Mindset & Motivation, Productivity Strategies | Jul 2, 2017
12 secrets of teachers who trimmed 10+ hours off their workweeks
By Angela Watson
Founder and Writer
One of the questions a lot of teachers like to ask 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club members is:
“What exactly did you learn to do differently through the club? Can you give an example of something you changed?”
Often that’s a tricky question for club members to answer, because the most impactful strategies aren’t always tangible. Sometimes it’s the mindset shifts that make the biggest difference.
I decided to survey a group of now-graduated club members who report having trimmed 10-25 hours off their workweeks. All of them began the program working at least 55 hours a week, and most were working between 60 and 70 hour weeks.
The club’s project manager and I combed through the survey data afterward to look for patterns. What did our most successful members have in common? What are the club resources and strategies that made the BIGGEST difference for them?
The answers became clear right away. In fact, we discovered there were 12 major mindset shifts and teaching practices that cropped up over and over again in the survey.
We thought the results were fascinating, and decided to compile them in a blog post…
What did you do to trim those hours off your workweek?
#1 Created better boundaries
“My mindset has changed. I ask myself now, Could a student do this? Am I saying no to something I want in the future by choosing to do this right now? Can I just add this to my long-term or anytime list instead of doing it right now? It has been such a positive part of my teaching and personal life this year.”
“I used the strategy about setting ‘office hours’ with students’ parents so they know when to expect me to return messages. It was so helpful to hear that just because someone emails me at 11 pm on Friday does not mean I need to return the message right then. I’ve been amazed at how well my students’ parents like the office hours. They know when they’re going to hear back from me and that makes them feel like a priority.”
“It’s OK to change something when it’s not working. It’s OK to set boundaries around my time. It’s OK to ask for help. I’m finally starting to understand that I don’t need to be working nonstop, I just need to be working on the right things.”
#2 Learned how to stop reinventing the wheel
“I liked what you had to say about prepping materials so that they’re effective but maybe not yet perfect. Use what you have and improve as you go. It will never get done if you wait for it to be perfect.”
“Minimum viable product was a key concept for me–this caused a peacefulness to enter my heart and mind. I tweak more as I go and if needed, loopback to clarify.”
“I was spending way too much time trying to figure things out that other teachers had already discovered. I used the club materials as a jumping off point when trying to figure out how to approach a particular topic or problem, and then asked other club members in the Facebook group what they do. Before that, I used to spend hours digging through ideas online and scrolling through Pinterest. I feel like I streamlined this process a lot and stopped reinventing the wheel.”
#3 Practiced being intentional about choices
“I joined the club with the intention of changing things up, not so much of working fewer hours. The prior year was exhausting for me, and I was near quitting teaching. I had an amazing year this year, however, and I truly believe it is because of this club. I stopped doing things just because they were the way I’d always done then, and learned to be a lot more intentional about how I teach and how I use my time.”
“I had no idea how much time I was wasting on things I didn’t even want to be doing. Paying attention to that was a big wake up call. I no longer just go through the motions in my day.”
#4 Used the 40HTW List-Making System
“Utilizing the weekly to-do list has been by far one of the things that had the most impact on my work/life balance. By using that list, I have been much more intentional with how I use my time. I believe using the list has helped me take a few hours off of my workweek.”
“I was never very intentional about my to-do lists and how I would spend my planning period. Now I am very intentional about only giving myself a couple of things to do during that time. I am usually able to get these done in the time I have.”
“The to-do lists have been the biggest game changer for me and have helped me use my time efficiently. It also reduces my stress because once I write something down, I don’t spend mental energy holding it in my head or worrying about when it will get done.”
#5 Used the club’s organization and paper management systems
“The new organization of my room has made an impact for sure. The responsibility of the students to manage particular aspects of the room, and the patterns and routines established make the flow more efficient.”
“My organization is vastly improved. My principal says I have improved this year in every area because of it. I’m not wasting time digging around for materials and I know where things are now.”
“Focusing on having a place for everything, and making sure those places make it easy to put materials away was something I’d never done before. I never really thought about how if something belonged on the opposite side of the room or was in the bottom tub in a stack, it would be too hard to put away, and I’d end up with cluttered piled everywhere.”
“The paper management system for the club really does work. I was overwhelmed by all the papers in my classroom, but having a 7 step system to finding a place for all of them was exactly the structure I needed.”
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#6 Got more strategic about grading & homework management
“I used to grade a little each night and each planning period. Of course, I still had more to do on the weekend, so using the checklist system and blocking out a period of time to focus on that frees up my mind for the rest of the week. As a ninth year teacher, I’m amazed and thankful how the materials on grading along with Angela’s ‘life coaching’ type tone of voice has helped me!!!”
“I average about 48-50 hours at work, but am bringing home less than what I was. My spring break is looking very open. I have next to no grading to do, just a few make-up work papers that were turned in at the last minute. Batching my grading helped, and so did grading stations. I try to have kids do more self-assessment instead of relying on me to tell them how they did.”
“Changing my make up work policy and homework policy helped a lot–before all the work was on me. Now it’s students’ responsibility to keep track of their work and turn it in. I am amazed at how much better they are about this when I made the system simpler and more streamlined.”
#7 Implemented the club’s classroom jobs system
“I used to always wait until the end of the school day to correct and enter late work into the grading database. Now, I have students self-correct it, date it, and stamp it. I enter the scores off/on all day long, when I have a minute here, or two minutes there. Since they are all random assignments, and I am only entering completion points (for the most part), the time after school is for me to grade a single assignment for a class or plan for the future.”
“As a high school teacher, I had never really thought about having some kind of classroom job system. It seemed like more trouble to maintain than just doing the jobs myself. But I really like having a handful of time-specific jobs that groups of students complete for me before school and during homeroom and at the end of the day. They like helping out and it frees me up to do other tasks.”
“I had a class jobs system, but the kids never remembered to do their jobs. Once I set up a more organized system and trained the kids in it, this is not a problem anymore.”
“I realized I was doing everything myself in my classroom because I wanted things done MY way. It took a long time, but I learned through the club how to let kids have some responsibility for deciding how the classroom operates. Now I’m not as afraid of delegating tasks to them and have learned to make it OUR room instead of mine.”
#8 Learned how to batch tasks
“I used to try to do a little bit of everything at once and would get distracted and overwhelmed. Now I really focus on batching my tasks. I try to set aside longer blocks of time to complete one task instead of just doing a little bit of a bunch of tasks. This gives me a sense of completion.”
“Figuring out how to batch similar tasks together was a game-changer for me. It really does help me work more efficiently when I can get into my flow and knock a whole bunch of stuff out. I was surprised at how I could batch tasks even in short blocks of time, if I planned that in advance and wrote it on my list.”
#9 Started planning lessons more efficiently
“I had never used an online planner before and am so glad I took the leap thanks to encouragement from the club. Being able to import the same lessons the following year so I don’t have to re-type standards, etc. and start from scratch really helps. I can focus on improving my lessons from year to year instead of trying to remember what I did last time.”
“I was always a day by day planner. It was so stressful because I could never take a night off, no matter how tired I was. I had assumed it would be impossible to meet my kids’ needs if I planned ahead, but Angela showed me that I can have a rough outline sketched out way in advance and that helps me stay focused on where I’m trying to get the kids to go. I think about long term goals now and plan backwards, and I never thought that would be possible for me.”
#10 Bounced ideas off other teachers in the Facebook group to stop feeling like I’m alone
“The regular support of the weekly emails and checking in/daily reading of the Facebook posts in the 40HTW has provided me with an enormous amount of support and teaching ideas.”
“I love knowing that I have the Saturday message to look forward to, because I have come to trust that it will be an oasis of ideas, encouragement, and a sort of ‘ok-I’m-not-crazy…other-teachers-are-going-through-the-same-thing’ time.”
“I thought MY school was the only one with students who behaved a certain way or had a demanding administration, as if we were our own island, but I find that’s not the case after talking with other club members. THAT has enabled me to relax my standards a bit, prioritize better, and even push back a bit to prevent the demands from overwhelming me.”
#11 Used the club’s system for setting up a classroom for productivity
“Setting in place how I wanted to structure my physical space and time with my students as we began our year together helped a lot. I used to set up my room in August according to what looked nice, but it’s so much more than that. I guess I couldn’t put all the pieces together in my mind until I got the July club materials.”
“Previously, I thought about what systems would be easiest for ME. But Angela taught me about being the UX Designer for my classroom and figuring out how to make the systems intuitive for kids. As a result, my students really run the classroom and don’t need near as many reminders about what to do and where things belong.”
#12 Tracked how I use my time & set a target number each week
“I was really scared to track my work hours, but I’m glad I did it. I realized how much time was slipping away without me realizing it. It became a lot easier to stay focused even though I didn’t track my hours every week.”
“Setting a target number of hours to work and then planning how to allocate them throughout the week was big for me. Knowing exactly what days I was going to be staying late or bringing work home–and knowing what hours I would be doing that–was really helpful. I stopped procrastinating on social media because I knew I only had an hour to finish my work. And then when that time was up, I could go home and relax and not feel guilty.”
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Founder and Writer
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I was wondering if this also works for high school
Hey there, Barbara! Yes, high school teachers are definitely welcome. About 30% of our members are secondary teachers, and we have a separate Facebook group for them. You can check out the reviews page and search for teachers who specifically mentioned high school to read about it in their own words: https://40htw.com/join/reviews/.
I’m excited to see how this works for me this year. I get teased at work all the time because of all iof the time I spend there. I’m very much a perfectionist in some ways but organizational skills and getting rid of things is my downfall. I’m looking forward to more streamlined days in the future school years.
Leigh, I understand being a perfectionist. A big part of the club is learning to relax your standards to a level where no one else will notice but you. I like you’ll find it’s very useful in helping you change your mindset and lessen the pressure you put on yourself. 🙂
I teach preschool and kindergarten students who are deaf and hard-of-hearing. I think I would have to adapt your program and change it for my needs because my work day is so different. I’m wondering if it would work for me.
I don’t recommend the club for preschool teachers, and I do think you’d need to adapt the ideas a bit more. What parts of teaching are most time consuming for you? Do these week-by-week focuses seem like they’d be relevant? https://40htw.com/join/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2017/06/July-2017-Year-Long-Blueprint.pdf
Oh dear. I’m a student teacher with a placement in Early Years followed by a placement in KS1 coming up. I did hope that this course would help make my workload more manageable, as I just couldn’t get it all done to a sufficient standard before, but you think it’s not so relevant to EYFS?
What specific things are you struggling with? Here’s what’s covered each week. See how relevant these topics seem to you:
Week 1: Create a Sustainable Work Schedule
Week 2: Reduce and Prioritize Tasks
Week 3: Get Papers, Digital Files, and Lesson Materials Organized
Week 4: Set Up Systems for a Self-Running Classroom
Week 5: Simplify Your Lesson Planning Process
Week 6: Streamline Grading and Assessment
Thanks for sharing your ideas. The beginng and end of the year are super always hectic, and we can use all the tips you offer for keeping our priorities realistic, feasible and sustainable.
I am an elementary school art teacher. I have my own room, a different curriculum for each of the grades I teach (K-5). I see about 550 students each week. Would your course be of any benefit to me?
Hi, Terri! We have lots of members who see multiple groups of students (all of our secondary teachers fall into that category.) The club would definitely still be useful for you. It’s not really about what or where you teach, but about your mindset and habits. That way you can use the strategies for the rest of your teaching career, no matter what kind of situation you find yourself in during future years. I hope that’s helpful as you make your decision!