Time Management

Time Management for Teachers: Spend Your Time Doing What’s Important Rather Than Just What’s Urgent

Time management for teachers is often unlike time management for people in other jobs.

The demands made on teachers’ time are not only wide reaching but relentlessly inflexible. At various times in their career, most teachers can feel overwhelmed by the pressures on their time and if they don’t manage their time effectively the downward spiral accelerates.

Poor time management is often a major factor in teacher burnout and teacher stress. In fact teachers, like all professionals, can spend their working time in 4 ways, and the smart solution is to decide in which time sector you need to spend your time, given the context and circumstances of the activities that make up your role.

The 4 Time Zones of Teacher Time Management

The four ‘zones’ of time management for teachers are:

  • Zone 1- activities that are urgent and important
  • Zone 2 – activities that are important and not urgent
  • Zone 3 – activities that are urgent and not important
  • Zone 4 – activities that are not important and not urgent

At first glance it’s tempting to say that teachers need to spend most of their time in Zone 1 – urgent and important. In fact, teachers should aim to spend most of their time in Zone 2 – important and not urgent.

When considering time management for teachers it’s important to focus on the results of spending time in the different time zones , not just focus on the activities themselves, and we shouldn’t confuse activity with action.

*Time Management For Teachers – Zone 1 – Urgent and Important

If you’re active in this time zone you’re dealing with pressing problems, issues that demand your time now, which even if they don’t turn into crises [and they might], are at the very least driven by deadlines, and put you under pressure.

Frequently the activities teachers have to attend to in this zone are short term responses to demands from other people’s agendas.

Time spent in this zone is characterized by being reactive with a narrow focus. This is urgent time management that is important only in the sense that if issues are not dealt with they will become even more pressing and take even more time away from other time management activites that need attention.

Of course, as teachers , we have to spend some time in this zone. If, for example, we have student report cards to write to a tight deadline, we simply have to put in the time to make sure they’re completed by the deadline. This is particularly important when others depend on us completing our part of the process before they can complete theirs.

Because results are more important than activity in time management for teachers, time spent in zone 1 should be limited to what’s absolutely neccessary to get the job done. The consequences of dwelling too long in the ‘urgent and important’ area are all too familiar to many teachers: stress, burnout, relentless crisis management and ‘fire-fighting’.

However, teachers can find smart ways to deal with some of the demands of zone 1 and so become experts at urgent time management.

*Time Management For Teachers – Zone 2 – Important and Not Urgent

Although this sounds a bit of a contradiction, really effective professionals seem to spend most of their time not doing urgent things but doing activities that are important instead.

Time Zone 2 activities involve planning, anticipating problems in order to prevent them happening, imagining new opportunities, building relationships with colleagues, and professional development.

One of the benefits of spending more time in zone 2 is that by looking ahead we can develop a better overview of the real priorities of our own agenda, what’s important to us in our overall teacher time management.

Good time management for teachers means being smart in time zone 2, because it can help us reduce the need to work in time zone 1 through forward planning and allocating time ‘in good time’ to what we need to do. Most of us would say that some of those very things that plague us in the ‘urgent and important’ sector have become urgent because we didn’t spend enough time anticipating them before they became urgent.

So the consequence for our teacher time management success of not spending enough time on the important things is that we have to then spend more time on the urgent things.

The benefits of spending time on important and not urgent activities are:

more balance
a clearer perspective
a better vision of the ‘big picture’
a more disciplined approach to our use of time
and crucially, more control of our time
Some specific examples of zone 2 activities:

  • lesson planning – the most important activity we can do to make our classroom interactions effective.
  • self-development – researching and thinking through how we can implement a new behavior management strategy for instance: think how positive the impact would be on our lives if we were able to enjoy a better relationship with that problem class, the class which will make us more and more stressed, and force us to take more and more urgent actions to try to find a solution to the problem that we kept putting off trying to find because we felt that it wasn’t ‘urgent’: time spent in zone 2 on this could radically improve our lives in the classroom.
  • preparing a new course to offer next year to raise the profile of your subject – and your own reputation: this type of activity will be infinitely more valuable in the long run than any activity you focus on in any other time zone of time management for teachers, so it’s worth learning how to develop your skills in important time management.
  • Time Management For Teachers – Zone 3 – Urgent and Not Important

This zone can really steal your time as a teacher. It includes activities such as:

responding to interruptions to what you had planned
some meetings – especially unfocused meetings that don’t have a clear purpose and that don’t resolve issues
some activities that might make you popular with your colleagues but don’t really help you at all.
An example of the last point might be if the principal suddenly requests [demands?] a report about how you plan to implement his/her vision of a new format for assessing student grades in the next academic year. It’s urgent for the principal, but not important for you – if the new assessment system comes into force you can then examine your response as a zone 2 activity, i.e. something that becomes important for you but not urgent because you’ll give it careful consideration over a period of time.

  • Time Management For Teachers – Zone 4 – Not Urgent and Not Important

Time zone 4 can be both bad and good for teacher time management.

It can be bad because activities carrried out here produce no real result in terms of helping you meet your priorities, as most of the activity here is:

busy work – lists, some phone calls, some emails etc
some trivial clerical tasks
some time wasters – such as ,for example, looking through your cupboards trying to find a worksheet you know you created a couple of years ago, and you have a vague idea you might be able to use it next week with a couple of classes if you decide to do the lesson you’ve kind of got half an idea about in your mind but is nowhere near thought through let alone planned.
But sometimes we all need a brief excursion into zone 4 because we all need some distraction, something fun and enjoyable that lets us retain our sanity, and is therefore an important feature of time management for teachers, even though we know it’s escapism and won’t really take our agenda forward.

This may be ‘downtime’ when we’re at home, such as watching TV, or it may be distraction at work such as browsing the web, either just for fun or on the pretence that we may just come across a useful website we might be able to use in our teaching. Sometimes we do, but more often than not we don’t.

Nevertheless, my own view is that a little self indulgence in this area, especially if it’s near the end of the day and you know you’re going to be busy in the evening doing important zone 2 activities, helps us keep a sense of perspective and provides a useful safety valve for overall time management for teachers

Good time management for teachers makes an important contribution to overall teacher effectiveness and considering carefully how to get it right is a major part in the process of sharpening the saw.

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If you want some ready-made resources that could save you a lot of time check out these timesavers.

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