Ever felt like there simply aren’t enough hours in the day? Then make the time available effective with a default plan approach

A forefinger holds down a string attached to the big hand of an alarm clock, effectively stopping time

Source: Dimj / Shutterstock

Teachers often talk of time as something that controls us. You’ll hear them say, ‘I haven’t got time to do that.’ They might comment on a colleague going to a club on a week-day evening, ‘How do they have time to do that?’ and most concerning, ‘I never have time for me.’ These feelings can cause frustration, resentment and stress, impacting on both our professional and personal lives.

Having found the default plan approach personally useful, I have shared the strategy with teachers to try. The technique involves using a default plan to identify how you use your time, manage your expectations of yourself and make choices about how you use your time. Together, these can allow us to take control of time by accepting time is finite, being able to make good choices, and regularly reflecting on those choices.

The first stage is to write down what you normally do, and when, in a typical week. Include both the things you do in your personal life and the things you do for work. Once you recognise these elements of your life, you can classify them. Then, by taking control of them, this can be your catalyst for change.

Classifying your activities

Stage two is making your default plan. Download a default plan form with an exemplar [download as a MS Word or pdf]. It’s like a timetable for your life, rather than just your school week. The reason it is default, is because it distils your commitments and choices, classifies them as fixed or flexible, and so allows for reflection and change.

You need to identify whether each of your activities is a commitment or a choice. There are activities you are committed to at work, including planning, teaching, marking and meetings. There are things you do by choice in lesson planning, marking and contribution to school life, such as chemistry club. In your personal life, going to choir is a choice, but does become a commitment once you join.

Of the activities you have to do and those you choose to do, some will be flexible for when you do them and others will be fixed in time. In your professional life your teaching, marking and planning are commitments, teaching is fixed whereas marking and planning are flexible. You can choose when you do these. It leaves you with a decision of when you are going to do these. You have to sleep, so you are committed to that, but there is flexibility of when you do it. Then there are choices of how, when and where you relax, exercise and socialise.

Catalysing change

The final step is to decide if you are making the best use of your time, and make changes by deciding on the best choices for you. Then adapt your default plan to meet your needs. This helps you to define your boundaries of what are reasonable expectations on your time. Instead of what we usually do, just loading more and more onto our time and giving ourselves unrealistic expectations. It won’t be perfect, but your default plan will be a useful guide. Then either weekly, monthly or termly, reflect on your default plan, using the prompts on the example. Reflect on what you what to do more of, and less of, then make those changes.

Taking it forward

Often when we feel the pressures described at the start of this article, our time is at saturation point. The chances are, you will feel that you don’t have time to make a default plan. However, by taking half an hour to distil how you use your time, rationalising the expectations of yourself and taking control of your time, some of those tensions will be displaced.

For further help with workload visit ASE Science Teacher SOS.

For further help with workload visit www.ase.org.uk/sos.

Andy Chandler-Grevatt is a teaching fellow in science education and NQT support tutor at the University of Sussex, and the assessment editor for Activate at Oxford University Press.