I feel like if these last few years with the pandemic have taught us anything, it is that our plates are TOO full and life is TOO short. We should be working to live, not living to work. This is a huge part of why I am so passionate about helping teachers find work/life balance. Want to simplify your teacher life so you can have more time and energy for THE REST OF YOUR LIFE??
Here are four things I think you should STOP doing in order to simplify your teacher life and create more space and energy to do what you really love – whatever that may be!
Stop checking your email more than 2 times a day.
Here is a hard truth – checking your email is a major time and energy suck.
I KNOW it feels like it is only a few minutes here and there, but your time is PRECIOUS and extremely valuable. You have 100+ responsibilities a day, so every minute counts. I found that one of the MAJOR ways to save time, simplify your teacher life, and retain as much mental/emotional energy as possible for my students was to only check email ONCE a day.
Before you give up on me, hear me out!
I am a morning person, so I chose to get to school early. As soon as I got into my room I would do an email check. Respond to anything that needed a response, and then delete that tab. Don’t leave it pulled up while you are teaching or else then you will see it while you are changing slides or transitioning activities and get distracted. And that’s what email really is – a huge distraction!
If one time seems very scary to you, reserve 5 minutes before you leave for the day to do a 2nd and final (and I mean final…see below) email check. Respond to anything that NEEDS a response and that you can respond to quickly. Leave the rest for your big check in the morning.
Will it make some people frustrated at first? Yes, it will. But just because society has decided that we need to be available 24/7 DOES NOT ACTUALLY MEAN WE NEED TO BE AVAILABLE 24/7. You just have to set a precedent for when you are available. Parents saw that I literally was only responding to emails between 7-7:30, and 3:30-4. After a few times, they realized they would literally never hear from me another time, and stopped expecting it of me.
I know you are thinking of 20348234 reasons why you can’t do this but something my husband constantly reminds me is this: other people’s emergencies don’t have to become your emergencies. If it is REALLY an emergency – you will get a phone call or someone will come to find you. No one sends true emergencies via email.
Now, before you say no will you do me a favor and try it for one week? Just for one week try checking your email once a day – same time every day. See how it goes. I cannot tell you how much this one simple thing can simplify your teacher life. You have to experience the FREEDOM of the one email check a day yourself!!
Stop checking your work email after you leave work.
Along those same lines, to further simplify your teacher life with regards to the email space, I implore you to stop checking your work email after you leave work. Your one email check a day needs to happen WHILE you are at work and that’s it. Think about it:
We don’t expect our pediatrician or our dentist to answer calls or respond to emails outside of the 9-5 operating hours. We expect stores to not be open 24/7. So why do we expect ourselves as teachers to work and be available 24 hours a day?? Or even 12 hours a day?? It is insanity.
The only job that should require that much of your time and attention is the responsibility of your family.
We HAVE to change the societal expectation for availability 24/7. Yes, teaching is a calling, but at the end of the day, it is your JOB, not your LIFE. You deserve to be able to set boundaries.
I really think you shouldn’t bring work home at all (more on that here, and even more on why legally you shouldn’t check work email after work), but let’s just start with one thing at a time. Delete your work email address from your phone, and leave your work computer locked in your car (or better yet, your desk so you aren’t even tempted) if you can!
Stop leaving your door unlocked during your planning period.
I am all for building relationships with coworkers, but I am way more for having a life outside of school. And I can’t have a life outside of school if I am having to work over 40 hours a week to accomplish my job at school. In order to simplify your teacher life, you need to protect your planning period time at ALL costs, so you can use it to actually lesson plan, grade, and prep labs.
I am not even kidding, I used to not only lock my door but also shut off my lights during my planning period. I would do this when I would leave my room anyway (to make copies, or meet with an administrator) so it isn’t like I was expected to be in there all day, anyway.
So I would make it look like I wasn’t there, even if I was. I have made sure in every classroom I have had to position my desk as far away from the main door with a window as possible. PLUS I wasn’t answering any emails. That means that every day I had 50 minutes to work through my to-do list completely uninterrupted. I didn’t snack or check my phone or anything else. I simply got stuff done.
No more random coworkers dropping in to chat. No more students popping in on their way to the bathroom to say hi. I cannot tell you how much time it saved me, and helped me to focus. Part of being able to simplify your teacher life is to simplify your schedule and your mind so you can really focus when you need to do maximize productivity. Locking my door did that!
I saved the relationship building and the catching up to Friday night football games and lunch periods.
Again, I challenge you to simplify try this for one week and see how much more productively you can use your planning period!! You will honestly be amazed at how much you can get done.
Stop always saying yes.
Last but not least, stop always saying “yes”. We feel so pressured as teachers to do everything for everyone, and there are times we just need to stop saying yes or at the very least, ask for an alternative that more fits your current capacity.
I also have to constantly remind myself that “No” is a complete sentence. I always feel like I need to justify every “no” I give with a 3.5 paragraph essay. You have a right to answer requests simply and directly. If someone follows up for more information, feel free to give it. But also don’t feel like you need to tell your life story for why you can’t do something*.
For example, I was badgered daily to coach middle school cheer. Not only would this require a TON of my time, but I didn’t even teach middle school, so it wasn’t a chance to bond with my students. Even more importantly, I had never cheered a day in my life, so coaching cheerleading was a legitimate safety hazard. I repeatedly said no, and was repeatedly asked to do it. So finally I decided to ask for an alternative that made more sense. I was given two other choices for holes they needed to be filled and was able to pick one that more suited my gifts, interests, and capacity (running high school student council, if you are curious).
*I had an especially hard time with this before I had kids. I felt like I was an easy target for all of the things, and people understood more once I DID have kids that my capacity was limited. But I want to encourage any teachers out there reading this that may be single and/or not have children and just affirm that your time is just as valuable, and you aren’t getting paid more to work 60+ hours a week than your neighboring teacher with 4 kids. It is okay to say no!
This may seem like a LOT to take on at once, but I urge you to try even ONE of these tips for a week and see how you can simplify your teacher life. I promise you it will be worth it! If you take on the challenge, I want to hear about it!!! Shoot me a DM on Instagram or reach out to me here and let me know how it went!!