What do you do when there are only 24 hours in a day, but you really need 27? Whether it’s grading a stack of essays or organizing parent-teacher conferences, one of the most common complaints I hear from teachers or school administrators is that they don’t have enough time.

This is especially true for new teachers. While it’s commendable to do your job as best you can, having a work-life balance is also important, and it’s easy to lose that when you first start teaching. After all, not only do you want to prove that you can teach well, but like many jobs, there’s a steep learning curve in terms of logistics and norms for your particular building and staff group. Finding a way to use your time efficiently, while still getting out of school before midnight, is critical to being an effective teacher as well as staying happy and healthy.

Tip #1: Prioritize
Knowing what’s most important on a given day will help you plan your time effectively. You might use a desk planner, iCalendar, or sticky-notes, but writing down 2-3 top priorities for the day can keep you from getting bogged down in later distractions. Of course, if you finish the most important items on your list, you can move on to the less critical tasks, but it’s important to realize that you aren’t going to be able to do everything in one day. 

Tip #2: Organize Your Classroom and Create Routines
If your students are using their time well, you can use your time well. Depending on what grade level you’re teaching, the routines and classroom organization will differ slightly, but both kindergarteners and 11th graders need structure. You can save time in the day by ensuring that students know the schedule, the expectations for a certain project, and how to transition from one activity to the next.

Those little snippets of time you save when you don’t have to respond to “What are we doing?” three more times add up; you’ll find that you’re free to answer new questions or take care of little logistics like entering attendance records. Additionally, when the classroom is organized logically and students know where to get materials without having to ask for help, they’re learning self-sufficiency. 

Tip #3: Minimize Distractions and Designate Your Time
There are a couple strategies you can use to avoid getting distracted during the day. One is to find somewhere other than your classroom to work while you have free time: if there’s an office or desk in another part of the building, the change of venue may help you focus and can keep others, who want to chat, from finding you immediately.

Knowing how you want to use your time is also critical. If you know you have half an hour in the afternoon, decide beforehand on a task to complete. A calendar or planner can be useful in this regard. Some educators also suggest turning off your email and/or phone when you’ve designated time for lesson planning or grading.

If you are interrupted by another teacher or administrator, keep in mind what you had planned, and (if possible) end the conversation quickly. You’re all in a similar line of work, so other educators may be understanding if you politely explain that you’d like to use those 15 minutes prior to class in order to finish designing a test. 

Tip #4: Schedule Efficiently
Some schools allow you to adjust your class schedule, while others don’t have that flexibility. According to multiple educational studies, between 30-40% of your time during the day can be sucked up by transitions from class to class or other non-instructional time. By scheduling your teaching time as a block, you can cut down on some of that lost time.

To make the most of your time, find out who’s in charge of scheduling and see if anything can be done, especially if you’re a secondary teacher who manages several classes of students per day. In addition, decide when you’d prefer to have meetings (whether with case managers, parents, or administrators) and try to block out a time of day when you can take care of those. 

Tip #5: Don’t “Reinvent the Wheel”
After coming out of a bachelor’s or master’s program, new teachers sometimes feel they need to create all of their own lesson and unit plans. However, sharing material is actually one of the greatest benefits of being a teacher, since there are already years of work put into creative, interesting lesson plans. This doesn’t mean never creating original work, but as the saying goes, two heads are better than one: make use of the other experienced teachers who have shared their knowledge, freeing up your own time to actually teach and assess the material. A few good sites for shared lesson plans:

Tip #6: Learn to Say “No”
The last tip is deceptively simple. As a new teacher, it’s hard to say no to a principal or colleague you’ve only known for a few weeks: you’ll want to impress him or her, and it’s exciting to get involved in your new school. While it’s a good thing to look for coaching or extracurricular activities like student council or committee work, be judicious in accepting requests to help with too many things. You can easily find yourself overwhelmed by a position on the site council, an after-school knitting club, lunch tutoring, and study hall duty.

Even if you manage your time well, there will be times you go home later than you should. That said, as long as you remember to set priorities, make use of your resources, and always carve out a little time for yourself during the day, you’re likely to have a successful first year in the classroom.

By Danielle Restuccia