How to Resist Time Pressures During Half Term

One of the most frequent conversations I have with friends in the teaching community is the one over how time is spent over a break from teaching. I’m careful not to use vocabulary like ‘time off’ or ‘holiday’ here. Not because, if we’re fortunate to work for a supportive school, we’re not encouraged to embrace this opportunity and to take time for ourselves. But because the nature of the construct makes it virtually impossible for our minds to shift automatically and quickly from ‘doing’ mode to ‘being’ mode. 

Even before sitting down to write this, I was highly alert to the Outlook and Teams notifications that conveniently pop up in the top right corner of my screen. And it is convenient, or was convenient between 4th January and 12th February. I didn’t miss the important emails or submissions of work or questions from students. However, it’s now a less welcome reminder, pulling me back to last week or pushing me forward to the next, rather than allowing me to live in the here and now. 

Even this morning, my hand still hovered over the microwave, poised for a quick dash back to my desk. Despite working from home this term, there’s still the feeling of needing to already ‘be’ elsewhere; be ready and prepared. This is indicative of the very real, almost tangible tension that people describe regarding time. Or, more specifically, the pressure around time. The pressure to make the most of the week. To maximise the time off. To do what needs to get done. It’s a huge contributor to stress and anxiety. The one that, when asked, people say they would most like to support with

Most of the time, this is completely achievable and just takes a little bit or organisation and discipline – two words we definitely wouldn’t choose to associate with half term. But hear me out. Below are eight simple steps that could make a difference:

1) Start the week by make a list of tasks and categorise them as those that must be done and those that could be done if things go well. Include a deadline for each of them so you can then prioritise them and include and an estimated time each one will take. Be realistic with this but also consider the time you are prepared to spend on it. Make sure you include things like ‘check emails’ as you will have notifications turn off (see step 3).

2) Look at your week and allocate some time to work. This doesn’t have to be a timetable (although there is a reason why they’re so effective!) but come up with some sort of plan. Make sure you build your working time around things you want to do, so you are consciously prioritising yourself and whatever is important to you. 

3) Turn of notifications for the week. Sending emails at all times of the day (and night?!) encourages others to do the same, which then ends up in a never-ending game of email tag. Write them when you think of them (or according to your plan!) but schedule them to go twice a day.

4) Use aeroplane mode when you work. Or move your phone away. I appreciate I’m getting into egg sucking territory here but if I had a pound for every time I’ve thought (or heard someone say!) “if only we did what we tell our students to do…” Cue embarrassed laughter that slowly trails off… 

5) Tidy your environment before you start. I’m deep into egg sucking territory now but I’ve started so I’ll finish…

6) Try binaural beats. I only discovered these in the last twelve months but for me they’ve made working from home A LOT more successful. A quick Google will tell you it’s the science of hearing a different musical tone in each ear, encouraging your brain to process them differently (an ‘auditory illusion) proven to reduce anxiety, lower stress, improve concentration. YouTube have got some great free ones…

7) Build in treats. Make sure you’ve got something to motivate you. I appreciate we’re limited on these at the moment. But make sure there’s things in your week for you (see point 1). 

8) If it’s not going well, walk away. Take a break. Listen to a meditation. I started this blog three times before I actually sat down to write it. Sometimes my best thoughts (and you can judge for yourself if this is one of them!!) come during or after a meditation. My ‘go to’ is the Insight Timer app. 

The Kent Mindfulness Coach shares more words of wisdom with us on the impermanence of feelings, good and bad, and how this can help you to "ride out" those stressful moments and find peace in a frantic world

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