Time management and wellbeing at work

One of the biggest challenges most people face is managing their time productively and coping with their workload in an effective manner. As teachers, you may be juggling exams, class preparation and scoring students' writing assignments, among other tasks. Non-teaching staff may be faced with administrative duties, finances, staffing, technical support and many other items required to run an educational establishment effectively. Whatever your role is, this article offers some tips to help you manage your workload and other life goals productively.

Work out your goals

Spend some time thinking about your goals and priorities — personal, professional and family. This should then provide a blueprint for your time management. Once you have acknowledged your own life's "big picture," think about some short-term and medium-term goals that can bring you closer to your overall goals. Setting small goals that can act as stepping stones toward bigger goals will help you better plan your life's tasks and priorities.

Make a list

Buy yourself a notepad, diary or calendar that makes you smile. Choose something that appeals to you personally. Maybe it has bright colours or a motivational message on the front. Maybe the most useful place is electronically, such as your smartphone's Notes app. Wherever or whatever you choose, make this your to-do list. Play around with what type of list works for you. Maybe it is a daily list, weekly list and monthly list. Keep track of the tasks that keep being moved or not getting done. Set time aside to do them, or see if they can be delegated elsewhere.

Prioritise the important tasks

Tasks can be grouped into four categories:

  1. Urgent and important
  2. Not urgent but important
  3. Urgent but not important
  4. Neither urgent nor important

Clear your urgent and important tasks ASAP, then concentrate on "not urgent but important" tasks. By focusing on these tasks ahead of time, you minimise the likelihood of them becoming urgent and important later.

Take tasks one at a time

Breaking down your tasks into lists and priorities makes them less overwhelming. Ensure that you acknowledge when you have achieved a task, either by ticking or crossing it off your list. Recognise your achievements and that you are progressing forward each time you tick something off your list. Update your list regularly to keep you on top of your tasks.

Recognise and reward your achievements

Break down tasks, and then reward yourself for achieving those tasks by doing something non-work-related. This could be a yoga class, reading a book or going out to dinner with friends. Rewarding yourself for achieving your goals is a good form of self-care and promotes your wellbeing both inside and outside of the workplace. Have a list of rewards you would like to give yourself, and work towards them. If you have a particular period of intensity and "busyness" coming up, such as an OFSTED inspection, have a larger reward at the end of it, such as booking a holiday or going away for the weekend.

Value your time

Work out the cost of your time per hour. Are there jobs that keep being put off and moved from list to list because they are time-intensive chores and things you just don't want to do (e.g., gardening, laundry, a deep clean of the house)? Work out how long it would take you to do those chores and how much that would cost in your time. Compare that with how much it would cost to have someone do the chore for you (e.g., a gardener, a weekly cleaner). If it is more cost and time effective to hire a professional, then it may be worth delegating the task to an outside company and freeing up your time.

Use a time management technique

The Pomodoro Technique®, created by consultant and time management expert Francesco Cirillo, is effective for both pupils and teachers to use inside and outside the classroom. Pomodoro is Italian for "tomato," and athough the technique itself doesn't require tomatoes, the inventor used a tomato-shaped egg timer! (Of course, you can use any type of memorable name or egg timer of your choice — many are available inexpensively online — but the principle of the technique remains the same.) The basics are as follows:

  1. Pick a task. Choose something you need to get done — big or small, something you've been putting off for a million years — it doesn't matter what. All that matters is that this task requires your full, undivided attention.
  2. Set the Pomodoro (your timer) for 25 minutes. Promise yourself that you will spend 25 minutes on this task exclusively, without interruptions. You can do it! It's only 25 minutes.
  3. Work on this task until the Pomodoro rings. Immerse yourself in the task for the next 25 minutes. If you suddenly realise you have something else you need to do, write the task down on a sheet of paper.
  4. When the Pomodoro rings, put a checkmark on your paper. Congratulations! You've spent an entire, uninterrupted "pomodoro" on a task.
  5. Now take a short break. Before you begin your next task, do something relaxing for about 10 minutes. Breathe, meditate, grab a cup of coffee, go for a short walk or do something else not work-related. Your brain will thank you later.
  6. Every four Pomodoros, take a longer break. Once you've completed four Pomodoros, you can take a longer break. Try for 20 or 30 minutes. Your brain will use this time to assimilate new information and rest before the next round of Pomodoros.

Use the Pomodoro Technique® in the classroom with your pupils as a way to focus their attention and rewards. The break also gives you a break! To find out more about this technique and who developed it, visit http://cirillocompany.de/pages/pomodoro-technique.

Note: The Pomodoro Technique® is a registered trademark by Francesco Cirillo. This article is not affiliated with, associated with, or endorsed by the Pomodoro Technique® or Francesco Cirillo.

Take breaks

Breaks are important aspects of time management and wellbeing. Taking breaks ensures that you are working at your maximum capacity and utilising the most of your time. Staying an extra hour to mark papers or working through your lunch break is not necessarily the best use of time if you are distracted or tired. Take your break to refuel, reenergise and get away from your desk. Make sure you eat, drink and stretch your legs.

Wellbeing at work: Why is wellbeing important?

Encouraging your wellbeing at work is of importance in any stressful job, and in particular the demanding profession of education. When you're not taking care of your wellbeing, you run the risk of becoming depleted. Take this metaphor of fire: it needs to be refuelled to continue to burn brightly, otherwise it will consume its resources and burn out. When one reaches the stage of burnout, there is emotional, physical and mental exhaustion. One of the best routes to preventing burnout is promoting good wellbeing and self-care, thus refuelling your fire.

How to promote good wellbeing and self-care

Set boundaries

Boundaries are an important part of wellbeing, as they ensure that your self-care needs are met. By establishing and planning boundaries around work schedules, time management and breaks, wellbeing starts to improve automatically. An example of a boundary could be not checking emails after a certain time or after you get home. Try to leave work at the workplace. If you have had a stressful day or you are anxious about something, set a boundary by allowing a specific period of time to talk about the day or to think about what is making you anxious. Once you have reached the pre-set time boundary, then stop; do not talk or worry about the situation for the rest of the night.

Create a self-care plan

Creating a self-care plan can be a very useful way to ensure your wellbeing remains topped up. Spend some time thinking about what you find restorative, and include these in your own self-care plan. Examples could include:

  • Exercise and tracking your movements — Use a Fitbit, exercise tracker or pedometer to measure yourself.
  • Keep track of your eating, ensuring a good balance of healthy eating and treats. Apps such as MyFitnessPal are useful ways to keep track.
  • Spend time with family, friends and people whose company you enjoy. If you are worried about work, then (as mentioned above) set your boundary of time to talk about work with others, and then move on to other topics.
  • Technology detox — Have set nights a week where you leave your phone in the other room. Don't check your emails on a computer either. Maintain your boundaries! Do you check your phone in bed? Leave it charging in another room twice a week, and set an alarm clock instead. If you share your bed, spend the time you would normally be looking at your phone speaking with your partner. Intimacy is wonderful for mental well-being.
  • Are you creative? Art work, music, film-making and other hobbies are an important aspect of your self-care. Spend some time thinking about what you find restorative and create your own self-care plan.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the general practice of living in the moment. It is promoted by doctors, psychologists and therapists for its positive effects on mental health and wellbeing. Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist tradition and helps with the reduction of stress, anxious thinking and disrupted sleep.

Basic mindfulness exercise

Practice being more mindful by focusing on the moment during every daily activity, no matter how small. This can be called single-tasking — where you do one thing at a time and devote it your full attention. For example, slow down your thinking and focus on your five senses while you brush your teeth, pet the dog or eat an apple. You'll be amazed on how much you can enjoy the taste of a fruit or the soft fur of a beloved pet.

Mindfulness apps

The following apps and websites are recommended by therapists. They are available to help you develop the practice of mindfulness:

Ask for support when it's needed

Asking your manager or headteacher for support when you need it can be a vital part of your wellbeing at work. By speaking about your concerns and feelings, your senior may be able to put things in place that will decrease your chances of burnout. Reach out to those close to you when you are feeling depleted. Talking things over is the simplest way to relieve some anxiety. Ask your colleagues, family and friends if they can offer support and guidance. They may be able to offer an alternative way to look at something, or offer you tools you can incorporate into your self-care plan to fuel your wellbeing.

Call the helpline

Our helpline is manned by highly trained and qualified counsellors 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We are available to help you in the moment with any aspect of your life with which you may be struggling, and can talk through tools and techniques to promote your wellbeing and self-care. We can also make appropriate referrals should you be in need of counselling. Find out more about our 24/7 confidential helpline or call on 08000 562561. 

 

Written by: Workplace Options (March 2017)

Reference: 
Cirillo, F. (n.d.). Pomodoro technique: How it works. Berlin: Cirillo Company. Retrieved 23 February 2017 from http://cirillocompany.de
Kennedy-Cullen, S. & Schuette, B. (Ed.) (2017, February). Time management and well-being at work. London: Workplace Options.

Disclaimer: This document is intended for general information only. It does not provide the reader with specific direction, advice or recommendations. You may wish to contact an appropriate professional for questions concerning your particular situation.