At this point in time, as we settle into life in the ‘Upside Down’, many teachers are getting to grips with remote teaching.
To some, it’s bliss – a chance to relax the rules a little; to enjoy a slower pace of life; to focus on what really matters. To others, it’s a nightmare of blurred boundaries, technological catastrophes and the sheer chaos of trying to meet your own family’s needs alongside a full-time job.
For a truly unfortunate few (I hope), a stressful situation is worsened by a senior leadership team determined to micro-manage their way through the apocalypse. At least we’ll go out with a good paper-trail, right?
No matter how different our home-working situations, though, most of us share a common enemy: procrastination.
As much as we strive to maintain routines, structure and boundaries, working from home undoubtedly amplifies the urge to put things off, procrastinate and draw things out, all of which result in you working more and living less.
Every lost minute at the laptop comes at the expense of time spent not working later in the day; time that could have been spent exercising, sitting in the garden, speaking to loved ones; time that we need now more than ever.
How to beat procrastination
With that in mind, the following steps will help you to work smarter and switch off sooner, regardless of your situation:
1. Remember Parkinson’s Law
Find yourself spending three hours on a task that usually takes one? It’s an easy trap to fall into. Indeed, as Cyril Northcote Parkinson wrote in 1955: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
Combat this problem by setting deadlines before you begin and using timers to alert you to this. Do your best to manage distractions – TV off, phone turned over and set social media notifications to silent.
2. Change your nouns to verbs
I realise that this tip from brain training guru, Jim Kwik, is grammatically offensive, but I’d swear by it. Kwik advises that when it comes to motivation, we need to change our nouns to verbs: that rather than waiting to be motivated, we "do" motivated.
Ask yourself: what would it look like, if you were to "do" motivation? What habits and routines would you follow? Which task might you tackle first? What would your workspace/breaks/email communication look like? And so on.
Often, we wait for a feeling – motivation/focus/confidence/calm – to strike, as if we have no control over it. However, if we simply start acting as if we already are motivated, momentum will take us to actually feeling it.
3. Approach the worst first
If you’re set up for success, you’ll be working to a timetable-ish structure at home, with separate timings for separate tasks, regular breaks and set times for checking email.
It’s also key that you think carefully about what tasks you should do, before you begin them. A common mistake is to start working on the task that is most appealing, which means putting off the unappealing tasks until later (when you’re potentially tired/grumpy/ready to throw the laptop from the nearest window). Do this and chances are that said task will take longer than it should.
Personally, I like to begin with the really quick jobs – jobs that will take five minutes or less, like emails. Then it’s an attitude of "worst first": whichever task I want to do last, that’s the thing I need to do first.
Struggling to get started? Challenge yourself to just begin the first five minutes/the first line/comment and nothing more. Then see if that’s all you do.
Jo Steer is a former leader now working with schools as a wellbeing consultant