Time Management, Focus, and Small Successes


a nail that is bent in two different places so that the point and nail head are still going in the same direction
Have you ever gotten to the end of a work day and realized that you're completely exhausted, did 1000 things, but accomplished nothing that was on your agenda for the day?  

We've heard and read quite a bit lately about finding balance in your life, taking care of yourself in order to help take care of others, putting your own oxygen mask on first, etc. The world of education is tough and always has been! Current times, with face masks, virtual and in-person hybrid models, teaching and learning in completely new ways for many, 100's of online meetings, etc., contribute to an even more trying educational world! While I certainly believe strongly in self-care, I also value the opportunity in struggle and imbalance. This feeling isn't new for me, but it's worth revisiting in our current educational situation. Embracing the struggle as an opportunity involves determining focus and staying focused! 

A couple of years ago, in April of 2018, I blogged about how my philosphy on balance had changed in a post about "...Perspective and Levers." A quote from that blog; *"When balanced, you are essentially standing at the fulcrum and moving nothing, changing nothing! I much prefer the ideology of continual movement back and forth on the levers in one's world, creating movement, as opposed to finding balance at the fulcrum and sitting there dormant."  There is great opportunity within the struggles of *Continuous Learning and COVID19! Amongst many others, for example, our situation has brought to the front burner: 

  1. The absolute need for 1:1 devices and all assistive technology to be sent home with all students, all of the time! Special thank you to the *Indiana Dept. of Education for recognizing and supporting this as well!
  2. Having a *Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework in place, provides for increased flexibility and applicability to a greater variety of situations! 
  3. *Educational materials in place that are already accessible permits teaching and learning to continue more seamlessly!
  4. Having students involved more directly in more of their own IEP meetings that have had to occur at home has lead to wonderfully beneficial insights to individual students' learning! 
Standing at the fulcrum, where we might have felt more balanced and comfortable wasn't changing many of these things, or at least not as quickly as they should have been changing. While we absolutely have to care for ourselves, it's also important to embrace imbalance as opportunites for growth! To embrace this, however, we truly need to analyze our way of work, our scheduling, our focus, and also the direction in which we guide our teams and objectives.  

Most of us have probably hammered in a nail or watched someone else hammer a nail into something at one point or another. Even if you haven't, there are a few things that we can probably easily agree on, when it comes to sucessfully hammering nails. 
  1. *The nail must be stronger or more unyielding than the material you're attempting to drive it through (Think of this as your knowledge, skills, resilience, passion, and determination).
  2. *You must have a hammer or automatic nailer, which must be in good functioning order (Think of this as the tools we use approach the objective). 
  3. *We can likley only accurately hammer a nail in one location at a time (Think of this as trying to multitask several objectives at once). 
  4. *The nail must be straight. (Think of this as the direction we chooose and/or the strategies we implement to complete the objective).
The photograph of a nail above is from a recent construction project of mine, that stopped me in my tracks and forced me to think about some things. First, if I were only looking at the point of this nail and the head of it, I might determine that they are both going in the right direction! I might place the point precisely where I want it and I might also hammer the head correctly in the same direction as the point! However, this nail, having two 45 degree bends in it, is assuredly not going to drive through the wood as I intend. This got me thinking about my goals and objectives. I might have my sights set perfectly on the right target, with the right tools and determination fully in place. I might even know exactly where I want to direct my attention first (the nail head, which looks right), but if I don't also stay fully focused on the one task at hand, I realize very quickly that no matter how hard or accurately I hammer/work, that nail even with all of my skills and passion, isn't going to complete the objective. If I'm not looking *through the implementation process (the bent part of the nail) and only seeing the target and the immediate work in front of me, I'm going to quickly fold that nail in half!

As educators, especially right now, most of us probably feel like we have 1000 tasks all begging for our attention at the same time. Many of us probably also feel like we're good at multitasking. I've realized a few things. First, we're really not good at multitasking, unless one of the tasks is non-cognitive and repetitive motion, for example. The other thing I've realized is that the distraction-tasks (those not on our objective list for the day) are often just as important as our agenda. We can't usually ignore them and we don't usually change our behaviors overnight, but we can work toward changing a few things that could empower us to stop trying to pound in "nails" that aren't straight! Here's a few strategies I've taken, both personally and with the PATINS team as a whole: 
  1. Aim to nail small success and celebrate them! Although our big goal or task might not be able to be accomplished in one day, there are definitely things we can do every day that either move us toward that bigger goal or they simply do not. These may be very small things, relative to the big picture, and that's OK! Each member of the PATINS team maintains a wildly important goal for themselves, which supports the overal PATINS wildly important goal. We each, also identify spefific things that we could be doing either daily or weekly that lead up to the overall criteria that determines success of that goal. In the midst of daily distractions, this wildy important goal and more importantly, the daily steps to get there are essentially giving ourselves permission to spend dedicated time and effort on the item we've determined to be wildly important!  ...and that, is important!  We meet every single week to state what we each did during the previous week and whether we accomplished those things which we acknowledged were wildly important for ourselves. This accountability is important and the celebration of these small steps are also important! This is something you can do, easily, by yourself, but even more effectively as part of a team! 
  2. Be confident in creating a little bit of pressure for yourself on occassion, when the opportunities arrise. For example, this week I had several tasks I wanted to accomplish in the morning. Unplanned, I was asked if I could meet at 11:30 online with a colleague or if not,  3pm. I was given the opportunity to choose 3pm, but instead saw that as an opportunity to put a little healthy pressure on myself to get my tasks done by 11:30 and I committed to that meeting time.  
  3. Given the above situation, I also implemented a simple 4X4 strategy to make sure I stayed focused on my tasks at hand during that time. To do this, I broke my task up into four roughly equaly chunks or components, which is pretty easy to do with just about any task. I committed to spending 30 minutes on each chunk or component. I set a timer on my phone and made sure it was visible. After that chunk of 30 minutes I dedicated 10 minutes to "distractions" and then went to chunk number two for 30 minutes and so on with chunks three and four.  
  4. In a classroom situation or even with meetings (online or face to face), it's important to set a schedule that includes small and very predictable breaks, not only for yourself, but for everyone involved! ...and it's important to stick to it! Knowing there's a break coming up and knowing when it'll be and for how long can have a dramatic effect on productivity between those breaks. Adults can typically go a bit longer than younger students, but the concept is relevant regardless of age! 
  5. Try to not multitask! Research indicates that a "bottleneck occurs when the brain is forced to respond to several stimuli at once," and "as a result, task switching leads to time lost as the brain determines which task to perform." This is based on fMRI studies of the brain.1 
  6. Think critically about your environment and your task list. Is the current or upcoming enviroment conducive to accomplishing that particular task and will you have the right tools with you to accomplish it. Being in a webinar training or meeting and telliing yourself, "I'll use that time to also create this other document," is usually an example of not critically thinking through this.  
  7. Decide which of your tasks are critical and which are optional and give yourself permission to occassionally ditch or postpone the optional! 
  8. Keep in mind that, "there is a striking contradiction between time as one of the most fundamental constituents of human existence, and as one of our most abstract concepts ever!"2  While you can't ignore time and dismiss it as too abstract, you can try to find ways to make the abstract concept of time more concrete and visual, both for yourself and your students. Most educators simply cannot add any more time to their days or days to their weeks! The only other option is to use the limited time you do have differently, effectively adding value to it. For most of us, time is often our most valuable resource. Treat time as your most precious asset and spend it in ways that you are cognizant of and are deliberately choosing anytime you can. Set timers, have schedules...visual and auditory timers and schedules! Keep a log of how you spend your time. We do this frequently with our monetary budgets and we can also pretty easily do it with our time budgets. Both are limited, trackable, and important! 
A nail or set of strategies that we choose with two 45 degree bends in it appears to have the point right on target! Hammering away at that, however, will only lead to unwanted outcomes, not accomplishing the objective we set for ourselves. While staying fresh and maintaining some amount of balance in our lives is so important, but don't let that dissuade you from tipping the level, walking out on the fulcrum and embracing some imbalance now and then, in the interest of growing through controlled struggle! Tip that level and walk on it, every now and then! 

a praying mantis crawling up onto a construction level that is sideways.

Rosen, Christine. “The Myth of Multitasking.” The New Atlantis, no. 20, 2008, pp. 105–110., www.jstor.org/stable/43152412. Accessed 11 Sept. 2020.

Golden, Daniel L. “Visual Management of Time.” In the Beginning Was the Image: The Omnipresence of Pictures: Time, Truth, Tradition, edited by András Benedek and Ágnes Veszelszki, Peter Lang AG, Frankfurt Am Main, 2016, pp. 51–58. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv2t4cns.7. Accessed 11 Sept. 2020.
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Sunday, 27 September 2020

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