Be more than busy. Be productive. Be happy.

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November is not over yet, but if you glance at my calendar, it might frighten you.  It’s been full.  I’ve begun consulting with a new school district.  Twice a week my daughter and I attend a parent/child class and once a week we go to music together.  My daughter had surgery (ear tubes) last week, while I have had had three procedures this month (for the chronic neck/back/shoulder issues I’ve had since a car accident I was in 14 years ago).  I also hosted Thanksgiving, as I do every November.  I also have a writing project on which I’m working.  However, I have made time to call friends.  I’ve sent greeting cards.  I’ve taken my daughter to play dates, some of which have been over a meal with friends.  I’ve worked out regularly.  I even had three date nights with my husband.  While some people might say I’ve been busy, I say I’ve been productive.  And with the exception of the medical stuff, which I’m thankful to have behind me, I’ve enjoyed all of it!

Thanksgiving has passed and the December holidays (if you celebrate one of them) are upon us.  In schools, this is typically a busy time of year.  There are units of study to wrap-up before the winter break.  There are assemblies, parties, and staff meetings.  The paper chase continues in terms of progress reports, IEPs, parent correspondence, newsletters, and more.  It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when so much is happening at work.  The question is how to do you balance it all so that this time of year can be spent in a meaningful and valuable way?

A few suggestions:

First, don’t allow yourself to be busy.  Read “The Busy Trap,” which writer Tim Kreider published a few months back in The NY Times Opinionator.  Kreider’s piece will force you to reassess the way you view and talk about your life and your own busyness.  You can choose to overschedule yourself and be crazy-busy OR you can choose to work purposefully and make time for things you enjoy too.  The bottom line: “Life is too short to be busy.”

Second, think about your day in terms of needs, wants, should, musts, coulds, and mights.  One Hopeful Heart has a blog post about this topic today.  Read it if you need help balancing and prioritizing.

Third, stay organized.  If you don’t have a system for organization that works for you, create one.  I like Google Calendar (which you can share with others) for appointments.  I use gTasks to remind me of things I need to do daily.  Further, I use FutureMe for long-range reminders.  For more organization-related tips, check out Teaching With Soul.

Fourth, delegate. Train students to help you file papers, create/take down bulletin boards, and do other tasks.  (I would invite kids up to do this work with me during lunchtime when I was a classroom teacher.  This system allowed me to get to know my students better while we broke bread.  And then, after chatting for awhile, we got down to work. )  Next, have parent volunteers cut math games, collate papers, photocopy handouts, and do anything else you can possibly do. Remember, most parents know how hard your job is and would love to help.  You just have to ask.

Fifth, leave earlier.  Yes, I just told you to leave school earlier!  So, if you typically leave your building at 5:30 p.m., I want you to walk out of the door by 4:00 p.m.  Try doing this once a week for the remainder of the calendar year.  But don’t just go straight home to do the work you would’ve done in your classroom.  Use the 90 minutes you would’ve used in school to exercise, bake, or to do whatever it is that nourishes your soul.  (I began leaving school earlier once a week, and eventually twice a week, back in 2008.  I quickly noticed I was far more productive after school when I gave myself a concrete departure time.  It kept me from dilly-dallying and working on things that didn’t really need to get done.)   Leaving earlier will keep you from burning out!

Sixth, while we’re on the earlier thing, try going to bed a little earlier.  Try turning off your technology a half hour earlier and spend that time reading a book for pleasure or writing.  (I find that when I turn off the television and computer earlier, I sleep better too!  For more on that, check out this piece about sleep quality, which also contains some interesting statistics.)

Finally, rethink school celebrations.  You may not be able to cancel the school assembly, but do you really need to have a huge holiday party in your classroom? Could you have a smaller celebration? Perhaps a publishing party (or math celebration) could be the only classroom party you have next month.  Celebrating students’ hard work with some good food is bound to feel festive.  Don’t overextend yourself planning the perfect classroom party if it feels overwhelming to you.

How do you find time to take care of yourself (as an educator and as a daughter/son/spouse/partner, parent/aunt/uncle/friend) at this time of the year?