Teachers – how to improve your work-life balance

You don’t have to make yourself miserable to be successful. It’s natural to look back and mythologize the long nights and manic moments of genius, but success isn’t about working hard, it’s about working smart.” ―Andrew Wilkinson, founder of MetaLab

A culture of stress

The average teacher in the UK is working up to 60 hours a week during term time, and often through their holidays, in order to lesson plan and keep on top of reporting activities, new regulations, new curriculums and assessment cycles. In the first of our series of blog posts on the stresses that face modern teachers, we look at achieving a better work-life balance.

This critical imbalance in a teacher’s work life has meant that over 40,000 teachers quit the profession in 2016. Studies show that teachers are doing 20% of their work out of hours.  The Education Support  2018 Teacher Wellbeing Index found that 74% of teaching and management staff said that they were unable to switch off from work and that was leading to a negative work-life balance. Teachers reported working until the early hours of the morning just to get ahead for the following day, only having to repeat the process the next day.

“I had completely lost my boundaries, I didn’t know where my job ended and my self started. It had all become this glutinous, amorphous thing.”

Over the last ten years, government ministers have recognised the need to “free up teachers’ time” to help them concentrate on what they do best – teaching. Secretary of State for Education Damien Hinds has recently pledged that he will work to “reduce the time spent on unnecessary tasks.”

However, are there practical steps that you can take right now to help manage your own wellbeing and redress the balance? Here are the first of our top tips to help you take back control

  1. Planning

How many actions have been festering on your to-do list for weeks, months, or even years?

According to scientists, to do lists are self-defeating. They cause stress. They also don’t differentiate between what is urgent instead of the most important.

Having to do lists scattered about on post-its or in multiple notebooks can add to the frustration and lack of achievement. Productive people tend to schedule in tasks into their day – with realistic timeframes. Blocking out time for everything – marking, returning emails, reporting, exercise, travelling can help give you back control of your life.

Taking the time to structure and plan your day can give you clarity, lessen anxiety and help focus your work.

2. Time management

Time management can help you take back control of your day: prioritising activities and some “me-time”. Here are some of our top tips for improving your time management skills.

  • Don’t react to emails as soon as they hit your inbox. Set aside a specific time in your day to look at and respond to emails.
  • Set up auto-filters to move out non-urgent emails to folders so you are only left with important emails.  Unsubscribe from time-sink emails and newsletters.
  • Turning off devices with communication notifications can also help you truly focus on a task.
  • Try the Pomodoro technique. This is a method of focussing your mind for 25-minute blocks of time.  The theory is that the mind can only really fully focus in 25 minute blocks of time. Using apps and timer reminders can help you re-structure your day and achieve more.
  • Change your location: Prioritise tasks into four categories: Urgent and important, Not urgent but important, urgent but not important, neither urgent or important. Focussing your time on not urgent but important tasks will help bring a better sense of achievement and hopefully stop you from dealing with too many urgent tasks.
  • Schedule breaks: No one can make you take a break – only you can do that. Your manager is not going to make sure you take your lunch break or drink enough water, but equally, they are not stopping you from doing it. Make sure you protect your lunch break and that meetings are not booked into this space. Also, make sure that break time is away from your computer or desk.

3. Make personal goals

Making personal goals that you have to achieve, sitting alongside your work ones, can help ensure you focus on you – not just your job.

  • Try blocking out time in your diary for exercise or meeting up with friends and family. Or booking in exercise classes.
  • Schedule regular breaks.
  • Try meditation

4. Try to keep home and work separate

Trying to keep work for the workplace is a powerful way of keeping your balance.

  • If you must work at home, try and keep it contained to just one room – and never let it enter your bedroom.
  • Make sure your colleagues and family know where the boundaries lie. We don’t have to be “always on” and sometimes the hardest challenge is making ourselves realise this and switching off.
  • Turn off notifications when you are at home.

Over the coming weeks we’ll be looking at other ways to make cut down your admin hours and reclaim time for yourself. We know that one of the key areas that teachers feel is sucking up a lot of time in data input and management. Our whole school improvement platform works with your school’s existing MIS to change how you input, create and interpret data, meaning you save time and the data is more effective, helping you improve learning outcomes. Read more