ImageIt’s easy to be busy – in fact it’s sort of the default in our world.   But running through our days checking off as many things as possible leads to those bull%$#@ Hail Mary passes.  To avoid them, we need to slow down and use our time in the most efficient way possible.


Sure we can all work twelve-hour days, but in the end it’s not how many hours you work, but what you do with those hours that matters.  Not to mention that working 60 or 70 hours per week leads to exhausted teachers and eventually teachers leaving the profession (both of which are bad for student learning).

In fact, putting in all those hours is it’s own Hail Mary – it might work once or twice, but it’s no way to live your professional life and it’s certainly not going to have a long-term positive effect on student learning.

The trouble is, in education there’s always more to do.  Given that reality, we have to put in the time to figure out what’s most important and stick to doing that (despite the many forces that may pull us away).  Tim Ferriss refers to this idea using Pareto’s 80/20 principle.  The principle states 80% of outputs result from 20% of inputs.  The goal is to spend more time on those 20% of inputs and less time on everything else.  But in our busy world, how do you do that?

To help us think about this, we reached out to time-use guru and the author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, Laura Vanderkam. We are honored to have her guest blog today about how we (educators and everyone) can make shifts in how we use our time to increase our efficiency.  Laura’s comments follow:

Whenever people ask me how to get more done during their work hours, I give them this advice: act like a teacher.

Many teachers’ contracts allow for a planning period during the workday. The idea is to give teachers space to think about what they’re going to do apart from their “on” hours in front of children. Knowing what you intend to accomplish on any given day, and how you plan to do it, makes execution much easier. It’s a great idea for people in all lines of work, and that’s why I recommend the daily discipline of creating a planning period in What the Most Successful People Do at Work (a short ebook on careers that will be published April 23).

Of course, in the real world, even teachers have trouble making the most of their planning periods. For starters, some schools blow right through them, scheduling meetings and administrative tasks during this time. Because teachers are so busy, many use this time for grading papers and tests — in other words, for dealing with lessons already taught rather than ones yet to come.

But if you want to feel more effective in your work — and give your students your best — a planning period really should be part of your day, even if it’s just a few minutes. When could you carve out this time? Some people get to work a little early and think through their days before the madness. Others make time over lunch, or after official quitting time, or at night before bed. Think through each class, and envision its exact order. What will you say to the students? How will they likely respond? What problems might come up, and how will you troubleshoot those? What happened last time you taught this lesson, and what did you learn from that? What would be a good outcome from this lesson and what would be a great outcome?

As you start becoming comfortable with day-to-day planning, you can start stretching your planning muscles. How would you like to see yourself teaching differently next year than you are now? What changes would you like to see at your school that you can help bring about? What would you like your career to look like in 5 years?

You might also start planning your personal life too. One man I spoke with for my book mentioned creating a little “planning period” before he walked in the door at home after work. He’d plan to ask his daughter about the presentation she’d given that he’d noted on his calendar. He’d think through how he wanted to spend this evening time, in order to increase the chances that it went well.

To be sure, life is unknowable, and plans may not always happen as you wish. But knowing where you’re going massively increases the chances that you’ll get there.

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