Time Management, Boundaries, and Desires: Real Talk for Teachers, Grievers + Those Ready to Light the World (or Their Life) on Fire
Regarding time management, let me tell you I have come a LONG way. I used to be a major league procrastinator. Like, epic. My evolution from procrastinator extraordinaire to extraordinarily productive was marked and molded by lessons learned at a few major pivot points in my life. Greater than any one lesson along the way, it’s when I started weaving them all together that the real magic happened.
Though not a traditional time-management manifesto, I feel deeply that if you’re open to what follows, you’ll find something here that will support you as you seek an improved relationship with your time and how you use it.
PIVOT POINT #1: Becoming a Teacher
Main Lesson Learned: The value of planning + preparation
My first major pivot point around time management occurred when I became a teacher. Much to my frustration, putting things off no longer flew, as children’s educational well-being was now at stake. The nerve!
You see, proper planning is critical to classroom success. You have to have your lessons and materials prepared, well thought out, and broken down into accessible chunks. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and give it a whirl your way and let me know how that goes for ya. Yeah no worries, I’ll wait.
While this isn’t an article written expressly for teachers, I can’t help but take a few moments to go a little further down this path. If you’re not a teacher, don’t worry! It will serve to illustrate the greater point about the value of planning and preparation.
Teachers, here’s the truth. When our lessons go awry, most of the time it’s not the kids. It’s us. We didn’t plan or prepare well enough. We cut corners, overestimated the amount of time things would take, or underestimated the need for something – scaffolding, structure, practice, modeling, compassion. Sure, sometimes kids go off the rails all by themselves. But more often than not, there will have been something we could have planned or prepared for better. This doesn’t make us bad teachers or people. It’s just something to keep in mind as we reflect on our practice in order to keep improving.
Even so, your feathers may still be feeling a little ruffled. I get it. It was a tough one for me to swallow, too. Stay with me.
Have you ever been to a not-so-well-planned staff meeting, info session, course, class or seminar? Unfortunately, chances are high that you have; perhaps you’ve been to many. Raise your hand if you’ve ever found yourself doing any of the following there:
♦ Grading papers (While we’re getting real, I might as well drop this here too: Just because it’s school-related doesn’t mean it’s okay to grade papers in a staff meeting. I know you’re busy. I know you’re overworked. I get it. But it’s still like doing Math homework in Social Studies class. I know how badly you want your students to give you their full attention. So you kinda have to give yours when you’re “in class” too.)
♦ Texting someone
♦ Making your shopping list, planning your afternoon, or looking up celebrity gossip
♦ Making snarky comments to the person next to you
♦ Trying to wordlessly communicate with your friend across the room without getting caught
♦ Zoning out
♦ Getting angry at the inefficient use of your time
If you can honestly tell me you’ve never exhibited even ONE of these behaviors, then you my dear are a rare gem and must come to terms with the fact that most of the rest of the world is simply not on your level. It’s not their fault; they’re just, you know, human.
⇒ So, have you ever seen your students doing any of these things in class?
😀 You can stop laughing now. And yes, I’m aware that your kids’ cross-room communication might not be so wordless, but I’d venture to say that the rest hits close enough to home to allow in a moment of self-reflection, to open up the possibility that, just as there’s a correlation between poor planning and participant engagement at your staff meeting, there may too be a correlation between your own planning and your students’ engagement.
Now listen, let me be clear. I’m not saying that this makes the behaviors okay. It doesn’t. It just makes them human and, more importantly, largely preventable, or at least greatly minimizable. When we retire our Should Cop badge in favor of our Effective Educator wand, it’s much easier to accept our students for the actual humans they are, as we’d like to be accepted ourselves, and to create meaningful educational experiences for those humans.
For those of you reading who aren’t teachers, I hope you’ve been able to draw parallels to your own life, ways that taking a closer look at your own planning and preparation could yield improved results for you, too. I’ve tweaked my planning and preparation around so many things (healthy eating, exercise, getting in enough water, writing, building my business(es!), even making sure I add more fun to my day) and gotten better results than I had previously been getting. So instead of blaming someone or something outside of myself for the things I hadn’t been following through on, by getting more clear on things I could do differently to plan and prepare for my success, I’ve achieved greater continued success in those areas.
Here are a few more lessons I learned about time management from being a teacher that absolutely support me in my life outside the classroom:
♦ Sometimes you have to do things you don’t feel like doing in order to do your job well. When you care about the job you’re doing, it helps. When you don’t, well, good luck. Time to find something to care about in it or find a new job you DO care about. This goes doubly if you’re a teacher. Our kids don’t need halfhearted leaders in their lives.
♦ Doing your job well affects others. Caring about those others can help motivate you to do the things you don’t feel like doing. Whether it’s the people you work with or the ones who benefit from your work, honing in on the humans connected to your work can help you find more reasons for doing the task that feel important, resonant, and needed.
♦ Getting started is way more than half the battle. It IS the battle. The quickest way to win it? Stop fighting. Undig your heels, let loose the monkey from your back, and surrender. Sometimes that looks like letting yourself off the hook, like rearranging schedules and claiming this moment for your desires, designating another for your obligations. Letting your soul child out to play ‘til she gets tuckered out so she’ll let you do your work while she naps. Other times it looks like settling in with a sigh and some coffee and just doing the damn thing already. If your to-do list is so vast that you’re overwhelmed with all to-be-done (a phenomenon with which I’m quite well-acquainted), I offer you this wisdom from Earl Nightingale that’s helped me many times before: “Don’t let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of doing it. The time will pass anyway.” Boom. Yeah it will. Thanks, Earl.
♦ The following things REALLY help, if you allow yourself to just use them instead of hoarding them, and to get rid of any biases or stereotypes around what kind of person uses them: Sharpies, index cards, Post-Its, white boards, smartphone calendar reminders and messages to self, backsides of unneeded papers for carefree brainstorming, colored pens, stickers, spreading out, taking up space with your work, breaking work down visually into smaller steps, grouping like tasks, structuring your work time, clearing your workspace, using a timer app that lets you earn break time with chunks of work time (I use Pomodroido), and writing yourself motivational love notes, putting them wherever the heck you want them (my friends can attest to the fact that I’ve got them in every room in my apartment, including the bathroom!)
PIVOT POINT #2: Getting a Divorce
Main Lesson Learned: The value of doing nothing
Yep, my next pivot point came with my divorce. What I intuitively understood as soon as it happened was this: Sometimes you need to do absolutely nothing. When you’re hurting, healing, or going through something big, it’s time to go easy on yourself, ratchet back the commitments, and allow yourself the time and space to do and be what you need, the details of which you have no real way of knowing ahead of time. In sensitive times like these, emotions and needs shapeshift and intertwine, heedless of our wishes. You can try fighting it, but do you really need more battle right now? Instead, let’s carry over what we just learned about surrender, accept this time for the tender liminal space it is, and practice just being with it. Sure, hiding from it and stuffing your feelings with overwork may sound appealing or even necessary, but I know you know that it’s gonna well up at some point and overflow, explode, or otherwise wreak havoc on your heart, soul, AND schedule if you don’t address it. I wholeheartedly recommend that instead you face it, feel it, and let yourself find the freedom that will, eventually, show up.
For me, this meant that I bowed out of ALL my extra roles and responsibilities the year of my divorce. In a stroke of professional kismet, my ex-hub and I split right before the school year started, so I didn’t have to extricate myself from commitments already made. And that initial period of time where all the commitments are made was so close to the split that it was easy to say no, to not volunteer, to abstain. No one pushed or prodded me to go against what I knew I needed. I am eternally grateful for that, because up until then I hadn’t had a great track record of saying no. (In case you were wondering, I’m way better now, thanks 😉 )
Having been there, done a lot of deep work around it on my own and with the support of coaches, practiced practiced practiced, and come out on the other side wholly changed, the following is what I found most necessary and useful around saying no and taking the time and space needed to grieve, heal, process, or otherwise honor your needs:
◊ You, my dear, are allowed to say no. You owe no one an unwilling yes. (Repeat as needed, as often as needed, until you really believe it.)
◊ Simple statements work best. No explanations are necessary or owed. (I mean, sometimes they are, but mostly they’re just offered out of nervousness, uncertainty, fear, discomfort, some need to justify yourself. Start paying attention to your No and see what naturally comes next. It can be maddening at first to see how automatically we sell ourselves out, but knowledge is power, Friends!)
◊ Long sentences and explanations offer more opportunities for someone to dissuade you of your No. Like I said, keep it simple.
◊ Practice your No so it comes out clearly. You want to be sure that your intended audience hears it right.
◊ Create your own go-to No, or pick a variation on these:
• I’m sorry, I can’t. Thank you for thinking of me.
• I’m not able to do that right now. I’ll check back in with you if anything changes.
• No thank you. I hear you. It’s still a No for me. Thank you.
• Sounds great, but I’m not up for it right now. Thanks so much for thinking of me.
◊ If you reaaaallllllly struggle with the No, you can say something like this:
I’m not sure. Let me check my calendar and get back to you.
(I consider this a last resort No, because it doesn’t end the interaction. It drags things out as the person awaits your response and then seeks you out again if you don’t follow up. And in the meantime now you’re likely angsting about saying No AGAIN. In case of emergencies, it’s better than an unwilling Yes, but I suggest spending more time crafting a No you feel like you CAN say than using a maybe that you don’t really mean.)
By the by, it’s no accident that all my examples contain some sort of thank you or acknowledgment of the asker. Because even though we wish we didn’t have to confront this issue of saying no, someone wanting something from us is a compliment of some sort – of our skills, personality, abilities or demeanor. It’s them saying they want us, they choose us, and whether or not we want to be chosen for that thing, I’m a fan of appreciating having been chosen and focusing on that piece of the request.
It doesn’t hurt that it’s harder to argue with a thank you. And in difficult times, it can be tough to even think of things we’re grateful for; giving thanks in a somewhat prescribed way can help kick start our gratitude recognition system for real.
I find it especially important to keep conscious of the actual human on the other side of the request; it helps to calm the anxiety that can well up for me when I feel in danger of being stretched too thin. It keeps me out of that anxiety hole from which I might put off responding, not respond at all, or otherwise break integrity. Regardless of how stressed we are, it doesn’t make it okay to treat others poorly. Yet sometimes I find myself doing so unintentionally when I’m overwhelmed. Remembering the human factor helps me do it less.
Having been given the gift of being able to clear-cut many of my obligations outside of what was necessary for my classes – all the extra other things I did, whether out of habit, support, or a sense of responsibility – when the healing was done, I was able to add back in the things I really wanted to do, the things that really meant something to me, the things I felt especially equipped or guided to do. What an amazing experience for someone who tended to do all the things, mostly because they were there to do. (Fun fact: This was also a pivot point to the personal and professional evolution that led me down my Thriveandbloom path.)
I know not everyone feels like they can just level the playing field of what they do in a day and pick and choose what they keep. While on the one hand I urge you to challenge that thought, on the other, I offer this alternative: Pay attention for a day, a week, an hour, to what you’re doing. Then check in with your body and listen for how you feel. When you notice a tightness or constriction, dig a little deeper. What’s causing you those contracted sensations? Brainstorm ways you might be able to change the experience. List them all out, without censoring based on what you think is realistic. It’s just a scrap of paper you can burn or shred afterwards, so let yourself get open and creative. Whether it’s ditching the activity, changing it, or changing your experience of it somehow, by acknowledging what doesn’t feel good and making even small changes, you communicate to yourself and the world that you’re worthy of feeling good, of feeling open and ease-filled. And by the way, you will accomplish all the things better when you’re feeling that way.
If you’re looking for a more strongly-worded approach to saying no, here’s a favorite resource from Justine Musk.
PIVOT POINT #3: Moving Beyond Despair
Main Lesson Learned: The value of finding + doing what you love
My most recent pivot point came a couple years after the split, after I’d grieved and healed and come out the other side. I felt bogged down in this malaise of meh, feeling “okay” and “alright” and making small talk about the weather. I had a good job, great family and friends, and was on the other side of some tough times. And I’ve never felt so depressed in my life. I actually felt better going through the worst of it when we split, because I knew I’d get through it. I knew it was temporary, that l’d get to the other side at some point. And I was right.
What I found both confounding and terrifying was how blah I felt once I did get through it. By nature I’m a pretty cheerful, enthusiastic gal. Yet I found myself going through motions, smiling with my mouth but not my eyes, heavy with the weight of mild discontent, having no clue how to get right. I counted days until weekends and dreaded Monday mornings. I drank more wine more often than was healthy, punished myself with processed foods and lulled my melancholy temporarily away with Lifetime movies and reality shows. Though many have told me I seemed fine at the time, inside I felt so stuck, so hopeless, so fine-yet-not-happy. I was so very miserably so-so, and that to me was worse than, well not death, but pretty much everything else.
My way out? I call it following the breadcrumbs. I’m forever grateful to technology and its advancements for furnishing the means by which I did it. Basically, all I did was follow my interests. Which might not seem so revolutionary, but consider for a moment a typical day, a standard week.
♥ How often do you feel totally immersed in what you love?
♥ How often does time stop because you’re just loving what you’re doing?
♥ How often do you say things like I’d love to do X but…. or I used to love doing X but…. ?
Though it’s my deepest wish for you that your answers to the first 2 questions are all the time and never to the last, if you’re like most of us, like I had been then, the picture you paint may be different. Like I said, I had been feeling really disconnected from those things that I used to love, having an incredibly hard time identifying anything I felt strongly about at all.
So I started by actually reading the emails I had previously subscribed to for writers. I’d been either deleting or archiving them for a while, but at one point I had been excited enough about writing to subscribe to them, so I figured it was a good place to start. I could develop my craft, learn technique, and get insight into the writing world; I’d get myself ready to rock it when I finally felt compelled enough by something to write about it. And wouldn’t you know, soon I started writing to the prompts I got in my inbox that moved me in some small way. (Yay, things were starting to move me!) I skimmed pop culture stories on my blogfeed, earmarking stories that I thought would inspire writing down the line. (Yay, I had hope that I would be inspired to write more in the future!)
That led me to some fashion and beauty blogs that I let myself indulge in. (Yay, something felt enticing enough to be considered an indulgence!) I found an online community around a now-defunct subscription jewelry service (#jewelmint4lyfe) and made friends there while treating myself to pretty things. (Yay, I can talk to people without washing my hair! And we have common interests! And ooh pretty things!! And hey this is fun!)
I downloaded free and discounted ebooks that seemed interesting. (Look at all the things I’m finding interesting now!) One of them was written by Elizabeth DiAlto, and I was so drawn to her enthusiastic authenticity that I went to her Facebook page and then to a group she created online, participating in whatever she was offering because it all felt so right. (Yay, things are feeling RIGHT! Hey, I’m starting to recognize myself again! Oh hai gurl you fine.)
And so on I went, reading what resonated, taking advantage of every free webinar, call, and resource that spoke to me, and then on to those that weren’t free, investing time, money, and faith in myself, my well-being, my steps along the path. My first encounters with many of my other touchstones and supports along the way came from reading posts on Elizabeth’s page, interacting in her online space, or through recommendations or stories she shared.
Moral of that story? When you find your person, group, or topic – Dive in!! Let it show and share all it’s got, and let yourself receive it. Don’t relegate yourself to surface tastes, partial participation, cursory experiences. If you connect with someone, then connect full on! Reach out, follow up, take the next step, continue the conversation.
I’ve always been down for some self-exploration, and all that introspection combined with the treasure trove of resonant voices, bold thinkers, and aligned souls I had been gathering up like so many precious acorns was just what I needed to get through the deep freeze and gently warm myself back into being.
A vital component of this for me was this unique territory of virtual community, the way online space breaches geography and allows you to connect with those hearts and minds that most speak to you. This feeling of global reach and infinite possibility opened me back up to the idea of community, while enlarging its scope it also offered experiences of intimate connection in the smaller groups as well as over email, on the phone, and over Skype. That feeling of truly being understood, seen, appreciated and supported was so much magic medicine that I clearly, dearly needed, and it’s available to you, too.
PIVOT TO WHAT?: Redefining Your Relationship with Time
This was when everything really came together and changed for me. By following those breadcrumbs, by letting my desires guide the way, and by actively following and taking action on these goals, I started to build up a critical mass of energy that continues to power my journey.