Teachers' Tales

5 steps to effective time management for teachers

by Tjerk van Dalen
on December 2, 2015


We frequently hear about the challenges of time management for educators, so today we’ve gone straight to the experts. Tjerk van Dalen, of time management software company TIQ, has helped plenty of workplaces struggling with overloaded schedules; here, from his experience, is what really works.

With teachers having so little time to do so much in- and out-of-class work, the challenges of time management in schools is real. In addition to putting stress on the faculty individually, overwhelmed teachers can have a negative impact on student outcomes. So we need to help the people who educate the world so they can do more in the time they have: It doesn’t get much more rewarding than that.

The most important aspects of time management are planning and becoming conscious of your time. Recognising the value of your time (the most valuable resource in your toolkit), and making conscious choices on how you spend it with a clear weekly plan, can allow you to take a running, focused start every morning.

Step 1: Create a foundation

Start by creating a list of things that need to happen during an average week. Then track your time for a week, without changing your routine or focusing on that to-do list. There are several easy apps for tracking activity, like Toggl and Harvest, or you can go analogue with pen and paper. Then, using the record of how you actually spend your time, see where you might be able to reconfigure your weekly task list, and allocate time to each remaining activity. This will become the foundation of your weekly planning since you have an accurate, rather than a wishful, understanding of how much time specific tasks take.

Some great tools to try are Wunderlist and Evernote – if you’re a digital list-maker, they let you reconfigure your tasks and priorities easily, which is perfect for this exercise.

Step 2: Create routines

Although every class needs a different approach, it is possible to routinise part of your week. Look at that task list again – what can be grouped together? By taking friction out of shifting between tasks, you will be able to turn these activities into weekly routines. Although it’s a buzzword from the business world I try to use as little as possible, the word “synergy” really applies here.

Teachers already do some of this naturally in the classroom, designing reading areas next to quiet play areas, or ensuring attention-heavy lessons aren’t scheduled immediately after recess; simply take those skills and apply them to the off-hours admin, as well. And see where you can enlist help – are there students who can help take on a classroom leadership role? Is there admin or teaching assistant support in your school that you can pool with other teachers if you don’t have dedicated people?

Step 3: Understand and map the schoolyear

When it comes to education, there is no “typical” week – to make your routine work, you’ll need to consider the larger calendar, as well. Parent conferences, holiday breaks, CPD events – all of these can throw off your schedule, but all can also be identified in advance.

To further fill out your plan, the next step is to look at these future events and identify what may need to be dropped from your weekly list when something crops up, to make room. Sometimes at this stage, it can be useful to revise the weekly plan and add a block of “miscellaneous school event” time to help account for the ever-changing academic calendar.

Step 4: Check on your plan weekly

Tasks that did not fall under steps 2 or 3 will finalise your planning, and here, to-do lists will be your trusted sidekick. I like to take 30 minutes out of my Sunday night and plan part of my to-do list into the coming week; for others, first thing Monday morning is when they’re fully ready to process the work week. An underrated way to manage task lists is to actually take a pause in the middle of the week (right when things might be sliding off-course), and re-evaluate your expectations realistically.

Step 5: Actually follow your planning!

It’s a no-brainer, but it’s also the most important part of time-management: Follow your planning. That means actually doing the things you planned for a specific day, in the order you planned it. It’s very important that you don’t try to do multiple things at once. Research has shown that multitasking is actually decreasing your productivity, and some people even claim it is making you stupid.

If you’re looking for more tips on how to improve productivity, check out this article I wrote on productivity habits. Have any questions related to productivity or time management for you specifically, or want to share your tips? Message me at @tiqtime and let us know what works for you.

Tjerk van Dalen is a blogger and marketeer for TIQ, a service for automated time tracking. He writes about time management, productivity and workplace efficiency.