently.
If it’s too late in the year to implement this, that’s okay! Give yourself a fresh start tomorrow. Set your goal for the day to have fewer disruptions than you had the day before. Instead of getting frustrated, use student interruptions as great teachable moments. Practice makes perfect.
2. Stay focused.
Constant interruptions drag out your work. Of course, as a teacher, you’ll never have a completely distraction-free environment—especially in a room full of students. But you can certainly take some steps to minimize interruptions.
When concentrating, put your phone face down or away from your desk to avoid distracting text or email notifications. If you’re at home, shut off the TV and log off social media. These “little” things can drain your time before you notice.
Also, try working in a location that helps you concentrate. Sometimes working near a messy closet or a sink full of dirty dishes can cause our mind to drift towards shoe racks or dish soap rather than the task at hand. Make sure to find a place you can get in the zone.
3. Prioritize tasks.
When looking at your to-do list, order your tasks by importance. Always tackle high-priority things first, even if they will take longer. You’ll feel more accomplished, productive, and less stressed once you can check the important jobs off your list.
4. Finish what you start.
It’s easy to start projects but a lot harder to finish them. Practice this advice: “If you touch it, take care of it.”
Case in point: You might not be able to grade all your students’ essays or tests in one sitting, especially if you have a large class. Grade papers or tests in batches of five or ten, and commit to finishing at least one batch before moving on to something else. This habit eliminates any need to re-grade something because you’ve gotten distracted by an email or a student request.
5. Use the Pomodoro technique.
This time-saving tip is simple but can hugely impact your work day for the better. Start a timer for 25 minutes, work until the timer goes off, and give yourself a 5-minute break. Stretch, eat a snack, get a glass of water. Then, repeat.
Just having the time limit will keep you focused, and you’ll feel more motivated to work when you reward yourself with a break afterwards.
6. Know when you’re overbooked.
Your focus at school is helping your students learn. But it’s easy to commit to more and more other responsibilities—until you don’t have time for the most important things.
Never feel guilty about protecting your family time or your class prep time whenever possible. If a fellow teacher asks you to help decorate their classroom or a parent asks you to tutor their child, don’t feel obligated to say “yes.” Ask yourself, “Will I still have time to prepare for lessons, stay on top of grading, and get the personal time I need?”
If you will, great! But saying “no” sometimes doesn’t make you a bad person, and it’ll help you avoid feeling stressed and overcommitted.
7. Make organization work for you.
Hunting for misplaced papers on a cluttered desk can eat into your time. Designate a place for everything. Invest in classroom storage: trays for homework, filing cabinets for student work, and bins and shelves for classroom supplies.
Color code everything! Different-colored file folders can separate lesson plans, student worksheets, and test/quiz papers. You can even use different-colored trays on your desk for students’ finished, late, or incomplete assignments.
8. Plan ahead.
Try to prepare for lessons the week before. Last-minute work is usually stressful and rarely enjoyable. Do your work in batches, and “act on things once.” That means if you’re preparing one review game, write all of them for the rest of the month.
Before you leave your classroom each day, make a list of the top three things you’ll do the next morning so you can start the day off in a productive mindset.
A few additional considerations
Don’t try to tackle all eight of these tips in one day. Just pick one to work on this week. With some thought and effort every day, you can turn these time-saving tips into habits of your own that will help your busy teacher life be more productive, efficient, and fun!
Here’s one quick tip to save you HOURS writing out seatwork every week in K5 and 1st grade: Seatwork Digital Teaching Aids—$10.70 for K5 and $20.40 for 1st Grade. Instead of writing out seatwork, print it on a small chart, display it on a screen, or put it on a TV monitor.
Spend the time you save on seatwork somewhere else, and feel more prepared in less time.