Less Stress, More Time: Three Tips for Teachers

Most teachers I know wish they had more time — more time to plan, more time to connect with students, more time to do all the important work they must accomplish each day. While it isn’t possible to add more hours, it is possible to use the hours we have more effectively and make a few minor changes that can have a big impact on how we feel about our work-life balance. If you are looking for a few new ways to make the most of every moment in your teaching day, consider these three tips to take back your time and have more energy for the things you love.

Tip 1: Schedule Around Time, Not Tasks

If your daily schedule is filled with an open-ended list of to-do items, you are more likely to spend too long on a single task. Instead, take large tasks and break them into timed sessions. For example, rather that put “grade final tests” in your schedule, commit to several 30-minute blocks of work. This approach is more manageable because time commitments are more concrete — there are only a certain number of hours in a day, and we have to be realistic about how many tasks we can complete each day. Working around time rather than tasks forces us to be more practical about how long we can spend on task completion.

Tip 2: Say Yes to More Activities That Bring You Joy

Research shows that when it comes to how stressed and harried people feel, the kinds of activities they engage in each day matters. For example, in a study on stress, researchers discovered that women were more stressed when they did more than 10 hours of housework a week, while the men in the same study did not experience the same increase in stress. A similar pattern appeared for volunteering: men who volunteered frequently were less depressed, while women who volunteered didn’t seem to experience the same psychological benefits.

Based on participant reporting, researchers determined that men tended to select more enjoyable or satisfying housework and volunteer opportunities. They performed actions that gave them a sense of accomplishment and joy, while the women ended up picking up more repetitive tasks and services that were less inspiring. They concluded that people who engaged in more enjoyable work, even if they worked as much or as more as others, did not feel stress in the same way. So the next time you volunteer, reach for the roles that bring you the most joy — or seek out new opportunities to tap into your passions (so you don’t end up saying “yes” to something less pleasant simply out of a sense of obligation). And while you can’t avoid all unpleasant tasks, make sure to break up your least favorite activities with ones that provide you with a sense of accomplishment. Even if adding a new joyful activity means you’ll be spending more time engaged in tasks, you may end up happier and less stressed as a result of the personal fulfillment it provides.

Tip 3: Create a Great Routine

Try tapping into your brain power! Author Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit explains how our brains are wired to form habits in order to increase efficiency. Once we form a habit, our brains are essentially on “autopilot” — we no longer have to use mental energy to perform the task, which leaves us free to focus on getting other things done. The more habits we build, the more energy we potentially save to use for more meaningful work.

Ready to put the power of habits to work for you? If you don’t already have a morning routine to get yourself out the door with ease or a simple bedtime routine to make sure you get the sleep you need— start there. Then, look at your daily schedule. Where could you create a routine in your classroom or with your students so you could take back some time and mental energy? Try doing an internet search on classroom routines for inspiration! Each routine you can commit to habit can help you feel less stressed!

With these three simple steps, you can take back some of your precious time, feel more productive, and have more energy to accomplish the goals you have for the coming year!