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The Art of Managing Time

Strategies to help you make the most of your day

If the refrain “I wish there were more than 24 hours to a day” explains your predicament, it’s time to adopt time management — the principles of arranging, organising, scheduling and budgeting time. Effective time management creates multiple benefits — it reduces stress, increases productivity, introduces balance and order, and frees up space to do the things that matter most to you. Time management also eliminates the tendencies to procrastinate, get distracted and create chaos.

Mapping your time management style

Before you design your own time management regimen, assess how good your current skills are. Some of the questions you can ask yourself include — are the tasks you do through the day ones that are high on your priority list? Or do distractions keep you from getting the important work done? Do you set aside time for planning, scheduling and goal-setting? Or do you tend to ask for time extensions? Do commitments stress you out? Do you feel like you run out of time on a daily basis?

The answers to these questions will inform you about your current time management style and provide insight into problem areas. Once you know your blind spots, applying the tools of time management will yield more effective results. As an added diagnostic tool, make an ‘activity log’ (a blow-by-blow break-up of everyday activities) to see where you are currently investing your time and energy, and which parts of your schedule can be streamlined, scaled down or eliminated to generate more time.

The big deal about time management

According to the career management website Mindtools.com, time management refers to a range of skills, tools, and techniques used to direct the flow of time when accomplishing specific tasks, projects and goals. This skillset includes activities like planning, goal-setting, delegation, scheduling, monitoring, organising and prioritising. The next logical question to ask is where time management tools can be applied. The good news is that they can be effectively used in every sphere of life, be it at work, in the classroom, in planning the year’s schedule, or in your personal life. You can be efficient at just about anything when time is on your side, from making lesson plans and taking home work to planning holidays and spending your free time.

However, “managing time” can be a misleading definition, as time is essentially an unmanageable, continuous resource. Time flows, no matter what. What we can “manage” is our own activities, our effort, and the way we spend it.

Getting to the heart of time management

The catchphrase of effective time management is “focus on results, not on being busy”. Most of us spend long days at work, in a seeming whirl of activity, and yet we get very little done. This is because we are not paying attention to, or focusing our efforts on, the things that need to be accomplished and the activities that matter the most. The tools of time management come in handy to manage such problems.

Set Goals: The essence of time management is setting goals for the day/week. Make your task list — write down your goals on paper or key it into your organizer. When you know what needs to be done, you can figure out the nitty-gritty, in which order and in how much time. Without goal-setting, you’ll be groping your way through the day, spending too much time on an unnecessary activity and leaving too little for a high priority task. Or you could end up wasting time by trying to accomplish too many things at once.

Prioritise: Prioritising is critical to time management. It gives structure to your goals. After goals are set, the next step is to prioritise them. For instance, when making your to-do list, go a step further and sort the tasks according to priority, instead of leaving them in a homogenous pile. Grade you priorities according to what can wait, what can be eliminated and what needs your absolute time and attention now. Get working on the ones that rate high on the list and leave the low-priority activities for later.

Scheduling: Once you know your priorities, you need to schedule them time-wise, in order to ensure efficiency and minimal stress. This involves knowing how much time you have on your hands, how much work needs to be accomplished in the available time, and what other activities might come up and demand your attention. Start by scheduling time for high-priority tasks, and then allot time slots for the smaller stuff, including making room for interruptions. Finally, effective scheduling involves creating contingency time for unexpected events that can leave your schedule in shambles. Also, when prioritizing and scheduling, do not forget to factor in time for fun, relaxation, or other necessary tasks like exercise or meditation. An effective schedule will not only get you on the road to efficiency, but also help you work out a healthy work-life balance.

Manage interruptions: The biggest drain on time and energy are interruptions. While it is all well and good to have your priorities chalked out, ensuring their completion is also about minimising the million distractions that eat up your time through the day. The best way to manage intrusions is by being aware of what qualifies as one, and recognising it when it occurs. Be conscious of which phone calls you need to take, and which can ignored for now. Take care of interruptions during a lunch break or towards the end of the day, i.e. after you have finished any high-priority work. When you are doing work that needs your undivided attention, do not sit in a noisy place, ask colleagues not to disturb you and keep your phone on silent mode. This saves time, increases productivity and leads to fewer errors in your work.

Overcoming procrastination: The biggest enemy of time management is procrastination and one that we are most vulnerable to. “I’ll do it later” is the downfall of most well-planned schedules and good intentions to meet deadlines. Procrastination is the postponing of work, which not only makes you tardy, but also leads to a nasty work pile-up. Procrastination occurs in small ways through the day — for instance, taking too many breaks instead of getting on with work, or cleaning your desk when you have an urgent task at hand. Procrastinating leads to working weekends, taking work home and last-minute stress before a deadline. The first step to managing procrastination is to accept that you do it. Next, introspect on why you tend to put off things — perhaps you are afraid of failing, perhaps you feel you are not up to the task at hand? Or perhaps you have overestimated the difficulty of the task you are about to embark on? Once you have the answers, come up with strategies to trick procrastination. For instance, when faced with a seemingly intimidating task, break it down into simpler parts. That way, things look much easier and goals more achievable. Reward yourself for finishing tasks. And give yourself regular, timed breaks.


Teaching adolescents

Effective ways to interact with adolescents in the classroom

Adolescence is the bridge linking childhood to adulthood. This can be confusing territory to negotiate, and what makes it more fraught with confusion is that there is no universal response to adolescence. Different children react differently to this transitional phase – while some move through it easily, others have a more turbulent time coping with the accompanying mental, physical and hormonal changes.

Adolescence is a phase marked by rapid physical, emotional and intellectual changes, when children begin to question who they are and what place they occupy in the world. It is a tough time for sure, when children are no longer “kids” and neither are they full-fledged adults. This in turn leads to role confusion, a quest for independence and rebellious acting-out. The teenager’s need for autonomy leads to frequent conflicts with parents, teachers and authority figures. Adolescence is also marked by dramatic changes in tastes, opinions, clothes and values, bringing in its wake, identity issues, peer pressure and anxiety over relationships with the opposite sex. All of the above makes the years between 12 and 18 pretty stressful.

Teachers have a mixed reaction to teaching adolescents. Some enjoy being involved with students of this age group and others find it daunting and stressful. But a few rules of thumb can help teaching professionals interact effectively with teenagers. All it takes is a little patience and understanding.

Sensitivity: For starters, it is important for teachers to be supportive of adolescent students. They can do this by being cued into and educated about the relevant issues concerning teen behaviour. In order to successfully interact with adolescents, teachers have to be sensitive to their needs, aware of their moods and more empathetic of the stressful phase they are transitioning through.

Patience: There are no two ways about it – dealing with teenagers requires patience, and lots of it. Due to the multiple changes happening in their lives, adolescents may come to the classroom restless, sullen and unwilling to participate. Don’t take this personally – it’s just that the adolescent has other things on his/her mind. Be prepared for delays and lessons that don’t exactly flow according to your schedule. Teachers may not be able to finish as much as they hoped to achieve on a specific day, so patience is recommended.

Flexibility: As a teacher to adolescent students, it’s also a good idea to be flexible in your approach. They may have their own notions about how to do things, which may not fall in line with your opinions. Give your students room to experiment and try things their way – this will also educate them about consequences and responsibility. It may also be necessary to be more tolerant of behaviours that you usually don’t put up with in the classroom. Teenagers feel the need to express themselves in a manner that may not meet your approval. Be more accommodating within certain limits, but lay clear boundaries. Tell your students what you will and will not accept, but be reasonable. Once your adolescent wards see that you are willing to be non-judgmental, they might decide to open up to you more willingly.

Autonomy: Once in a while, give teenagers the power to make their own choices and decisions. This will be a valuable lesson in taking responsibility and being accountable. Try and include them in decision-making regarding classroom activities and projects. Incorporate relevant topics that interest adolescents. Involve your students in projects related to larger socio-environmental/community causes that can be pursued outside the classroom and under your guidance. Energy can be channelled constructively in this manner. Encourage a free expression of opinions and have controlled debates in your class, which will make teen-students feel that they are taken seriously.

Respect: If you want to earn the respect of your adolescent students, give them respect in turn. Don’t shout at them or condemn them – this just alienates difficult adolescents and breaks down communication lines. Instead, be a part of their struggles, achievements, preoccupations and interests. Teenagers have a vibrant and infectious energy – share their enthusiasm and be young at heart yourself. But also be a responsible and watchful guide. If you see signs of dysfunction or abuse of drugs and alcohol, talk to the parents or refer the student to the school counsellor.


Classroom Disciplining Decoded

Pointers to evolve a workable and balanced strategy

One of the toughest parts of a teacher’s job is the tricky matter of disciplining students. Confrontational students and chaotic classroom sessions not only disrupt harmony, but also interfere with learning efficacy. Disciplining, while unpleasant, is essential to the art of good classroom management. The dilemma that teachers often face is learning to distinguish between too much and too little disciplining. Problems also arise when teachers swing between an excessively strict approach and an unduly lenient one.

However, effective disciplining can be the key to a happy and peaceful classroom, and a useful tool to quell conflict that is bound to crop up from time to time. Here are some pointers to help you design a disciplining strategy that is both efficient and reasonable.

Plan your classes thoroughly: Prepare ahead of your class so that you have the day’s lesson and activities planned out. Make sure you have your teaching aids and materials in order before you step into the classroom. This leaves no room for confusion and chaos, minimises breaks in the flow of the session and reduces time lags between activities. Discipline is easier to maintain when disruptions caused by bad organisation are done away with.

Establish your disciplining style early on: Do not start the academic year on a lenient note and then try to get stricter as the year progresses. Instead lay down your rules right at the start to set the tone for future classes. This gives students a fair idea of what to expect through the year and which rules they cannot flout. It becomes easier to cut students some slack later in the year, if you have established what you will, and will not allow in the classroom at the outset. But if you have started off on a passive note, students are less likely to take your disciplining seriously later on.

Be consistent, be fair: Effective disciplining requires the discipliner to be clear about what behaviours will be punished and which ones won’t, and stick to the plan. Punishing a disruption in the classroom one day and letting another child get away with the same behaviour on another day is a no-no. Also follow through with punishments. Children will take you less seriously if they realise your words are empty. Be uniform in your disciplining and treat all kids equally – do not play favourites or single out any particular child unfairly.

Do not be unreasonable: Establish a clear disciplining strategy. For example, you can start by giving a warning when a disruptive behaviour occurs and only punish the behaviour if it is repeated. Also decide in advance which offences are severe and which ones minor, and choose punishments accordingly. Do not hand out unreasonable punishments. The best options include verbal warnings, time-outs (detention) and withholding of privileges. Never physically harm a child, put him or her down or use self-esteem damaging punishments.

Be positive: Identify any confrontational children and look for ways to minimise potential disruptions. For example, seat two difficult children away from each other or give restless students time to talk to each other before a class. Use positive reinforcement whenever you notice good behaviour. Establish a good rapport with your students and get to know each of them. Also use humour (but not at the cost of the children) to create a pleasant classroom atmosphere and be tough but warm in your interactions.

Leveraging Motivation

Lessons in how to be driven from within

Picture these varying scenarios — two students burn the midnight oil in preparation for an examination. Student A does so for the incentive of earning the top grade. Student B is studying long and hard because he or she has a deep and abiding interest in the subject itself. The first scenario describes extrinsic motivation at work. Here motivation arises from factors outside the individual and from the external environment — rewards such as praise from the teacher, parent or peers or high grades provide the satisfaction and approval that the task itself may not provide.

Contrarily, ‘intrinsic motivation’ is at work in the second setting. When motivation arises from within the individual, the rewards that are operating are inherent in the task itself, such as the enjoyment of doing a puzzle, working on an assignment or project that you feel passionate about, or playing an instrument because you love it. In the field of scientific exploration, for instance, the satisfaction of your curiosity and the joy of discovery are considered to be internal motivators, while rewards like fame and recognition are external. Albert Einstein described this as “the enjoyment of seeing and searching.”

Two types of motivation

Several seminal motivational theories have underscored the significance of intrinsic motivation in determining human behaviour. Internal motivation is an important determinant of performance, as previous theories like the ‘carrot and stick approach’ (where the pleasure of reward or the fear of punishment are the sole factors affecting performance) failed to explain the complexities of our urges. The theories on intrinsic motivation bring the individual rather than the environment into focus. Psychologist Albert Bandura’s work on this kind of motivation ascribes importance to the idea of ‘self-efficacy’ – i.e. the belief in your abilities – is the most powerful agent in achieving desired goals, versus being fatalistic and relegating responsibility to luck and destiny.

Nowhere is the ebb and flow of motivation more closely monitored than at school, where performance is essentially the interplay between ability and motivation. In fact, motivational levels can be leveraged to increase performance and efficiency. Typically in the classroom, motivation can be induced by reinforcing performance with rewards, like high marks in a test or praise from the teacher. These are the external motivators.

However, teachers may also notice that not all students are motivated by extrinsic incentives. Some children in the classroom do their work because they find it “interesting” or “challenging” and because they derive “enjoyment” from it. These are instances of self-motivation at work. Typically, performance is a mixture of both external and internal motives. While external rewards are important and powerful motivators, they are insufficient in current life scenarios, where self-motivation, self-management and self-reliance are valued. Developing reserves of internal motivation can teach children to be resilient in their later lives and careers, and keep satisfaction and competence levels high even when external incentives are in short supply.

More on internal motivation

Self-motivation or the ability to motivate oneself is the internal drive to achieve goals, produce, create, and keep pushing ahead, no matter what the external incentives are. If students learn to be driven by self-motivation, they’ll be able to find opportunities to learn and grow in any situation, regardless of the rewards available. Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile, who has been studying the areas of intrinsic motivation and creativity, has been quoted as saying, “People are at their most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, satisfaction and challenge of the work itself and not by external pressures or incentives.”

How to leverage motivation?

While the ‘self-determination theory’, developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, says that human beings have a natural tendency to move towards growth and development, it also proposes that this internal motivation needs to be tended to or supported by active encouragement from the environment. The primary factors that encourage self-motivation are autonomy and competence feedback. That is, teachers can foster a spirit of self-motivation by allowing students a certain degree of freedom to come up with creative solutions, voice their ideas freely (i.e. encourage a certain level of autonomy), and be offered constructive criticism in the face of occasional failure (competence feedback) rather than ridicule or punishment. Children feel inspired when they are secure in the knowledge that their teachers are supportive and appreciative of their work and the required resources to complete a task will be offered to them.

How to boost your own motivation?

How can you increase your own levels of self-motivation? By being self-assured, self-confident, and by believing in your own efficacy! If you don’t believe in yourself, you are likely to be less resilient. “This failure will not discourage me” rather than “I knew I wouldn’t be able to do this” is an instance of self-efficacy. Self-motivation can also be strengthened by effective goal-setting. By setting yourself achievable goals, harnessing the power of positive thinking and visualisation, and building high levels of self-efficacy and self-confidence, you can be an intrinsically motivated individual, rather than one whose happiness is dependent on others.

While setting goals, remember that effective goals are ones that are clear, specific, and challenging enough. They should also be attainable and relevant to your larger vision. While performing, focus on your actions, rather than on the outcome alone. Evaluate your performance against key goals in order to keep up your sense of enthusiasm and involvement. And don’t forget to enjoy the journey rather than concentrating on the destination.


Effective Teachers Make Effective Classrooms

What are the characteristics that make some teachers more successful than others?

Educational studies have shown, and in an emphatic way, that the single-most important factor affecting the performance of students in school is the effectiveness of teachers. A study by the Education Research Service across several schools in Tennessee, in the US, showed that when low-achieving students were assigned to effective teachers after a year spent in a relatively ineffectual teacher’s class, the same students showed dramatic improvements in their academic performance. The study contended that the effect of good teachers was a cumulative one – researchers found a difference of 50 percentile points in the performance of students who had good teachers consecutively in Grades 3, 4 and 5, over those who didn’t.

The power of a superlative teacher is not restricted to the classroom alone. Teachers can have a strong influence on the way students approach and perceive a particular subject, long after they have graduated from school. Often times, a good teacher can turn a boring topic into a stimulating one and inspire a life-long love for it. Contrarily, uninspired teaching can make children indifferent or even averse to a given subject.

Effective Teachers

But what are the characteristics that make some teachers more effective than others? Research studies have pinpointed the following: highly effective teachers possess high energy, work well with all types of students including low, high and average performers, are very involved with their work, and finally, display a sense of humour. Moreover, an effective teacher, like an effective parent, is an intuitive one. He/she is aware of what is going on in the classroom, is tuned in to students’ moods, and can sense a disruption just as it’s about to get sparked. This intuitive quality can help the teacher stave off an approaching problem or conflict, provide immediate intervention and shift students’ attention towards more constructive pursuits. Effective teachers are involved teachers. They foster an atmosphere of warmth, approachability and caring. Children in such classrooms have been found to respect both teachers and peers.

Effective Classrooms

Effective teachers are also competent classroom managers. When a classroom is managed optimally, learning levels increase in direct proportion. (Classroom management is a blanket term used to describe the process whereby lessons in the classroom flow seamlessly and effective learning takes place with minimal disruptions.) In other words, how a teacher manages a class determines how well the students learn and how well-adjusted they are within it.

There are two seminal characteristics of an efficient classroom – the allotted time is used productively and students are actively engaged in the learning process. In order to make most of the time available, it is imperative for a teacher to be organised and have a clear set of processes that enable smooth transitions between lessons and activities. This means that effective teachers also need to be consistent in their routines and to some extent predictable, while leaving some space for planned variations in routines. As for engaging children in classrooms, it is recommended that teachers use the active, rather than the passive approach. Role-play, activity-based learning, assigning projects or initiating discussions are more effective in enhancing learning rather than one-way monologues