Work Smarter, Not Harder {10 Tips for Teachers}

Sometimes people ask me how I get it all done. When they ask this, they are referring to the work that has to be done outside of the actual act of teaching.  The planning, the grading, the prep, and so forth.  The truth is, I make it look easy because I've learned to work smarter, not harder.  

Productivity Efficiency Tips for Teachers

Once upon I time, I had a different career.  I had many different tasks to accomplish each day.  I had daily deadlines to adhere to and people counted on me to be knowledgeable, punctual, thorough, and prepared.  The demands of this job required that I work smarter, not harder. Many of the work habits I adopted back then followed me into my teaching career, and along the way, I've added some strategies to my repertoire that are specific to teaching.  

While I'm no expert in efficiency and work productivity, I hope that the tips that follow help you to make better use of your time as a teacher.

Make a list.  Every day. Identify what needs to be done and write it down. Then, prioritize it. 

It doesn't matter what you use to write your list on. Like sticky notes? Great! Prefer a pretty note pad? Super! Don't give two hoots and prefer to use scratch paper or whatever is lying around? Fabulous. Just write it all down!

I like to write my tasks down at the end of each day.  This way, I know exactly what I need to do when I get to school in the morning.  I try to write my tasks in the order they need to be accomplished, but I have also been known to write them down and then number them to the side.  This is just my way of making sure I tackle the most important tasks first.  And, I'm flexible about my tasks. Anything I don't get to one day (because it was low priority) gets bumped to the next day and prioritized with the next day's tasks.

Get it done. Once you've identified the tasks you need to accomplish, and you've prioritized them, do them. Get to work. Quit dilly dallying.  Put your phone down, stop chit chatting with your neighbor and get to work.  Confession: this can be hard, but you'll have time to stalk your phone and chit chat if you get your work done first.  

Think of it this way, if you don't get your work done you run the risk of being unprepared, stressed out, and ineffective as a teacher. And our job is too important to chance that! Force yourself to focus and get things done as quickly as possible. If this is super hard for you and you need some external motivation then reward yourself each day/week that you get stuff done. Before you know it, it will become a natural work habit.

Establish a daily work routine. Yes, there will be interruptions and disruptions, but you can still create a framework for what your work time will look like each day. Decide which tasks you will attend to each morning before school starts and each afternoon when the students are gone.

Write down your thought bombs.  You're a teacher, you probably have 25 random thought bombs a day....when you aren't at school. 

Sometimes I get random ideas or remember small things that need to be done when I'm not at school. To help me remember these things, I carry a small notepad in my purse. And I keep one on my nightstand as well. Sometimes, I email myself from my phone!  This way, I can easily record those little reminders and ideas as they come to me and I won't have to waste time trying to remember my thoughts and ideas when I'm back at school the following day.

Establish an email schedule. What I mean by that is, pick a time of day that you will read your emails. 

I tend to read mine first thing in the morning. We don't have a "desk job" so checking email periodically throughout the day is not always practical (or smart). Maybe you opt to check it first thing and immediately after school. Great! The point is, create a routine that works for you and your situation. 

I also have a policy of responding to emails within 24 hours. Keep in mind that you don't need to respond to every email you get. So many of the emails we get as teachers are FYI type emails. Don't bother with responding to those.
Finally, I also have a policy of never checking my email from home.  You never know what's lurking in that inbox, so I err on the side of caution and refuse to even log into my email from home.  Work emails get read when I'm at work.  End of story.

Collaborate. Whether it's with a like minded individual or your grade level, collaboration can make your job so much easier. 

Keep in mind that collaboration isn't dolling out or splitting up responsibilities. It's discussing and evaluating the material you plan to/are expected to teach your students. 

The point of collaboration is to help you perfect your craft and effectiveness as a teacher. So, make sure you confer with people who will help you achieve this.

Set limits. Leave your work at school. Teaching is demanding. It demands your energy, focus, and your time. 

Time is the biggie. And let's be honest, there isn't that much time in the day. How do some teachers cope with this? They take their work home. Even I have fallen victim to this, but in the past several years, I have set limits on what/when I take work home. See, I'm not just a teacher. I'm also a mom, and a wife, and human being with interests outside of my job. When I'm at work, that is my priority and when I'm at home that is my priority. It has to be. 

Now, as I said, there are times when I bring work home, such as when I am *seriously* behind on grading (it happens, friends) or need to work on report cards. This is something I need to do free of distractions (and on a computer that works more efficiently than my ancient desktop at school). I can bust out more report cards at home, once my little one has gone to bed, than I ever could at work. Other than that, my work pretty much stays at school. 

It all boils down to prioritizing your workload at school and sticking to a routine. When you find what works for you, you won't feel the need to regularly bring work home and when you do bring it home on occasion, you won't feel as guilty.

Grade like a boss. Say what?  What I mean by that is, know what you're going to grade. Mark it in your lesson plans, or put a sticky note on those materials to remind you so that when you give that assignment you know you're planning to use it for a grade.  Then, set aside a day or two each week to enter grades. This way, you are able to enter them without spending huge chunks of time doing so (and parents knocking on your door pestering you as to why you haven't entered grades in the past month). 

Remember, you don't have to grade everything. If you've completed an assignment together in class, don't even collect it from students. Send it home! If you want to look over class work (and you probably should), you could spot check certain assignments, depending upon what it is. Or, you could go over it in class so your students are able to see how they did right there on the spot, saving you time in the long run.

Take a break. Or two. During the school day.  No, I'm not suggesting you run out into the hall and hide from your students, but just like your students, you need a brain break here and there too! 

Last year, our second graders endured an extremely long afternoon in the classroom. Most of that three hour chunk of time was core curriculum. It was a challenge for all of us, but thank goodness for brain breaks! On most days it was obvious that the kids needed a break, and some days, so did I.  Go Noodle to the rescue!  After our brain breaks, we were ready to refocus. The brain clutter was gone and the students were able to move onto the next set of learning tasks with a fresh mind. More importantly, I was able to tackle the next lesson with a fresh, decluttered state of mind.
NOTE: While Go Noodle is a super easy way to facilitate brain breaks, I know that some people have extremely hard core firewalls and can't access this site. No worries.  Play a game of Simon Says, or lead your students in some stretching exercises.  You could even line up your class and walk a few laps around the school.  If anyone asks, tell them you're practicing your hallway procedures.  ;)

The point is, it's OK to take a break, it's natural! Doctors, police officers, and everyone in between take them. And, it's a well known fact that breaks refuel and recharge the the body and mind, and teachers shouldn't think that breaks are off limits.  You're the professional, use your judgement to facilitate breaks as needed in your classroom because you will all benefit in the long run.

Make time for you. Find time in your day to focus on YOU! Focus on something other than teaching. 

Yes, we love what we do, and yes, we are passionate about it, but it isn't healthy to focus on teaching all.of.the.time. Read a book, find a hobby, get your nails done, binge watch Netflix. Whatever! Just make sure you carve some time out for you to focus on other things. Otherwise, you fail to take care of yourself and run the risk of burnout and/or unnecessary stress.  Plus, you're worth it. ;)

Read more about Teacher Self-Care HERE.

Do you have any favorite "work smarter, not harder" tips to share?  Comment below!


Teacher Tips Balance Productivity Self-Care

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  1. Replies
    1. You're so welcome! I'm so glad you stopped by today!


  2. GREAT post! Every year I promise myself that NEXT year I'm going to figure out how to work smarter, not harder. You've given me some great tools to actually implement it this time. On tip #9 "Take A Break" there are some great Brain Break activities available at TPT. I've used them in kindergarten and the kids love them. It clears their brains and helps them focus on the next learning activity. They work smarter, not harder too!

    1. I'm so glad the post has given you some ideas/motivation. I completely agree with you about the brain breaks. They are so helpful in giving the kids a fresh start to a new lesson. Thanks for stopping by!


  3. Thank you for your time and effort to remind us,teachers, that we are more than our work positions. Great stuff.

    1. You bet! It's so easy to forget that we are. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. :)


  4. I love this post! I try really hard to not bring my work home with me, because like you said, I'm a wife, mommy, and human outside of school. However, I find it so difficult because we are almost expected to be available 24/7. I had to turn off school email in January because it interfered with my family time. But, in doing so, I took a lot of flack from others. Have you ever dealt with that? Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Andrea,

      I'm sorry to hear that you got negative reactions from others for setting boundaries between work and home. I haven't experienced this myself, but I think the thing to remember is that you are (most likely) not required to check your email from home, and you shouldn't be made to apologize for making your home/family a priority. You might consider politely pointing this out next time others try to make you feel bad. You can explain that it doesn't mean you don't care, it simply means that you are setting boundaries so that you are able to give your family the time and attention they need, and deserve. Sometimes, we judge what we don't understand, so if people don't understand your choice to keep work at work, maybe it's because they just don't understand your priorities. Keep your head high and stick to your convictions. It will be worth it in the end. :)


  5. This is so on point! I love it! Thanks for the tips.

  6. Aimee thank you so much for these wonderful tips! I love what I do, but it has always been a struggle for me to keep a balance in my life. I bring home work almost every day, and am feeling that I am neglecting myself as a person. I really needed to read tips from someone who knows wha it’s like! Thanks so much! From Paola, NY


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