How to have your most productive academic year yet

SET member Martine Ellis hosts a popular education podcast called The Teaching Space. She’s also a teacher educator and Google Certified Trainer based in Guernsey. Martine shares her advice on how to manage your workload and find ways to work more efficiently.

When I moved from a senior leadership role in the finance sector to teaching further education, I’ll be honest: I had a shock. There was so much work to do. I thought I knew how to handle a large workload with conflicting priorities. I thought I knew how to manage my time. It turns out I didn’t have a clue!

Ten years on, I’m pleased to report that becoming a teacher was the best thing I ever did. Of course, it’s still busy, but over the years I’ve learned ways to work far more efficiently.

Here are three strategies I believe will help you make 2018/19 your most productive academic year yet.

1. Stop using your inbox as a task manager

How many emails are in your inbox right now? 25? 30? 500? 1000? Are you too afraid to look? Don't worry - you're not alone.

If you have a large number of emails in your inbox, chances are, you’re using it as a to-do list or task manager. The trouble is, email inboxes are not designed for this purpose. Here are some reasons why you shouldn't use your inbox in this way:

  • You are not in control of incoming items - anyone can add tasks to your workload at any time.
  • It's hard to see what the actual ‘to-do’ item is without opening the email and spending time reading it. People rarely give their emails descriptive subjects.
  • It’s difficult to prioritise tasks in your inbox and allocate due dates.

To stop using your inbox as a task manager, you need two things: 1) A robust email management process, and 2) A task or project management tool which you use for everything (and I mean everything).

Find out more about how to manage your emails.

2. Use a task or project management tool

So the question is, do you need a task management or project management tool? To work out your needs, analyse the type of work you need to organise.

Your work is more likely to be project-based than task based. For example, if you have a pile of marking to do, the process is made up of multiple tasks (each paper is a task). Projects are made up of tasks, so in this case, a project management tool makes sense. However, you might find a task management tool gives you enough flexibility if you set it up to suit your needs.

Whatever you choose, there are just two simple rules you need to follow. The first is that every single task you need to complete must go into your management tool. If it’s not in there, it doesn’t exist, and it won’t get done.

The second is you must check and update your tool of choice multiple times throughout the day. The main reason people give up on project or task management tools is that they are not using them correctly. Use it and check it daily. My favourite project management tool is Asana, with Trello coming a close second.  

3. Establish a morning routine

As teachers, we do everything we can to give our learners the best possible chance of success. We are so focused on them that we sometimes forget to do the same for ourselves.

Have you ever noticed how starting the day positively can set the tone for the rest of your day? The benefits of a morning routine are widely documented.

From personal experience, I confirm that my morning routine gives me time to exercise daily, which ultimately improves my physical and mental health and gives me more energy. It also gives me time to plan my day and get on top of a few household chores, increasing my productivity.

Generally speaking, a morning routine involves getting up earlier than you otherwise might prefer. But don’t let that put you off - it will quickly become a habit. Before you know it, you’ll be waking up before your alarm.

To explore developing a morning routine, I highly recommend Laura Vanderkam’s books 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think and What the Most Successful People do Before Breakfast.

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