Little steps to tackle workload challenges

Written by: Julian Stanley | Published:
Image: iStock

While we wait for definitive government action on workload, Julian Stanley offers some time-management advice

The topic of workload has been in the news again with the release of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers’ research findings showing that 90 per cent of the 13,000 school staff they polled say that workload is their top concern.

It is now crystal clear that workload has become the most worrying aspect of the recruitment and retention crisis and something that requires more than just better organisation on the part of teachers. Rather it is time for policy intervention from the government.

In the meantime, we at the Education Support Partnership want to make sure we can support you to be as close to your best as is currently possible, whether through our 24-hour helpline or one of our school-based workplace wellbeing programmes and services. As such, while we hope for definitive government action, here are some tips and advice on managing workload by using tried and tested time-management techniques.


We asked the Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers (APDO) for some advice and their top tip is that successful teachers must learn to say “no” in a positive way and limit their commitments so that they can focus on their priorities.

A key message is that we should not feel obliged to take on additional (optional) responsibilities if we know in our heart of hearts that we won’t have the time to fulfil them.

Organising your paperwork

Owner of Organised Spaces, Samantha Bickerton, used to be a teacher and still tutors today. She is naturally very organised but still found it challenging to keep on top of everything as a teacher. She found colour-coding helpful: “Colour-code your storage to find things more quickly, e.g. by subject, theme, year group, or level, etc.”

It also helps to use shelving with adjustable shelves to accommodate different storage solutions. The folders themselves should also be organised: “It is quicker to find paperwork organised in smaller sections than to rummage through large boxes. Organise resources into lever-arch files labelled alphabetically. Inside the folders, use coloured dividers to divide alphabetically and use stamped poly-pockets to hold resources with a sticker identifying the theme.”

Put time in your diary each day (or if this isn’t feasible, each week) to move paperwork from your “to file” folder into the relevant place in your filing system. On the computer, use folders to organise work in the same way – by year group, subject, theme, etc. Include the date in the file name so they’re easier to find.

Separating home and work

It is important to have time away from the stresses of work. The break will clear your head, give perspective and make you more productive during the working day. Keep confidential papers and marking at work if at all possible. If you must take them home define how long you will spend on them, where you will work and when you will stop – and stick to these limits.

Balancing home and work will always prove challenging, but separation of the two is critical for personal wellbeing and particularly important for those who have other external pressures on their time, such as young families, or providing support for relatives.

This is obviously easier said than done, but finding effective solutions will ensure you stay well and teach well, so try to remain transparent, making sure you and others are aware of all of your responsibilities by advising your line manager and colleagues of what these are.

Ultimately it is in your organisation’s interest to help you find ways to manage your workload, rather than let it get out of control and negatively impact on your home and work-life. Honesty is always the best policy.

Getting enough rest

Everybody copes better with stress if they have had enough sleep. As well as winding down an hour or two before bed, make your bedroom a nice place to retreat to and ban any paperwork or digital devices. If you’re struggling to clear your mind, try planning every day in advance with a list. You can tick things off the next day (increasing your own sense of achievement), and it will ease your worry that you will forget something.

During the day, plan and take regular breaks. Make a sandwich and cup of tea every day at lunchtime and tell students they can only speak to you after this time. Finally, remember that your holidays are not just a time to do everything that you haven’t been able to fit in during term time, they are critical time for proper rest and recuperation, so make the most of the time off, because you’ll be back at work before you know it.


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