How are you completing the sentence in the title? To get books shelved? To do a diversity audit? To eat lunch? We are so pressed for time we focus on the most urgent tasks or the ones we are struggling to complete and forget ourselves. It’s not only that there are a limited number of hours in the day. The fact is, we can’t be creative every hour we are awake. We cannot even be productive every hour. Our bodies and brains need a break.

We’ve all tried a variety of ways to organize and manage our time. We have our to-do lists in whatever format we prefer, project planners, and post-it note reminders. Then your principal pulls you to cover a class and have no choice but to do what you were told. And there goes the to-do list and your day. You surrender to it and are too tired to use whatever time you have left to tackle the task you expected to get done.

Despite your best efforts, you may not be making the best use of the time you do have. Mary Kelley has 5 Ways to Find Out If You Are Maximizing Your Time.

  1. You Stick to Your Schedule – First, make sure you’re doing what you said you were going to do when you wanted to do it. You’re not maximizing your time if you are checking emails before getting started. But what about those unscheduled interruptions?  What happened to the task you didn’t get to finish? Get back to it as soon as possible. You may need a quick review to see where you left off. An alternative is to consciously reschedule it for a better time. Then get on with the next task on your schedule.
  • You Plan Ahead – Kelley is referring to looking long range – next week, next month. I call it telescoping, periscoping, and microscoping. In telescoping you view a project through its completion. This could be an advocacy plan or a unit you are doing with a teacher. You are aware of when the parts need to be completed to meet your final deadline. In periscoping, check in every so often to see if you are on target for completing a task. If not, make the adjustments to the schedule to make sure there are no surprises as you head toward the finish live. In microscoping you focus on the immediate work. Then if you are interrupted, you can make the needed change when you periscope.
  • You Prioritize – Kelley uses a whiteboard with her MITs (Most Important Tasks). You may be doing that with your to-do list but having them in front of you is a constant reminder. It might also alert those interrupting you to the work you are trying to do. And don’t forget to put yourself in the schedule. Put in your lunch time. Add whatever you do to stay healthy such as a chair yoga exercise or even going to an open window to breathe. You need these pauses to refresh your brain. You are a priority too.
  • You Avoid Multitasking – It’s been proven that it doesn’t work, and we keep doing it. Know which tasks require the most brain power and/or creativity. Make sure that has your total focus. If there is an interruption you must respond to, do not work on the task while dealing with the interruption. Tasks involving creativity often require that you pause to think through a problem. It may be tempting to scan your emails while you think. Just because you are not actively doing something doesn’t mean you aren’t engaged in the task. Trying to get through those emails will only slow you down, and you are likely to miss important details on both tasks.
  • You Cheerfully Say NO – I like this one. While you can’t say no to your principal, there are many other requests you can turn down. Knowing when and how is important in making the best use of your time. If the request connects to a priority of yours, “yes” is probably the right answer. If not, refuse, but carefully. Suggest an alternative. You may be able to take it on at a future date. It’s important to know how to say “no” without damaging a relationship.

In her post, Kelley notes our brains can’t run at full capacity for more that 4 hours a day. Know when your most productive/creative times are and develop your schedule around it. Do what you can to work on your biggest priorities during those times. And give yourself a break when the schedule goes nuts.

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