Mark Solomons, CEO of School Wellbeing Accelerator - an acclaimed wellbeing expert with over 12 years’ experience developing leadership and culture in schools and creator of Welbee a highly effective online evaluation and staff wellbeing improvement tool, winner of the ERA 2022 Wellbeing Award and GESS Awards 2022 ‘Judges’ Commendation’ – discusses how to improve wellbeing through improving personal effectiveness
Personal effectiveness is an integral part of our personal wellbeing. We can all recognise the feeling of satisfaction for a job well done, and conversely have likely experienced the opposite – the anxiety and stress that comes with unfinished tasks and a seemingly endless ‘to do’ list. Sustainable work pressure can be positive and beneficial, however when this turns to ongoing stress, it becomes negative. It’s important to recognise this and improving your effectiveness is one way to restore balance.
Whether you are a leader, teacher or support staff, working in schools typically comes with a heavy workload, and the majority of the education workforce is engaged in a daily routine that often passes the contractual work hours. If you let your workload dictate the hours worked, as many do, this will inevitably lead to an unsustainable work pattern, which can significantly impact your personal health and wellbeing.
In schools, there are high levels of accountability, with the need to meet targets, deadlines and deliver against the curriculum. There may be ‘unspoken’ expectations to take on additional responsibilities, as well as demands from students, parents or colleagues – those you naturally feel you do not want to let down. Or simply a personal need to be a perfectionist - to deliver everything, rather than accepting when things are good enough.
Despite the pressures or perceived pressures created by the never-ending workload, it is important to keep things in perspective. The more stressed and anxious we are about everything that we perceive as ‘having to be done’, the less likely we are to achieve it.
So how can we break poor work habits? What changes are needed so we make better choices about working hours?
Here are some steps to help prioritise tasks, work more efficiently and increase your personal effectiveness:
Set a clear working hours goal
• Decide the hours you want to work, and undertake your most important work first. Set a specific time to complete each task and learn to stick to this. In many cases this is easier said than done, but make a start and continue to practise.
• Have a quick review your progress daily. Create a trigger to remind you to review - this could be a note on your dashboard or an online calendar alarm. Ask yourself - 'How did I do?’ Without triggers it is easy to forget.
Reflect on your progress
• Book a weekly meeting with yourself, to spend time to consider how you are doing overall - identify new opportunities and learn from mistakes. Record your successes, no matter how small, and forgive yourself for lapses.
• Ask for support from trusted colleagues, friends and leaders - build a support team you can talk to and who can help you build the right habits.
Make changes in your approach
• Review your tasks – remove those that have low impact for your students, parents or colleagues and particularly those that take significant time.
• Learn to say no - in reality this means being able to successfully negotiate – ‘Yes, I can do that, though which of these should I leave?’
Accept there may be times when there is more to do, for example during report writing or when parents evenings approach, but still ensure you are always mindful of your time.
Adapting your work to meet the hours you have decided upon, will take time - and for some it will be alien – do not expect things to change immediately. Continue to reflect and practice and you will begin to see improvements.
Focus on your own performance and those things you have control and influence over, and learn to accept those you don’t – in this way all your energy is positively pointed towards what you can do.
Prioritise one task at a time. There are many myths about multitasking, but the truth is, focusing on several tasks at once, drains your energy. Your mental capacity reduces with each additional task. Alternating between tasks without completing them will have the same effect, as it constantly interrupts your concentration, so each one takes longer to complete.
Ideally take a break every 90 minutes, or as often as you can – not very easy for those in the classroom. Even a short break when your mind is completely disengaged from work, will reap benefits as it allows you to recharge and have new energy and focus, and will increase your productivity. Plan to do something you enjoy – take a walk, read for pleasure, listen to music – engage in something that will relax you – just 10 minutes will make a difference.
Never try and get through the whole day without a break - working consistently for long periods without ‘switching off’ will reduce your energy and your productivity will plummet as the day goes on.
These simple steps can have a big impact on your wellbeing at work, and help your energy and productivity soar. It can take time to ‘retrain’ your brain – we tend to become creatures of habit, so breaking well established patterns can be difficult sometimes, but it will definitely reap rewards.
Personal effectiveness, is just that - ‘its personal’ - so comparing yourself to other team members – whether in hours worked or levels of involvement in additional projects and voluntary roles – is self-defeating. You also do not know how others feel or think, or what is going on for them. There are many contributors to how we work, such as family or caring commitments, personal energy levels and age and health.
Focus on those factors you can control, and the ways you can work, to be the most effective that you can be. To see more on personal wellbeing you can download a copy of the Big Book of Personal Wellbeing, sharing 13 tips to transform your day.
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For more support and advice on staff wellbeing please contact welbee.international.