Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Why so busy?

What is the one thing teachers (and many other professions) want more of? If you ask this question at any education conference, any gathering of teachers, they will always say the same thing; time. If you ask a teacher how they are, they will likely say "busy". Lately however, I have been wondering if there is a little bit more to our not-enough-time-syndrome.


I am a busy woman. At any one time, my life is a balance of my Learning Community Leader role (dispositional curriculum and pastoral leader), my role as a science and maths teacher, my role with Edge Work at AUT, my thesis, #edchatNZ, family, friends and chores. I hear colleagues, friends and family rattle off their list of responsibilities too. All those things that keep them so busy! I see them looking tired and stressed, not getting enough sleep, and rarely getting enough exercise or feeding themselves well. What is most striking about this however, is that this business is frequently not seen as a problem, instead, I have noticed that we seem to wear busy as a badge. As if how busy we are is some sort of indication that we are committed to our job, or doing a good job. Sometimes it seems, we us this badge to illicit sympathy, and other times, it appears as a means to validate or qualify ourselves. Sometimes, it's an excuse. Either way, "busy, and you?" seems to have replaced "fine, and how are you?" as an acceptable response in our daily lives.

Why exactly are we so busy? I've been thinking about this a lot lately. We all know about people who have burnt out, who stop teaching, or even who leave education altogether. I have a hunch... (A hunch in this case, being a theory that has not been tested). Are we suffering cognitive overload? Are we so busy ducking and weaving through all the things being thrown at us all the time, that we are too busy to take stock of which things we should actually be doing, and which we should not? Do we keep throwing in more stuff, and never take anything out? Do we actually stop and think whether all the many things we are doing, is actually useful, helpful or important? And if they are important, which is the most important?

What do you think?

I've been working on this busy thing personally. I thought I would share a few rules for how how I manage my busy syndrome in an effort to tackle the work-life balance challenge.
  • Sleep. I have a 9:30pm deadline. If it is not done by 9:30pm, it has to happen another day. I need sleep. So do you. Whatever you tell yourself, you are not a medical marvel and exception. The fact of the matter is that in order for your brain to fire on all cylinders, you need sleep. I have found that by keeping to my 9:30 deadline, I do the important things first. And because I have had a decent amount of sleep most of the time, I am able to stay more level headed, more focussed and get things done faster and more effectively.
  • Eat well. If you want your brain to function well, you need to feed it well. Whatever fuel you put in, is the performance you get out. If you put in lots of sugar, saturated fats and minimal good fibre,  then don't be surprised if you start to feel tired and like you just can't keep up. You wouldn't expect a car to drive or win any races if you gave it the wrong fuel. Why would you expect something different for yourself?
  • Email. Email is a deceptive demon. If not managed carefully, it can make things feel urgent that really are not. Sometimes, emails actually make more work! Instead of a two minute conversation, it can turn into a long winded backwards and forwards. Sometimes conversations that should happen in person, happens through email and starts unnecessary conflict. And on top of that, sending emails that aren't important or necessary to people who don't really need them clogs up everyone's inbox and wastes everyone's time.
  • Single tasking. Doing one thing at a time means I devote my full brain power to the task. It means it gets done faster and better. This often means moving away from coworkers into quieter spaces, closing down all tabs that are not needed for the task at hand, and turning off any potentially distracting notifications. If you want to get something done, then stop trying to do a million things at once.
At the end of the day, I also have to remind myself that I am wildly passionate about education. Sometimes, busy is not bad, it is a deliberate choice I make because my head and heart is fully engaged in what I do. And as long as I have balance, then buys might just be okay.