Setting aside the considerable debate about whether teachers should, perhaps be expected to, take school work home, it seems inevitable that most teachers will undertake school-related tasks at home at some point. But are we doing so in the most efficient manner, and how can we improve the experience of working at home?
As a primary school teacher, I don’t think I could do my job without taking some work home. However, I have developed ten strategies and rules to get the maximum in the minimum amount of time.
It may seem obvious, but focusing solely on the task at hand is important. The notion of multitasking is largely a myth, and most of us will do a poorer job and take more time overall if we try to do two things rather than tackle them individually. While binge-watching your latest favourite ‘must-watch’ Netflix show will make marking your spelling books less painful, it may be better and less time consuming to get your marking out of the way, and then binge with impunity.
The best way to stop your procrastination habits is to be mindful of them. We can always find something else to do when an unpleasant task is ahead of us, but if you find yourself suddenly and uncharacteristically mopping the floor, and conducting an in-depth survey of the crookedness of you wall-mounted photo frames, chances are that you are avoiding the task and you should just get on with it.
Personally, I like to work at things in long time slots, and I find resetting to a task takes a few minutes to get back into the zone. Therefore, I find preparing myself for a long stint before I begin limits the number of self-imposed interruption. Try to get everything you will need before you begin and make lists if necessary. The more ‘I just need to get…’ moments you have, the less like you will get distracted.
A teacher’s work is nothing done. As such, your todo list will never end. Therefore, it is vitally important to prioritise the school tasks you bring home, not by how easy they are, but how important they are to you as a teacher and for the pupils in your class. Because of this, you will likely have some non-urgent tasks on your list for weeks, months, or perhaps years… and that’s ok. Just so long as you complete the tasks that would otherwise hinder your teaching, or impact on your students and/or colleagues. Knowing which tasks to efficiently kick into the long grass is an under-appreciated skill.
You may have noticed, your time is finite. Therefore you need to be realistic about the time you will need to spend on a given task, especially when working at home. Assign a generous amount of time in which you think it will take you to complete the task, and time to give yourself a realistic short-term deadline, such as marking a set of books in an hour. If your deadline was reasonable, but you are still not finished by the time your deadline is reached, you should probably consider stopping.
It is important to build in scheduled breaks at regular times when you completely switch off and perhaps do something fun. When I’m attacking a long, multi-hour task, I use a timer so that I work and focus for twenty minutes, then stop completely for three minutes. Insert longer breaks periodically if you plan to work for many hours in a row.
While sinking into your sofa may be the most comfortable position to mark your books, is it the most efficient? Not all of us have the luxury of a dedicated home-office to do our work, but sitting at a desk, while eerily like still being at school, may help you work quicker.
Furthermore, ensure that the space is a pleasure place to be, with lots of light, preferable near a window, and spacious. Planning and marking tends to spread!
Good digital practices will help you seamlessly work anywhere. Cloud storage for files is essential for every teacher. We can learn a lot from ‘nomadic teachers’ who do not have a classroom of their own, but must be ready to teach as soon as a classroom becomes free. By being digitally organised, without scraps of paper and post-its stuck to every available surface, you can have assess to everything which is important at a swipe of a screen.
However, access to the web is not yet omni-present, but many cloud-storage providers allow you to access files offline, which update automatically when the connection is restored.
Voice recordings and voice-to-text are under-used strategies and can save you a lot of time, and audio recordings as feedback are more likely to be acted upon by your students.
Your ‘homework’ doesn’t need to be completed at home. Consider a change of scenery. Coffee shops provide the right balance of caffeine and white-noise to help you plough through tasks, and removes you from tasks at home that may make you procrastinate.
A local library, or even a park or your garden offer a change of scene which may help you get away from the family distractions.
Finding the right balance is never easy, but be mindful that each time you spend time on work when it should be family time and work efficiently so you can keep this to a minimum. Don’t try to do work and family time together, as both will suffer, but have quality work time so you can have quality family time.