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How to use the scarcest resource in education wisely

How to use the scarcest resource in education wisely

4 min read
  • Leadership & teamwork

What would you say is the most precious resource in education? With approximately 190 days in the academic school year, including exam days, and the growing amount of topics that have to be taught and learnt, we believe that the most important and scarcest resource at your disposal is time.

This is especially true when you consider the effort that will be required of both school staff and students to catch up after many months of school closures. So, if you constantly feel like you don’t have enough time or spend most of your day fighting fires, this one time-management tip will help.

Urgency vs importance

Most people tend to get urgency and importance confused. Urgency is how promptly the issue needs to be addressed. Importance is how much the issue matters to you.

Using these two parameters, we can create this diagram, famously used by President Dwight D. Eisenhower – here are some examples of things you can fit in these boxes:

  • Planning next week’s lesson falls in box 1: it’s important that you get something ready, but it can wait a few days.
  • Planning tomorrow’s lesson falls in box 2: you need this lesson plan and you need it fast.
  • Watching cute cat videos will fit in box 3: however nice it feels, let’s be honest, it isn’t important and certainly not urgent.
  • Working towards someone else’s deadline will fall into box 4: there are consequences to you executing this task, but it doesn’t matter to you as much.
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How should I divide my time?

At first glance, it looks like you should start by completing all the tasks in box 2 before you even look at the rest. After all, it is for things that matter and that matter right now. However, spending all of your time and energy on these would only lead to stress, rushing around, constant last-minute work and lots of late nights. This is a perfect breeding ground for mistakes to happen and for the quality of your work to suffer.

Or maybe you should start with box 4? After all, it is urgent and someone else is counting on you for it… But this box represents the trap of busy people filling their time with urgent things that don’t matter. Working hard, but not working smart. It is important to remember that just because it is important or urgent to someone else, doesn’t mean it is important for you. Make sure to allocate only time you can afford to spare to these tasks.

So, while the other boxes may not seem particularly significant initially, the tasks they contain are vital to bring balance to your work.

Box 1 provides a chance to plan, prepare and set strategy for the things that are going to make the biggest impact down the road. It is where you can often do you best work and where you can leverage your time most effectively. If there is a bottle neck in Box 1 and you fail to manage these tasks, they will eventually spill over to Box 2, which is where the quality and accuracy dips – and you’ll find yourself fighting fires again.

Finally, box 3 will provide you with the fun distractions you can enjoy on your break, to help you feel happier, more refreshed and more creative.

Perhaps the four boxes can be most accurately described like this:

Managing your time better

Work out what’s important to you

In his excellent book, Will It Make The Boat Go Faster, Olympian Ben Hunt-Davis details how many of the decisions that helped his team to win gold at the Olympics were preceded with the question, ‘Will it make the boat go faster?’. If the answer was yes, then it was important to them and they would do it.

Delegate diligently

Time is precious and in short supply at schools. There are many students and only one of you. The more you can delegate tasks that are important, the easier it is to avoid the bottle neck that can take tasks from Box 1 into Box 2. Don’t be too proud to ask others for help.

Don’t neglect box 3

Things that are not important and not urgent are often fun or relaxing. It’s a long year. It can be demanding and full of pressure. Doing things in Box 3 every now and again can keep you sane, keep you refreshed and enjoying your environment. The better you feel, the more positive your mood, the more refreshed you are, the higher the quality of your work. Don’t dwell on this box, but cut it out completely at your peril.

For more time-management tips, we recommend these blogs:

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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