My New Years' Resolution for 2020 was to stop bringing work home with me. I managed to keep that resolution for two and a half months before the COVID pandemic forced us all home for the rest of the school year. Ironically, working from home made me more protective of my work-life balance. I quickly realized that carefully scheduling my prep time was a huge factor in restoring the balance.
In this post, I talk about how I use my Full Focus planner to help me schedule my prep time. If you are interested in using the Full Focus Planner, click here. And, now you can get 10% off when you use my code ERIN10.
Note: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you choose to purchase an item linked on this post, I will earn a small commission or discounted merchandise at no additional cost to you.
Why is scheduling prep time so important?
Teacher prep time is extremely limited. Teacher prep time is usually between 30 minutes to one hour a day. However, many teachers don't get a daily prep. And, with recent sub shortages, many teachers are being asked to cover classes during their prep time.
There are countless things that need to be done during prep time. For example, teachers must plan for lessons, contact parents, attend meetings, and grade student work. And, science teachers have the added task of preparing for lab activities.
Without maximizing your preparation time, it's easy to fall behind.
Multitasking Isn't Your Friend
Multitasking is a common practice in the teaching profession. Teachers are used to juggling multiple tasks at the same time. In fact, many teachers pride themselves on their ability to multitask. However, multitasking is a surefire way to tank your productivity.
Why? There is a cost associated with switching tasks.
What are switching costs?
According to the APA, there is a cost to productivity that occurs anytime you switch tasks. When you go from one task to another, your brain must take time to adjust to the new task. This can reduce your productivity by up to 40% each time you shift between tasks.
Making the Most of Your Planning Time
The key to making the most of your planning time is to avoid task-switching as much as possible. Below, I'll talk about how I avoid task switching by carefully scheduling my prep periods and other planning times.
How should I start scheduling my prep time?
I have been adding my prep time to my planner for a few years now and it has been a great way to keep myself on track. But this year, I think that I have perfected my strategy for scheduling my prep time to make it work well for me.
Step 1: Determine what your normal tasks are.
I've always taught at least two different classes each term. But, I often teach more. And, there is grading to be done for each prep. So, I know that I am going to have to prep for multiple subjects.
And, I know that I'll have to grade or provide feedback for each content area each week. And, there are always copies to be made.
Step 2: Group like tasks and determine how often they need to be done.
The goal here is to prevent task switching as much as possible so that you can avoid switching costs. So, determine how often an activity NEEDS to be done.
For example, I could totally make copies every day. But, walking to the copy machine (and probably chatting with co-workers) takes up A LOT of my very limited prep time. And, students would LOVE it if I updated their grades every day. Even so, this is highly inefficient. Really, it's important to look at the minimum standard for a task. Grading weekly is totally reasonable.
A base-level standard limits the overwhelmed feelings.
Again, everyone would LOVE it if I graded daily. But, when I don't efficiently plan my time, I find that grading can get kicked down the road. Then, I realize it's been two weeks and I haven't graded anything. Parents and students start emailing and my overall well-being starts to tank.
Alternatively, if I determine that I will grade weekly, it allows me to block time for grading. This limits task switching and minimizes switching costs. And, I can add a policy to my email signature saying that grades are updated weekly. This will limit the number of emails that I get from upset parents and students.
Weekly, Daily, and Variable Tasks
Many of the things we find ourselves doing all of the time can be done weekly. However, some need to be done daily. For example, if you go a week without responding to your principal's email… it will make your life harder. But, setting aside a small amount of time once or twice a day to check email is enough.
Also, there are countless variable tasks that we encounter as teachers. We have IEP and 504 meetings that don't necessarily occur on a predictable basis. And, your labs and other hands-on activities probably don't occur on a regular basis.
So, grab a pad of paper and list out your weekly, daily, and variable tasks.
Step 3: Create a Weekly Overview
Your week will vary slightly week by week. So, I like to use a weekly planner pad to write out what my week will look like.
Tip: Start by adding in your variable tasks first. While your plan will be similar each week, you have to plan for those variable tasks. Once you've written in those variable tasks, you'll see how much time you have left over for the more regular tasks. You won't always have the same amount of free prep time each week. But, if you have a realistic view of your week when you get started, this will help immensely.
Step 4: Schedule Your Day-to-Day
I like to use the Full Focus Planner to schedule my day-to-day. This planner helps me organize my home and work life in a way that is manageable.
The purpose of the Full Focus Planner is to provide templates that increase efficiency. (Remember, you can click here to order your own planner and use the code ERIN10 to get 10% off at checkout. )
Must Do- May Do
One of the things that I like most about this planner is that it has a must-do/may-do format. It allows you to list your top three tasks for the day, along with any other tasks that you'd like to accomplish.
I use this planner to keep track of all of my to-dos. Anything that doesn't get accomplished during the day gets rolled over to the next day. The Full-Focus team has created videos to help you do this.
Use the Full Focus Planner to Schedule Your Prep Time
It's no secret that I struggle with organization. I've tried countless planners in the past, but none of them worked for me.
That is, until I found the Full Focus Planner. Here are some of the key features I love about it.
1- Its a quarterly planner. Its often too difficult for me to use the same planner for a full year. This planner helps me focus on the immediate future rather than an entire year. But, if you are someone who needs to look at the big picture, there are pages available to help you look at the entire year.
2- Its the best way to keep track of to-dos. I used to have various to-do lists floating around my classroom. Innevitably, these got losts or added to the clutter. Instead, I use my the Full Focus planner for all of it. There is a space for a to-do list on each page. And, there is a system to help you maintain your to-do list over time.
3- It's replaced my notebooks. There is a notes page for for each day and extras in the back. That means I have plenty of space to write down notes without having to maintain a separate notebook. And, there is an index in the back that allows you to write down the imporant things that you don't want to lose.
4 – There is a system for everything! If you struggle with organization like me, or if you want to take your organization to a whole new level, this is the planner for you. They even have videos to help you maximize your use of the planner.