When I first started teaching, I had a horrible work-life balance because of poor time management. I would go early, stay late, and still have to work at home on the weekends. It felt like my to-do list only got longer until I realized this was NOT sustainable and I had to find a better way.
It took some time but I am proud to say I work my contract hours four out of five days of the week and never take work home anymore! And I want this for YOU, so I’m sharing my top 3 time management tips for teachers.
Tip 1: Create Routines for Time Management
We know as teachers that our students thrive with routines, but the same is true for us as teachers. A solid routine means that we can focus on what needs to be done when it needs to be done and that removes a significant amount from our mental load.
From week to week, I have a set routine that guides me at home and work. Whether it’s the usual alarm, weekend lunch prep, set times for workouts, or a great evening routine, I know that these habits are there to serve me well.
The same is true in teaching!
Generally, there are non-negotiable things you MUST do to be a good teacher throughout the week. These are the things that are part of my routine. I leave out the extras like changing a bulletin board or making a worksheet look prettier. These are nice, but they are not necessary to be an effective teacher.
So every week I operate with my routine knowing that it’s still flexible to adjust with what is happening at school and in my personal life.
To do this for yourself, make a list of the tasks you MUST complete from week to week and then divide them up through your 5-day work week. Here’s what mine looks like:
Monday: Administrative Work & Grading (e.g., catch up on emails)
Wednesday: Flex (I can focus on whatever tasks are needed for the week.)
Thursday: Plan for Next Week
Friday: Photocopy everything for next week
Now this routine is my go-to but there are times when these day-to-day plans may need to change depending on things that come up. During report card season, I am definitely working on grading and comments for more than just Tuesday and my flex-Wednesday. And if I have time on a flex Wednesday then I may refresh a bulletin board if there’s nothing else pressing to get done.
Tip 2: Prioritize Tasks Weekly
Once you have a routine established, you can work on prioritizing your tasks. This is one of my favourite time management tips for teachers because it’s a true game-changer in getting your priorities straight.
Part of my Monday administrative work task is to fill out a prioritized to-do list. The easiest way to figure out what is a high priority is using a matrix like this:
This to-do list will work with your day-to-day routine so that you can reference it during your week. When you have a prep or break, you know exactly what you should spend that time doing. Time management in action!
The guiding principle of this type of matrix (named after former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower) boils down to his own explanation: “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
Use this to guide your tasks. I always do “urgent & important” during preps & “urgent” during breaks! The “important” section happens if I have extra time left in the week or if I choose to stay after school one day.
“Neither” happens if I am given an extra prep, or have no grading to do in a week, which often means that it gets bumped to the following week (more often than not)!
Tip 3: Maximize Your Prep Time
Once you have your routine and a prioritized list of tasks, now it’s time to maximize the time you do have.
Prep time is valuable time! Don’t get me wrong, there are occasional days where I wander to a teacher-bestie’s room and just sip our sometimes still warm coffees and catch up, but more often than not I’m using my prep plans to make sure I’m turning my to-do list into a ta-dah list.
(A ta-dah list is one where I can celebrate what I have accomplished. As in “Ta-dah! Look at my time management skills. Here’s everything I got done during my prep!”)
To make this happen, try to plan each of your preps the same way you plan for your students. Write down what you will accomplish for each of them, ALL week. And remember you have your routine to act as a guide!
Creating these plans will hold you accountable. You’re less likely to waste time trying to figure out what to do when you get to that precious time.
And then it’s a matter of getting things done. Tune everything else OUT! If you have prep in a shared space such as a staff room or lunch room), put on your headphones and sit in the least visually distracting spot.
I have a colleague who puts up a little sticky note on the cupboard above her workspace that says “Easily distracted! I’m happy to catch up later. I promise!”
These three tips are just a few of my go-to time management tips for teachers to get you started. I love knowing that my time at school is well spent so that my time outside of work can be better spent! As I’ve put these tips into action in my own teacher-life I have found that I am less stressed and this has made me a better teacher too!
If you’re looking for other ways to keep yourself organized, reduce your stress, and make grading even easier too, then check out this Digital Gradebook with Automatic Mark Calculation and Student Reports. This gradebook automatically calculates weighted and non-weighted grade averages in percentages or letter grades; you can adjust them to meet your needs!
Looking for more time management tips for teachers?
Check out the following blog posts for other time management tips for teachers to make your life easier: