Being Busy or Being Productive

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We all know there are times when we feel very busy and don’t seem to stop moving, but we don’t feel at all productive.  Usually, this is because we are not productive.  Sometimes, we just don’t realise all that we have actually done and we need to remember that.

Teachers often feel overwhelmed by “busy” work.  I’m sure there are other professions that are involved in busy work but I am not a member of those professions so I can’t speak for them. Some teachers are great at creating busy work for themselves.  A good example: I have to mark my students’ homework, copy the cut and paste worksheets, laminate all the word work cards and I absolutely must make all my folders colour coded with matching decorations.  It is work that might make things look good and certainly makes  you look busy but doesn’t always have substance.  It shouldn’t always have top priority.

Many teachers say that the organisation tasks and ensuring their classroom décor is pretty makes everything more efficient and helps them to stay on track when things get hectic.  Please understand that hectic is not the same as busy.  I quite agree.  There are times when we should put in the extra hours to get things looking good.  A small amount of time well spent in organising our work space is often the best way to save time and energy later.  Both of these goals are admirable and reaching them often allows us to keep our sanity at times when it would be easily lost.

My point here, is that lately I have been BUSY.  Some days I have flopped into bed and known that while I may be exhausted I didn’t achieve much.  On those days, I had spent far too much time and energy ticking boxes that others had decided were a priority for me to tick.  Let me try that again.  I was busy, yes, I was moving faster than I should and becoming very tense.  I was working hard to complete tasks that were important to my colleagues or school leaders.  I was doing these things even though I knew they were only important on paper.  I did them because it’s apparently my job.  However, I was not feeling at all fulfilled and it was truly frustrating.

I decided, I no longer wanted to go to bed so frustrated and tired and dreading the work ahead of me.  I decided to prioritise.  I decided to change the criteria that I had been using for assigning priority to activities in my work day.  This isn’t anything all that new.  It isn’t difficult to find advice on how people choose their priorities and then set about getting things done.  It’s called productivity, efficiency, life coaching.  Just Google it, you will see.  After making such decisions, I needed a plan of action.  You can see what others have done in all the corners of the internet and I’m sure you can see productivity hacks from every profession too.  Although, I’m not other people.  This is what I did and it seemed to work for me.

  1. I decided that the most important tasks in my work day were the ones that prepared me to teach my class/es in the best way possible.
  2. I then worked out that communicating with colleagues about my students was the next most important thing for me to do.
  3. I began to prioritise and I stopped punishing myself when I didn’t tick everything off my impossible list.

I love making lists, I’ve always made lists and I still do.  The difference between my old lists and my new lists is that I have both prioritised them and changed how I look at them.

  1. I list everything that is supposed to be done.
  2. I work out what is “urgent” (i.e.  there is a deadline and if it doesn’t have a deadline or a clear reason for doing it then it is probably busy work, in case you were wondering) and what must be done by me.
  3. If it has a deadline and doesn’t need to be done by me (e.g. photocopying or laminating) I delegate it to someone else.
  4. I then work out if it is related to the two vital categories I mentioned above, preparing my lessons or communicating with my colleagues about students.
  5. If it doesn’t fall definitively into those two categories it goes straight to the bottom of the list.  It’s no longer a priority.  Simple as that.

I have to remind you that this may not sit well with your colleagues.  For example, the teacher librarian might think it’s more important for you to return the library books that you borrowed last month, but if you are short on time and long on jobs, it will be okay if those books sit on your desk another day – and it’s okay for you to send a few students to return them on your behalf  Your team leader or line manager might think you should have submitted the certificates for your last 5 years of professional development and your planning documents should be saved into the central file.  But at the end of the day, those jobs can wait.

When I do flop into bed, I think about what I have done instead of what I haven’t.  I smile at the funny thing a student said when they finally understood a new concept.  I remember how a teacher thanked me for the resources I shared with them.  I close my eyes and breathe a sigh of relief that my lessons went well and my students learned something that day.  Of course there will still be the days when someone throws a chair or rips up their homework.  There will be days when a fellow staff member frustrates you because they haven’t checked their emails or printed a student form that you need.  Perhaps we have to remember that our colleagues have different priorities to us.

Sometimes, I would love to post on my blog, but it just isn’t the most important item on my to do list.  Sometimes, it is all I can do to revise the lesson plan and print out the newest exit slips.  Sometimes, it’s more important for my health that I play with my cat.  Sometimes, family comes first.  Sometimes, my top priority is me.  No matter what I choose to put first, I need to accept my choice and relax.

That’s that then.  I shall put away my soapbox and consider what I can tell you that will actually help.

Less is More


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