We’ve all experienced that paralysing feeling when the list of things to do outweighs the time available to do them.
Head down, heart thumping, cup of tea rapidly cooling beside you, the race to the finish line is on. With most of those working in education facing an ever growing workload is there anything you can to do to reduce stress and make sure you are working as productively as possible?
Actually there is and it can be achieved with just a pen and a piece of paper.
We’re not just talking about the humble to do list, which although helpful can sometimes serve to increase the sense of panic as you fail, yet again, to get to the bottom of it.
We’re talking about planning as a problem solving exercise. Something that many psychologists suggest is the best way of dealing with the stress that comes from feeling overburdened.
Taking some time to plan means you can set about the right tasks, at the right time. It can help you identify the activities that need to be prioritised.
It also enables you to set realistic targets, it’s easy to feel you’ve failed when you’ve only managed to tick one thing off your list. Working out what can be achieved in the time you have each day means you’ll feel more in control. And less stress means a more productive mind set.
Psychologist Dr Susan Heitler believes that taking a problem solving approach to planning is the number one strategy in combating the stress. She suggests breaking down your planning into three simple steps.
- Identify the problem: e.g. I have three different tests to mark, a lesson to plan and 30 reports to complete by the end of the week.
- Clarify your concerns. e.g. I’m worried I don’t have enough time to finish all the marking, and getting the reports finished is dependent on my colleague providing me with their comments.
- Solve it: Think about how best to deal with each part of the problem. So, you could plan to spend two hours on Monday marking test papers, with the remainder being completed during PPA time. The lesson plan can be completed on Wednesday and you make a note to remind your colleague on Monday that you need their comments by Thursday morning. Leaving Thursday night to complete them.
The planning or problem solving doesn’t have to take long. Just spending ten minutes at the beginning of the week jotting down in your planner what you need to do, and how best to use the time you have available can make all the difference.
Planning in this way can also help you identify potential issues so that you don’t get half way through a task before realising you can’t complete it because you are missing some information, or need input from a colleague.
And of course seeing something written down also helps you to free up your mind to focus on what actually needs doing. How many times have you been scrabbling through a task whilst thinking – I really need to remember to do x, y, z when I finish this? Making sure you have a clear plan of action increases focus, and your productivity.
It can be tempting, to avoid planning when you are feeling under pressure – taking time out to ‘plan’ rather than ‘do’ can seem counter-intuitive. The reality is that careful planning will not only ease stress today, but make for a calmer term, and year ahead.