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Work-life balance - Time managers

Teachers work 50 hours a week on average. Life coach Will Thomas has some useful coping strategies

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Teachers work 50 hours a week on average. Life coach Will Thomas has some useful coping strategies

Have you ever wandered around a supermarket, clutching a basket, only to realise you really needed a trolley? Your workload may sometimes remind you of these shopping experiences. With aisles of national strategies and shelves of initiatives all shouting "deliver", workload grows as work-life balance slips away.

Teachers have one of the most intensive workloads. A study by Pricewaterhouse Coopers in 2001 revealed that teachers and heads worked more intensive weeks than other comparable professionals, with 50 hours a week being the norm.

That's bad news when you consider another survey, from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, showed that people who work more than 48 hours a week are often too tired to even talk.

So how do you manage workload and your work-life balance? The first thing to do is to define a "working envelope". This means creating a seven-day grid and marking out the hours devoted to work and play - the boundaries to your working week. If you can't fit your workload into the grid, prioritise and scrap low-priority work. This principle is based on Parkinson's Law, which states that "work expands to fill the time we give it".

Secondly, take time to recuperate. Creating time away from competing stimuli reduces overwhelming panicky feelings and helps maintain a balanced perspective. Incorporating daily rituals of quiet cuppas, walking or meditation support this.

Many people find it hard to say no to others' demands. Saying no to tasks that don't fit into your priorities is empowering and not as hard as it first seems. For example, you might say: "I'm flattered that you've asked me to do this, but I have to focus on the following priorities at the moment." If your line manager persists, try a trading approach - tentatively seeing if you can swap or delay other priorities.

We burn so much unnecessary midnight oil applying the highest standards to everything we do. Some jobs can be fit for purpose with a fraction of the effort spent. Operating on the principle that 80 per cent of what we do need only be done to 80 per cent perfection (or less) liberates the perfectionist. This is not a licence to do a shoddy job - it allows you to focus on the aspects of your job that do require total dedication, while reducing effort in less crucial areas. So accept that the worksheet is adequate before you spend hours tweaking the type style, layout and wording.

Perhaps the most important principle is to focus only on what you can change. With schools dictating so many aspects of working life, it is tempting to lament what cannot be changed. This can turn from useful expressions of frustration to a time-munching pastime, eating into your day, and leaving you feeling drained. Using a strategy such as ERA (below) can be a productive way to deal with unhelpful feelings:

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