How to become a more organised teacher: Time management strategies for teachers

Time management, for teachers is a very important skill. In my years teaching I have tried numerous time management strategies with the hope of becoming a more organised teacher and achieving the elusive teacher work life balance. Some have worked wonders, and some have been ultimate failures! Here I’ll give my best time management strategies for teachers. In this article I’ll cover why it is essential for you to have these skills. I’ll also outline some tried and tested time management strategies for teachers you can use to manage your teacher workload.  

But first, why should we bother…?

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The importance of time management skills for teachers

Time management for teachers is extremely important. Being an organised teacher does not only benefit you, but also benefits your school and of course your students.

Having strong time management skills can help you achieve teacher work life balance

This hits close to home for me. My first year teaching was hard – it is for most new teachers. I moved out to a small country town for the position, away from my family and friends. Making new friends and participating in the community was almost impossible with my first-year teacher workload. I arrived at school most mornings around 7am and didn’t leave school until it was dark, around 8pm. On top of that I spent most weekends prepping for the coming school week. I became a hermit, and I was miserable. Having stronger grasp on time management strategies for teachers would have helped me achieve a better teacher work life balance during this time and would have made me a much happier person.

I was also teaching year 11 ATAR Physics in my first year. Teaching ATAR is unusual for a first-year teacher as it comes with a whole range of expectations and stress. I was also teaching outside of my subject area. Physics is one of the most difficult ATAR subjects! I’m no Physicist – I hadn’t done any physics since I was in high school myself! I spent hours each night learning the content so I could be an expert the next morning to teach it. This was not a sustainable lifestyle. I absolutely had to achieve a better teacher work life balance and become a more organised teacher.

One of the benefits of implementing strategies around time management for teachers is that you become a more organised teacher. When you are a more organised teacher your work life balance will improve. You will have more time for yourself and will therefore be less likely to suffer from teacher burnout. This is so important if you are hoping to have a long, fulfilling career as a teacher. In this article I will give you my best time management tips for teachers, so you too can personally benefit.

Having strong time management skills for teachers can help benefit your school

If you’re a new teacher, I’m sure you’ve noticed those impressive teachers at your school who seem to be able to do it all! They run after-school clubs, take their students on fun excursions, run programs to support their colleagues and seem to always be able to take their full lunch break.

Yes, these teachers are experienced. However, in becoming more experienced they have refined their skills around time management for teachers to become more organised teachers. I’m not saying you’ll be able to do it all in your first year. In fact, I believe your first year should be spent focusing solely on your own classroom. But, if you aspire to leadership positions within your school these skills will be essential.

Having strong time management skills for teachers can help benefit your students

Perhaps most importantly, having strong time management skills for teachers and being an organised teacher can help benefit your students. I’m sure we all want to avoid being that frazzled teacher, who is thrown off-guard at every turn. If you arrive at your lesson organised and with a well-structured plan, your classes are going to run more smoothly. It’s likely you’ll be more prepared to handle that challenging behaviour, or that tricky question from a student, or that school-wide disruption to classes. You’ll be better prepared and as a result, your students will get more out of your lesson. Less time wasted and more learning happening. Afterall, that’s what’s most important.

There are many benefits to improving time management strategies for teachers and becoming a more organised teacher. However, you also need to accept that you won’t be able to do everything, all the time, and that’s okay! Different periods of the year will come with different challenges. During reporting period, you might not be able to spend as much time on your lesson plans. You may have to just focus on getting through each day. That’s okay!  What’s most important is being there for the kids – as energised and enthusiastic as possible. Don’t be too hard on yourself while you try to find out what works for you.

So, let’s get onto the tips!

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Time management skills for teachers

Prioritise your teacher workload to become a more organised teacher

Prioritising teacher workload is one of the time management tips for teachers that is essential. There are endless tasks I could be doing as part of my teacher workload, but I’d never have time to get them all done! Instead, I prioritise these tasks. I’m realistic with my time to be the most organised teacher I can be with the time I have available. Here are some useful tips to help you prioritise your teacher workload.

Understand what’s most important to you. To effectively prioritise your teacher workload, it’s important to understand your goals. Is your goal to make your lessons more engaging? Then perhaps you need to be spending time on developing your lesson hooks and linking the content to students’ everyday lives, rather than creating worksheets. Or perhaps you are focusing on improving your classroom management skills. In that case maybe you need to proiritise working with Student Services and observing other teachers, rather than spending time decorating your classroom. When you have a clear understanding of your goals, prioritising your teacher workload will become easier.  

Prioritise time-sensitive tasks. There are certain tasks throughout the year that have strict deadlines. By default these will need to jump to the top of your priority list. For example, during reporting time you will need to spend most of your time writing student reports to meet deadlines. As a result, during this time you might need to plan simpler class activities to give yourself some breathing room. More time reporting, less time planning. These demands will change throughout the year.

Consider task effort when prioritising your teacher workload. There will likely be some tasks on your priority list that are complicated and time-consuming. Perhaps it’s a good idea to breeze through a couple of simpler tasks first, to cross them off your list. This will give you some momentum before tackling more complex tasks.

Continually review your list of priorities. Do you have tasks on your list that are not urgent or important – scrap them! Have your goals changed? Alter your priority list accordingly. Being in tune with your priorities is essential to managing your teacher workload and becoming a more organised teacher.

So, you have a list of priorities, what now? One of the simplest ways to manage your prioritised teacher workload is to use to-do lists.

Become an organised teacher by using teacher to-do lists effectively

Teacher to-do lists are a great tool to help you become a more organised teacher and to help you prioritise your teacher workload. However, as I’m sure you know, it’s very easy to scribble down some dot points on a scrap of paper. Then you loose it and forget all about your important tasks! There are a few things you can do to ensure you use teacher to-do lists effectively:

Write your teacher to-do list for the following day every afternoon. Each afternoon when my final lesson has ended, I sit down and write my list for the following day. It’s almost a ritual at this point. This helps me get my thoughts out as soon as possible. I’m less likely to go home and forget what I need to do. It also takes some of the mental load off. I can head home and not have to keep thinking about school because I know I have my list waiting for me in the morning.

Ensure your teacher to-do list is achievable. I know as a teacher you have literally hundreds of tasks you could be doing. Marking an assessment, responding to a parent email, formatting a resource, writing a test, planning a lesson, decorating your room, following up on a students’ behaviour, working on an agenda item for the next staff meeting and on, and on, and on. But there’s no use in writing a to-do list with a hundred tasks.

Instead, choose 3-5 of the most essential tasks and put them on your list in order of importance. This also helps you to prioritise your teacher workload. Personally, my to do lists consist of 3-5 essential tasks and I also make a second list of 3-5 wish list tasks. These are tasks that are not as important but would make my life easier if I complete them. Classifying them as ‘wish list’ tasks also helps take the pressure off if they are not achieved, as they are optional.

Place your list where you can see it. There’s no point in writing a to-do list and placing it inside a textbook never-to-be-seen again! Place it where you will see it for most of your day, so you have the visual prompt and reminder of the tasks you set for yourself. Maybe you have a pinboard above your desk, or maybe you need to stick it your laptop case – wherever works for you.

Cross off tasks you complete as you go. This one is super important, is there anything more satisfying than crossing tasks off a to-do list?! It is motivating to have a visual representation of the work you achieve. It will make you feel like a more organised teacher. Furthermore, it’s likely you will keep up the habit of writing to do lists if you can see they’re working.

Use a teacher to-do list template that is visually appealing. Okay, okay, this tip isn’t as important. But, I’d rather use a document that’s pretty, rather than a scrap of paper I tear from a notebook.

Effective time management in weekly teacher planning

If you’re anything like me, you probably want every single lesson you teach to be amazing, engaging, and interactive! In my first couple years teaching these are the types of lessons I would plan… for every lesson… I’d have beautifully laminated card activities for my students to do, intricate models, games I’d made up, worksheets that I’d made from scratch, interesting collaborative tasks, activities where I’d take the class outside to work, plenty of experiments and hands-on activities. Now, this stuff is great, don’t get me wrong, but planning complicated lessons for every class of the week is not a sustainable practice.

Exasperated and exhausted one afternoon in my second year of teaching, I asked my Head of Learning Area if it ever gets easier, and he gave me this great advice: Not every lesson of the week needs to be a ‘Wow’ lesson. He told me to aim for one ‘wow’ lesson per class for each week and when I get a handle on that, increase it to two.

At the time this advice blew my mind! Especially because I was working at a high achieving school, where creative and engaging teaching was highly valued. But he was completely right. The ‘wow’ lessons are more demanding to teach, and they also have a lot more prep work that goes on behind the scenes. Despite what we’re told at university, it’s okay to sometimes just work from the textbook or sometimes have students complete worksheets, just as long as it’s not all the time.

So, my advice is to think about how you will manage your time when you are doing your weekly teacher planning. Plan one or two ‘wow’ lessons for each class but keep the rest simple. You might even want to consider how you space out your ‘wow’ lessons throughout the week to spread out the workload. In the long run it’ll make you a better teacher – you’ll have more energy, and you’ll retain your enthusiasm for your subject area, rather than suffering from teacher burnout.

Furthermore, it’s good for your students to do independent work! Working independently is a skill that needs to be practiced. Almost all your students will need to work independently at some stage in their future, whether they be headed for university, a trade or straight into the workforce. So don’t feel guilty about including independent work when you are doing your weekly teacher planning.

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Become a more organised teacher by using planning time effectively

It goes by different names, here in Western Australia it’s Duties other than Teaching (DOTT), in other states and countries it’s planning time. I’m talking about the free periods throughout the week for planning and admin work. It’s so incredibly easy to waste this time! Afterall it’s only usually an hour of your day. Have a chat with a colleague, stare out the window or go on a hunt for snacks and BOOM! Planning time is over! Back to the classroom!

One of the easiest time management skills for teachers is to effectively use this planning time. Get a little marking done, plan a lesson, print some resources for tomorrow. If you treat it as an hour you won’t have to work after school, using it effectively to get your teacher planning done will be much easier. I take this a step further and usually plan for my DOTT time – I go in with a plan of a couple of things I want to get done so I can hit the ground running.

Get a extra work done where you can

Do you have time in your day where you could be more productive? Maybe a spare 15 minutes where you could do two things at once? You could use this time to get some work done. Perhaps you have a long train commute to work – you may be able to use this time to do some marking or make a PowerPoint – small tasks that you won’t have to worry about later. Personally, I like to keep up-to-date with scientific discoveries so I can bring them up in class, so I enjoy listening to science podcasts while exercising.

I am all about having as much time off in the evening as possible. Once I get home, it’s my time to relax! If I can get a page of marking done at the end of lunch, I’ll take it so I can have that time to relax at home in the evening. This helps me feel like a more organised teacher.

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Prepare the night before to become a more organised teacher

I’m absolutely certain you’ve heard this one before, but one of the simplest things you can do to become a more organised teacher is to prepare the night before. Yes, when our Mums made us lay out our school uniforms before going to bed, they were actually onto something! Who knew?!

Decide on your outfit of the day (#ootd) the night before. I’m sure we’ve all been there… you have no idea what to wear so you try on almost every outfit combination in your wardrobe – you don’t need that waste of time in your mornings! Have your outfit ironed and ready to go, hanging in your room. Extra points if you lay out your underwear, socks and shoes too! Not having to think about clothes will have you feeling like a more organised teacher before you even get to school.

Prep your meals! If you’ve read my Ultimate Guide to being an Outstanding Preservice Teacher article, you’ve heard me preach about this before! Meal prepping is one of my top time management tips for teachers. Make your lunch the night before, get your apple, muesli bar and red bull and place them together in your fridge so you can grab and go. I even lay out my breakfast so I don’t need to think when I’m half asleep in the morning – my oats, banana, bowl and coffee mug are ready waiting for me.

Organise your bag the night before. Make sure your marking, laptop, textbooks, resources are in one spot – ready to grab as you walk out the door. There have been plenty of occasions where I have had a really cool science activity planned that requires me to bring some props from home, but they end up forgotten. Plus, realising you’ve left your laptop at home and having to drive back for it is a sure way to make you feel like you aren’t an organised teacher!

I have to be honest, while this is one of the easiest time management skills for teachers, It’s the one I struggle to maintain throughout the term the most! I usually spend the last day of school holidays meticulously ironing my work outfits, prepping meals and organising my bag; but it’s a habit that definitely slips as the term goes on and the exhaustion sets in. But if you try to stick at it I guarantee you’ll feel like a more organised teacher.

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Effective time management in teacher marking

Marking is one of my least favourite things about being a teacher (that and lunch duty!) and I’m sure I’m not alone! There have been times, particularly at the end of term, where I have put off marking for way too long and end up with a huge backlog to mark over my holidays. It isn’t fun.

It’s difficult, but try to get started on your marking as soon as it comes in. Personally, I like to take my marking home so I can do it while I’m comfy on the couch watching Netflix and I usually get started on it the evening of the assessment. Even if I don’t finish it in one sitting at least I can give my students updates on how the class is going overall, and this helps me feel like a more organised teacher.

Another of my marking time management skills for teachers is break it up into small, achievable amounts. When we’re lesson planning, we ‘chunk’ work for our students, so why not use the same strategy for ourselves? For example, take 15 minutes and tell yourself you are going to just mark the first page of your stack of tests. Do that a few times throughout your week and you will get through your marking without it being so painful. Plus, if you’re anything like me, getting started is the hardest part. I’m likely to get into a flow and smash out a couple more pages!

Not only is being on top of your marking a fantastic way to make you a more organised teacher, but your students will also appreciate it. Returning assessments to students quickly is a great way to academically win them over. Think back to your university lecturers – how frustrating were the ones that took forever to mark your essays? It’s the same for your students.

Of course, while one of the most important time management skills for teachers, this will be easier said than done at different points during the term. While staying on top of marking will help you feel like a more organised teacher, don’t be too hard on yourself during busier parts of the term. Be kind to yourself and don’t let marking stress you out. Being energised and enthusiastic is more important for your students.

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Become a more organised teacher by using creative ways to mark and assess

Don’t give yourself extra work! Is it really necessary that you personally mark weekly homework for all of your classes on top of each of their assessments? Of course, you need to know how your students are progressing, but are there different, less time-consuming ways you can collect that data?

If I set homework, I usually go through the solutions and get my students to self-mark or peer-mark. Not only are they receiving their results, but they get the opportunity to critically think about their (or others’) work and over time they build an understanding of what I am looking for when I mark assessment. This is more beneficial to their learning than just receiving a percentage and never taking a glance at their work again.

Use technology to assess and receive instantaneous results. Not only are online quizzes such as Kahoot and Quizizz highly engaging for students, but they also collate data well. You can download spreadsheets of student results to help you assess how they’re progressing, and you don’t even need to pick up a red pen! Another great assessment resource is Plickers. Students hold up a card to give an answer and you scan the class’ answers using your phone. This one is great for environments where you don’t have access to devices for each of your students.

Using creative ways to mark and assess will help you feel like a more organised teacher and is one of the best time management strategies for teachers.

Effective time management in reporting to become an organised teacher

The bane of every teacher’s existence is reporting time! All assessments need to quickly get marked, data entered, and you need to write a personalised summary of achievement for each of the 150 students you teach… All while maintaining your usual teacher workload. How exhausting! But I have a few time management tips for teachers to help this period become less painful.

Start early! I guarantee you’ve heard this before, but it’s an important tip for managing time around the reporting period and you will feel like a more organised teacher. There’s nothing worse than having to pull an all-nighter because reports are due in the morning and you put them off for weeks – trust me, I’ve been there. These days, I like to start reporting around 3 weeks before they’re due. Even if I’m still waiting on students to finish a test, by reporting time I generally have a good idea of how my students are going, so I can write the report and go back in later to make minor changes if need be. Starting (and finishing!) reporting early also means that I’m done well before the deadline. I can relax a little while my colleagues are stressing! It’s a nice feeling.

Another reporting time management tip is to build the report comments as you go through the term. Following assessment, take some time to write a dot point on things the students did well, or could improve on. For example, maybe James conducted his experiment very safely. Maybe Sarah got the top mark in the class for a test. Record it! If you do this consistently, come reporting time you’ll already have a framework you can use for your comments. The best part is you won’t have to go digging through past assessments. Future you will thank you!

Finally, ‘chunk it’. As mentioned above in the marking section, it’s a great idea to chunk reporting up into smaller, more achievable amounts. If you have a spare 15 minutes in your day, maybe use it to get a couple comments out of the way. If you do this consistently, you’ll get through reporting much easier, you’ll feel like a more organised teacher.

Remember the 80/20 rule to become a more organised teacher

The 80/20 rule, or the Pareto principle, states that for many outcomes, 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes. Originally it was coined in 1906 as an economics concept. However, it has since been applied to many professional fields as a framework for productivity. The 80/20 rule is one of the more eye-opening time management tips for teachers.

In teaching, the 80/20 rule can be framed as 80% of the results come from 20% of the work. Or a small number of tasks contribute to most of the progress. There are endless jobs you could be doing as part of your teacher workload. The 80/20 rule prompts us to identify the essential 20% – the key areas, and focus our attention and effort there. For example, perhaps you are preparing for a lesson and you need to organise the following:

  • Write date and subject on the board
  • Write lesson outcomes on the board
  • Print cards for matchup activity
  • Laminate cards for matchup activity
  • Arrange desks into groups
  • Print exit ticket

The 80/20 rule reminds us to focus on the tasks that would have the biggest impact on the students’ learning. So, instead of doing everything on my list, I may choose to just print the cards for matchup activity and write the lesson outcomes on the board. These are the activities that are going to have the greatest impact on student learning. The cards being laminated is not going to impact the students’ learning at all, students can arrange desks into groups far quicker than I can on my own, and instead of a printed exit ticket I could verbally check their understanding at the end of the lesson.

The 80/20 rule helps you simplify your teacher workload to help you focus on what jobs are going to have the most impact on your students, and to become a more organised teacher.

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Join the 5am club to become a more organised teacher

This one is for all those teachers out there who feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. An easy solution to this problem – create more hours in the day!

Robin Sharma originally proposed this idea in his book The 5am Club. The concept involves waking up at 5am (or an hour earlier than your usual wake-up time) every morning to increase productivity. He proposed this extra hour in the morning be split into three 20-minute chunks – exercise, planning and learning and that it solely be focused on self-development.

I tried the 20-minute chunk structure, but it didn’t really work for me. I prefer to exercise in the afternoon. But waking up at 5am and spending the first hour of the day working on my own interests, like writing these blog posts, or creating resources for my Teachers Pay Teachers store has been extremely valuable. It means I can give 100% of my attention to my work later in the day, which helps me feel like a more organised teacher.

However, this tip won’t be suitable for everyone – not everyone has the luxury of deciding what time they wake up and is able to spend an hour focused exclusively on themselves. It is also important not to deprive yourself of sleep! If you need that extra hour to feel refreshed enough to teach, then this tip probably isn’t for you but try some of the others on my list!

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Aim for at least one day completely off per week

This time management strategies for teachers tip is particularly for new teachers, discovering how huge their teacher workload is. It’s very easy to become swamped and believe you need to spend all your time perfecting your lesson plans and classroom management strategies – I’ve been there myself. But it’s very important to take time off for your mental health to avoid teacher burnout. I know it’s tricky but aim to start with taking at least one weekend day off per week, and I mean completely off. Don’t so much as glance at your emails or pick up a red pen!

Personally, I am notorious for becoming a hermit during reporting time! I like to get reports out of the way as quickly as I can, and for me this means working continuously for a few weeks of the term – late nights and weekends included. So, I know this tip isn’t achievable throughout the entire year. But I believe it is so important to have at least one day completely off from work most weeks. You need to be refreshed and recharged to be the best teacher you can be for your students and to become a more organised teacher.

There you have my time Management strategies for teachers and advice on how to become a more organised teacher. Do you have any questions about time management tips for teachers? Perhaps you are an experienced teacher with more advice for new teachers?

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