Fewer Decisions = More Energy

Every teacher I know wishes they had more energy at the end of the day. They want to give their best to their family, just like they gave their best to their students. They want to exercise, work on a hobby, play with their kids, talk with their spouse, and some of them even wish they had more energy for checking papers and planning lessons.

In my last post, Why Teachers Are So Tired, I wrote about the four reasons teachers are so drained at day’s end.

This week and next, I’ll look at what teachers can do to reduce decisions, use less willpower, avoid emotional peaks and valleys, and handle worry so that they go home with more energy. In this article, I’ll tackle the first of those: making fewer decisions.

How to Make Fewer Decisions

It sounds simple enough: just make fewer decisions. And for some people in some jobs, it might even be possible to simply, through force of will, decide fewer things at work. But as teachers, we are inundated with situations that require us to decide. Planning is nothing but a series of decisions. We decide every time we check papers, when we rearrange seating charts, when a student asks to use the bathroom, how to handle a behavior problem, and on and on. We don’t have the luxury of simply not deciding. Our principals, colleagues, students, and parents are all waiting for us to choose. So how do we decide less?

Actually, we’re already doing it. Now, we need to do more of it.

Make it Automatic

Mark Zuckerberg wears the same gray T-shirt to work every day. When asked why he said:

I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community.

Zuck’s ‘Drobe:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

President Obama explained his wardrobe this way:

You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing, because I have too many other decisions to make.

Steve Jobs, Henry Rollins, Christopher Nolan, and even Albert Einstein later in life all subscribed to the same belief. They knew that the more decisions you make, the more tired you will be and the less energy you will have to make more important decisions later in the day.

Choosing your outfit is one decision you can easily remove from your day.* Once you start thinking about it, you will find there are many other decisions you can automate, and some you already do.

Most of you follow the same route to work and back every day. You don’t decide, you just do it. Same for nearly all of your morning routine. In fact, if you’re like me, you’re bothered when your morning routine gets thrown off for some reason.

You probably automate much of your banking. Thanks to technology, I make many fewer financial decisions than my dad did. I don’t have to decide when to deposit my paycheck, when and how much money to move into my daughter’s college fund, when to pay the bills, or how much to put into savings every month. All of that is set up ahead of time and now just happens.

It’s the key to making fewer decisions: automate as many of them as possible.

Go through your entire day. How many decisions do you already automate? What else could you automate? How about your workout routine? If you get to the gym and decide which equipment to use and what order to use it in, you’re using energy. If you just do the same thing every time or follow a predetermined schedule, you’re saving energy. Analyze every part of your day and eliminate as many decisions as possible. Don’t decide what to have for dinner every day. If you plan your meals for the whole week, then eating dinner goes on autopilot.

Decide Less At Work

At school, we’re well practiced in this. We call them routines, but the reason we teach them, model them, and have students practice them for the first two weeks (or two months) is so that they’ll become a habit and no one will have to waste energy thinking about them. How many other parts of your school day can you automate? Your entire morning routine? Your end-of-the-day routine? How students line up to leave the classroom? You probably already do these, and thank goodness. Can you imagine having to decide, every day, how you want students to line up?

Since many teacher decisions happen as a result of student behavior, a solid classroom management plan is a must. It can prevent problems that will require decisions from you. If consequences are clear and consistently enforced, there is no decision to make. You simply follow your pre-established plan. For more information on classroom management, I highly recommend Michael Linsin’s blog, Smart Classroom Management. He knows way more about it than I ever will.

Do a decision audit. List out everything you do in a typical day. How many of your decisions are already part of an automatic routine, and how many more could be with some simple, proactive changes?

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*If your principal has a problem with your wearing the same thing every day, just tell them that if it’s good enough for Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs, then maybe they should worry about more important matters.

What other decisions could you automate? Share your ideas in the comments so we all benefit! Thanks.

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Sources:

8 Reasons Successful People Are Choosing to Wear the Same Thing Every Day

Why Mark Zuckerberg Wears the Same Clothes to Work Every Day

The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha

 

 

 

 

10 Ways to Stay Motivated About Teaching

Being motivated about teaching is easy in September. You’ve just had a long summer of relaxation and you’re looking forward to starting fresh with a new class. Like a Detroit Lions’ football season, it doesn’t matter how bad things sucked last year, there’s hope that this year will be different.

However, much like those hapless Lions, by the time winter hits, hope has been replaced with reality. Those new ideas you couldn’t wait to try didn’t exactly turn out the way you imagined. Your resolution to be more positive, or show more gratitude, or not let stupid district initiatives get under your skin has been forgotten. The precocious kid you thought was so much fun the first two months is now just an annoying know-it-all who takes great pleasure in correcting your every mistake. You’re not even halfway through the year and you’re not sure how you’re going to get through the rest of it.

It can be tough to stay motivated during the long winter months. So if you find your energy sapped and your greatest fear is that the principal is going to walk in and see you delivering an uninspired lesson to an inattentive class, you might try some of these ten ideas to stay motivated.

1. Change Something

Part of the problem with the middle of the year is that you’ve settled into your routines and every day can start to feel the same. To break the monotony, change something. Swap subjects in your schedule. Start something new, like student blogging or scheduling a Skype with an author.  Start playing music as students enter in the morning. Do a lesson in the gym.  Perform a science experiment that isn’t part of your curriculum.  Make the days less predictable.

2. Address Problems

A mistake I made early in my career was avoiding problems in my class. I’d think to myself, well, the year’s half over now. I’ll just change how I do things next year so I won’t have these problems again. Hopefully, you’re smarter than me. Your motivation to do the job well will be destroyed if you have festering issues. Face them head-on.  Re-work a routine. Change your attention signal if yours isn’t working. Sit a student by herself if she can’t sit by others. Think of it as testing solutions. You have 4-5 months to try out new interventions. If they fail, try something else. If they work, you can add them to your toolbox and use it the rest of your career. Get testing!

3. Experiment

Just as you can experiment with solving problems in your room, you can experiment with the curriculum. Instead of waiting for a new class to try out that thing you heard about at a conference, implement it right away. If you come up with a new way to teach something, try it! Collect some data. See if it works. Tell others about it. Turn your classroom into a testing ground for innovation.

4. Reread a Favorite Teaching Book

An easy way to rekindle your idealism and pump up your energy level is to read books that motivated you in the past. No teacher can go wrong with Teach Like a Pirate or The Essential 55. Other books that I return to are The Promise of a Pencil, The First Days of School, Best Year Ever, and Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire.

5. Watch an Inspirational Movie or YouTube Clips

Every once in a while, one of the networks will do a feel-good story about a teacher who made a difference for kids. They always give me a shot of motivation about what’s possible. With the video-on-demand services available today, you don’t have to stumble on these. Hop over to YouTube and do a search for “inspiration for teachers” or search for keynote addresses from some of America’s most inspiring educators.

You could also watch a full-length movie. Teachhub.com has a good list of 12 Must-See Movies for Teachers.

6. Pick a Stretch Goal

A stretch goal is a goal that can’t be achieved by incremental changes. It’s a popular business concept that will undoubtedly make its way to our schools. Before you groan, consider choosing a stretch goal for your class to inject a dose of significance into everyone’s work.  It should be difficult, but not impossible to achieve. It should require serious commitment. A couple of possibilities are:

  • Every student will ace the next biology test.
  • Every student will read 150 words per minute by the end of the year.
  • Every student will be able to recite Poe’s “Annabel Lee.”
  • Every student will know their multiplication facts by June.

Having an ambitious goal to work toward–something that will necessitate changes to the way everyone does things–can be a great way to up everyone’s motivation, including yours.

7. Teach Meaningful Things

It can be hard to get excited about teaching decimals or heredity.  Some of the required content is just not very inspiring. So teach something that is meaningful to you. I like to carve out 20 minutes a couple of times each week to focus character traits.

59% of respondents to CBIA’s 2013 Hartford-Springfield Business Survey indicated they were having trouble finding and retaining qualified workers because applicants lacked “soft skills” like punctuality, interpersonal skills, teamwork, leadership ability, and work ethic. So teach students stuff that actually matters, like how to shake someone’s hand, the importance of appearance, working with others, and perseverance. Read picture books about honesty. Show video clips of people achieving their goals through hard work. Share life lessons about how you handled adversity in your own life.

Teaching these kinds of important lessons can remind you about why you became a teacher in the first place–to improve kids’ lives. In the end, it won’t matter what your students know if they don’t know how to comport themselves. So motivate yourself by teaching traits you’re passionate about!

8. Learn Something New

Pick up a book on using technology in the classroom and then try it out with your students. Go to a workshop or conference and let those new ideas inspire you to make changes. Follow people on Twitter who are constantly innovating (I recommend Alice Keeler for all things Google Apps for Education). We lose motivation when things go stale.  Keep learning and trying new things and you’ll always have a reason to get up and go to work in the morning.

9. Improve the Life of Just One Student

As much as we like to think we are making a difference in the lives of kids, the truth is that a lot of variables come into play and we can’t control most of them. To instill more meaning into your job, choose one student and dedicate yourself to improving his or her life. Talk to this student about his personal life. Listen to her stories. Give him extra help. Do little things that make a big difference. Write her a thank you card when she helps pick up the classroom. Challenge yourself to see what you can do to make just that one student’s life a little better.

10. Fake It

Sometimes you’re just not feeling it. You’re tired. The damn sun has been hiding behind clouds all week. Your class is acting up. Your motivation is at zero. The last thing you feel like doing is delivering an energetic lesson on the Civil War. This is when it’s time to fake it until you make it. Remember, you’re a teacher, which means you’re an actor. So put on your game face and perform. Sometimes, just pretending to be excited can actually make you more excited.

Bonus

If all else fails, take a day off. If you’re a low-energy dud who’s snarling at your students and grumbling at your colleagues, no one wants you there anyway, and you probably aren’t doing anyone any good. Take a day. Recharge. And come back with renewed vigor.

Question: What do you do to stay motivated during the winter? Leave your ideas in the comments!

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