Do you understand how hard I work?

Lisa Ashes

Lisa Jane Ashes is a self-employed teacher and author of Manglish: Bringing Maths and English Together Across the Curriculum. She is now a trustee of the charity Reach Out 2 Schools (, founded by Isabella Wallace, who are continuing to fund education-centric work in countries such as Nepal, India and South Africa. The organisation is also working on education projects within the UK, with Lisa using her knowledge of creativity within the curriculum to build better education for the most in need.

Follow @lisajaneashes

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If you got the jobs that you needed to get done finished an hour before you were due to complete them... would you just find something else to add to your list?

How often have you said, “I don’t have time”? You were lying to yourself! As you are reading this, time is ticking away and there is nothing you can do to stop it. Time exists; how we use the time we have will either lead to exhaustion or a work life balance. As a serial procrastinator and queen of never stopping, I have had to learn many tricks to avoid that impending sick note that would be on the horizon if I didn’t sort it out. If you are always rushing to meet deadlines at the last minute or exhausted but nowhere near the end of your to do list, perhaps it will be worth five minutes of your time right now to read some of the pointers that I learned to help me put time back into perspective.

You have one free period today! Only one. It’s after break and you find yourself still in the staffroom... just finishing off those last drops of coffee and chatting to a colleague about an interesting issue that cropped up in the staff meeting. You know you should get to your work but your will power to avoid wasting time on conversation is depleted. Half an hour goes by... You finally start the slog. However, with very little time left, you resolve to finish it after school. Sound familiar?

Self-regulation is right up there on the EEF’s research into how we can get students doing better at school, but what about us? Could you recognise where your time wasting hotspots occur? Is it your last free period on a Friday? Is it your planning period after break? Is it a period that you have free with your favourite gossip buddy? Whenever it is, you have developed the habit of wasting time and, without directly addressing the habit with conscious self- regulation, you will continue to pay with a piling workload.

Whatever stimuli causes you to waste time, regulating yourself can help to claw it back.

  • You can regulate yourself with set phrases that stop the gossip: “Let’s continue this later...”. This will be hard to say the first few times but once you make it a habit, you will get used to removing yourself before you are hooked in.
  • Regulate yourself with a change of scene. If you know that free following your break leads into another half an hour break, choose a less tempting space just for that period.
  • Regulate yourself by notifying your colleagues of your non-contact times and making them NON-CONTACT times unless in the case of an emergency. Be strong!

Whether you claw back fifteen minutes or an hour from recognising and taking control of your time wasting hotspots, you now have more time that you did to begin with.

lisa ashes 2

Regularly, I find myself scrubbing the tiles behind the path panel rather than getting on with the to do list. Not liking to be idle, I work hard... sometimes in the wrong direction. My procrastination tends to take the form of different work rather than the work that needs to be done.

Procrastination is emotional. Not feeling ready, do you worry about not being intelligent enough or not having all the research required to get started on bigger projects? By differing the pain to a later time, you may unconsciously protect yourself with ‘busy work’ that is easy to achieve without judgement. You may even convince yourself that you work better at the last minute – you don’t.

Deferring the pain does not get rid of the stress surrounding having to complete the task. You carry that stress (unconsciously) until you are finally forced to face it. This is damaging for your emotional wellbeing, even if you do not realise it. That stress you are carrying could lead to real illness and, of course, more time wasted as you have burned yourself out. When you feel the scrubbing brush calling as you think about the big work task that should be completed – stop. Recognise that it is fear and not dirty tiles that is holding you back.

Take control. Reason with yourself; the task will need to be completed. You will do a worse job if you put it off. Plan your big task in small, less fear creating chunks and override your fear with reasoning. By recognising it is fear that is causing the procrastination, you can plan to face it head on; complete the task and lessen the stress you are carrying. Using your to do list effectively can help you overcome the fear too.

Plan Ahead
Writing a to do list is useful but not if you just endlessly add items to it without thinking about how you will actually get them done. Use your diary properly. For each item on the to do list, plan to have it completed at least a day before the deadline. Think realistically about when you can complete tasks and how much time they will actually take. Put the to do items in time slots in your diary and stick to them.

If you have a particularly daunting task coming up – don’t put it off until the day before. Plan ahead! Plan your time realistically but also cleverly. Planning to complete the easy tasks first - such as answering emails, posting letters, filling something in that won’t take too much thinking or time – helps you to feel a sense of achievement early on in the doing process. Do not let the easy tasks run on too long; they can help motivate you, ready for the more daunting task ahead but they can also take over if you do not self-regulate.

lisa ashes 3

Author and shame researcher Brene Brown inspired me with this little mantra: “Choose disappointment over resentment.” Being a “yes” person is wonderful for everyone else... but not so good for your own management of time. Saying no to a request may, in the short term, disappoint a friend or a colleague; saying yes may throw all of your well-meaning time planning awry! You have to squeeze that extra job into the already bursting schedule and, as a result, you will resent doing that job as your own work suffers.

There are times that you cannot say no. You cannot turn down a last minute request from your line manager that must be completed as part of your assigned job role; there are things that we mindlessly take on that can be avoided. If you become fantastic at planning ahead, create a wriggle room time slot in your diary every week. This time slot can be taken up with last minute requests or to shuffle jobs into so you can complete those requests sooner. If no requests come in, that wriggle room slot can be used for the tiles (I bet they don’t seem so important now though).

If you have your week planned out in time slots, it can be easy to show someone at a glace just how much time you have, making that, “I’m sorry but my schedule is full” response true and provable to time demanding bosses. Teachers have an unbelievably high workload. It could be argued that much of the workload carried out has no real impact upon the learning of our pupils – our real jobs. By keeping a diary of how we spend our time and recording the impact of time well spent vs time wasted on pointless paperwork, we could even convince those in charge (with evidence) to rid us of that which has no purpose.

Observation of Time
Although it sounds counterintuitive to spend time observing how you use time, in the long run, you will find out where your procrastination hot spots are, where your time was well spent, where you are over committing, where you are failing to self-regulate and you will find out where that time you thought you didn’t have has really gone.

Keep a time diary for a full week. Don’t try to change your habits just yet. Begin by observing them truthfully – don’t lie. Once you have all of the data in front of you, ask yourself where you can make a change. By changing one thing at a time, you can develop more effective habits that will help you claw back minutes or hours that, at first, you thought you didn’t have. We all have a finite amount of time on this planet. How will you use yours?

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