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8 Ways to Find Time in Your Day

It’s no secret that teachers put in a lot of time at school or working on school related things at home.  Here’s some tips to help you find time in your day.  Does this sound familiar?

It’s 5:27 pm. You still have a stack of papers to be graded on your desk, your plans aren’t ready for tomorrow, and your own 3 children are waiting for you at home. You were hoping for something a little more savory than mac and cheese with sliced-up hot dogs tonight, but you don’t have much time for gourmet cooking. You jam all those ungraded papers and lesson plan materials into your already overstuffed “I Love Teaching” tote bag and head home, realizing you will be up past midnight again. You wonder to yourself, “Do I really love teaching?”

Of course you do! You love the thrill of those light-bulb moments and the great moments of teacher-student interaction.  Nothing can compare! You are just feeling overwhelmed by the paperwork and lack of time needed to get everything done.

By carefully scrutinizing how you use every single moment of the workday, you might be surprised at how many extra minutes you can squeeze out of your schedule and put to better use. I did this myself a few years ago, and it was amazing at how much more I was able to get done in any given school day.  It changed my life and today I’m sharing these tips with you to help you find time in your day too!

Find Time in Your Day…


1.  Have a working lunch in your classroom.  Chances are, you only have a 20-30 minute lunch period anyway. Pack a lunch that does not involve using a microwave, if possible, because that would lead you to the faculty room, which might lead to unnecessary chatter, and then your 20 minutes is gone before you even know it. As you eat, really sit down and work on one or two short tasks that you can get done in that timeframe. 20 minutes adds up to 100 extra minutes of found work time each week! That’s pretty significant!


2.  Arrive 10 minutes early. Get everything ready to go for the day. I usually open my plan book, get my SmartBoard ready for my first math lesson, and get my math materials ready for that day’s lesson. This helps me find time later (see #3).

3.  If you are fully prepared for the first lesson of the day (see #2), then you aren’t scrambling to get materials ready once class has started. Instead of using moments of independent student work time to get the next part of the lesson ready, you can do any of the following:

  • Carry a small stack of papers to be graded with you as you circulate around the room. Correct as you walk, if possible. Obviously this won’t work for the deep-thinking kind of assignments, like narrative essays, but certainly you can correct simple worksheets and spelling tests a few at a time!
  • Make lists of what you want to accomplish during that day’s planning period. Yes, plan for your planning period! It’s amazing how much more you will be able to accomplish when you know exactly what needs to be done!


4.  Avoid unnecessary visiting and gossip time with your colleagues.  It’s hard; I know. It can be so nice to interact with adults throughout the day. You still can, but in much smaller doses and with more purposeful intent. Listening to your team partner talk about all her latest foot surgery complications isn’t really how you want to spend your precious planning time. Certainly, you can be kind and compassionate without sacrificing your own needs. If people are always stopping in your room  to visit, here are some ways to get away from that loss of minutes:
  • Close your door. Yes, close your door and maybe even turn off the lights. You won’t be the first teacher to ever hide in the corner to grade papers during her planning time. It is O.K.!
  • Put a gentle reminder on your closed door that says “Teacher Planning in Progress.” It’s not rude, and most other teachers will respect that you are making good use of your planning time.
  • Walk with them. I listened to a wise teacher explain this method at a conference I attended this summer. She said that it is better to waste 5 minutes rather than 40 minutes of your planning time. When that talkative teacher stops by to chat during your prep period, stand up and say, “Hey, I was just headed down to the office. Why don’t you walk with me?” Chances are that by the time you get to the office, they will have said what they need to say and will head in a different direction.
5.  Multi-task. You most likely already do this, but step it up a notch. You can cut out task cards, staple papers, and even organize center materials in 1-2 minute spurts when there is an independent or group work part of a lesson. I am perfectly capable of separating base 10 blocks into baggies while listening/watching small group interaction! If I get it done now, I don’t have to worry about it later. Those small tasks really do add up to a large chunk of time!
6.  Assign less graded work. This was probably my biggest mistake as a rookie teacher. For every, single lesson I taught, I thought I needed to assign work to be graded. It was quite a moment when I realized that for every worksheet I assigned, I had 28 that would need to be corrected. That adds up to SO much paperwork time! Think about why you are giving an assignment. Is there an easier way to see if each of your students has mastered a concept? A checklist is easy to carry around during a lesson. Watch your students as they work and do a more formative-type of assessing. Save the grades for those summative assessments and for when they are really needed.
7.  Separate ungraded papers into 2 piles: Less Than 10 Minutes and More Than 10 Minutes. When I have students working on a project or a group activity that will take about 10 minutes, I grab a stack of papers from the Less Than 10 Minutes pile and cruise through it. This is a huge timesaver, since you don’t have to sift through papers trying to figure out which ones to grade next.
8. Learn to say “NO.” This is a difficult one. Most teachers fall into the category of sharers and doers. We like to give and share; it’s just who we are. So when a committee is formed and you are asked to serve on it, you probably feel the need to give of yourself and serve. I do feel that it is part of our professional duty to collaborate, work with our teams, and serve in some capacities. I do not agree that we should be made to feel that is is our responsibility to serve on every single committee and work group. Do yourself a favor and kindly decline the next time you are asked to volunteer, when there are other people who are capable of doing the job.
While I cannot promise that you will have oodles of extra time on your hands, I can guarantee that if you implement some of these strategies, you will definitely have a lighter workload after school hours. Maybe then, you can get out of the mac and cheese or cold cereal for dinner routine! Unless, of course, you really like that sort of thing. Captain Crunch for me all the way, baby! 😉
I’d love to know how you find time in your day!  Leave a comment below or tag me on social media.
Shelly Rees

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  • Krystal L. Smith September 19, 2016 at 12:10 pm

    Great tips. I like the sign on the door stating planning in progress, stamding up and walking with a teacher that stops by, and assigning less graded work. The last one is the hardest one for me. I think your tips may help.

    • Shelly Rees September 19, 2016 at 3:24 pm

      Thank you! I think the sign on the door really is one of the best ways to give your friends and colleagues an idea (in a kind, professional way) that you need to get your work done. Hope you have a wonderful school year!

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    I'm Shelly Rees of Appletastic Learning. First and foremost, I'm a mom of 4 boys, wife of 25 years to Aric, and Wyoming girl at heart. I love being creative, making resources for teachers, baking cookies, Diet Coke, teaching, public speaking, and spreading kindness wherever I can. After teaching in the upper elementary grades for over 23 years, I retired early and focused on creating and helping teachers around the world with my teaching ideas and resources. I also serve as a mentor to hundreds of teacherpreneurs and help them get focused on growing their own successful businesses. With 100% honesty, I LOVE my life! Thanks for visiting! I hope you'll stay awhile and come back often. Read More

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