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Balancing Work and Life: The On-Going Challenge for Educators

| Elena Aguilar

Edutopia Community, this post is a desperate plea for help! My school year began on August 1 with no easy transition. It's been an exhausting, consuming two weeks of intense, rewarding work coaching leaders.

But I'm back into 11-hour work days, which I'd promised myself I wouldn't do again.

I have to find more balance this year. Especially since I'm also writing a book on instructional coaching (to be published by Jossey-Bass in spring 2013) which is very exciting, but: How am I going to do this? I also have a family and commitments beyond work. Can you hear the panic rising in my voice? I know you have ideas and I'm begging for your input.

I've always struggled with balancing work and life. For many years, I neglected my physical health, then, I neglected my husband. It's gotta stop.

So I can spend more quality time with my family, take care of my physical, mental, and spiritual health, and achieve a beautiful balance, here are a few things I'm intending to do this year:

#1 I'm using Google calendar to manage my time and I'm scheduling everything. I use different colors to indicate different areas of my life ("Work," "Writing," "Exercise," "Family," etc). If I put something into my calendar, I'm way more likely to do it. It's on my calendar; I have to do it. I can also take a quick glance and see how the colors balance out -- does the color orange (which represents work) dominate? Is there any purple (family) this week? It's a quick reminder that if I'm committed to balance, I need to block out time.

#2 I'm budgeting money for a housecleaner. I'll have less money for other luxuries, but I've decided that I want to spend less of my weekend cleaning and more with family. It's a relief just to imagine this.

#3 I'm signing up for yoga classes. If I pay in advance, I'll go to the classes. And yoga is really good for me, good for balance.

#4 I'm also going to say no more often. I really am. Although I love my work, I need to turn down some opportunities and draw some boundaries. This will be hard.

But that's all I have on my list. I want a longer list. I need more ideas. How do you balance work and life? What strategies do you use to manage time?

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Biology Teacher at The University of Toronto Schools (UTS), Toronto, ON

Mindful Wellness

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I hear you! I've just gotten over a major burn-out period (it lasted slightly over a year). I guess the mono/shingles experience 17 years ago just didn't register strongly enough.

Find out who facilitates a "Mindful Wellness" class in your area. This has made a HUGE difference in my life...slowing down for the 3 hours one night and for a bit each day (homework). I was relaxed, de-stressed, didn't over-react...and could accomplish SO much more when I sat down to work. Look for programs based on Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Enjoy!
Meg

High school history teacher in California

You're on the right track

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1) I ride my bike or walk to school every day (it's a short 4 mile round trip).
2) I go to yoga twice a week.
3) I schedule family and friends (just like work) on my calendar to make sure to keep connected and balanced with work.
4) And most important: I say NO a lot! I keep a very low-activity schedule outside of work: no more than two events a week on weekday evenings, and no more than one event a weekend, so that one day of each weekend has no outside responsibilities. That means scheduling in "no events" time on the calendar, so that I can see where/when to say "No." It's easy to say "I'm going to say 'No' more," but difficult to do. But I have seen the difference in weeks where I hold to the plan (more balance, better sleep, better patience) and weeks where I don't, so that's been affirming!

I ride my bike to work every

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I ride my bike to work every day, all year long, about 24 miles round trip. It's the number 1 thing I do to keep me healthy and sane, and is the best way to prepare for the coming day and process at the end. Saving on gas, car maintenance, and health club costs are another plus.

"Work" fills whatever time we allow it!

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Great points Elena
I worry that working long days becomes a habit. Unfortunately there will ALWAYS be too much to do and work will therefore fill whatever time we allow it to.

Teaching is demanding and we have to be 'on top of our game' whenever we are in front of students. Working an 11 hour day once or twice a week is sustainable, however if we do it more regularly than that we are at risk of burn out.

It is important to monitor our own self-talk. We have to have reasonable expectations of ourselves. At times we can be our own harshest critic!

Attending to emails at home is a dangerous area! Whilst email is an efficient means of communication it is often poorly used - too many people CCed for example. Whilst some people find it helpful to attend to school email at home in the evenings ("to keep on top of things") I'd suggest putting a boundary around how much time you allocate to this. You could easily spend hours every night and still not empty your IN box. I suggest limiting it to a certain allocation of time - say one hour! If you don't limit this it tends to grow like a monster and take over ALL of your 'family' time.

We face the same challenges in Australia and have established the Happy School articles to support teachers to better manage stress and to boost staff morale in schools. If you are interested visit our website www.happyschool.com.au for a FREE 10 week trial.

university lecturer and English teacher

Timely Reminder that Time Matters!

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Thank you for sharing your personal strategy on how to keep our balance as we seek to help our students, do our best, and remain sane.

Tip #4 remains essential since we are both flattered and excited by many offers, but we must learn to say "no" and draw boundaries. By the way, sometimes these boundaries can be geographical. I've had to turn down invitations to present in Turkey and teach in Vietnam this summer. I also wish I had declined a few writing projects too. Our time remains limited, and our energy too. Sometimes, as the architects like to remind us, "less is more".

Therefore, I've imposed two new rules on myself this year.
1. Give yourself a short digital sabbath. I won't be online or respond to student emails from midnight until 7 A.M. Sleep, after all, remains key for physical health. If I'm sane, I'll work my way toward a 24 hour break from online activities.
2. Set more realistic deadlines for students - and myself! I won't promise to provide feedback within 48 hours on major assignments. Instead of having students turn in papers on Tuesday and trying to provide feedback for Thursday's class, I will have all assignments due on Thursday and provide feedback on the following Thursday - and sometimes pleasantly surpise students with feedback early on Tuesday.

As we start a new year of teaching, I will try to keep my balance - and maybe even prepay for some meditation classes.

High School English Teacher

Time and Money

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One of my greatest stressors has been money, followed closely by time. I created a budget in an excel spreadsheet and put in my payments for each pay period. I calculated the payoff date and can see an end to my debt. Since I am the lone breadwinner in my family, the stress of paying bills had been hanging over my head.
#1. Make sure you don't scrimp so much to pay for a cleaner that you worry about pennies.

I tend to set aside a lotofwebsites, articles, blogs, videos, etc that I really want to spend time on, but never seem to get back to. This year I am going to start a live binder for my professional articles. I cannot access it from school, so I will set aside some time on Sunday after I read the paper to read the binder and organize these articles.

As I clean house each week I listen to webinars, books on tape, or NPR. I use my iPad for this; it is easy to take from room to room. These often give me ideas for future lessons.

Ijustsetup my classroom yesterday. I set my desk up away from my computer. I know this sounds odd. I noticed that asni grade papers, I would check my email, look something up, or start a really great lesson plan. This year I have taken that temptation away. now when I sit at my desk I have my iPad (without 3G) and whatever I am working on. I use my appad to jot quick notes, but I think I am going to stop that. I like my gadgets too much.

This year I get to travel 90 minutes every other Friday to spend time with my 97 year old grandmother and my 76 year old father who lives another 30 minutes away. I know thatnwith the grad class I am taking, this schedule will eat up a lot of my time and energy. I will just have to incorporate all those articles, blogs, etc into my research paper.
I also sponsor the Key Club and will spend a lot of time with them.
#2 do whatever works to keep your life orgnized, even if it does sound crazy. I also use color coded ecalanders.

Great article! This is

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Great article! This is something I've battled for years - trying to find balance. As someone else wrote, I had a lot down, except for no "me time." I finally did something similiar to what you're doing with yoga - I advance paid for one year of massages - once a month. I got a great deal because I advance paid (best use of my tax refund ever!) and I had to go because I'd paid. That hour and a half alone, taking care of myself and relaxing, did wonders.

I also want to add that while we can improve our time management skills and say no and get massages, the problem is also that we're asked to do too much. It's a structural, systemic problem that is not the case in many countries in the world where there's a much better balance of work and life. We can't be asked or expected to work 10-12 hours a day. It's just crazy.

Thanks for this post - I love all your writing and eagerly await your book.

Spanish teacher, grades 9-12

Blended activities

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I also couldn't live without my e-calendar (I use the one on my school e-mail server that synchs with my phone) to keep everyone's schedule straight. One way to maximize your precious time is to blend some activities. For example, our family does some sports together (my son and I do TaeKwon-Do together, we also take a weekly golf group lesson with my husband). We often go to the gym together and do some household projects together (our boy is 13). You can accomplish exercise/household upkeep and family time simultaneously -- this really works for us.

My weakness is "me-time", which is generally limited to pleasure reading and the occasional scrapbooking outing with friends. I'm also considering signing up for a yoga class...by myself!

8-12 Social Studies cyber school teacher, Pennsylvania

Work is home and home is work

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This post rings so true. As a cyber teacher, my worlds blend together, as I teach from home. I had my son home with me for his first 3 years. Cyber teaching isn't less work as you may think.I was used to spending hours on the computer, prepping lesson, grading, communicating with students, parents, and colleagues. Though my son forced me(for obvious reasons)to redistribute my time, I still find that during the school year, it is hard for me to make that cut off between my work day and home life. I envy that you are able to even work in writing into your busy day. I've wanted to work in more pertinent blogging, and even pursue my masters(which needs to happen at some point this year). Most of my multi-tasking comes from filling my plate with various duties beyond my teaching, namely being lead teacher. I feel the need to make myself indispensable to my school and students. The calendar idea seems good, since I am a list maker, but because it is on my list doesn't necessarily mean that it will get done that day. Many list items get pushed to the next day.

Prioritize based on long-term goals

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Are you familiar with The Seven Habits quadrant for time allotment? I found Franklin Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People an invaluable resource for time management. The quadrant tool helps you determine daily actions and priorities based on long-term goals. In this way, the small, non-urgent steps that lead to important long-term goals (such as a fulfilling relationship with a spouse, or a completed manuscript) are not sacrificed for the urgent emergencies of daily life (emails, meetings, problems that crop up, deadlines).

http://www.brefigroup.co.uk/acrobat/quadrnts.pdf

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