Reduce your workload and save time with this grid

pdhpe teachers time management Aug 28, 2023

Teachers suffer from one of the most demanding workloads of any job. It is not just the physical or administrative work either, it is the management of people and the stress this places on teachers. But today, I want to give you a simple tool you can use to reduce your workload and save yourself a huge amount of time.  

Effective time management is a cornerstone of successful teaching. It allows us to balance our responsibilities and deliver quality teaching and learning. One powerful tool for achieving this balance is Eisenhower's Matrix, AKA the Urgent/Important Matrix. This matrix can revolutionize the way we manage our tasks and priorities. By understanding and applying the principles using the Matrix, PDHPE teachers can optimize productivity, enhance student engagement, and maintain a more empowering work-life balance.

 

Eisenhower's Matrix

Named after President Dwight D. Eisenhower, this Matrix is based off something he said in his Address at the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches 

"I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent."

Eisenhower's Matrix is a simple yet highly effective tool for categorizing tasks. It consists of four quadrants, each with its own set of tasks and priorities:

Eisenhower's Matrix

 

Quadrant 1: Urgent and Important:

Tasks that fall into this quadrant are both urgent and important to your work. They often have a due date or time and have an immediate impact on your teaching, your students' learning, welfare, safety or something similar. These tasks demand immediate attention and should be put at the top of your to-do list. Examples include:

  • Safety concerns such as looking after an injured student, identifying a high-priority WHS issue, dealing with dangerous classroom behaviour, or dealing with a student's mental health.
  • Last-minute lesson adaptations due to unforeseen circumstances in order to cater to student needs or changes in the environment. This seems to happen more often to PDHPE teachers as we often don't have our own rooms, and PE can change swiftly because of a last-minute rehearsal for a musical or drama performance.
  • Reports often end up in this category as well, or any communication with parents. It is often left until it becomes urgent and then we have a deadline or the consequences of not communicating with them become so bad, that we finally make the phone call.

 

Quadrant 2: Important but Not Urgent:

This is the most important quadrant to pay attention to. It is the activities that fall in this category that can become urgent and important later. The actions in this quadrant need to be scheduled in your diary and protected because of their importance. Doing this ensures you devote quality time to them and helps ensure they are done well without the rush.

Basic things like looking after your health by engaging in regular downtime, green time, exercise, and eating well would be in this quadrant. When neglected this quickly becomes urgent and important as we look at CVD, cancers, and other lifestyle diseases which stop us in our tracks. The reason I am giving you this example is because if we neglect the things in this quadrant and they move to the first quadrant, you will feel busy, rushed, stressed, and you will not be doing the important things as well as you would like.

The activities or tasks in the quadrant are the important and often vital tasks for a teacher to complete in order to improve as a teacher and have a successful career that you love. However, these activities often get pushed aside because they are not urgent yet, and if they don't become urgent they often never get done. Some actions in this quadrant include:

  • Creating and refining units of work, assessment tasks, lesson plans and other core teaching actions. These are complex processes as you differentiate them, engage your students in real-life contexts, and ensure they meet the demands of NESA.
  • Professional development is one of the more important things for a teacher to do and yet we often leave it to the year our maintenance is due to check if we have done everything we need to do. Attending workshops, conferences, and training sessions to continue to build our skills and develop our craft is key for us to get better. Reading books, observing lessons and having ours observed are great important activities for teachers to be involved in. They are important, but we often leave them to the side because of a lack of time to devote to them.
  • Designing engaging and age-appropriate physical education lessons. As PE teachers we have the extra hard task of trying to design learning experiences around the development of physical skills while having a class with a very, very broad range of abilities in this area, and even wider differences in motivation levels to improve. We must consider safety aspects, book venues, motivate students, and have them develop fundamental skills, while also extending our elite students. The task is difficult to do well, and we often let our students down by preparing mediocre lessons, which become hard to manage.
  • Reflecting on practice is one of our most important elements as a teacher to do well but it often requires large chunks of time. This is how we continue to adapt and adjust our lessons getting better and better each year. Yet so many of us give it little more than 5-10 minutes at the end of a term. This is because we do not schedule the time for it, and because it is often not due to anybody until the end of a term or even the end of the year.

 

Quadrant 3: Urgent but Not Important:

Tasks in this quadrant have a due date/time and seem pressing but don't contribute significantly to the learning of our students or develop our teaching excellence. When you list these tasks and consider them, I would encourage you to push the boundaries as far as you can. If the activity is not a legal requirement don't do it. If the request for your time does not impact teaching and learning politely decline the invitation. And if it is possible to find a way to outsource the work, do so. I would also encourage you to consider if these things are truly urgent. Often our culture makes us feel like something is urgent when in reality it is not. Let's look at some examples.

  • Administrative tasks such as responding to emails or phone calls can often fall into this quadrant. We often see them as requiring quick replies. We feel rude if we don't respond in a timely fashion and this puts pressure on you to take the 2 minutes to interrupt your other more important work in order to reply to a colleague or someone else. But these admin tasks don't directly impact student education or the quality of your teaching. To combat this, you will benefit from being hard to contact, being known as the person who doesn't reply to emails quickly and treating these things as distractions and not like they are important just because someone else is trying to make them urgent. it is amazing how much time we can waste on email instead of doing the more important aspects of teaching.
  • Another example is the constant tweaking of lesson plans. This comes from a perfectionist approach to what you are doing, but ask any experienced teacher and they will tell you over preparing is a quick way to feel disappointed and to get frustrated and angry at your students. You put all this time and effort into minor tweaks, which they don't notice, and quite possibly have little to no impact on the learning. I would add the decorations in your classroom to this as well. Spending hours making changes to the posters and other things on your classroom walls does not have a big impact on student learning. Put a couple up, stick up kids' work, but don't spend hours planning it, rearranging furniture 10 times, or buying things with your own money to make your classroom feel good to you. It is not having the huge impact you think it is, but putting that time and effort into your unit planning and design, now that has an impact. Or put the time into getting to know your students, that has an impact. 
  • Meetings are possibly the most time-consuming activities for a teacher. We have meetings because they are scheduled and not because they are needed. Every Monday afternoon is a meeting, whether it is a staff meeting, faculty meeting, WHS meeting, executive meeting, or something else. We are filled with meetings and mostly they have no impact on student learning or teacher excellence. Most meetings could be done via email, or have someone leave a video of what they were going to say. They are announcements, not meetings. The few meetings I have been a part of as a teacher that were beneficial had to do with reflecting on classroom observations or discussing professional readings, not sitting in a large room listening to a principal talk about the budget and new buildings, or telling me about a student's misbehaviour. I can read that in an email (but I probably wouldn't read the budget stuff, to be honest, it is a complete waste of my time).
  • Organising sport is another huge time suck for us PDHPE teachers. Creating spreadsheets, getting students to complete forms, rostering teachers, booking buses and venues etc. there is a mammoth amount of admin work for this. For this, I would encourage you to ask your school to employ an admin assistant, or to designate a current admin assistant to work with the sports coordinator. For most of these tasks, an admin assistant will do faster and better than you. You just need to oversee it, make sure the history teacher who played rep football is taking the football team, and that the teacher with a coaching qualification for rugby takes the rugby team, but other than those types of things the administrator can do it and you can spend more time on your teaching and possibly even keep the periods in the classroom that you are trained for and enjoy doing.

 

Quadrant 4: Neither Urgent nor Important:

The tasks that go into this quadrant are complete time-wasters. They contribute nothing to teaching excellence or student learning. These are the things you find yourself doing in order to escape from life, or just so you can tick something off your to-do-list. You may even find that they are designed in a way to pull you in and keep you there for as long as possible. Some examples include:

  • Spending unnecessary time on social media (which pretty much any time could be considered when compared to what else you could be doing with that time). Sure you might go there to ask a question in the NSW PDHPE Teachers group, or to find that article you saw shared last night, but you always end up on there for longer than you intended. The impact of these things are minor for your teaching. Just think of what else you could do with that time. 30 minutes of scrolling can be replaced with a whole chapter from a book on project-based learning or listening to a podcast on strategies you could use to differentiate your lessons.
  • Administrative tasks that offer no value to teaching quality. Consider all the emails you replied to with a "thanks" or "yep go it" and the time spent reading similar emails. If they don't require a response, then don't send it. It wastes both people's time. Other admin tasks such as entering data from one place to another, transferring lesson plans from a unit design to day book, or spending hours searching the internet for that one video you really want to show your class. Devote this time to more important things and see how the impact can change.
  • Shallow social interactions are another activity. I am not saying don't say hi and smile at people as you walk past. I'm saying don't spend 20 minutes talking with someone about the weather, or complaining about life. You should invest in quality relationships, spend time with your faculty playing cricket in the hall or helping someone through a difficult life situation. You should be invested in the people around you, it is important for your health, their health, and having good relationships, which is one of the most important things in your life. But if someone wants to interrupt you to tell you they don't like the smell of your banana peel in the staff room, politely ask them to let you do your work and let them deal with the banana skin if they don't like it.

Below is an example of what a completed matrix might look like.

 

A few more worked-out examples for you

In the midst of a busy school day, an urgent and important situation arises when a student gets injured during a PE lesson. You immediately stop the lesson, attend to the injured student, and ensure proper medical attention is given. This exemplifies Quadrant 1 tasks that demand swift action and are crucial to student well-being.

Moving to Quadrant 2, you know the importance of long-term curriculum development. By scheduling time outside of class to enhance your curriculum and use a backward design model, you create engaging activities that align with PDHPE outcomes and promote lifelong physical health. This proactive approach increases the impact of your teaching and enables more successful learning for your students.

now consider the scenario where your deputy principal urgently requests a meeting to discuss minor changes to the sports schedule. While the matter might be urgent for the Deputy, it falls into Quadrant 3 for you as a teacher. By delegating such tasks to administrative staff or suggesting alternative ways to address the issue, you can maintain your focus on teaching priorities. You will probably be pleasantly surprised by how willing your superiors are to adapt for you to be more engaged in what really matters.

Finally, Quadrant 4 serves as a reminder to avoid distractions that don't contribute to effective teaching. Instead of spending time on social media during breaks, you could engage in physical activity or use the time for personal reflection to recharge your energy.

 

Some final words

Using the Matrix can very much save you tie and reduce your workload. As you consider the amount of work you do that is not important, you can begin to cut out these tasks and reduce your workload. You can better identify tasks that are not important and say no to them in the first place. You can even change up how you spend time at home so that you are more engaged with your family and friends or getting your physical activity levels up.

You have the flexibility to adapt Eisenhower's Matrix to your unique teaching style and goals. Regularly evaluate your tasks and how they align with the Matrix's quadrants and how they are helping you work towards those goals. Here are some tips for using the Matrix for you:

  • Start each day by reviewing your tasks and categorizing them into the matrix quadrants. Doing this regularly will help ensure your days build into larger impacts over a term, year and career.
  • Dedicate time each week to reflect on your progress towards goals, your productivity, and the impact you are having across the school. See if you need to adjust things based on the Matrix and schedule those important but non-urgent tasks.
  • At the end of each term assess the effectiveness of your teaching methods and adjust your long-term goals accordingly. This is also a great time to reflect on your units of work, adjust them for next year and choose what you will do with your "holidays" to continue to work towards your goals, both professionally and personally.

Effective time management is crucial for PDHPE teachers to deliver high-quality education and develop student well-being. Eisenhower's Matrix empowers you to navigate your tasks with clarity, leading to improved teaching outcomes, reduced stress, smaller workloads, and a healthier work-life balance. By consistently applying the principles of the matrix and adapting them to your specific context, you can truly maximize your impact and create a positive learning environment for your students.

 

Go Deeping into these concepts with my book Work Less, Teach More: How to be an Effective Teacher and Live a Life you Love.

 

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