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.
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?
*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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The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha