5 time-management tips when teaching from home

Stripped of timetables and devoid of lunch bells, the school day looks very different when working from home. Here’s how to make the most of your time

Time management tips for teachers

If you’re someone who relishes routine, the thought of going from a neatly-segmented school day to the relative free-for-all of working from home is probably making you nervous.

For some schools, the existing timetable remains, but for others, the school day has taken on a more abstract form.

So how can teachers who navigate their day from one bell to the next ensure they stay focused at home?

Mark Forster is an expert on time management, blogger and author of recent book Secrets of Productive People. For him, the lack of structure at home is the root cause of most people’s productivity problems.

“Home is associated in most people’s minds with leisure, gardening, children, housekeeping and entertainment,” says Forster. “You are bringing things into this environment which normally would be kept out of it.

“This will be exacerbated by the fact that in many cases it won’t just be one person in the household who’s going to be working from home. Not only will the teachers be at home, but often their partners, their children, and their pets, too. They are all going to be in it together, with different requirements and different routines.”

What kind of home worker are you?

Before setting yourself up with a home-working agenda, it’s worth thinking about what sort of time-keeping environment suits you best.

“I think there are two broad categories of people in a situation like this,” says Forster. “The first category consists of those who would do best by re-creating as far as possible the structure they normally have at work.

“The second consists of those who will leap at the chance to design a more flexible and creative structure for themselves. If you don’t know which of these categories you belong to, then go for the first.”

1. Know your boundaries

The first thing to address when teaching from home is the fine line between work and play. If you're trying to focus in a space where you’d usually be relaxing, this immediately causes problems.  

“It’s vitally important to decide right from the beginning how you are going to work and get the right boundaries erected,” says Forster. “It will be much more difficult to sort it out once you’ve made a bad start.”

Creating a set workstation can help differentiate your space. If you end up with your laptop perched on the arm of a sofa or you find yourself working from under your duvet, the boundaries between work and play will forever be blurred.

Find more advice on setting up your workstation

2. Stick to a structure

In terms of a working day, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the school day is actually quite effective for getting the best out of people who need an element of structure.

“As a home worker myself for many years, I often recommend permanent home workers to adopt a ‘school timetable’ for their work,” says Forster.

“It is an effective discipline that maintains concentration throughout the day and makes a clear distinction between work and rest.

“Generally speaking, a period of work with a set start and finish, followed by a rest period that also has a set start and finish, repeated throughout the day, is a very productive way of working.”

Forster explains that implementing your own ‘timetable’ approach requires discipline. To make this technique work you need to be strict about focusing on work during the work periods – no checking social media for example – and also being strict about not working during your breaks – ie, avoid "one last check" of your emails.

3. Timing is everything

To ensure you stick to these slots, Forster recommends setting a timer when you begin a period of work or rest. But if this all sounds a little too familiar and you’d prefer some flexibility, there is room for that as well.

“If you don’t want to adopt a full ‘school timetable’ structure, as a minimum set start and finish times for work – and keep to them,” Forster explains.

“Another essential, if there’s more than just you at home, is to agree with the others about who does what, when and where so that you are not constantly treading on each other’s toes. Make sure everyone keeps to the agreement.”

4. Make time to talk

One element of work you might consider placing in the "unnecessary distractions" column is colleague communication. For every constructive department meeting, there is probably a lost hour spent as you play life coach to a co-worker or get caught up in a chat about holiday plans you really don't have time for. 

However, such interactions will likely become sorely missed if isolation goes on for a long period of time. 

“If you are used to working in close proximity to other people, you may well have feelings of being isolated,” says Forster. “You can help to overcome this by keeping in touch with your colleagues."

However, if this sounds like a slippery slope back to procrastination, Forster recommends drawing boundaries here, too.

“I’d recommend setting up group emails or messaging, rather than phoning and interrupting individuals. You don’t want to spoil the advantages of working at home.”

5. Put a stop to it

A common complaint from home workers is that the workday tends to encroach on their free time, with no definitive departure from the school gates. For Forster, this is bad practice and will impact the quality of work carried out in the long-term.

“It’s very important that, whatever work periods you decide on, you stick to them to the second,” he explains. “In one of my books I call it the ‘end effect’. A definite start and finish time produces much more concentrated work than just working while you feel like it.”

Perks of working from home

While it may be a struggle at first, Forster says that far from seeing remote working as entirely detrimental, there can be lots to gain from this shake-up.

“If you have no distractions, you can concentrate on some serious work,” he explains. “As an author, I know that just about every other author has a favourite place for writing, and these are almost always either alone at home or in a coffee shop.

“Working from home with no travel, pupils, colleagues or bosses to distract you, you have an immediate advantage compared working at school. Make the most of it.”

This may feel easier said than done right now, but as time passes and the above time management rules help bring structure to your day, many will start to settle into a routine that helps them stay productive.

Mark Forester is a time-management expert and author of Secrets of Productive People

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