As a principal at the start of the school year, I was always excited to welcome my staff back and swop stories of our summer adventures.
I would plan all summer, knowing that my team and I had created new initiatives, strategies, and structures that would have my staff working smarter not harder and my students achieving by leaps and bounds. Yet by the 100thday of school, I was exhausted–not to mention the April and May prep for end-of-grade testing. Some days I felt like I was teaching every class, pulling every duty, finalizing my end of the year budget, handling all the discipline, participating in every PLC/meeting, and then ending my day by driving every single bus route. Reality said I wasn’t, but my physical being said otherwise. Then, one day it hit me like a ton of bricks. Stress and exhaustion prevailed, it officially became burnout, and I didn’t even know it. Well, maybe I did, but I was not going to add more to the requirements of my teachers so I just added it to my cup. As it continued to flow higher and higher, it finally overflowed. Yes, I know all too well the feeling of educator burnout as my cup runneth over.
Let me be the first to say, I am no expert, but I do know first-hand what kept me sane. One of the time management tools I used was, the Eisenhower Matrix.(Figure 1), The matrix, though not personally created by President Eisenhower, is derived from one of his well-known statements: “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
From that premise, Stephen Covey, the leadership guru, created the matrix which I have found to be helpful as I planned to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Each week, I would create the matrix of things I needed to complete based on urgency and importance. Tasks were completed in the following manner:
Quadrant 1: Tasks were completed immediately.
Quadrant 2: Tasks were scheduled based on what and when they were due.
Quadrant 3: Tasks were delegated to others where appropriate.
Quadrant 4: Tasks may be deleted if they were not urgent or important.
Though this matrix was very helpful, there were still times when I needed to do things differently to ensure that I was being as productive as possible. I have included just a few additional things that helped me make it through the final days of the school year. They cost me nothing but were worth a million bucks.
- Fully Unplug – There are so many things that we have to get completed by the end of the school year. Despite the list of things to do, we have to find time to fully unplug and enjoy a few moments of fun. This is the time of year where we feel the need to keep going from glancing at our phone every few minutes to taking the laptop on family outings to check email. Though it is difficult to leave work at work, find at least 2-3 hours where you do not let the demands of the technology steal you away from family and friends.
- Do Nothing Work Related – If we schedule a meeting, we are on time with materials in hand. Well, do the same for self. It is critical that you take time to recharge. Even if you only take 30 minutes a day – you owe it to your health and sanity. Plan a daily meeting with yourself that includes nothing work related.
- Pick a Hobby – When is the last time you spent a moment doing something you love? Whether it is crocheting or playing basketball, you deserve a therapeutic release. Pick up that old hobby you once loved and start it up again or try something new.
- Take a Brain Break or Meditate – Sometimes taking 5-10 minutes to walk vigorously around your campus or some quiet alone time is powerful. Whether it is you joining the fifth graders for a session of Go Noodle, breathing deeply while sitting behind your desk, or uninterrupted meditation while sitting in the school’s media center, you deserve the time to release.
- Know Your Breaking Point – Unplugging is not as easy for some as it is for others, but I caution you to know your breaking point otherwise burnout will be inevitable. If you cannot take an afternoon off, consider taking a walk with your spouse, riding bikes with your kids, or simply cleaning the weeds out of your flower bed. Find something to do that will take off the edge.
As educators, we strive to be engaged and do all we can for the students we serve. Yet, sometimes no matter how committed we are to the cause, we have to pace ourselves. When your cup begins to overflow, find the balance that allows you to be effective while remaining free from the dreaded burnout.