Saturday, January 5, 2019

4 Things I'm Doing to Minimize Decision Fatigue

Like most teachers, I rolled into the Winter Break 2018 station with an empty tank. I had to get out and push the car the last half block, if you know what I mean. Let me be clear, it wasn't my teacher soul that was tired. My move to a new school has done a world of good for my teacher soul and I've been riding that RCA high since the end of November! But I was physically and mentally drained. In fact, this semester has reminded me quite a bit of being a first-year teacher all over again. My heart is still all in and I love what I do, but there is a certain type of exhaustion that comes along with starting in a new classroom. It has taken me a long time to get the hang of middle school, and I'm still not there. They are just a different breed of student! I expected the drama and the immaturity. I did not anticipate how much more structure, hand-holding, and time they would need! Bless their hearts, they move like cold molasses. I think I threw my pacing guide out the window about Week #2. I had paced my year like I would pace a high school class, and that was a mistake. Since September, I feel like I've been flying by the seat of my pants, which is not the way I like to roll! I like structure and organization. I like to feel prepared and in control. I like having decisions made in advance. I wouldn't say that I'm rigid, but rolling with the punches is not my favorite thing. I feel like I'm shifting gears entirely every day, every hour! The needs of seventh graders just seem so much more diverse than the needs of high schoolers. This has led to some serious decision fatigue. I need to get a handle on the second semester, before the Eternal Darkness of February, March, and April sets in.

Enter: Angela Watson. She's one of those internet teachers I fangirl over. This woman is a powerhouse of amazing time management ideas for teachers. She blogs at The Cornerstone for Teachers and is the creator of the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club (side note: really want to join the Club. Maybe this summer?). I was introduced to Angela's corner of the internet via the Cult of Pedagogy podcast (thank you, Jennifer Gonzalez!). When I discovered that Angela was hosting a free challenge, I was all-in. The Goodbye, "Teacher Tired" challenge comes along with the tagline "5 days of doing fewer things, better." That's what I'm talking about! I spent some time during my Winter Break working my way through the materials in this challenge, and I gotta say that I'm feeling more confident going into Semester #2. I'm not going to detail out everything I've done because you really need to check out this challenge for yourself. I will, however, share with you 4 things I am doing to stave off decision fatigue during the next half of the school year.

1. I'm using Angela's to-do list format in my planner. I got an Ink+Volt Planner for Christmas. The Ink+Volt weekly spread is broken into time blocks: morning, noon, and night. I'm turning my weekly spread into little daily to-do lists. The morning block will be for my "before school" and "during school a.m." lists, the middle block will be for my "during school p.m." list, and the bottom block will be my "after school" and "home" lists. Couple this system with the bullet journal system for migrating tasks and events and the Ink+Volt system of tracking weekly, monthly, and yearly goals, and I think I have a planning system that will help me stay a little more sane.

With it being the first week of the New Year, my to-do lists look a little different than typical, but you get the idea.

2. I'm being more purposeful about batching tasks.
 I've always sort of done this, but not in such a formal way. Now, I am blocking off times of the week for batched tasks. So far, I have batched Cleaning, School Paperwork, Lesson Planning, Meal Prep, and Weekly Prep. What I really like about this idea is that I've basically taken all of these little similar tasks and thrown them in a box. Then, when I'm ready/at the scheduled time, I will open the box, unpack these tasks, and take care of them.

3. I am purposefully planning my home life and my school life as separate entities. Part of my Simple Teaching Movement is balancing my work life and my home life. Angela is a powerful voice for this. She seems very insistent that we must have a healthy personal life in order to be our best teacher selves. So, at least at this point in the game, the only "crossover" activity I have is lesson planning. Most of the time, I am able to get all of my school stuff done at school (grading included!). Eight years of directing theatre forced me to learn quality over quantity early on. This tough lesson has been an absolute blessing this year, because I no longer have theatre on my plate but I still know how to usually keep work at work. That being said, I must do better with my long-term lesson planning, and long-term planning is not something I can do at school. I don't know about your day, but mine usually has brief bursts of productivity sprinkled in with the demands of teaching students. I need a quiet place, a long stretch of time, and a cup of coffee (or two) to get my long-term unit planning done, and this is not a luxury I have during the school day. So right now, my lesson planning batch is scheduled for Friday afternoons during school hours, but I also know that I will be dedicating part of my Sundays to this in order to stay ahead.

4. I developed a master task list to reference at school. Sometimes I have so much going on that when my prep period rolls around 6th period, I just sit in a stupor. There are so many things to do that I don't know where to begin. This is a cause of decision fatigue! I need to cut back on the number of decisions I have to make during the school day. Angela suggests seeking out those energy-draining decisions we must regularly make and figuring out a way to simplify it, automate it, or even eliminate it entirely. I've done this with many other aspects of my life. I meal plan, I have my morning, afternoon, and evening routines posted on my refrigerator at home, I've simplified my closet. Now, I need to do this for those "bonus minutes" at school, the time where I can get something accomplished. I waste precious time deciding what to work on, which is just silly. Instead of working my way through a crazy mental to-do list, I am posting a master task list in my classroom, right beside my desktop computer. These are tasks that must be done with some frequency, (should) take very little time, and are important to making my teaching life run smoothly. Now I can pick a task and get started immediately.  I may even laminate it so I can use a dry-erase marker to mark items off the list. Want an editable copy of your own? Grab the freebie here!

Hopefully you can use one of these tricks to help you with your own Teacher Tired. Again, I can't more highly recommend Angela Watson's Goodbye, "Teacher Tired" challenge! I think it can make a big difference in how you feel this semester.

Happy Teaching!