As I was leaving school on Friday, I looked down at my to-do list and it had trebled in size since that morning. Now that isn’t unusual for me and if you are a teacher, it’s probably not unusual for you too.
Let me tell you two important things about me.
1. Firstly, I am a perfectionist, which means that I like every job completed and ticked off. I hate the idea of things left to do. I am the person who takes down the Christmas tree the day after Boxing Day just so it is done. I am the person who can’t leave the dishes in the sink or the bed unmade.
2. Secondly, I am busy – really busy! I teach, I coach, I have a podcast, I am doing a diploma and apprenticeship and I am also a mum, a wife and oh yes, I have just had a book published. I have jobs coming out of my ears. Thousands and thousands of them.
So, back to the to-do list. When I started teaching, I hadn’t realised that I would never, ever get to the bottom of it. Ours is not a profession in which we can tick everything off and feel satisfied that everything is complete. There are always so many things to do. Initially, being the person I am, I hated it and I struggled with it. I thought that if I just put more hours in, I would get all the jobs done but the jobs just kept coming.
Have you ever played ‘Whack-A-Mole’? If not, it is a game where toy moles pop up and you have to whack them with a toy mallet. They keep popping up and you keep whacking. They don’t stop popping! That is how my to-do list felt – like I was playing ‘whack-a-mole’ but it wasn’t a three-minute game at the end of the pier, it was never-ending and I was losing!
Today, I no longer hate or struggle with my to-do list. I don’t even mind when it trebles in size – I have learnt so many strategies to manage it and I’m going to share a few of them here.
Recently I was working with a coachee who came to the session worrying about the many many jobs that she had to do (she’s a teacher). I asked her to write every job down on a separate piece of paper and then I got her to sort them into different parts of the room. The jobs that she needed to do immediately were put near her, the ones that she needed to do in the longer term she put on a chair further away and the jobs that weren’t jobs but worries about things that she might have to do she put at the furthest point of the room. We then discussed each job in turn. By the end of the session she said that she felt much better and that physically moving the jobs to different places had really helped her. The idea behind this exercise is that by separating out our list and shining a light on each item we can see them for what they are. By physically moving them, we can decide how important they are and if they even need to be there at all.
This isn’t for everyone though and I work with some teachers who love a list. One teacher splits her page in two and writes all her jobs on one side and all her completed tasks on the other – transferring them over to visibly see her successes. Another teacher has three lists – her today list, her ‘annoying jobs’ list and her longer-term list. She moves things from the longer-term list to her today list as space frees up and she does her ‘annoying jobs’ once a week for an hour. She says that having dedicated time for this really helps her to do them. Another teacher uses Google Docs and again has three lists that she transfers items between – her lists are today, this week and long term. My headteacher doesn’t like to-do lists so she has a ta-da list and records everything that she has achieved that day.
I do a mixture of all of the above I suppose. I have lists (mine are colour-coded) and in order to get things done I prioritise the jobs and I time-block my week. I time-block by looking at my diary for the week and putting in dedicated time to do the jobs I have on my various lists. As a full-time class teacher, with meetings on a number of days after school, finding time is hard – but it isn’t impossible. I think creatively about what I can achieve in the time given. I make sure that I effectively use my PPA and I also get into school at 7:30am and stay until 5:30pm. I’m not the most social creature during these times as time before school and after meetings has been blocked out to complete jobs. I don't want to go home and do lots more work so I use the time in school well, ensuring that when I go home I can be with my family.
I don’t get everything finished but all the jobs always get done in time. Another exercise that I have used with a number of coachees, is to scale jobs. '1' – I’d love to do it if I had the time to '10' – I have to do it or else! Then order the jobs '10-1'. Sometimes it is nice just to do a ‘1’ job and I do these for my personal wellbeing. The other day I changed the bunting labels in my classroom, it was a ‘1’ job but oh my goodness it made me feel good.
Finally, remember to be kind to yourself. Block out time for you. Do a ‘1’ job. Remember to have you and your wellbeing at the top of your list and if you are tired after a busy day, those jobs can wait.
Go gently and breathe out.
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If you would like to find out more about the coaching that I offer and are interested in being coached by me, then get in touch. We can set up an initial meeting and go from there.