A surprising way to improve your productivity!

Trying to find a new angle on teacher well-being is pretty difficult when it’s such a hot topic. With excellent advice, guidance and ideas, articles predominantly focus on ways our organisations can support us and how we ourselves can achieve a healthy work life balance.

Poor teacher well-being is seen as one of the main contributing factors behind the significant challenges facing recruitment, retention and teacher shortages, poor student progress, teacher illness and long-term absences. Add to this its impact on teachers leaving the profession and you can see why schools need to work hard to actively support their staff.  This includes changes to working practises which reduce workload along with early intervention and advice to help those colleagues beginning to suffer. Working towards avoiding the crisis that education is facing today and will do in the future has to be a priority.

There are many issues that contribute to poor teacher well-being but these can often be traced back to a lack of time and support.

Time – to adequately do the many tasks teachers have to do….and the impact this has on doing them well. This is compacted by the considerable scrutiny education finds itself.

Support – to help us achieve our goals and support with issues which are proving challenging.

Having worked as a teacher for 28 years, I fully appreciate the commitment and dedication teachers demonstrate on a daily basis, going above and beyond to support their students. But I’m not surprised by the figures below from the Government’s survey on ‘well-being and workload’ which I’ve summarised below. You can read more of the report here….

 ‘Emerging findings from the ‘Teacher well-being and workload survey’ questionnaire……December 2018.

The summary figures are below:

  • 28% of respondents report low well-being at work, 26% medium, 35% high and 11% report very high well-being at work.
  • 31% of teachers report low well-being at work compared with 18% for senior leaders.
  • 25% of all respondents have been absent from work due to health problems caused or made worse by work, excluding accidents.
  • 76% of teachers report their job impacts negatively on their mental health and 60% report it impacts negatively on their physical health.
  • 62% of all respondents believe that teaching is not valued by society.

The top three factors which affect respondents’ well-being positively at work are children/pupils, colleagues and the support they receive from them.

In contrast, the most frequently mentioned factors that negatively influence occupational well-being are behaviour (both pupils’ challenging behaviour and inconsistent behaviour management by colleagues), workload and marking.

The word ‘lack’ came up a lot. When we dug deeper, we found the negative influences on staff well-being cited by respondents were:

  • lack of support to manage behaviour
  • lack of time
  • lack of money/budget/funding
  • lack of resources
  • lack of communication
  • lack of a work/life balance.

As far as the lack of work/life balance is concerned, 48% of the surveyed teachers and 70% of the senior leaders work in their free time every day.’

After studying the report, I decided to look at my own productivity and see if there was guidance or thinking that might help me get more done in my working day – without adding stress and fatigue. One piece of advice that surprised me most and kept coming up, time and time again was, multi-tasking decreases productivity!

Initially, I struggled with this idea. As a teacher, faculty leader and digital leader, I felt I had to multi-task to manage my workload, thinking this was the only way to manage the many tasks I needed to do. Below is some information which will help make it easier to understand why it might not be the best way to achieve all your goals:

  • Multi-tasking splits your attention

Our brains are not made for multi-tasking. Try asking someone to walk fast in a straight line and count backwards from 200 in 7’s (so 200, 193, 186, 179, 172, etc.). There will be a noticeable slow down as they work out the maths. The multi-tasking needed causes a slowdown you can visually see. The mind just wasn’t built to process multiple tasks at once.

  • Context switching

When you multi-task and do two things together, your brain has to “context switch.” Here’s what the process looks like when we multi-task:

  • start task 1
  • stop doing task 1
  • You mentally store what you were doing in task 1
  • start task 2
  • finish task 2
  • You recall the information for task 1 that you stored to remember where you were in task 1
  • start task 1 again

This causes confusion, the process is inefficient and is anything but streamlined! It’s like riding your bike down the street and pressing the brakes every 10 seconds. It’s inefficient and it burns you out. And just like your bike, your brain slows down when you give it multiple start-stop commands at once.

  • Mixed mode

    • When multi-tasking your brain is in something called a ‘mixed mode’.
    • You might recognise this in yourself or others, they’re never completely in the moment and can appear preoccupied and distracted
    • This will also slow you down and requires considerable energy. You’ll feel fatigued and work far less efficiently.

The remedy to multi-tasking…and improved

Working in focused blocks of time then taking a break will improve our output. You’ll achieve more in the same amount of time and your sense of well-being will be much higher for managing time more effectively and getting those tasks completed.

  • To maximise your productivity, try working in set lengths of time, for example, 90-minute chunks of ‘focus mode’. Follow this with 20 to 30-minute breaks, called the ‘stop mode’.
  • Identify your most productive time. Utilising this will result in higher productivity. This is more likely to be earlier in the morning. Begin to enjoy the feeling of getting more done earlier on in the day and build this in to your working patterns.
  • For your ‘stop mode’ block, it’s important you literally stop working and do something completely different. This is so you switch gears and be in a different mode completely. Get away from your desk and extract yourself completely and unwind. Try something that will support your interests and how you learn about them.
  • Be aware of your body and focus on stretching and relaxing. Get moving and pump that blood round your body. When you return to ‘focus mode’ you should feel recharged, you’ll notice you’re more alert and returning to the focused block will be easier
  • Having 4 periods of 90 minutes ‘focus mode’ will give you six solid hours of productive work. This is actually better for you than working 8 straight hours and definitely better than 8 straight hours of working in the unproductive ‘mixed mode’.
  • You’ll notice significant improvements in your ability to think things through clearly. You’ll definitely have more energy and obviously will see an increase in productivity.

I hope this tip will help you consider different ways you might work or at least challenge your habits when trying to improve productivity. Ultimately improving productivity will result in more time available for you to do the things you want to do and in turn being able to do them will help improve your sense of well-being.


The government research                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, commissioned research into teacher well-being at the beginning of the summer term 2018 

Her aim was to find out:                                                                                                                                                                   

What are the current levels of teacher well-being in schools and FES providers? And What are the factors that influence the well-being of teachers?

 We have just completed 25 research visits to schools and FES providers across the country. In addition, 680 school staff and 213 staff from FES providers responded to our questionnaire about occupational well-being in June and July this year. The link to the teacher well-being questionnaire was sent to a random sample of 1,000 schools (600 primary schools, 300 secondary schools, 50 special schools and 50 pupil referral units) and 250 FES providers. The schools and providers were asked to send it to all their staff who contribute to teaching and/or learning (e.g. senior leaders, middle leaders, teachers, higher level teaching assistants, teaching assistants and learning assistants). Some of the readers of this blog may not have obtained the link because their school or provider was not in our sample for this study. Sampling is routinely done in research studies because it is usually not practical to obtain and analyse data from the whole population (in this case: every school and college in the country). In this particular study, the aim of sampling was to end up with a representative balance of different education providers in view of education phase (e.g. primary, secondary) and type of education provider (e.g. special, pupil referral units, sixth form college or general further education and skills college).