Jan 28, 2023

How to Manage Time as a Teacher with Stephanie Palovchik

How to manage time as a teacher...that's something that seems nearly impossible, doesn't it? There is just seemingly so much to do: lesson planning, prepping materials, emails, and meetings (just to name a few things).  And the most challenging thing about how to manage time as a teacher is that there just doesn't ever seem to be enough time to get it all done.  Your to-do list just gets longer and longer, and it gets to the point where you don't even know where to start. How many times have you sat down during your lunch or your prep/planning time and your list of things to do are so long that, instead of getting stuff done, you find yourself just sitting and fretting, or crying, or staring off into the distance thinking about how nice it would be if you didn't have to do all of those things? 

I see you…we’ve all been there. It’s an exhausting place to be, and that’s why having go-to strategies for how to manage time as a teacher to lean on is so important. The benefits of strategies to support time management for teachers are empowering and life-changing, that's why I decided to invite Stephanie Palovchik to the podcast. Stephanie is a productivity and planning coach for elementary teachers and the founder of Teaching Little Leaders. She's also a kindergarten teacher and the host of The Teacher Time Podcast. Stephanie helps elementary teachers leave work at work with simple time management strategies, and planning hacks that they didn't teach you in college - Lord knows that is so true! As a toddler mom, full-time kindergarten teacher, and resource creator, she knows that busy teachers like you need solid systems. Stephanie believes that you deserve to spend less time prepping activities, so you can get back to weekend freedom and enjoy the best part of your job - teaching students. 

One of the many reasons that I really love and appreciate Stephanie's work is that she has learned through experience, and she shares with teachers the strategies that she uses to streamline productivity, which is something we can all use. In this podcast, she's going to share with us ways to make that never-ending to-do list feel more manageable, how to determine what you should work on during your planning time, and - of course - how to decrease decision fatigue with one simple strategy. I know you're going to appreciate her story and why she started The Teacher Time Podcast and Teaching Little Leaders in the first place. And so without further ado, let's dive into my interview with Stephanie Palovchik.

Amber: Stephanie, I'm so excited about our conversation! Can you please tell the listeners a little bit about you?

Stephanie: I am a kindergarten teacher full time and I am a mom to a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter. I also am a productivity and planning coach for elementary teachers through my business Teaching Little Leaders and I host a podcast - The Teacher Time Podcast - where I focus on helping elementary teachers feel capable of getting their important tasks done so that they can leave work at work despite the fact that we're so limited on our time.

Amber: As teachers, we need that so badly! I don't know if you saw my Instagram stories last week, but I finally just hit a breaking point.  Now, I would consider myself pretty good at time management, but that day I felt like things kept getting piled on and my to-do list just kept growing.  And I know there are listeners who would agree and would say, This is me all the time, or have experienced the “never-ending to-do list”.  I'm so glad you're here to share your expertise, and we are going to get to that, but first I would love to hear about your teaching story. How long have you been teaching? Where are you in the world? And I would love to hear if you have a story of burnout and how you kind of came through that.

Stephanie: I have been teaching for nine years, but before I was a classroom teacher, I was a teaching assistant for a while while I was going to grad school. 

While I was a teacher's assistant, I absolutely loved it!  Going to work never felt like work for me.  And I felt the same way when I started student teaching and even once I got my first teaching job.  It was all so exciting!

I taught second grade for two years in North Carolina.  Then we moved to Virginia. Currently, I live in Maryland, but I still do teach in Northern Virginia where I’ve been teaching Kindergarten for the past seven years and I absolutely love it!  

Amber: I do too! It’s just the best. I feel like I get paid to sing and dance all day. I mean, obviously, there's a lot of other stuff too, but it's just so fun! 

Stephanie: It is so fun! And I was really hesitant to teach Kindergarten - it just all seemed like a whole other world.  But I jumped in and never looked back. I cannot even imagine teaching another grade at this point. 

Amber: I have so many questions about what led you to create The Teacher Time Podcast and Teacher Time University. Did they come to be because of burnout that you experienced because of your time management? Can you share your story about how you went from not having teacher time to owning your business and helping so many teachers with their time management?  

Stephanie: As I shared, I was so excited to start teaching, it never felt like work. But I was so wrapped up in the teaching part that I forgot about all of the back-end stuff - the lesson planning, the systems, the organization, the grading.  I just jumped in and I was like, Yeah! It’s going to be great!

I feel I have this knack for working with kids. I've always been told that I’m able to build connections with them.  When I started teaching, I was like, It’s going to be great! That's all I need to do! But I’d almost forgotten about all the other things that go into teaching. 

In college, you're writing lesson plans and you’re doing some prep work, but when you have your own classroom, you have to do it all together. And on top of that, there are all the other responsibilities such as like parent communication, meetings, and committees.  Everything just starts to pile up.  

When I actually got into the classroom, that's when things really fell apart, like on the back end of what I was doing.  It wasn't overnight, it was just slowly starting to build up.  I would sit in my classroom during my prep time and I would sit with my head in my hands feeling so overwhelmed and defeated, and completely unsure of where I should start.  This then leads me to start to bring work home with me and work all weekend.  And you know, when you do that enough, it starts to wear on you.   

By the end of my first year, I felt like I was coming home crying every day. And at that point, it’s not just figuring out the back end stuff, you’re trying to figure out your entire classroom.  Even nine years in and I’m still learning stuff - we’re always learning stuff, right? We never stop learning.  But that first year is so overwhelming, and everybody just told me that it’s to be expected - that’s what the first year of teaching is like. However, when I was in my second year of teaching I still was struggling with managing everything on my never-ending to-do list.  I would be so overwhelmed that I didn’t do anything during school day, and then I would bring everything home, inevitably creating this cycle - I call it the “Cycle of Overwhelm”. You see, what happens is you don't get everything that you need to get done at school, so you bring work home with you. Then, you're working over the weekend, but then you have more to plan and prep once you get back to school. You're constantly playing catch-up. You’re never feeling prepared and you’re always feeling overwhelmed and defeated. 

I felt like I was experiencing this cycle of overwhelm over and over again and all I wanted to do was focus on teaching.  All of the “other” stuff was just so overwhelming to me.  

By the end of my second year of teaching, I was Googling “what else can teachers do” because I didn’t want to stay in a career where I feel like I have to just work all the time. It was hard to foresee a future where I would have any kind of balance - it just felt like my life would always be teaching and work. And as much as I love teaching, I didn't want to spend 24/7 working. 

So obviously, I didn't end up leaving teaching, and I did find my way out of the overwhelm, but it took a lot of like reflecting and mindset shifts, and making some changes.  We did move after that second year, we were far away from family, and being closer to family was something that was going to bring us more happiness and more support.  I feel like doing that gave me the kick I needed to like, Okay, this is a fresh start, and I need to figure this out. I knew what I was doing wasn’t sustainable. 

Once I made the switch to teaching kindergarten, that's when I told myself that I wasn’t going to start a new grade level and continue facing the same challenges. I decided I needed to sit down and figure out how I'm going to make this work. That's when I started to really reflect on what I had been doing, which was focusing on things that were outside of my control and just entering my prep time without a plan. 

So, I started to put a plan into practice by simplifying, planning, and giving myself routines to be able to leave work at work along with making some important mindset shifts.  

Amber: As you’re talking I’m over here smiling ear to ear because you're speaking the Burned-In language! This is all about taking responsibility for yourself. This is about thinking about what's within your control. This is about shifting your mind and not becoming a victim of the career. 

You did all of the right things when it came to taking control of your time.  No one was going to come and save you, right? So you had to save yourself.  And you knew, if something was important enough to you, you're going to find a way to make it work. I love what you said about reflecting and building your self-awareness around what was working and what wasn't working, and taking ownership of that. 

So you were doing the research and you learned all these strategies,  what made you decide that you wanted to teach another teacher what you had learned? When you talk about it, it seems like you found freedom.

Stephanie:  So, I had my daughter in 2019, and when I returned to work after a little maternity leave, I was totally exhausted - you know that stage of parenting where you have a newborn.  I wasn’t sleeping at all and I felt like a zombie going to work, and I started thinking to myself, Man, this would be really stinking hard if I didn't have systems in place to help me stay on top of what I needed to do. I knew I would literally be drowning and incapable of working if it wasn't for the systems I had created for myself.  And I remember walking into a team meeting and I looked at my teammate and said, I think I want to create a course that helps teachers know how to get their planning and prepping done during the week so that they can leave work at work because we need that. She said That's a great idea, you should do that

That was in January 2020. So one year later I opened the course and the podcast started that following April. And I just haven't looked back.

Amber: I love that story. And so similarly, that's where Burned-In Teacher came from.  I learned all these strategies to get myself out of burnout, and when you learn something and you feel that freedom from that challenge that you were having, the teacher in us wants to share. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It's truly amazing. I love a good transformation and I get goosebumps when I hear people’s stories. It’s my favorite thing!

So, this time of year, when it’s dark and cold, and we are deep into the school year, we can start to lack motivation.  Even someone who has strong time management habits can lose some discipline and fall into some bad habits. 

Here’s my first question: What are some ways that teachers can make that never-ending to-do list feel more manageable?

Stephanie: This is may sound counterintuitive, but the first thing is to ditch your long to-do list for one that’s more focused and limited and is prioritized based on importance. 

For example, when I was struggling with burnout, I would look at this long, literally never-ending, to-do list that I had written and I would feel overwhelmed. I didn't know where to start. So, what I found was that if I knew what to do before my prep time started by choosing two to three important tasks, things felt more manageable. 

And I know it sounds silly because we want to try to get everything crossed off our lists, but the honest truth is taht we only have so much time. And that never-ending to-do list is always going to be there because there’s always going to be more to do but we need to give ourselves a stopping point. 

By determining and completing your top three tasks, you’re going to feel some success, and it’s also going to give you a way to start your prep time feeling less overwhelmed. I know that if I’m looking at a list of three things, it feels a lot more achievable than if I’m looking at a long list. 

So narrowing down that list is a huge first step to take. 

Amber:  How do you determine then what you should work on?

Stephanie: That's the natural next question, right? 

The way that you do that is by asking yourself a couple of questions. You need to ask yourself: What is urgent? What is important? 

I'll start by making a brain dump list.  Then, I’ll look it over and ask myself: What on here is urgent? And I'll put a little star next to that. And then I'll go down that list again and ask: What is important? And I'll put a star next to that. Then anything that has two stars, I know I should probably prioritize this within the next day or two. 

That’s a quick way to quickly figure out what should you be doing first if you're feeling stuck.

AmberEverything in teaching seems like it is urgent and important, which means nothing is important.  But with this mindset, we can start to feel so overwhelmed that we just sit there and do nothing with our head in our hands, like you were talking about. What's the difference between something that's urgent, and something that's important?

Stephanie: So something that's urgent would be something that's due soon. So let's say your report card comments are due in the next day or two, that would be something urgent that you would need to do, but it's also important because you have to have those done. And something that's important would be maybe something that doesn't have like a set due date on it, but you still need it. For example, making copies for next week - you’re going to need them, so that would be something important

The other thing that I like to think about is what is going to help me move the needle forward on being able to leave work at work. For example, laminating a center activity.  I went my first two years without laminating a single activity because the laminator broke, and they never fixed it. And you know what, the kids did fine. That would be an example of something that is not going to move the needle forward on me being able to leave work at work over the weekend but getting my lesson plans done and getting my copies made, that's going to make a difference. So I would make sure that those things are a priority.

Amber: That’s awesome. Thank you so much for sharing!

I'm thinking of all of these examples in my head of where I've needed to really make those segmented lists of what really is the most urgent and what's the most important. 

Here's the big one that I have for you - decision fatigue. What are your experience and suggestions for combating decision fatigue?

Stephanie: Decision fatigue, for anybody who isn't familiar with it, is what happens when you are making so many in-the-moment decisions that your brain is so overloaded it's just like, nope - I can't do it anymore. 

This level of overwhelm can cause people to either make impulsive decisions or even not make a decision which leads to a lack of action.  

What I have found to be the most helpful when it comes to decision fatigue and the key to staying on top of it is pre-deciding what you're going to work on during your prep time, and I do this with something called a “prep schedule”. 

Creating a “pre-schedule” was one of the very first things I did when I made decided to make some changes because I realized I was spending so much time wondering what I should be working on that I would just run out of time. This cycle was wasting so much of my time and energy.  

A prep schedule is a schedule pre-deciding what you're going to work on and when throughout the week. And for the most part, it can stay the same every single week. You may have to make some adjustments along the way like at the end of a grading period or during a short week. But overall, if you can pre-decide what you're going to do during your prep, then that’s one less decision that you have to make during your prep time after you've been teaching kids all day and you're totally exhausted. 

Amber: That sounds so amazing. So all of these tools that you create, do you use them yourself?

Stephanie: Oh, I always sit down and I make a prep schedule at the beginning of the year. Doing this has become so natural to me that I really just make it once and then I can make small adjustments along the way as things come up. Otherwise, I would be totally overwhelmed!

We all have those days or weeks where things do get overwhelming, and in those moments I remind myself that it's just temporary. It's going to pass and I’m going to get through it.

Amber: That's how I felt last week.  We had progress reports to put out, and quite honestly, we had forgotten they were on the calendar. I definitely had to rearrange my schedule a little bit, and I did give myself the grace to say, I may not have them done today, but I will have them done tomorrow, and everything like that this okay. And it is okay and I didn't get fired. 

Sometimes I think there can be a misunderstanding we have it all together and everything's perfect and we're never overwhelmed. That's crazy because we're still humans working with young humans in a school. 

I have a quick question. Is your Teacher Time University open all the time, or do you only open it some certain times throughout the year? 

Stephanie: Yes, so I only open a couple of times a year. I open my course always in the summer and then usually once in the winter. Sometimes we'll do like a quick open in the fall after the back-to-school rush has faded down. 

The reason I do it this way is that I stay with you for four weeks as you work through the course.  When you enroll, you get access to the course for life, but as you’re starting out, I want to be by your side as you get started so I can answer questions and help you set up your prep schedule and things like that.  

I also have some free downloads and a free Teacher Productivity Quiz that teachers can take to get resources, ideas, and next steps for them.    

Amber: Awesome! Will you tell the teachers that are listening where they can find you?

Stephanie: Absolutely! I am @teachinglittleleaders on Instagram and really any social media outlet.  

My website is www.teachinglittleleaders.com

And you can listen to The Teacher Time Podcast pretty much anywhere where you find podcasts.

Amber: One of the Burned-In Teacher University students was also enrolled in Teacher Time University, and it was so great to hear her on your podcast

I got the sweetest email from her and she shared how the support from me, you, and Andriana (The Active Educator) has really helped her to thrive as a teacher. It’s such a gift to hear that she is doing so well, and it all comes back to what you said at the beginning of this interview that you have to make the decision to do something different. 

Stephanie: I totally agree. And you know, Andriana and I often talk about how the key things that really make teaching sustainable are: having your mindset in check, your systems in check, your time management in check, and your classroom and behavior management in check, which is what all three of us talk about. 

Amber: It's like the perfect combination!

Stephanie: It’s so empowering to have the tools that you need in your pocket. 

Amber:  And it makes you feel so proud that teachers you’ve worked with are thriving because of what they’ve learned through your own experiences. 

Well, Stephanie, it's been so nice to chat with you this evening. Is there anything else that you'd like to share with our listeners before we sign off?

Stephanie: I just want to say it's important to remember that you can be an effective teacher without working 24/7. Remember to give yourself grace and keep it simple when things get hard.  It all starts with the belief and decision to do something different.  

Amber: Stephanie, thank you so, so much for joining us today. I'm so excited for teachers to hear you tell your story and to hear your strategies. I know it's really going to help a lot of people.



  1. Ditch the long to-do list!  
  2. Prioritize your tasks by focusing on what’s urgent and what’s important. 
  3. Create a plan for your prep period by creating a “Prep Schedule”







Stephanie is a productivity and planning coach for elementary teachers and the founder of Teaching Little Leaders. She’s also a kindergarten teacher and the host of The Teacher Time Podcast. Stephanie helps elementary teachers leave work at work with simple time management strategies and planning hacks that they didn’t teach in college. As a toddler mom, full-time Kindergarten teacher, and resource creator, she knows that busy teachers like you need solid systems. She believes that you deserve to spend less time prepping activities so you can get back to weekend freedom AND enjoy the best part of your job - teaching students!





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