In 2015, I heard about a best-selling book on time management by
journalist Lauren Vanderkam entitled ‘I know how she does it’. I bought it.
Fast forward to autumn 2019 and I finally read it.
The irony of this fact is, I assure you, not lost on me.
On reflection, drilling down through all the possible reasons why this book
didn’t get read for a whole four years, I think the actual root reason can be
easily identified as this: I felt I was too busy to read a book that could help
me to be less busy.
If I’d read the book a lot sooner, I would have learned, as Vanderkam did
through extensive research and tracking of hundreds of detailed time logs
from professionals, that most people are not as busy as they think they are.
In fact, she discovered that most of the people she interviewed in high
powered jobs with family responsibilities were themselves surprised by how
many hours in the day they actually had when they broke them down. She
also, perhaps even more importantly, discovered that being ‘so busy’ is at
risk of becoming a badge of honour in some workplaces (the notion being
that if you’re not ridiculously busy then you’re not working hard enough).
Lauren Vanderkam set about proposing other ways of managing, utilising
and viewing time so that it works for you and the facets of your life. Whilst I
thoroughly recommend reading her book, I’ll share with you here my top
takeaways and how we could rethink time management as education
1) Break your time into half hour chunks and track it to see where you
are losing time. This will help you to reclaim time for yourself. A great
example can be time lost in the morning - a simple routine of laying
out clothes and making lunch the night before could gain you half an
hour’s sleep a night - that’s two and a half hours more sleep in a
working week without even trying!
2) Be careful with making presumptions - your colleague who regularly
exits the building at 3.30pm without any books to mark may well
come in early to mark them. They may have preloaded the car at
lunch. They may have developed a refined marking strategy (if this is
the case, talk to them and find out their secret!) But beware of
presuming that they are simply working less than you. Everyone
works differently and we all know when we are most productive. Use
your self-knowledge to your advantage and build a life that suits you.
3) Start to prioritise. Lauren discovered that many of her subjects
decided that they wanted a clean house but got no joy from actually
cleaning - so they hired someone in. They spent money to gain time,
and the old adage really is true that time is money. She also noted
that people with full lives are often better at deciding what is crucial
and what isn’t. For me, attempted perfectionism was always a barrier
to my potential for good time management. Was it nice to have a
typed-up, colour coded parents evening sheet? Of course. Was it a
good use of half an hour when my handwritten sheet did exactly the
same job? Of course not! Look down your list, put your tasks in
priority order, and realise now that not everything will get done.
4) Automate where possible. Regular listeners and readers will know
how passionately I advocate marking schedules - if you aren’t sure
where to start, ask someone to help you figure out how to spread out
your marking commitments (or any other equivalent time-heavy
responsibility you hold). Likewise, keep your detentions on the same
day each week and don’t negotiate with parents/carers and pupils
aside from exceptional circumstances.
Most importantly, Lauren Vanderkam concluded that it is possible to have
enough sleep, a successful work life, a family (in whatever shape or form
that may be for you),hobbies, holidays, home commitments and personal
time. She also concluded that we need to turn the tide on the global
impression that we all need to be tired, stressed and ‘busy’ in order to
prove that we are working to our best.
A final thought - we are modelling life beyond the classroom for our pupils.
They need to know the future challenges, of course, and they need to know
how hard we work for them. But they also need to know that we set
boundaries, have lives, sleep enough, see our families and friends and lead
a life in teaching to which they too could aspire.
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