Tips to help balance work and home
By Susan Jerrell, TOFT Founder
A teacher’s life is busy, like 24/7 busy. Finding a way to balance work and home can be a real struggle.
You know what it’s like. There are stacks of papers to grade on your desk. Your administrator asks you to head a committee. Students want you to go to their band concert. A colleague asks you to co-sponsor a club. You have a Pinterest board filled with fun projects, bulletin board ideas and holiday activities you really want to try.
And, then you get home. You have dinner to fix, laundry to do, homework to help with and your own kids wanting your attention. Plus, you brought home a stack of papers to grade, lessons to plan and emails to answer.
There will always be more than you can reasonably accomplish, so it is important to learn how to balance work and home lives. The first step is to realize that you simply cannot do everything. Trying to do it all results in stress and nothing being done well.
Set realistic expectations
First, figure out WHO your priorities are. For me, it was my own family and then my students. Everyone else and their requests fell below that.
Second, determine how much outside of school time you will spend on school activities. Figure out the best time to do that. This changed based on the age of my own children. When they were younger, I waited until they went to bed. As they joined sports, I used their practice time to do school work. I dropped them off and then either sat in my car or went back to school and used that time exclusively for school. Once they were able to drive themselves, I stayed after school until about 4:30 every day. Find what works for you.
Third, make a realistic schedule. You schedule everything else, so seriously, schedule the time you will do school work and set a timer. When the timer goes off, put away your school work. Stick with this, and over time any guilt you feel will eventually lessen.
First, learn that it is okay to say no. Value your time. You do not have to agree to do everything you are asked to do. It’s a small word, but it is hard for many teachers to say since we are people pleasers. Try one of these phrases instead: “I won’t be able to do that” or “My calendar is full.” You don’t need to follow that with an explanation. Let your no, mean no.
Second, turn off electronics and reclaim your life. I am guilty of working way too long and too late and not turning off work. Answering emails at 10 or 11 pm only results in me losing sleep. I have lost track of the number of times I replied to a frantic student only to find out the next day they had turned off their computer after emailing me and did not even read my reply.
Set a policy and make sure parents and students know you will not respond after that specific time, and then DO NOT look at your emails after that. If you do, you will give in and respond. Don’t.
Third, limit the number of extra activities you take on. Do only those extra things you want to do, not what you think you should do. Doing something out of obligation does a disservice to you and to the person who asked because you will not be doing it whole-heartedly. Agreeing to present for someone but then not having the time or desire to prepare well is a disservice. Saying you will help with a committee but then not being able to make the meetings is a disservice. The best thing to say when someone asks you to do something is, “Let me think about it and get back to you.” That way you think through your commitments before you respond and determine if you will be able to give your best.
Make the most of the time you have at school. Use your breaks or prep period wisely.
First, make a list of what you need to do each day. Put the ones that must be accomplished at the top and work your way down the list. When you get a short break you won’t have to think about what needs to be done. Look at your list and get busy. A lot of time is wasted each day in making decisions about what to do instead of just doing.
Second, tune out other people. Shut your door and get down to business. Some teachers work better early mornings and others after school. Regardless, you cannot work if you are constantly interrupted. Find a quiet place that will let you make the most of your time without distractions. If that isn’t at school, try a coffee shop or library.
Third, stay off of social media. You think you will just look at it for a second, but then you are sucked into Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and your work time is over. All you have to show for it is a retweet or a post. Stay focused so that you increase productivity at school and don’t have as much to do at home.
Take time for yourself
One of the best ways to balance work and home is to take care of yourself. If you spend all of your time devoted to all your responsibilities and work and at home, you will be able to maintain the demands. You will run yourself down and your physical and mental health will suffer.
First, get plenty of sleep. Set a bedtime for yourself and stick to it. Getting a good night’s sleep improves your health. Benefits of good sleep habits include less illness and fewer health problems, healthier weight, less stress, better moods and the ability to get along better with people. All of these benefits will aid in making you better prepared to face each day.
To also improve sleep, turn off all electronics an hour or so before bed. An article by the Cleveland Clinic explains that electronics affects sleep in three ways: your mind stays psychologically alert, the blue screen light affects melatonin which controls sleep cycles and emotions stirred by social media postpones REM sleep.
Second, set aside some time for something that is just for you. Whether it is a movie, crocheting, a run, reading, a manicure or a pick up game of basketball, pencil in time for yourself doing what you enjoy most. This should be a regular occurrence, not a once a year event. Schedule it just like you would schedule any other event.
A good suggestion is to set aside a small amount of time for spiritual renewal, reflection or rest. Maybe you spend 15 minutes in bible study or journaling. Or maybe you sit someplace quiet for reflection or take a bubble bath. For a weekly refresh, set aside a longer amount of time. Take a couple of hours Friday night to watch a movie. Go for coffee and a muffin on Saturday morning. Take a Sunday afternoon walk. Find something that will give you some relaxation. Then at least monthly set aside some true you time where you can get away for a longer amount of time. Go on a date night with your spouse. Invite a friend for lunch. Do something that is out of the normal routine and away from both work and home.
Stop the excuses and start the change
It is easy to think you are too busy to slow down enough to balance your work and home. However, too often we spend more time complaining about how busy we are that we do actually coming up with a solution.
The best way to get started is to just simply start. Choose one thing to start with and realize you won’t make all the changes at once. For example, start with something simple like turning off your computer at 7 p.m. If you have to, take the computer to your car or lock it in a cabinet. Make this a daily habit until you no longer think about it.
Then you are ready to move on to something else, maybe turning off social media an hour before bedtime and taking a warm bath or doing a quiet activity that you enjoy. Or maybe you practice saying no when someone asks you to add something else to your schedule.
Slowly, as you make these changes, you will find that you can start to see a separation between work and home. You may also find that you are able to breathe a little easier and feel the tension in your shoulders ease. It’s a process, but you can do it.