Time Hacks for Teachers: Reclaiming Your Time

Time Hacks

There never seems to be enough hours in the day. To help, you might turn to time management experts for advice., Unfortunately, they never seem to grasp the life of a music educator. Instead, their tips are designed for people are able to create their own schedule, take hour-long lunch breaks to go to the gym, and take seven hours to prepare for a single hour of being “on.” 

So how do we take leading time management expertise and make it work for our unique career field? How do we reclaim power over our schedule so we can find autonomy and fulfillment? First, we need to reframe the way we look at time. We need to think of it as something that we have control over instead of the other way around. Then we need to develop a clear picture of how we are spending our time so we can take back our lives. 

View Time as Money

We’ve all heard the saying “Time is money.” In order to reframe our view of time, we need to think about it like money. One of the first things we learn in personal finance is that we need to know how much money is going out every month, and exactly where it’s going. We are encouraged to make a budget and to prioritize necessities in that budget. It is important to know where our money is going so that we don’t just throw it away on wasteful purchases that don’t add any value to our lives. 

We are careful with our money because we view it as a precious commodity. 

I would argue that time is an even more precious commodity than money. You can’t save your time for a future date, and you can’t go out and earn more of it. Each moment comes only once, and if we waste it there’s no going back. We each get 168 hours every week. Just like with our money, we want to budget our time in such a way that allows our top priorities to always make it on the calendar. 

In this way, we ensure that we are spending our time wisely and not wasting it. Suddenly those extra fifteen minutes you’ve been longing for will magically appear when you know exactly how you will spend each moment. 

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Prioritize Your Time

You also may have heard that the way you spend your money is a good indicator of what your priorities are. We often say “I don’t have the money for that” when what we really mean is “That’s not a priority.” If your priority is experiences rather than things, you may say “I don’t have the money for that $20 blouse,” then go spend $100 on concert tickets. You really did have the $20, but that wasn’t the priority. 

It’s the same with our time. We often say “I just don’t have time for that,” when what we really mean is “That’s not a priority.” The thing is, what we want to prioritize may not match the way we are currently spending our time, but we’ve allowed “I don’t have time for that” to become an excuse covering our lapse in judgment. 

I might say “I don’t have time to go for a walk today,” then spend 40 minutes flipping through Facebook or watching a show on Netflix. Could I have gone for a walk in 40 minutes? Of course! I had the time, but it wasn’t truly a priority. 

This is a difficult shift to make, because it may require admitting that some things aren’t priorities that we know should be. But when we recognize the truth of the matter, we take back the power over our time. We affirm that we have the right and the ability to decide how we spend our time, and that if something should be a priority, it’s our responsibility to make the time for it.  

For more on these ideas of shifting the way we look at time, check out “168 Hours” by Laura Vanderkamp.

How Do I Spend My Time?

If we want to make changes to the way we spend our time, we have to know what our time use already looks like. It may seem like a good idea to sit down and write down how you think you spend your time for a quick start. Unfortunately, people are pretty terrible at that kind of self-assessment. We tend to greatly overestimate the time we spend doing tasks we don’t like and greatly underestimate the amount of time we spend on tasks we enjoy or that we know aren’t socially acceptable. Let’s be honest, nobody wants to admit to spending 4 hours on social media a day, no matter what the screen time app might say.

Just like with money, I have to know how I’m currently spending before I can make any corrections. What are some ways that I can learn how I’m truly spending my time? Here are a few ideas to help you inventory your current time use: 

Create a Time Log

This may seem counterintuitive, because what I’m about to describe does take a little bit of time. However, it is the most effective way to get the clearest possible picture of how you spend your days. 

For one week, write down everything that you do. Every hour, 30 minutes, or, if you’re ambitious, 15 minutes, jot down how you spent that last block of time. For teachers, this works best if we block off the time we are in class, but still log our plan time and before/after school lives. 

List Regularly Recurring Tasks

We all have tons of tasks that are set on repeat. Over the course of a couple of weeks, make a list of any task that you have to do over and over again. It can be anything from laundry or grocery shopping to entering grades or making photocopies. If you do it regularly, throw it on the list. (This list will really come in handy if you choose to time batch tasks,  as I will describe in part 2 of this post.)

Use Timers

Think you have a pretty good handle on your time and only want to target a few things? Use a timer to get an idea of exactly how much time you spend every week on that task. (When I first tried this, I was truly shocked to find out that emptying the dishwasher only took 4 minutes and not the 20 minutes it felt like!)

How Do I Want to Be Spending My Time?

Now that you have a general idea of how you are spending your time, you need to evaluate it to make some changes. Where did you spend the most time? Does that align with what you want to be your top priority? How can we make that happen? Try these steps to move from the life you have to the life you want:

  1. Make a list of your core competencies: Core competencies are the things that you do really well or the things that you are passionate about. (You can find out more about this in 168 Hours, too!)
  2. Make a stop doing list: Put anything on this list that you don’t want to spend your time doing at all. Dream big! If you think, “There’s no way I could ever stop doing that,” put it on the list anyway. 

Now that you have your lists, the goal is to fill your calendar with your core competencies and reduce as much as possible the things on your stop doing list:

  1. Create three columns on a piece of paper and label them “Outsource,” “Minimize,” and “Stop.” Go through your stop doing list and think creatively and critically about where each task should go. 
  2. Outsource: If you can find a way to get someone else to do it for you or trade skills with someone who enjoys or is good at the task on your stop doing list, put it under Outsource. For example, I outsourced the cleaning of my classroom to my students, who love to come by and tidy up before waiting for the B route buses. 
  3. Minimize: Anything on your list that you have to do, but you can do as quickly as possible – or might make more enjoyable – goes on the Minimize list. I hate doing laundry, so I only do it once a week and then batch all my folding together while I watch a favorite show on Netflix. 
  4. Stop: Last, think critically to see if there’s anything on your list that you really don’t have to do at all. If you hate doing it and you really don’t have to, put it under stop and quit doing it! 
  5. What are the tasks that align with your core competencies? The ones that have the highest priority? Sit down with your calendar and place those on your schedule first. Then, find strategies to fill in the rest of your calendar in the most efficient way possible. 

I’ll share ideas on how to most efficiently fill out the rest of your calendar – and provide some additional Time Hacks for teachers – in part two of this post.

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