Two of the most finite resources in education are teachers’ time and energy. It’s always helpful to keep this in mind when deciding how much time and energy to budget for a task.
But that’s just part of the story. It’s also important to note that not all time is equally valuable.
Each week, there are a few magical chunks of time when your highest energy level combines with a low enough distraction level for you to really get in the zone.
These moments are when you have the creativity to plan your best possible lesson. They’re the times when you have the discipline to muscle through a stack of essays with at least some amount of heart.
Let’s call this hypothetical block of time “Inspiration O’clock.”
It is not to be wasted.
When Inspiration O’clock strikes, you are Productivity Cinderella, trying to meet your prince of getting those papers graded before before the spell wears off and your fancy carriage of clarity, insight, and energy turns back into a pumpkin.
How to get more out of your best working hours.
Inspiration O’clock isn’t always under your control. But it may be somewhat predictable. If you figure out when this time is most likely to happen, you might be able to make it longer, or match it with the activities you’d like to give your fullest attention. This might mean blocking off a few quiet hours on a weekend morning, or figuring how you can get in the zone more quickly during your planning period, or staying at school late one day a week to work on a set list of tasks.
Because it’s not always Inspiration O’clock.
Sometimes it’s “Mindless Administrative Busywork” O’clock at best.
Here are some other times of day you can learn to recognize—and plan accordingly.
All of these times are fine, if you can learn to recognize and harness them, and realistically match the activity to your energy level.
“Adrenaline-Driven Task Ninja” O’clock.
You might not achieve full focus during this time, but you might be able knock out paperwork that’s due this afternoon, or finish grading a quiz and hand it back while the kids are still working on their next activity.
Or. . .
“Something is Better Than Nothing” O’clock.
Fine. You don’t have quite enough mojo to do the thing you’d really like to be working on. But you might be able to squeeze in some mindless productivity from another part of your to-do list. The key here is that, while you can get things done during these hours, you’re unlikely to find any great new ways of doing them. If you’re working on a task that would benefit from creative energy, you may be missing out on the ideas that bubble up when your mind is fresher.
On the flip side, you also have to learn to recognize when even the most feebly productive hours of the day have passed. Watch out for. . .
“You Think You’re Working But You Keep Reading the Same Sentence Over and Over” O’clock
You might be at work, but that doesn’t mean you’re working. You’re probably not doing yourself any favors by trying to knuckle down and push through. And, if you’re doing something that does require your best effort, you may be making things worse.
In fact, you may be approaching. . .
“Compare and Despair” O’clock
Sometimes, just as you reach the point of mental exhaustion for the day, your brain may try to convince you that can make it Inspiration O’clock all over again. Perhaps you should take a tiny break and talk to someone who really seems to have it all together, or look for inspiration on the internet. Maybe you should read a book by that teacher who found time to give students violin lessons during his lunch break—and found time to write a memoir about it! Unfortunately, comparing your unedited footage to other people’s highlight reels is a likely way to rev up your “compare and despair” engine. You can’t always control what time it is. But it’s almost never a good time for this.