Stealing Little Ideas from Big Business 2/2

The rest of those bits and pieces that don’t justify a whole post but might still be useful…


Humans are crap at multi-tasking. No, really, we are. When we say we’re multi-tasking it usually means we’re doing several things slowly and badly. What we need to be good at – and this applies to many other professions as well as teaching – is prioritising jobs and switching between them at useful intervals. Call it singletasking. The reason you want to avoid (unnecessary) interruptions and constant checking of email is that they stop you effectively focussing on a particular job.

So don’t so through the hassle of starting up your email system six times a day, sending one email each time. When you think of it, write it down on your jobs list, marking it with ‘@email’ and then forget about it. If it’s urgent, phone instead of emailing. At some point, spend half an hour on all the emails. Apart from anything else, there’s a fair chance you can combine several issues into a single email, for example to a year head.

When I’m putting a post together, I’ve pretty much stopped putting the links in as I go. That’s because each time I add a link I need to start a new tab, then either trawl through my bookmarks or spend time on Google. This makes me forget what I was saying. Instead I put LINK as part of the text, possibly with a couple of key words if I know I had a specific page in mind. Then when I’m finished typing I scan through for typos before I start going back to substitute in the real links.

The idea here is to group together similar jobs so you can get in the right mindset. Computers do this by ‘batch processing’, apparently. I wouldn’t expect to plan one day of lessons, then come back and do another day. Instead I get my schemes of work and plan a week or a fortnight. Yes, of course it means they get modified, but then I only have to get my folders of resources off the shelf once. It also means I’ve only got to find the lab techs’ clipboard once, and making fewer late requests means they’re more likely to help me out when I do mess up.

Keep it Simple

Last year I tried really hard to keep my form organised. I had a spreadsheet (Excel – don’t judge me!) and all their names, and the best of intentions to record their reply slips, lates, homework diaries, green and red slips… Nice idea. Failed miserably, but a nice idea all the same. This year I’ve got a different approach.

I’ve got some envelopes.

Each time they have a letter that means a reply needs to come in, I start a new envelope. Each day I total up the slips as they go in. The day before the deadline I read out the names. Everyone who hasn’t got them in yet writes their own reminder while I add their names to the envelope. I then cross off the names as they come in. If I can be bothered, I’ll save the envelopes to give me an idea of who’s regularly late. (I can already predict who it’ll be.)

It doesn’t have the same air of efficiency. It won’t give me running totals, order of efficiency or percentage completion. But it will be easy to do, requires nothing more than a pen and so is more likely to be kept up as the term goes on. I do feel like somewhat of a Luddite but at least I’m not yet getting behind. Sometimes using computers really does offer an advantage – electronic markbooks can be synchronised with calenders, you can show progression and improvement and all that kind of thing. Setting them up takes time and for me, at least, I’m not sure they yet justify that hassle. When there is more than one way to solve a problem, you need to be sure that more complex solutions justify the inevitable problems compared to simple ones – perhaps this should be formalised as a collory to Occam’s Razor.

And Finally…

It’s easy to get into the habit of taking work home with you as a teacher. A lot of the time it’s unavoidable – and the long holidays do mean it’s hard to justify complaints. But there are ways to make it easier, so teaching doesn’t have to mean your whole life.

Firstly, try to take home specific jobs – one set of marking, or one worksheet to put together. Taking home your whole file often means you never feel like your weekend is your own, because there’s too much in there to do. And that sort of looming enemy is just what makes it more likely you’ll procrastinate. (I’m speaking from experience here.)

Something else that helps me is to have a specific routine which I try to follow in the evenings before I head home. I don’t just mean cleaning the board and returning worksheets, but setting myself a first job for the next day or scribbling a list of the resources I’ll need. Then when I get in the next morning, instead of putting the kettle on and chatting with colleagues, I can get a few things done and be into the swing of another set of lessons. Putting that post-it on my desk also means I don’t have to remember that list of things, so it’s that little bit easier for me to relax as I head out.

Any little tips you have to offer? Please share them in the comments…


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