As an educator, you’re constantly multitasking and juggling to-dos. And even though your primary job is to teach, you’re often performing 50+ jobs in one. You only have so many hours in a day, and you have work flying at you from every angle: administration, parents, students, co-workers, the state — it can be daunting!
Some days while teaching, I felt like I was running through a hamster maze with play wheels at every dead end — you get the picture. Luckily, after 10+ years of teaching, I picked up a few tricks along the way. And although I still have a lot to learn, I discovered some strategies that stuck.
Here are a few of those techniques that boost teacher productivity.
4 ways to increase teacher productivity
1. Focus on one task at a time
With all of my jobs — teacher, mother, writer, you name it — I’ve been a constant multitasker. In fact, I’m dictating this article while cooking eggs! But when it comes to completing teaching tasks, multitasking may not always work in your favor.
According to the American Psychology Association, you get more done when you focus on one task at a time. You might be rolling your eyes because, like me, you’re addicted to multitasking. Keep reading because there’s hope for us all — here’s what you can do.
After you’ve written your to-do list, look at the tasks, and circle the ones that you know need undivided attention. For example, writing comments on report cards requires intense focus and would be very difficult to do while also calling a parent. Sothe report card task deserves a circle on your list.
As you implement this technique with your to-do list, you’ll quickly be able to identify tasks that need the most focus.
Yes, sometimes multitasking while teaching is inevitable (think of eating lunch while meeting that professional development deadline). But try your best to focus on one primary task at a time, and complete it before you move on to the next. Do this, and your productivity will soar.
2. Put five tasks on your to-do list (not 20)
I love to-do lists, and if I didn’t have the Trello app for my job and household needs, I’d probably be a basket case. Still, I have a problem that plagues most teachers: We have endless to-do lists and continue to pile on the tasks. This never-ending cycle can be overwhelming!
Have you ever looked at your to-do list and wanted to sit down and cry? I’m raising my hand higher than your most eager student because I certainly have. So, although keeping track of your tasks is essential, making SMART goals — ones that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely — is just as important.
Take a look at your crazy, long to-do list for the day and make it more feasible by picking the five tasks that are the most important. You’ll find that prioritizing is one key to increasing your productivity at work.
First of all, this strategy allows you to immediately take action instead of dwelling on the mountain of tasks that are blocking your path. Second, it disciplines you to rank the tasks in order of importance so that you get essential things done first.
You’ll quickly learn that not all jobs are equal. For example, if you have essays that your administration is pushing you to get to the kids the next day, that should obviously take precedence over decorating your Shakespeare-themed bulletin board, as fun as the latter sounds.
Five is also one of those “comfortable” numbers that we all like, and in terms of to-dos, it’s usually more feasible to knock out five things from your list than twenty. If you happen to complete them all, then you can move on to the next set of tasks. Moreover, focusing on just a few tasks at once keeps you in check (and helps you avoid freaking out).
3. Create a clutter-free workspace
I know many teachers who are organization freaks — I’m not. Although I was excellent at organizing student work so that I wouldn’t lose any of the hundreds of student essays I had to juggle, I’ll admit that my desk was far from clutter free.
Because of this, I would often lose essential things that I had on my desk. Yes, on my desk. I couldn’t find a pen or that darned tape — and don’t even get me started on dry-erase markers.
I eventually learned that clutter, according to research, can stress you out. That’s right — a study conducted by the Princeton Neuroscience Institute found that a messy environment makes it difficult to focus and can cause stress.
One year, I had set a goal of focusing on reducing the clutter in my classroom — especially my workspace. And I encourage you to try to do the same in yours. You don’t need to go overboard. However, if you sit down at your desk and it looks like a toddler works there, you may find it challenging to grade those trigonometry quizzes.
I found it helped to spend just five minutes at the end of my workday cleaning off my desk. That minuscule investment can go a long way to keeping your workspace clean over time — you’ll earn it back (and then some) with all the productivity you gain when you’re not wasting time looking for things.
Did this strategy always work? I’m not going to lie and say it did, but when I actually followed through, it was rejuvenating (and even soothing) to sit down at a clean desk and start working.
4. Chunk out time
Here’s the thing about getting stuff done — you have productive and unproductive times during your day. Maybe you find yourself highly motivated in the afternoon. Or perhaps you’re like me and are super productive in the morning before the students arrive.
Teachers are people, and people are all different, but it helps to know when you get the most tasks done. What helps me is chunking — looking at your schedule and seeing what tasks you can complete during certain times, and then reserving those times for completing said tasks.
Since you’re a teacher, this will depend on when you have classes and when (or if) you have a planning period or lunch break. Some teachers have free time in the morning, and that’s when they get the most done. Other teachers stay later into the evening, and some teachers have more planning time than others during the day.
No matter what your situation is like, you’ll never really know until you chunk it out. So take a peek at your schedule, make a mental note of your most productive times in the day, and then assign specific tasks during those chunks of time.
Sectograph is my favorite app for chunking days. Basically, this app takes all of the information from your calendar and chunks it into a stunning circular visual. You also can edit it easily when things change.
For example, I once had a planning session every third period. During that time, I knew I had to grade the latest essays with the hopes of getting them to the next class. If for some reason I didn’t get to my planning period (you know it happens), I had to chunk the time either before or after school.
Luckily, during these unpredictable times, I could edit and move time blocks around on the app with ease. Teachers are way more flexible than gymnasts, am I right?
Pass on your productivity skills
Being a teacher can be overwhelming, and you may feel like the roadrunner when you can’t catch a breath at times. I felt like this a lot, but by using a few productivity hacks, you could slow down and breathe again.
These productivity tips could even help your students — who, after all, make your crazy passion worthwhile. So once you learn a few of these tricks, you can pass them on to your students. They’ll thank you later!