Making the most of your time


Time is not always on the side of the English teacher. There’s a lot to be done – from planning lessons to marking homework; from reading blogs like this to actually having a life! However, sometimes we can be our own worst enemies…

But there really is no need to suffer – time management may not be the coolest topic in the world, but there are tricks you can use to help you get some level of control.

Here are my tips on managing your time:

1. Decide what your time is worth

Someone far wiser than me once said it’s easier to recuperate lost money than lost time. The fact that he thought it was easy to get back lost money suggests he was never an EFL teacher, but I take his point.

How much is your time worth? Have you ever asked yourself that question? It’s an interesting one. €15 an hour? €25 an hour? €50? €100?

Before you can manage your time it’s really useful to think about what each hour is worth. How else can you decide if what you’re doing is really worth doing? Let’s say you’ve decided your time is worth €20 an hour, if you are going to spend three hours laminating, is that really worth €60? It may well be but it’s a useful to ask the question.

2. Plan your week

The life of a teacher is very full, it’s easy to get swamped. Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People  has some great ideas on getting control.

Covey suggests planning your time as a week (easy to do with a paper-based planner or online solutions like Google calendar). Most teachers have some form of calendar with their lessons blocked off. That’s just the first step. There are other things you should block off:

 • Lesson Planning Blocks – If you have 25 teaching hours wouldn’t it be great to get everything planned in 12-15 hours? That way you might actually have a life. What normally happens is that the planning either gets crammed into spaces between classes or can span out as you spend two hours looking for that flashcard you last saw in 1989. Block off planning time in your diary and stick to it. The rest of your week is yours!

• Development Blocks – Block an hour or two every week to check your favourite blogs

• Marking/Paperwork blocks

• Weekly Review – This is an idea stolen from David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. One of the most useful things I do every week is dedicate an hour to review all the projects I’ve got on the go, clear email and Facebook inboxes, generally get on top of things.

Don’t overfill your calendar and make sure you stick to your appointments. Try it for a month and see how it goes.

3. Use technology but don’t get lost in the productivity trap

There are lots of apps and programmes out there that can help you get productive.

I use Omnifocus to keep on top of my to-dos. Compared to rivals it’s very expensive, however, one advantage is that when you invest in one expensive system it stops you wasting time trying out others!

Colleagues of mine also recommend Remember the Milk  and Toodledo  Don’t waste too much time trying them all out!

4. Be kind to yourself

It’s not all about work – don’t be a martyr! Make sure you book in time for the other important things in your life – pets, husbands, kids, Manchester United, origami, bird watching – whatever it is. There are no prizes for having the most densely packed diary in the world.

5. Plan great lessons, not perfect ones…

I’ve done a lot of training on time management and this is the tip that normally gets people most agitated. On one occasion a particularly irate teacher attacked me with her set square and compass.

Striving for perfection is going to create an awful lot of work…and you never get there. I’ve watched teachers spend hours and hours under mountains of photocopies, laminating pouches, rulers, scissors, mind maps and course books to emerge –hours later – with the perfect activity that, unfortunately, is going to take the students all of five minutes to complete.

Great is normally good enough.

6. Make the most of your students

Football manager Alex Ferguson speaks often about an occasion that changed his life. One of his coaches took him aside and pointed out that he was doing too much and that he needed to pass things on to other coaching staff. Ferguson realised the coach was right. He started delegating things – letting go of the tasks he most loved doing. He has since become one of the most successful football managers in history and he puts a lot of that down to his decision to delegate.

You can also delegate – to your students – and save yourself a lot of time while enhancing their learning.

Students can:

• Design worksheets for other students
• Bring material to the lesson
• Write tests for other students
• Create vocab cards
• Imagine pictures (do you really need to hunt out a flash card of the Queen?)
• Find Flashcards on google images
• Check the meaning of words online
• Create videos

All of this should mean that you have more energy for yourself and more time for your students.





Read more in Mike’s ‘Making the most of…’ series by following the links below:


Making the most of observations

Making the most of training sessions

Making the most of your career


  • Very useful tips! I speak from experience – have tried some of the suggestions here and have definitely helped. Thanks Mike!

    Posted by Tania Vaz on April 23rd 2013

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