Teacher Time and Energy Are Finite Resources


Two of the most finite resources in education are teacher time and energy.

If you want to pay for something high quality, you know you need to find the resources in your budget. It helps to think of time and energy in the same way.

Just like money, time can be borrowed. It can be wasted, overdrawn, or stolen from others.

And it’s not equally valuable in every situation.

Because time and effort are finite resources, there are three basic ways to approach any task.

Option 1: “I want to do this really, really well. How much time and energy will that take? And where will that time and energy come from?”

Teachers, like other humans, have certain hours of the day at which they are most productive, most creative, most able to muscle through a stack of essays with at least some amount of heart. The moments in which you have both time and energy are the rarest, and therefore the most valuable. Let’s call this time Inspiration O’clock.

So, what to spend these golden hours on? You decide.

Just remember that it’s not always Inspiration O’Clock. There’s an opportunity cost to spending these hours on tasks that are not worthy of your best efforts.

Option 2: “This task only deserves a certain amount of time and energy. I will spend that exact amount of time and energy on it. Then I’m done.”

Sometimes you don’t need to be inspired. You just need to get through this stack, this pile, this professional development write-up, this mindless item that’s clogging the pipes of your to-do list.

Either of the two options above may be fine, depending on the situation.

Just be honest with yourself about which one you’re choosing. Otherwise, you may be subconsciously choosing Option 3.

Option 3: Tell yourself that you are going to do something perfectly, then procrastinate until a hard external deadline gets close enough that you have to rush through it.

The upside of Option 3 is you don’t have to consciously admit you’re the type of person who would ever rush through something.

It’s a circumstance. A rock and a hard place. You’d do a much better job if only you had a little more time.

The downside of Option 3 is that it’s actually just Option 2.

If you’re going with Option 2 anyway, it’s a lot less stressful to acknowledge this up front: This is a task you are going to do under time pressure. Then, try to set up that time pressure up front. Set a micro-deadline for part of the task. Set a timer. Tell people they have to stop interrupting you because you have a due date. Treat all of this with the same panicked energy you will be treating the task with when the final, external deadline gets closer.

Then, get ready, get set . . . go do the mediocre job you were going to do on it at the last minute.

Is it good enough? Great. Cross it off the list and stop tinkering.

Is it not good enough? No problem. You’ve got a first draft knocked out, and you have time to do another pass.

Want some one-on-one help managing your time and energy better?

See Me After Class Office Hours are one-on-one Zoom or phone sessions tailored to any teaching-related topic you want to talk about. They are a chance to receive individual feedback from someone who has spent nearly two decades cutting through cliches to offer honesty, nuance, and practical advice. Best of all, I don’t work for your school district, answer to your principal, or eat lunch in your teachers’ lounge. Everything we discuss is completely confidential.

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