It’s been a long time since my last blog post – eight months, in fact! – and there have been several reasons for that.
The main reason is that it has been an incredibly tough year. Actually, one of my toughest years, both professionally and personally. Without going too much into it, I found myself in a place of struggle and difficulty that I couldn’t get out of. I was constantly grumpy. I took everything very personally. I was, to be quite honest, somewhere between ‘stressed’ and ‘depressed’.
What made me this way was the intense and overwhelming workload. I was always playing catch up and couldn’t see how I could get on top of it. This led to some absence from work and a series of counselling sessions. Ultimately, there was only one way out of this – I had to do something about it. I re-focused what is important in life and thought about what I need to do make my workload easier.
I started by doing research on ‘productivity’, including a book (and YouTube videos) by David Allen called ‘Getting Things Done‘. I looked at lots of other approaches to increases productivity and as a result have come up with a system that works for me.
So, here is my system…
You could call this using ‘To Do Lists’, which I have used for a long time. They have always been a good way to keep track of what needs doing. However, I have always used them when the workload is too much and so it is difficult to cross things off. One of David Allen’s mantras is:
This has really changed my outlook with To Do Lists. I now have a continuous To Do List all the time!
While doing my research, I also found out about something ‘Bullet Journalling’ which is a very involved approach to keeping a diary and a record of thoughts and ideas. Far too time consuming for my needs, however, one approach that I adopted was the way to use a To Do List:
Obviously, this is complicated, but parts of it have been very useful. Here is what I do…
A simple box for a task. A tick when it is done. An arrow when I need to postpone it. A cross when it is no longer needed.
But, it goes further. In my diary (which I now use ‘religiously’) I have a primary and a secondary set of lists. Which sounds complicated, but it isn’t. On a weekly page, I list jobs that need to be done during the week, without specific deadline. These get ticked off as and when. The next set, is the ‘day-by-day’ system. I make a shorter, more manageable list on a Post-It and only list what must be done on a given day and take into account whether or not it can be done depending on the demands of the day.
Just to make things sound even more complicated, there is another, even more important, element to my ‘To Do Lists’ – when I do them…
Late in an evening. Just before bed. As part of my wind down routine.
This way, I know what I have done in the day and can think ahead to what is feasible tomorrow. Doing it as one of the last things I do also makes sure I have ‘boxed it off’ and then don’t worry about it in my sleep. Obviously, I can begin the list earlier in the day (on a Post It) and continue to add to it, but then finalise it just before bed. The next day, when I get to work, I open my diary and look at my list and begin as much as I can.
This is tough. Teachers have very little time to do anything during the working day. In my timetable this year I have two days a fortnight where I have two frees back-to-back (as well as other frees across the timetable), but that doesn’t always mean I can get a lot done in that time. I always think of office workers, those in business, who have an overwhelming workload – they can (and I know they can’t always, but sometimes they can) cancel everything they are supposed to be doing and focus in on meeting an important deadline, locking themselves away in an office and getting it done.
As teachers, we cannot do that. Firstly, we can’t cancel a class. They’re expecting us and we’re expected to teach them – no matter what. Secondly, our line of work (with people, and especially delicate and fragile young people) means that we have to expect the unexpected. On paper, Tuesday is a straightforward day, this many lessons, this many ‘frees’ and this many books to mark. And then… BANG! An incident… a fight or a Safeguarding concern/disclosure… your whole day is then consumed by something beyond your control.
However, I have had a change of tact this year. I used to arrive between 7am and 7.30 every day and stay until 5pm. I thought this meant I was doing more at work and less at home. I thought this meant I was able to spend more time with my family.
What it actually meant was that I was insanely tired all of the time! I did LOOOOOONG days and this was wearing me down. I would come home grumpy, consumed by the events of the day and not be able to focus on my family for the time I had with them.
So, this year I do things differently. I rarely arrive before 8am and have made every effort to leave just after the bell at 3pm (usually 3.15). This has several benefits. I am at home more. My alarms goes off nearly an hour later. I have been able to pick my son up from school on the odd occasion. I force myself to be more productive during the school day. I have energy for my family when I get home. I see my family in a morning. I am more productive in the work I do of an evening. I am a better teacher. I am a better father. I am a better husband. I am a better human being.
To help this and to keep tabs on what time I leave work, I have been keeping a record in my diary. Below is an example from a typical week. In this week, I had a meeting after school on the Tuesday and the Friday, and I have an after club until 4pm every Thursday. Last year, I would have left school at 4pm at the absolute earliest on the Monday and Wednesday and then it would have been after 5pm on the other days. This year has been different:
I still keep this record (or track this habit, to use Bullet Journal terminology). It is interesting. If I have done a lot of lates one week, I make it my goal to do as many early darts as I can the week after. Leaving before 4pm (and even 3.30) is now a regular occurrence, whereas last year it was a rarity.
Technology as an aid
I love technology. I bought a MacBook in April – the best computer investment I have ever made! It has revolutionised my world. Better productivity, which is nice, but the functionality is brilliant. From a musician’s perspective, the standard software is fantastic and the options are amazing. (GarageBand as a compositional tool for disaffected year 11s is fantastic!).
However, it is my iPad that has had the biggest impact. Using it to quickly video record class performances has been brilliant. Even bigger than that, has been the £8.99 app I bought in October. It has revolutionised my world: workload, marking, assessment for learning, teaching, planning, differentiation… all improved as a result. The app is called iDoceo and basically is a planner (like the one you will use in school on paper) with a markbook, but Digital and with endless add ons. Look it up – you won’t be disappointed! Feel free to contact me about it if you want to know more, I have become an iDoceo Evangelist at school, having done two workshops on it for staff.
Moving into 2017
Here is my ‘To Do List’:
- Be more positive
- Be more productive
- Prioritise – family before work
- Enjoy life!
Short. To the point. Easier said than done!