How I Took Back Control of My Class, My Time, And My Life

Editors Features July / July 15, 2018

– by Terra Graves-

When I was a classroom teacher, the school nightmares would typically begin in July. My prime relaxation month was haunted by the same recurring theme: It’s the first day of school and I am NOT ready. I’m late for school and I’m naked or in my pajamas. I haven’t made any plans or any copies. I have not looked at my class list or I can’t even find it; you get the idea. This feeling of being overwhelmed would only be quieted by going into my classroom and getting everything ready. Then, I was able to relax. Most of the teachers I worked with could turn in their keys in June and not step a foot back in the school until they were required to be there. Just thinking about that makes me break out in a cold sweat. How on Earth can they get everything done in time? And, how were they sleeping without nightmares?!

The chaos that defines the week before school starts is primarily due to the lack of control we have over our time. We are usually required to sit through all-day staff meetings, mandated professional learning, and any number of random demands on our time. This lack of control causes us to feel insane amounts of stress at a time when we should be the most refreshed and ready to begin a new school year.

While we probably can’t change that crazy week before school, we can be proactive in how we protect our time throughout the school year. Flipped teachers have already discovered the many ways in which technology can help us maximize our time with students. Why can’t technology also be every teacher’s timesaver and productivity supporter? Well, it can be. I present to you the first of two tech interventions to help you take back your time.

Tech Intervention #1: Stop Making “To-do” Lists and Just Get Things Done

When I was in the classroom, I used a paper planner instead of a digital calendar. My school day was scheduled in my lesson plan book. However, I made it a point to schedule one day a week as my planning day, usually Thursdays. I stayed later than usual after school to make sure I had everything prepped for the following week (lessons planned, copies made, etc.) I found this comforting. Being organized with a schedule and to-do lists was a stress-reliever for me.

A few years ago, I made the courageous decision to stop making to-do lists. It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary. Once I became a professional learning designer/facilitator, my day was no longer scheduled with clearly defined starts and stops like a classroom teacher. I have long-term projects with various deadlines, professional learning courses to create and facilitate, meetings to attend, support to provide teachers, research to do, and resources to curate. Every day is different, and no longer fits into a standard planner.

Problem: To-do lists just weren’t cutting it anymore. I needed to prioritize the tasks, meetings, etc. based on deadlines. I also needed to block out the time needed to complete everything.

Solution: Put my to-dos on my calendar as appointments with myself.

Now, this isn’t a perfect science. I have to estimate the amount of time something might take me. Sometimes I overestimate/underestimate. The beauty of this is that I can see exactly what I need to accomplish during the day. Once I get to my office, I know what I will be working on. This is comforting. When I get pulled into a last-minute meeting, I can adjust my schedule accordingly. When I am invited to other meetings, I can accept or decline based on the necessity of my attendance vs. the closeness of my project deadlines and the work left to do. I can protect the time I need for the work I need to do. This strategy also allows you to protect ‘you time.’ Is that after lunch walk critical to your mood or mental health? Schedule it into your calendar. This formalizes that all important time and sets it aside for you.

How does this apply to you if you’re a classroom teacher? While your time is not really yours during the school day, you can still use your calendar to schedule your non-class time. This habit will help you take back control over your time. It’s so easy for us to get sidetracked throughout the day. Creating an “appointment” with yourself for each of the things you need to do will help you make sure you have time to do not only the “have tos” but also the “want tos.” Your time is valuable. Make it so.

One of the many benefits of Flipped Learning 3.0 is the unique opportunity to be more organized than non-flippers. Being organized is a stress reliever, remember? The digital learning environment keeps everything organized in one place and by creating appointments with yourself for the work you need to do you can:

Now that I’ve got you thinking about using your calendar to schedule your to-dos, why not schedule some time for self-care as well? In a blog post by Unstuck, they “…endorse making a schedule for self-care… Even a vague daily timeline will help you create important space between your work and personal life.” If it’s on your calendar, you are more likely to do it. “For social media junkies, another popular way to induce a little self-care regimen is @tinycarebot, a Twitter account that politely sends out little reminders throughout the day to stretch your legs, rest your eyes, and say hello to a loved one.” I’m definitely going to start following this account! Our days are fleeting, and once they’re gone, they’re gone for good. Using your calendar to ensure that everything gets done each day – for work, for home and for you – will put those nightmares to bed and have you dreaming of teaching fully clothed in no time.

In closing, I am reminded of something a friend of mine once told me: She blocks out time every day or week for “something else.” That’s exactly what it says on the calendar, “Something else.” That way, if someone wants to schedule a meeting, etc. she can say, “Oh, sorry, I have ‘something else’ I have to do at that time.” Maybe that something else can be just for you.


Unstuck. (2017, November 29). It’s time to schedule self-care into your life. Retrieved from on July 1, 2018.

Time Management as a Self-Care Tool | Blog | Presence. (n.d.). Retrieved from on July 1, 2018.

Next month: Tech Intervention #2: Establish Healthy Email Habits

Terra Graves
Terra Graves
Terra has been an educator for over twenty years. She is the Project Coordinator/Administrator for the 21st Century Learning Department in Washoe County School District, NV. Prior to this position, she taught elementary and middle school, supported novice teachers as a full-time mentor, served as an Ed Tech Specialist, and a Program Specialist in the 21st Century Learning Department. Terra is Flipped Learning 3.0 Level-II Certified and a founding member of the FLGI International Faculty.

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on July 18, 2018

Terra, with fall semester approaching, this gives a new light to de-stressing prep week. Great tips to organize and take care of ourselves.

Jake Habegger
on July 24, 2018

If I am honest, I don’t know how I have made it as far as I have with my lack of organization in my early years of teaching. I didn’t even make To-Do Lists! I just hoped I remembered everything… scary, right? When I finally grew up, I actually became more stressed because it never felt like I finished the mid and long-range goals on my lists! I kept adding short-term projects, but rarely moved the others to this list. They were instead more like dream lists. I love the idea of making calendar appointments to finish tasks. This may be the start of a new me- thank you, Terra!

    on July 26, 2018

    I wish you the best, Jake! Keep me posted (add a reminder in your calendar) 😉

on July 26, 2018

Just came across this today
Same concept! You could also ask your digital assistants (Siri or Alexa) to do this for you! I LOVE TECHNOLOGY!

on October 27, 2018

As a fairly new teacher, this is definitely something I struggle with. Unfortunately, there is no course that teaches organization and maintaining sanity. Unfortunately, I have seen many of my colleagues burn out and leave the profession completely. I really enjoyed reading your article. It is so relevant useful, not to mention easy to approach. I am in my fifth year and still find myself struggling at times when I have so much to do. This article gave me some great ideas. I am in a graduate program for ed leadership and we have been talking a lot about the flipped model in many of my classes. As a 6th grade teacher, flipping my classroom was never something that I considered. I wanted to always monitor my students and guide them through lesson activities. I began to realize that I was overthinking the concept and am slowly beginning to flip my classroom. I have found that on top of boosting student productivity and conceptual understanding but it also frees up so much of my time so that I can work with small groups or individual students.

One concept in your article that I really connected with was changing the traditional to do list. I am and always have been a list person. My desk and computer are littered with sticky notes. I loved the idea of adding appointments to my calendar with myself. This way I have a dedicated amount of time to work on things. I am finding that I am more productive and get things done faster with this method.

I can honestly say that I am finally beginning to feel like a productive and effective teacher after incorporating many of the concepts in this article. Thanks for writing this great article, I will be sharing this with many of my colleagues as a valuable resource!

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