For most of us in the field of education, summer is a time that we wait for all year. During the months of July and August (or, for some of our colleagues, June and July,) we relax and recharge. Perhaps we are doing some summer school teaching during these months or use the time to plan for next year. Still, we enjoy our time away from school and its many demands. In this context, it is pretty easy to feel balanced and unstressed.
Of course, the challenge for us is to maintain a sense of balance and control once the new academic year commences. At that point, we will again be inundated with our core responsibilities as well as the many ancillary components of teaching, such as planning, assessments, record keeping, meetings and communication. This is in addition to the responsibilities that we have towards our families, particularly for those of us with relatives (children and parents) to care for.
Many of us struggle to achieve and maintain proper balance in our lives. We seek to succeed in the work arena while simultaneously being there for our families and loved ones. We have a strong sense of community and want to give back to those around us while also ensuring that we also attend to our health/emotional/spiritual needs on a regular basis.
Despite our best intentions, however, our many aims oftentimes come into direct conflict with one another. We simply cannot give as much time as we would like to each of these areas in a manner that is fully satisfying, especially when our professional workload begins to mount. How can we manage to strike the proper balance between these oft-competing realms in a manner that is both responsible and fulfilling?
For starters, it is important to take the time to identify and prioritize your core values and aspirations. Once you arrive at some answers, you can see how they fit into your present reality and adjust as needed. This Wheel of Life Tool can help.
Another valuable technique is to learn to identify where professional tasks sit in the “urgent/important” matrix. This matrix was presented in”The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”
Many of us feel overwhelmed by the many tasks on our to-do lists. We struggle to meet one deadline after another, no matter how hard we work. Oftentimes, important projects get sidelined by the smaller “fires” that we need (or feel the need) to put out. Perhaps we forget about appointments because we don’t have the time to check our schedule first or write things down.
While it may be true that certain seasons and situations present us with an inordinate workload (such as the end of a term), we can still make meaningful headway in working through our punch list by plugging them into Covey’s formula. At that point, we can better identify priorities, and then organize and execute around them.
Naturally, the list of what’s most important will vary by person. Since we each have our own unique set of goals and responsibilities, there is no single formula that works for everybody. Knowing clearly what your job duties are, together with your personal commitments and aspirations, will go a long way in offering clarity and providing direction.
As Covey sees it, every task falls into one of four categories, or “quadrants.” An urgent matter is defined as visible and timely; it is the incoming phone call, the colleague or parent standing in your doorway or the looming deadline. These matters are often not particularly important. Importance refers specifically to something that contributes directly to your job, mission, values and goals.
Covey’s research suggests that 90% of most people’s time is spent in Quadrant 1 — urgent and important — while the remaining 10% is spent in Quadrant IV — not urgent and not important. Ideally, people should make sure to spend most of their time in Quadrant II — important but not urgent, dealing with less stressful and demanding activities as relationship-building and planning. You not only get all your tasks completed, but you also build a strong foundation for the future by putting your time where it will reap benefits.
To maintain balance and increase productivity, spend a few moments in the morning evaluating your priorities. Write each of your daily tasks in whichever quadrant it belongs. Try to identify which quadrant(s) you spend the majority of your time in and you’ll have a clear picture of what’s most important to you. Then, all you have to do is get in the habit of evaluating each task with this chart in mind.
Maintaining balance is about choosing what to do and what not to do. No matter what your goals and pressures are, remember that your time and actions are under your control. Once you get comfortable evaluating the usefulness of your tasks you will see an immediate increase in your productivity, your success, your energy and your balance in all areas of your life.