Thriving in a “No Time” Workplace

Do you have one of those overwhelming projects on your To Do list that weighs down your soul but never gets done? Or perhaps it’s a series of smaller projects that always get pushed aside by tasks that require immediate attention? I have one of those beastly projects: A disorganized (and slightly terrifying) closet packed with preschool supplies and learning materials collected by a previous teacher. Every time I walk through the closet, I feel discouraged and overwhelmed that I haven’t had time to organize it yet. Perhaps you can relate to this type of feeling.

Teachers today have so much to do and so little time to get it all done. When I changed teaching positions last year, I found many challenges being an experienced teacher in a new position. Having a long To Do list stresses me out, and big projects are hard to tackle because they require a significant time investment. Big blocks of time rarely exist in my workday—and unexpected tasks always arise to fill any time that comes along.

Well, I’m tired of waiting for a miraculous block of time to come along, so I’m taking charge instead! Last week, I decided to commit 15 minutes a day to working through the closet—NO MATTER WHAT ELSE I HAVE TO DO. I made the decision out of desperation, but I’ve noticed that the commitment is actually freeing! It’s reduced my stress, and most importantly, it’s changing my daily narrative. Instead of accepting a feeling of helplessness in a “no time” workplace, I see myself making small progress every day on one of my goals. And walking through the closet is starting to feel empowering and uplifting. What a change!

When I told my husband about my 15-minute daily strategy, he said it reminded him of a Japanese principle called Kaizen. In general, Kaizen means “continuous improvement,” and some people practice Kaizen by committing one minute per day to an undesirable (or challenging) task. It sounds really simple, right? It’s a great mental trick. One minute seems totally manageable—even for something that is really hard. Using the one-minute principle, you are supposed to commit at least one minute and continue for a longer period if you desire to do so. Over time, people start to notice a pattern of daily success and positive feelings toward the task. The task becomes more approachable and eventually…a habit emerges. When I thought about the one-minute principle, my closet task seemed even more manageable!

So what kind of tasks could teachers approach with a few minutes a day? Perhaps tidying up a workspace, deleting old email, reading or writing education blogs, creating a teacher website, or connecting with other educators through Twitter or social media to build their PLN? Personally, I think that lack of time is the greatest obstacle teachers face today—and for me, it’s one of my greatest causes of workplace stress and unhappiness. Committing a few minutes a day to something I want to accomplish helps me feel like I’m thriving instead of drowning. I don’t expect to be completely perfect, and I know there will be days when I might only do a few minutes. But I know the forward motion of progress will give me peace and increase my workplace happiness.

What about you? What tasks do you wish to accomplish and how could a small daily time commitment make a difference? Can you see these principles improving your workplace happiness?


Jess Ledbetter

Dr. Jess Ledbetter teaches preschool students with developmental delays in a Title I school in Glendale, Arizona. She is a National Board Certified Teacher (ENS-ECYA), an Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow Alumni, and a Candidate Support Provider for teachers seeking their National Board Certification. She earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation at ASU in 2016. Her mixed methods research used a Communities of Practice model as a strategy for early career special education teachers to collaborate with peers to increase their team leadership skills working with paraeducators in their individual classrooms.

Dr. Ledbetter is guided by the belief that all teachers are leaders in their classrooms and possess the skills to be leaders within their schools, districts, communities, and greater context. She hopes you will contribute to the dialogue by leaving comments about your own experiences, opinions, and insights so that real-life stories from our schools can inform the policies that affect students, teachers, and their communities.

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