How to reduce stress as a teacher seems like an impossible task. Overwhelmed teachers have been accepted as "normal". Teacher overwhelm happens as they work hard to juggle hectic schedules, create engaging lessons, grade assignments, and more. It can seem as though overwhelm is unavoidable in the teaching profession, but there are manageable ways how to reduce stress as a teacher. There is a way out. What if I told you that one simple mindset shift could help you manage teaching obligations while still finding time to enjoy your life both in and out of the classroom...making the plague of overwhelmed teachers a thing of the past.
The statistics are staggering, overwhelmed teachers are quitting in droves, that’s why now, more than ever, we need to make taking care of ourselves a priority. I know that there are lots of tips for overwhelmed teachers out there, but I want to keep it simple and straightforward for you. In this episode, I'm going to share with you one simple shift that I have made in my mindset that has transformed how I viewed my to-do list. This mindset shift changed everything when it comes to looking at my long list of things to do, both at home and at school. It has also helped me to get my most important priorities crossed off my to-do list because that's ultimately the goal, right? Finding and maintaining some sort of balance is important because we're not just teachers, we're moms or dads, we're brothers, we're sisters, we're family members, we're friends, we have hobbies and interests outside of our school or home to-do lists that we really want to accomplish.
I recently asked in the Burned-In Teacher Podcast Facebook Community: What is it that you want to make more time for? A lot of the responses were about making time for rest and relaxation, so in this episode, I'm going to share with you how using “the future me mentality” can help you transform those annoying tasks on your to-do list at home and at school into small gifts that you can give future you.
The “future me mentality” is based on the belief that when you spend time doing the things that are urgent and important now, you are doing future you a favor. I'm going to share with you the tasks to that I apply the “future me mentality”; these are the tasks that seem annoying at first, but I always know I’ll be grateful to my past self for setting me up for success. Completing these tasks are gifts I’ve given to myself so I can relax, go for a run, sit and watch a movie, or do anything else that brings me joy. I know that, by doing these things now, I'm taking care of myself in the future.
I’m going to date myself here, but have you seen the old GLAD trash bag commercials like back in the 90s? In these commercials, when a person would try to take the bag out of the trash can, the trash would spill all over the floor because they were using a crummy trash bag. Then the person would be super dramatic and get really mad, then you’d hear the slogan: “Don’t get mad, get GLAD”. I love this analogy because what it means to me is that instead of being mad or annoyed about the things on your to-do list, I want you to change your mentality to I will be so glad when I have these things done. I'll be glad right now that it's over, and I get to cross it off. And then I'll be glad and grateful in the future when I get to “open this gift” that I gave myself when I got this task crossed off of my list.
One thing that I've trained myself to do when I start to huff and puff and get grumbly about my to-do list at school, I use my priority planner religiously (by the way, you can find this in my TPT store). At home, I changed from saying, Oh my god, I have to do this now to I get to do this. And this will take time because it’s a change in habit and a change in mindset and those things take time, and it starts with our self-talk and then following through with actions.
So here are some gifts that I give to myself weekly at school:
#1. I plan my week a week in advance. I use Google Slides as my lesson plans, and each Wednesday or Thursday (sometimes even Tuesday) I make a copy of the current week's slides and I move them into a folder labeled for the following week. Then, I change out the books, the phonics lessons, the math lessons, etc… to match whatever we're doing the following week. BOOM, done! Gift given to my future self.
Also, here’s a little tip - I hide the slides that I'm not teaching that specific day, and then at the end of each day I'll go in and I'll hide the slides that I taught that day and unhide the slides for the following day. BOOM, done! Gift given for the following day.
#2: I batch making copies. When I go to make copies for my phonics or handwriting papers, I don't just make the copies for one day, I do the whole week. Sometimes, I’ll even do the following week to give myself a double gift. This way, if I have a really crummy week (like you’ve heard me talk bout a couple of weeks ago on the podcast) and I don’t have time to make copies, it’s okay because I’ve given myself the gift of already having that done.
#3: I enter my grades right away. So, I'm not perfect, but it's something this is something that I've made a big priority in my teaching life. So what I do is I do this once a week for each subject, and I enter a grade. This is a gift to myself so I’m not scrambling at the end of the trimester when grades are due.
It was several years ago when I realized the power of entering grades weekly. I think back to my first couple of years teaching where I’d get to the end of the grading period and I didn't have any grades entered. I'm so embarrassed to say that, but it was the truth! Then I'd have to scramble and make very subjective decisions about a student's grade based on what I remember that they're doing in class from conferencing, from day-to-day interactions, or from grades that I took but I didn't enter. Entering grades weekly really makes the end of the trimester very simple.
So these are a couple “gifts” that I give my future self. I’d love to hear what gifts you give your future self. Head on over to the Burned-In Teacher Podcast Facebook Community and share your gifts to yourself!
I’d also like to the ways that I set my future self up for success at home:
#1: Prep things the night before. Each evening, I set a coffee cup out and I put my tea bags in it for when my husband, Jeff, makes tea water for his oatmeal he can just fill the cup I set out. That way, my tea has enough time to steep before I put it in my water bottle to take to school with me. I’m drinking something healthy and hydrating. Future gift!
I also prep my NutriBullet the night before. I put celery into my NutriBullet cup and I put it into the refrigerator. That way, all I have to do in the morning is add some flaxseed and water to it and mix it up, and that's what I drink while I'm getting myself ready for the day.
I also make sure that I have fresh lemon cut and ready for my hot water in the morning. I take milk thistle right away first thing in the morning, after my workout with hot water and lemon - it's really good for your liver by the way. I also lay out workout clothes for the morning as well.
These are all small steps I take to set my morning up for success.
Then, on the weekend, I plan, shop, and prep my dinners for the following week. Now trust me, sometimes I do NOT feel like doing this at all, but I know that if I do this now I'm saving myself and my family a lot of headaches.
By doing all these things and building all these routines and habits, I’m not just setting tomorrow’s or next week's Amber up for success, but I’m giving gifts to 45, 50, and even 55-plus-year-old me because I feel way better if I keep these tasks front and center. These are things that I built into my schedule to not distress me, but rather to make me feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally. All of these things that I do mesh together into a beautiful orchestra helping me to feel better at school because I'm taking care of myself.
#2: I give myself the gift of clarity. Each weekend I give myself the gift of clarity by writing out what my ideal week is going to look like the next week. I use my Time Management Worksheet (you can find this in my TPT store) so I know how much time I need to spend at school and how much time I will be spending on Burned-In Teacher each day. I need to be really intentional with how I spend my time because I don't have a lot of time after school - I need to get home to my family, that's my main priority.
Something I do is look at my meetings that I have coming up, podcast episodes that need to be recorded, interviews for upcoming podcasts, and upcoming keynotes because I don't want future me to be surprised or caught off guard and miss something important. That actually happened last week - I overlooked something I almost missed a dentist appointment for our daughter! I know this happened because I didn’t follow through on my entire planning ritual the week before. I understand that things happen and things get overlooked, but it happens a lot less when you build these rituals and routines into your days and weeks.
#3: Batch activities and tasks. So finally, for Burned-In Teacher, the biggest gift that I give myself is I batch record podcast episodes. So every 12 weeks I sit down, plan out the content, ask questions in my Facebook community to find out what my audience and members want to hear and who do they want to hear from, contact potential guests, and research topics. Then record like crazy because I don't have much time each day, so I give myself the gift of time for almost the entire three months to work on other things that need to be done to support all of you.
I do have to be really honest about something though…batching podcasts is fun-ish. I love talking to all of you, but it is daunting and sometimes frustrating and overwhelming to come up with content. And it's sometimes extremely hard work, but I know that it's all worth it!
By doing the hard work that it takes to plan and prep meals, plan and prep for a week or two in advance, record 12 podcast episodes, etc… I know that I'm doing what I have to do NOW so that I can do what I want to do later.
Here's what I encourage you to do this week:
When you start to reframe those sometimes drudgery tasks as something other than drudgery work, you will notice a total transformation in your attitude around what you're doing and why, and your productivity is really going to skyrocket!
I know that productivity isn't everything, but in some situations, we really do need to focus on being productive so that we can get to our WHY for being productive later. Charles Duhigg in his book, The Power of Habit, says that even making your bed in the morning sets future you up for success by giving yourself the gift in the evening of climbing into that nicely made bed and it's all tidy and cozy. You did that just for you.
Here are some things I can imagine you may be putting off but can be viewed as gifts to your future self: making that doctor appointment you've been putting off, setting your exercise clothes out the night before, finding a therapist, batching your grading and planning time and sticking to it, organizing your closet, making your bed, making plans with that friend you haven't seen in a while. The list can go on and on, and it's different for everybody because we are all very different.
I believe that our burnout is very different from one teacher to the next, so you really have to look at what YOU feel is going to set future you up for success, not what would set future someone else up for success.