Don’t delay any longer with these tips
I used to believe that I could beat procrastination through sheer willpower alone.
I relied on it to write passable essays as a student. Then I relied on it to scrape by as a newly-employed graduate. But when I tried to use willpower to get work done as a teacher, I become so overwhelmed I almost failed to qualify.
There was simply too much work to do and willpower alone couldn’t tackle all of it.
So if you’re a teacher working from home facing hours of planning, marking, phone calls or emails, and can’t bring yourself to start, here are some ways that have helped me feel more motivated:
Have a ‘work zone’
I used to work sat on the sofa or in bed. But because I was in the habit of using these places for relaxation and comfort, I couldn’t get in the right frame of mind to work.
I now have a small desk I only use for work. This is my ‘work zone’.
Ideally, your ‘work zone’ would be a whole room like an office or spare bedroom you don’t use for any other activities. But if, like me, you live in very modest accommodation, try to find at least part of a room (like a corner) you don’t use for anything else. The aim of this is that when you sit in your ‘work zone’ your brain thinks ‘time to do work’ and expects nothing else.
Remove visual distractions
Have you ever gone to the kitchen with the good intention of making a healthy lunch only to find yourself suddenly eating crisps? Odd, isn’t it? The visual stimulus of seeing the crisps is so powerful, they become almost impossible to ignore. And even if you can, you’ll be expending lots of energy trying.
Reduce the friction to your work by removing anything within sight that might distract you from it. Put you your phone on silent and in a drawer. Remove the browser icons for social media and games on your computer. Unplug the television and put it in a cupboard.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Begin with something fun
Whenever I had a task I didn’t want to do, I’d put on some headphones and play some music or a podcast. Since I enjoy doing these, it was easy to begin. It’s a way of ‘greasing the slide’ into work.
After ten or fifteen minutes I’ll reach a point where get frustrated that what I’m listening to is preventing me from concentrating on the work, so I’ll turn off what I’m listening to, leaving me engaged in the task I was avoiding to begin with. I’ve been doing this for so long I now only have to put some headphones on to get in the zone. I don’t even have to listen to anything.
Reward yourself afterwards
Make a contract with yourself:
‘Once I do [something I must], I’ll get to do [something I want to]‘
An example might be:
‘Once I [plan one lesson], I’ll get to [watch a video on Youtube]’
Then once you’ve planned the lesson (or whatever the task is that you need to do) make sure you honour the contract and follow through with the reward. You’ll be tempted to continue working, but don’t – if you make the contract count for something it’s more likely to be effective in the long-term.
Writing it down at first can be helpful as that makes the deal feel real.
Use a Pomodoro timer
Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. It’s very common, I’m told, for Italian homes to have a tomato-shaped timer to help manage timings in the kitchen.
How a Pomodoro timer works is simple: you start a timer (let’s say 20 minutes) and you have to concentrate on a task for that duration of time. When the timer ends you can take a short break of no more than 5 or 10 minutes. Once the break is up, it’s back to work for another 20 minutes. Repeat as much as necessary.
There are dozens on Pomodoro Timers on YouTube you can use. Some are as brief as 15 minutes, while others go up to an hour. Choose what you think is achievable for you and alter if needed. There are also websites like Pomofocus which does the same thing.
I find I can work for more of a sustained period, not giving up so quickly, when the time to have a break is decided for me. It allows me to get into a deeper state of concentration. Often to the extent that when the time for a break comes around, I want to carry on working.
Use the Paperclip technique
This method is as simple as it gets, but incredibly powerful nonetheless. Put two jars on your desk with paperclips in one and nothing in the other. Each time you complete a task, move one paperclip from the full jar to the empty jar. This could work for anything. Let’s say you need to assess ten pieces of writing. Put ten paperclips in one jar. Once you’ve finished assessing each piece of work, you transfer a paperclip to the other jar. I’ve found it makes the smallest of tasks really satisfying (especially when you can get a nice ‘plink’ sound).
It was this technique that helped me knuckle down and begin writing this blog. As you can see – it works!
Stay in touch with colleagues who work hard (and politely avoid those who don’t)
As social creatures, we instinctively want to fit in. The more I hear from other colleagues, and how productive they’re being, the more motivated I am to work just as hard.
On the other hand, if my colleagues are telling me how they’re doing the bare minimum, I start questioning whether I should be working any more than they are.
Remember why you became a teacher in the first place
I never imagined I’d be teaching online when I started teacher training several years ago. And yet here I am.
Sometimes I need to channel my inner coach in order to talk myself into making the right choices. This is positive self-talk: I remind myself why I chose to become a teacher over other ways of earning a living; how being a professional means remaining engaged and showing up even when I don’t feel like it.
The reason I chose to teach may be different to yours, but whatever it is – keep it in mind as this reason can help you stay motivated when the work gets stale.
I wouldn’t recommend you try all of these at once. Maybe pick a couple that you think sound helpful for your circumstances and give them a try.
Nowadays I’ve found the satisfaction of doing the work itself has taken over and I rarely need to use these as much as I used to. But they changed my life for the better a few years ago and I just wish I had learnt about them sooner.
I hope they help you as much as they’ve helped me.