It has been a difficult time in life to get things done as there have been many outside distractions. Recently, a student told me that she was experiencing such a high level of stress that she decided to clean her apartment rather than work on her courses or lesson plans. While she had a very clean apartment, she was now concerned with when she would get her work done. During this pandemic, there are many challenges to working, teaching, learning, and studying in the same space at home. It can be difficult to stay focused on work tasks when there is a pile of laundry staring at you and finishing the laundry is faster and easier to cross off the To Do list than the work. One strategy that I have been implementing into my daily life in order to stay on track is time blocking or planning each minute of my day. While it may seem like a rigid way to approach life, time blocking allows me to prioritize the tasks that I need to complete and also plan for the other tasks that need to be done – like the laundry! It also allows me to move my day around when unexpected work or life issues arise. Here are a few tips to make planning your days effective:
Plan the Night Before
At the end of the day, sit down and plan the next day out. I do this by listing the top 3-5 tasks that I want to complete. When I plan, I plan for work and for life because there is not a clear line of separation between the two, especially during this pandemic. Once I have my list of priorities, I begin writing the hours of the day down on my paper planner and blocking out what I will do during each block of time. In my time blocks, work and family life are very intertwined – for example, I often do some work from 6:00-7:30AM before my kids are up to take advantage of the quiet and uninterrupted hours. Beginning at 7:30AM, I expect to be busy with my kids – getting them up and ready for school. Then, I am back to work when I am teaching. My days are very much like a match of ping-pong, moving back and forth between work, family, and personal commitments. I plan like this up until the end of my day, which is typically between 10:00-11:00PM.
Once I have my day planned out, I can see where I have extra time and I can either schedule in smaller tasks that need to be completed or know that I have back-up time in case there is an unexpected change to my day. This helps me see the time I have in the day and allows me not to panic when life changes – because it always does! Planning every minute does not mean that I stick to this plan, but instead it shows me the chunks of time I have available and how I can use them to work in a focused state to accomplish goals and finish work.
Another tip is to write your time blocks out in pencil. Personally, I prefer to write in pencil so that I can erase the mistakes I make while I am writing. Sometimes, I will forget to include a meeting with a student or an appointment, so I want the option of making the changes without seeing my schedule crossed out before the day even begins.
Use Time Blocks Wisely
Time blocking allows you to maximize your allotted time. For example, I use the morning hours for my most challenging work because that is when I am most focused and alert. I save the late afternoon and evening time, after teaching and picking up kids, for work that does not require the same amount of concentration. Time blocking also encourages efficiency. If you block off an hour and a half to complete a particular task, challenge yourself to complete it!
Turn off Devices
The biggest issue my students share with me about why it is challenging to get work done is outside distractions from devices, such as phones or the internet. During an advising session, one student shared that she spent the hour and a half she had allotted to write a lesson plan for a class on social media – scrolling through different pages. My biggest piece of advice: turn the phone off or move it to a different location so it’s not so easy to pick-up. When I need to get something finished is a specific amount of time, I will turn my Internet off, so that I am not lured into mindless searches or reading online articles.