I have recently noticed a pattern: several friends, fellow teachers and adult students proudly saying “I’m so busy” as if that was a good thing. Here is the thing, I’m the kind of person who simply loves doing nothing. Don’t get me wrong, I AM super busy – nearly 30 1:1 students, 40 hours a week of lessons, pretty successful thank you very much – but any chance I get I will find a way to sit back and relax a bit. And no, I do not feel proud of how busy I am. The problem is today many people live their lives showing off the many tasks they are working on at the same time when in reality these people are exhausted.
Feeling mentally tired not only affects us professionally but also personally. My aim here is to help you tackle this issue, optimize your time and maintain a work-life balance by suggesting possible alternatives to better organize your schedule.
NewsWeek magazine – “31 Ways to Get Smarter in 2012”
I have been using this article since then. It was such an interesting one I had to xerox and start using with my students. It covers things from hydrating, eating dark chocolate and TED talks to playing violent video games and zoning out. Worth reading! However, I will highlight three hacks they present which are time-saving: taking naps (yes!), installing internet blockings and using the pomodoro technique. You most likely do or at least heard about them, right?
Napping has been shown to improve many things: it increases creativity and alertness, reduces stress, it can even aid weight loss(!!!).
Internet blocking softwares can work wonders. I used one throughout my masters to let me concentrate on my tasks. Social media is too time-consuming (I don’t know how many times I checked IG while writing this article), so in order to be able to focus, try downloading one and finally get on with that task you have been procrastinating to finish.
The Pomodoro Technique: some of you know it well from Andre Hedlund, am I right? Working in 25-minute blocks is known to help you take breaks to have better agility. You can use a kitchen timer, but there are apps for that too. Research has found that the breaks you take (which should take up to 5 min) should help you concentrate and have a better output.
Forbes – “Busyness as a badge of honor”
I came across this article a few months ago and something caught my attention. It said “being ridiculously busy is actually a choice”. Wait, what? After all these things you have mentally listed, you are choosing to be this busy. Well, yes. Most of these things are self-imposed. Think about it! The more you do, the more productive you are, right? That’s where you are wrong. If you manage your time effectively, you will be able to get things done at an ok time and have extra time for (surprise, surprise): yourself! They also compare busyness with a drug: it makes you numb and ignore all the other “problems” you have and “relax”, but once you stop you want some more of that drug not to face your truth.
Here are two tips they give:
1. Know where to focus; choose what’s important. When it comes to your business: what are the most important tasks? Make a list and start considering categories.
2. Address any internal reason to why you feel so drawn to being busy. But for that, you will need some alone time. Meditate. Or even, find a therapist. You have got to take care of yourself and your health in order to focus on your job.
Beatriz Solino’s Richmond “Two thousand, eight hundred, seventy-nine tabs open – a reality”
Then while looking up the topic of being busy, I found this other incredible article. Beatriz discusses how teachers’ minds work and the huge amount of things we think about at the same time. Consider yourself prior, during and after your lesson. What are some of the million things you think about?
Beatriz lists a few, e.g., lesson steps, learning environment, classroom temperature, monitoring moments, homework to be assigned, next lesson, tests, etc. And not only that, you have your personal life to handle: shopping, kids, studying and “resting”. And what do you do in order not to feel overwhelmed throughout the year? Not much, do you?
She also mentions Forbes and how constant decision-making, clutter and over-committing, being perfectionist and having lack of sleep (remember napping?) are some of the causes for mental fatigue. But how can we avoid all that? Simple: organize your schedule! Not that simple, I know. Beatriz does say we need to overcome our vicious circles (which is not easy) and organize our lives in what is called “batch tasks”. Separate your tasks into contexts (supermarket, lesson planning, gym, etc) and modes (morning, afternoon, evening).
Let me illustrate what she means by explaining what I do and how I learned to do them.
Daniela Pesconi-Arthur – “The Entrepreneur Teacher”
Remember I had a coach? I know this word has been overused and many times misused which lead many of us (myself included) to underestimate and even ignore this area. However, Dani not only helped me organize my time but also give my business a little push. I learned everything from writing a business plan to creating passive income.
But let us go back to how I organize my time. Today I have a colorful calendar which matches my desktop post-its (I am extremely forgetful).
Here are my categories according to Dani’s batching suggestions:
Focus (yellow) – revenue generating activities. Examples of focus tasks are CPD courses which will lead you to growing your business which will bring you income.
Administrative (pinkish) – they shouldn’t distract you from your focus tasks. They are social media, email management, etc.
Sacred (green) – this is where your family and well-being are. The things you want to make time for, e.g. going to the gym or watching a movie with your kid. You don’t want to mess with these.
Finally, I created a fourth category which is blue so I could visualize my time with each student.
Believe me, we get used to things. Before, my calendar was all red and had no categories whatsoever and I still remember how tired I used to feel. But I swear to you after I categorized my tasks into colors, I could clearly feel lighter by simply being able to visualize what was and wasn’t work.
So make sure you do what works better for you, make it work for you! Take a breath, meditate, move, switch off and, ultimately, make friends with the tabs.
Mirian Coelho has been an EFL teacher for over 12 years and now focuses on adult private teaching at her English Studio. She has a major in English (UFES) and a MA in Applied Linguistics and TESOL (Anglia Ruskin University/UK). She is also a member of Voices, a Braz-Tesol SIG.