NQT special: How to slow your working life down

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The past year has probably gone by in a blur for most NQTs as you were thrown in at the deep end of teaching. Margaret Adams looks at why you might consider making an effort to ‘slow down’ in year two.

You have probably noticed. Schools are busy places. Teachers are busy people. There are always new things happening in school, things that you need to know about.

You do your best to keep up. You work hard. You work long hours. You have learned to work smarter as part of your survival strategy. 

However, you know that there is always more you could do. You also know that, if you try to take on too much, you will eventually reach your personal limits. That is because you are a finite resource and your capacity for work is finite, too, even if you do not like to admit it.

There are good reasons why you should avoid over-stretching and over-committing yourself on a regular basis. The most important of these reasons is that you will probably achieve more if you just slow down a bit.

Help yourself to succeed

Stop racing along with every one else, and start pacing yourself as you plan your work in school. Use the following advice to help you. 

Keep focused

You enjoy getting involved with projects and new initiatives. However, if you always agree to take part in an activity when you know you have something to contribute, or when people ask you to participate, you will have problems. 

You will find you have more to do that you can fit into your day. You will also run the risk of being distracted from your primary responsibilities. 

Make a point of slowing down long enough to check that you are spending your time on the right things, the things your school expects you to do and the things that you are accountable for.

Give your attention to these tasks first. The rest comes later, if you can fit it in. 

Have fewer goals 

Even if you are paying attention to your primary responsibilities, you will find that, like most teachers, you have a long list of things to do. You will probably also find that your list has a habit of getting longer.

There is a solution. Have fewer goals. You get less done when you overload yourself. When you take on too much you find that, as well as working on the principal tasks in your schedule, you also spend a lot of your time and energy keeping other projects ticking over until you have the opportunity to give them your full attention. 

You struggle with this, because you have got too much to do. This leads to missed deadlines, rescheduling, panic and crisis management and then even more time spent on fire-fighting.

Avoid this situation. Take on less. Focus your energies. Slow down. 

Limit the number of goals you try to achieve this week and from September, and limit the number of projects you schedule yourself to work on. Let some things go and let some things wait. You will get more done, more quickly, if you work hard to complete one or two things well and then move on to the next important task. Therefore, take on less. Do fewer things well, in order to achieve more.

Manage stressful situations better 

You meet stressful situations in school every day. You are part of your school’s community, so you cannot avoid them. What you can do, when you are faced with a stressful challenge, is to make sure you deal with it in ways that reduce and contain stress. 

When the crisis occurs, or when you are faced with an emergency, slow down. Make sure you pause rather than panic. It is the pause that matters.

You pause to take stock. You pause for a deep breath and to take in the situation fully. You pause to allow yourself to think before you react. That pause will help you to avoid rushing headlong into the situation. 

That is a good way of dealing with a crisis. Some people react immediately. They want to take action, to respond, to do something, and to do it quickly. Unfortunately, the fast response is sometimes the wrong response. 

If you pause, you are more likely to see the complete picture and to put what is happening around you into perspective. Slowing down here will help you to get things right quickly and to manage stressful situations better. 

Find the right pace of working 

That set of reports is needed today. The exam scripts must be marked by Friday. Everywhere you turn you see an approaching deadline. 

Don’t worry. Your job is not all about deadlines. You have a lot of control over your professional life and how you organise your work. 

Recognise this. Then take steps to establish your own preferred pace of working and a rhythm for getting things done that suits you. 

To do this, note how long it takes you to complete tasks when you are working at the pace that feels right for you. Find out, for example, how long it usually takes you to mark a set of essays written by your year 10 group. Work out how many hours, over the course of a term, it takes you to prepare to teach a new A level text. Take your answers into account when you are organising your personal schedule. 

If other people work faster – or more slowly – than you, accept that individuals are different. Work at the pace at which you are most effective whenever you can. 

Speed of working isn’t the most important consideration. Finding the right pace at which to work is what matters for your overall productivity and for your job satisfaction. 

Slowing down 

Slowing down is difficult. The world is going its own way, at its own frenetic pace, and it wants to take you with it. 

You can try to keep up. You can try to do more and do it faster, or you can learn that more haste really does mean less speed.

Be brave. Adopt a different strategy. Work at your own pace, and remember that the tortoise achieved more than the hare in their particular race. You can do the same in school, if you accept that you are taking part in a marathon, not the 100 metres sprint.

  • Margaret Adams is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and a former teacher. She is the author of Work-Life Balance, A Practical Guide for Teachers and The 30-Day Work-Life Balance Challenge.

NQT Special Edition
This article was published as part of SecEd's June 2013 NQT Special edition, produced in association with the NASUWT. The edition features eight pages of best practice and advisory articles aimed at supporting NQTs and trainee teachers across the UK. Download the free PDF of all eight pages here.


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