Managing a heavy workload – seven strategies re contextualised to the world of ECEC
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Sector.
As we move in to 2019, we know that just as in previous years, there will be periods of time where work piles up, and it will seem like there’s no end in sight.
Whatever your position – manager, director, area manager, educational leader, room leader, educator, early childhood teacher, executive – if there is one thing we know in early childhood education and care (ECEC) it is that our world is anything but predictable.
With this in mind, Assistant Editor at The Sector, Freya Lucas, has reimagined this LifeHack about heavy workloads, contextualising it to the unique, challenging, wonderful and ever changing world of ECEC, the second in a two part series.
Rest, recuperate, recover
Early childhood education and care (ECEC) coach and consultant, Sandi Phoenix is fond of the expression “you can’t pour from an empty cup”, and Mark Pettit, author of the article which inspired this series, agrees saying to stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to first and foremost take time to rest and recuperate.
ECEC professionals won’t be surprised by research that shows that young children have energy levels higher than endurance athletes – so the adults who work with them need to bring their highest energy levels to the table too!
If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, Mr Pettit says, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload. Ways to create more energy in your day will vary from person to person, but you might try spending time with people who inspire you, spending time in nature, or enjoying exercise. The key is to find what works best for you, and find a way to make those activities a part of your day, ESPECIALLY when you think you don’t have time.
Just as important as making more energy is conserving the energy you have, by ensuring you get enough sleep and rest at the end of your working day.
The work/life blend
When speaking with The Sector, BubDesk founder Meg Burrows spoke not about work/life balance, but work/life blend. At busy times of year, true balance may never exist, you might find yourself spending more time with work and less time with life, only for the scales to tip back in the favour of life later on.
Mr Pettit has written previously about tips for having a ‘happy and productive’ work/life blend, and cautions that working longer and harder doesn’t necessarily lead to achieving more. He says that true balance is individual, and happens when ECEC professionals find themselves being fully in the moment, whether they are at work or at home.
That means no thinking or completing work when at home, and trying not to bring too many home worries to work either. Perhaps easier said than done, especially in the unpredictable world of ECEC, but a laudable goal nonetheless.
Multitasking, or divided attention?
According to Mr Pettit, multitasking is a myth. He says that “your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time which requires your focused attention.
Yesterday’s article, part one of this series, spoke about the importance of setting priorities. Only by completing the most pressing priorities, before moving on to the next, will you deliver high performance, Mr Pettit says.
“When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand. If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.”
Blocks aren’t just for the preschool room
Tip number nine is to make sure you divide your time into segments, and take regular breaks. Mr Pettit recommends a 60/60/30 method – work on something consistently for fifty minutes, take a ten minute break. Choose a different task for fifty minutes, followed by another ten minute break, and then have thirty minutes away from work entirely.
I can hear those of you who work directly with children laughing from here, however there’s still something those of us in ECEC can take from this concept. Perhaps you’re studying, and can use these tips to use your study time more effectively?
Those of you who find your programming time slipping away may think it’s counter-intuitive to take a ten minute break, but it may result in completing your tasks more efficiently, knowing there’s a fifty minute constraint.
Again, when working directly with children, this can be a real challenge. One of the most complex aspects of the world of early childhood is the feeling of being pulled in many directions, with multiple demands for attention and problem solving.
However, to maximise efficiency, and manage a heavy workload, Mr Pettit recommends making an estimation on how many times you become distracted during your average working day.
(I can hear those of you in the baby room shouting back numbers from a thousand upwards)
According to Gloria Mark, in her study “The cost of interrupted work” it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return our attention fully back to task once interrupted.
Attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood, and lower productivity. Being distracted five times a day could lead to nearly two hours every day of lost work time, or up to ten hours a week.
So if you have an important project to work on, such as planning a month of rosters, completing a profit and loss report, or reviewing and contacting successful and unsuccessful candidates for a role, the advice is to find a place where you won’t be distracted.
Turn off the phone, shut the door, work from a quiet space, or schedule the work for the beginning or end of the day, when the bulk of the distractions aren’t competing for your attention.
From little things, big things grow
Small tasks, Mr Pettit says, can often get in the way of your most important projects. Sitting quietly at the bottom of the priority list day after day, these tasks might not take your time, but they do take your mental energy.
Mr Pettit recommends making a commitment – using one of your time blocks – to complete all the small tasks on your To Do list, saying ticking them off will give you piece of mind, and space to focus on bigger priorities.
Time flies – but where does it go?
Do you ever find yourself looking at the clock and wondering where the day has gone? Do you find yourself focusing so heavily on getting one task – for example, accounting for the rise of the electricity bill by $4 this month – to the detriment of another – like a parent tour?
Spending time to analyse where your time goes, Mr Pettit says, will give you “amazing insights” and “give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.”
He recommends making three columns: Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or ‘stuff.’
Each day, write down the project or task, and the amount of time you spent on it. Allocate that time to one of the columns. At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.
If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.
Confidence is the most attractive thing you can wear
As education and care professionals, the children and families we work with are looking to us, many times, to help them make sense of their world.
Parents come to us for advice on eating and sleeping and behaviour. We work with one another to provide support and insights about challenging moments, and to reflect on practice. The children we work with are relying on us to bring our highest selves to work each day, to support them to be, belong and become.
When you approach these tasks from a place of confidence, and use confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to solve problems, learn about the world around you, adjust your responses to the situation at hand, and make the most of the opportunities presented to you.
Confidence, Mr Pettit says, “gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.
When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.”
Last, but by no means least
Heavy workloads are a challenge in any sector, but no more so than when professionals are working with vulnerable people.
If not properly managed, heavy workloads can lead to stress, burnout, and ongoing frustration.
The key, Mr Pettit says, is to tackle things head on. Make small changes, seek help if you need it, and try and remember the “why” of your ECEC journey.
After all, as the late Jim Henson was fond of saying “Kids don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”