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39: Using the “Ideal Week” to Cut Down on Teacher Overwhelm

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There is always so much to do. Always. Being a teacher just doesn’t have a start and stop. There’s no punch card for this job. Yet there are ways to contain the overwhelm. 
Slowly and surely, I’ve been learning them. One great option is to plan your ideal week and stick to it when you can. Of course, dozens of things will come up to fit in between your main priorities, but if you can schedule a basic system, the routine will make your life so much clearer and help calm the racing to-do list in your head. 
When I became a blogger and podcaster, I started reading more widely about productivity and writing. I soon came across the concept of the ideal week. I’ve never heard anyone talk about it in the teaching world though, and that’s got to change! Using the ideal week plan has really helped me organize my life, and I think it can do the same thing for you.
I hope this episode is going to help make your teaching and your life more balanced and creative, by giving you a tool that will help you stay on top of what matters to you. You can listen below, or on iTunesBlubrry, or Stitcher.

Start by creating a little blank chart of the days of your week. It can be as big or small as you want. You don’t need to fill in anything but what you want to be sure to have in your routine for that day. If things were absolutely ideal, what would you do on each day? 
For example, let’s say the things you’d like to prioritize are feeling like your schedule is really clear all week, getting all grading done at work, checking your e-mail less often but feeling on top of it and keeping your classroom fresh and creative. You also want to work out twice and have one nice family dinner a week. 
Here’s what your ideal week might look like:
  • Workout
  • Go through mail, bills
  • Write a letter or card 
  • Spend time with Family and Friends
  • Evening: Fill in teacher planner with lesson plans from unit syllabi, check e-mail and add all meetings, schedule extra help with all students who need it for Thursday
  • E-mails (20 minutes all at once) after lunch
  • Prep and photocopy any handouts needed for the week
  • Grocery shop
  • Change out a bulletin board or student work display in the classroom, water plants, reshelve books in independent reading library, organize desk
  • Catch up on grading before coming home
  • Workout
  • E-mails (20 minutes all at once) before school
  • Check Facebook group for new classroom ideas and work on upcoming lesson plans
  • Cook and enjoy family dinner or dinner with a friend
  • Extra Help sessions with all students who need it
  • Catch up on Grading before coming home
  • Laundry
  • Plan something fun for the weekend
  • Lesson Plan Work
  • Return calls, make appointments as needed
  • Reach out to student families as needed
  • E-mails (20 minutes all at once) after school
  • Do the something fun you planned on Thursday! 
  • Make the house or apartment a nice place to be
It seems weirdly simple. Some people suggest making your ideal week incredibly super specific, with every window of the day full of what you want to be doing, feeling, and accomplishing. I found this attempt to solve my overwhelm totally overwhelming! For me, having two or three main priorities for each day that I know I will get to is the best system. And I really do get to them. 
Since planning my ideal week, little things have stopped hanging over my head. I’m not worrying about when I will find time to write to my brother, because I always take ten minutes to do it on Mondays. I don’t let blogging overwhelm me, because I know I am generally going to post on Tuesdays, so the rest of the week I focus on other things. A million other things happen in the week, but my ideal week simply represents my goals for what will happen in between those other things. 
Creating your ideal week will help you shrug off the constant feelings that you should be doing ten or eleven other things with any free block of time. You’ll have your scheduling day, your lesson planning day, your grading days, your extra help focus day, or whatever works for you. 
You’ll condense time-sucks like e-mail into manageable sessions. Instead of berating yourself for not cleaning up more at home or not cooking more often, you’ll know you’re always going to declutter on the weekend, order pizza on Thursdays and cook something involving vegetables on Tuesdays. You’ll be amazed at how much the ideal week puts you in control. 
Do I still get stressed out, even though my weeks are now “ideal”? Yep. I’m not going to lie. But I actually accomplish everything I need to, and my mind can mostly focus on the things I really want to do that day. It beats the heck out of wondering which of fifty different things I should work on every time I have a spare minute. 
If you’re in search of a simple thing you can do for yourself to make next year better, consider toying around with your ideal week this summer. Think about your priorities for your own self-care, your family and friends, and your work. Choose the most important and pencil them in. Tweak as you go. There’s no need to laminate that ideal week until you’ve had it in practice for a while! 
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I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!







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    • I'm so glad you found them helpful, Eola! They really have helped me, so I'm delighted that I can share them.

  • This is such a wonderful idea, Betsy. Just today I found myself snapping at my kids…on a SATURDAY of all days! I work as a full-time teacher with six preps and have a fifth and eighth grader in a highly intensive private school where academics (and unfortunately lots of homework) are the norm. I meal prep weekly, too…and I just found myself not resting and too tired at the end of a Saturday. I truly thank God I found your podcast and this website! The ideal week will help me as I wind down this year and zoom into the summer and next year. I can't wait to work on my ideal week. Thank you again! You are a most creative inspiration! I am gobbling up your podcasts one after another…starting with episode 1, season 1 and working my way to be current. Blessings to you!


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