Two 2021 Pearson silver award winners Reema Reid, headteacher at Hollydale Primary School in Southwark, and Aashna Jethmalani, a science teacher at Haileybury Turnford, a secondary school in Waltham Cross, offer some top tips for busy teaching professionals to manage their time effectively.
1. Prioritise – decide what really needs to be done and what can wait
RR: In a school with such high need, I have to be around to know what’s going on, which makes managing my time critical. So I have to decide what’s important. You don’t always need to respond to that email. Ask yourself – can it wait for a couple of hours? If you’ve got some strategic work you need to do, don’t feel guilty about saying I’m not going to deal with this now.
2. Make ‘to do’ lists and keep a diary
RR: Put those things into a diary that need doing. Writing things down is quite important, otherwise it just doesn’t get done. Do some of your to-do list during the school day. There are plenty of tools out there, like calendars, that you can use.
3. Set realistic time limits
AJ: Tasks that I believe can be finished in under five minutes are the first to be crossed off, as I make it a rule to address them immediately. Longer tasks are scheduled with an estimated duration limit. Factor in distractions, chores, socialising time, dozing time and spiralling research time, making sure you allot your hours accordingly. Use a timer to make sure you stay within the limit. It is not necessary to complete the tasks in one sitting, either. Complete a task for 25 minutes, taking a five-minute break. Then I am able to come back to focus on the task at hand for a much lengthier period of time.
4. Protect your time
RR: A lot of things are thrown at you, and it’s about filtering through that to make sure your day is productive. As a leader working in a challenging school, I quickly got caught up in trying to deal with everything. But you realise working that way is not as productive as it can be. So just be aware that you need to protect some of your time. I’ll say to my leaders, this is what my diary looks like. These are protected times for me. I’m not one of those heads that is sitting in an office. That’s never going to be my leadership style. So yes, I’ve chosen to do firefighting. But you’ve got to know when to pull back as well.
RR: You can’t do it all. So I delegate. I don’t really need to do a premises walk every week – the business manager can do that. Or I don’t need to look at whether there are enough exercise books – the deputy can do that. I explained this to the leadership team, and they were happy to take on more because it’s also about developing their leadership skills. It makes for a better working school and gives people the skills they need.
6. One-size does not fit all – advice from colleagues or friends may not be suitable for you
AJ: It took me a while to understand why recommendations of early mornings or specified evenings/weekends off did not inspire any revelations in my own erratic schedule. I tend to find myself more efficient when burning the midnight oil, and bulk-working on the weekend is preferable to constant weekday evenings. Working in accordance with my set limits meant I became more inclined to do the task I was in the headspace for.
7. Take time out
RR: Sometimes I might just want to spend time with the children. Friday’s a day when I want to reflect and see what’s going on. I’m not going to beat myself up about spending time with the choir or being in the playground.
AJ: Relegating ourselves below work, family, and the myriad of other responsibilities we undertake accelerates burnout. It’s important to recognise the need to stop, pause and unwind.