By Beblon Parks

Each time I ask teachers what their biggest stressor is, they say: "There aren't enough hours in the day!" I can relate. I used to be a teacher, and on a typical day I would have to call a parent, read students' work, photocopy papers, and sort hands-on materials — that was just before 9 a.m. By the time I fell into bed at midnight, I was exhausted, but my mind still raced. Finally, I learned how to control my time instead of letting it control me. Here's how I did it.

Identify time robbers.
If you know why or how you waste time, you can start to do something about it. For several days keep a log of what you do and how much time you spend doing it. You may discover one or more of the following culprits:

  • Inability to say no. Did you stretch yourself too thin by saying yes to too many committees?
  • Procrastination. Did you leave a task until the deadline, such as putting up your bulletin board the afternoon before open house?
  • Disorganization. Did you waste time looking for that dinosaur file?
  • Attitude. Did you avoid a task you were dreading, such as calling an angry parent?
  • Problems with priority. Did you do low-priority tasks, such as filing papers, instead of digging out resources for next week's unit?

Learn to say no.
If you have too much on your plate, just say no. While this may seem obvious, it is one of the most difficult things to learn. And keep in mind — if you attempt to outrun the Energizer Bunny, you risk, at best, not completing tasks to your standards, or at worst, burnout.

Enlist students to help with routine tasks.
Delegate, delegate, delegate. This frees up time, and imbues students with a sense of responsibility.

Schedule recoup time into your planning book.
Whether it's taking a brisk walk through the hallways or deep breaths at your desk, be sure you stick to your date with yourself. If someone asks you to do something at that time, say, "I'd love to, but I have something scheduled. Let's pick another time."

Turn elephants into hors d'oeuvres.
Instead of trying to eat an elephant, start by nibbling on the ears or munching on the tail. Cut a huge task into smaller chunks so it seems less insurmountable.

Fight procrastination with the "7/11" technique.
Once you've decided what your "A" priority tasks are and you've subdivided projects into manageable chunks, spend seven minutes on an "A" priority task. Then switch for 11 minutes to one of the chunks of a larger task. By scheduling time for both, you'll make sure that what needs to be done now gets done now.

Don't feel guilty.
While this is easier said than done, it's the most important sanity saver on my list. A nagging list of "I shoulds" prevents you from feeling good about what you've accomplished. And, for all you do, you deserve to feel good. Go ahead, give yourself a pat on the back!

Beblon Parks, a former teacher, is a workshop leader for the Virginia Education Association.