Sunday, September 27, 2015

Balancing Act

As most teachers can attest, keeping one's sanity during the school year - particularly in the thick of a semester, or in May - can be a challenge. 

Between "regular" job hours, extra-curricular activities/committees, and the ever-present pile of marking/paperwork to be tackled at home, there are days (weeks?) the work seems never-ending. It is so easy to get swept up in the job, to the point where it becomes all-encompassing. 

I LOVE teaching. I love the challenges that it brings, the learning that comes with it, and the chance to excite students and make a difference. But beyond a doubt, my physical, mental, and spiritual health all suffer as we get deeper into the school year. 

I try to balance with some me-time (singing with a local choir, participating in martial arts) but I found it often leads to more stress as more of my time was taken up. Nothing like being woken up by a panic attack several times a week. I needed to try something new.

So the week before classes started, I changed my morning routine. 

Robin Sharma (author of The Secret Letters of the Monk who Sold his Ferrari) suggests starting each day with a "holy hour" - 20 minutes of exercise, 20 minutes of journaling and 20 minutes of professional reading: exercise to wake the body up and get the neurons firing, journaling (or alternatively, meditation) to focus on the day's goals and to set your outlook, and professional reading to inspire and set you on a path to becoming an expert. 

I found myself drawn to the simplicity of such a plan, and though I had half-heartedly tried it in the past, I wasn't able to make it stick. There is a blog post on it here, explaining it in more detail, as well as Robin's take on it here

And then this started floating around on Twitter: 8 Things Every Person Should Do Before 8 A.M. What the author suggests made sense to me, and though it seems like a big list, it was interesting to see that there was a lot of overlap between this and Robin Sharma's holy hour. I already do #4, and while I REFUSE to do #5, this might actually be do-able! I made the jump.

One month in, I'm loving it.

My new bed time is 10pm - regardless of the size of the marking pile - and I'm up at 5:50am every morning (a very tall order for this life-long night owl). I'm kicking the day off with 30-40 minutes of exercise (right now a run or vigorous walk, outside if possible), followed by 10-15 minutes of silent meditation. My husband is trying it too - completing a P90X-style workout and then joining me for meditation.

Despite the early rise, I find I am more rested overall, and there's something awesome about getting exercise out of the way first thing in the morning. I would love to add in some professional reading - perhaps streamlining the reading that I pick out of Twitter on a sporadic basis throughout the day - but right now the focus is on taking better care of my self. 

My productivity level feels good (though the dreaded marking pile is still omnipresent), and it feels, well, manageable. I'm continuing the routine on weekends and am enjoying the extra bit of time in the morning to get things accomplished.

I realize we're still in the early days of the school year, and what seems easy now is only going to become more difficult. Before too long I'll add coaching, helping run the school musical and the busy-ness of conference travel to the schedule, and that will be the true test of both habit and effectiveness of this plan. But I'm optimistic.

How do YOU do it?

I wanted to share what I've been trying in case it resonates with anyone else. But I'm also looking to improve on the routine over time. How do you keep yourself balanced and on top of things? What "rules" do you follow to stay sane? What can you suggest?


  1. Been working on this myself the past few years; am reminded about what my Sensei used to say: 'Make excuses to train, not excuses to not train.' I lost that perspective for awhile but am back on track with it.

  2. Good for you Heather! I am spending less time chatting on twitter and more exercising after school. I have to say I am not as disciplined as you with my sleep habits which I should improve on. I am still struggling fitting all in. I hope to be more focused on my sleep as you said it helps you be productive.

  3. This week I have planned my "work hours" so that I am doing school work during the school day and bringing minimal amount of work to do at home. I used to get up early and do some professional reading, but now that I'm living further away from school, that is not possible. I also used to meditate in the morning and I miss doing that. I would love to start that up again even if it's just a few minutes in the morning. The big part that's missing in my life is regular exercise. I need to find a way to fit that in.

  4. Thanks for sharing these new ideas and routines, Heather. Being on a leave and having lots of time to work on projects has made me (counter-intuitively) less productive than ever!

    I've put together some routines for myself too, based on a lot of different inspirations. I'm doing at least 1 hour of exercise 3 times each week. I journal for five minutes every morning and night and spend time reflecting each day on what I accomplished and plan for the next day.

    When I consistently follow my new "Productivity Journal" I've created for myself, my life goes a lot more smoothly.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.