Are you overwhelmed with all there is to do?

(Grades, new preps, student recommendations, car insurance, grocery shopping, remembering birthdays, oh my!)



It’s stressful when a million random things loom over you. Some teachers are made for this. They are organized and graceful and leave others in awe. Others teachers could use an assistant, a massage, and Marie Kondo’s help. If you feel like you’re drowning in work… try out an idea or two from the list to be more productive and have more time for you.

1.) Get in the habit of writing a TO DO list.

Write it all down! Once you put it on paper, YOU are in charge. YOU can plan an attack. Thats where the fun begins. Get something done and you have earned the honor of the CHECK MARK. Oh, it feels so good! I believe most teachers are hustlers and do so much every day, but there’s always more. It is easy to feel like you weren’t productive if you don’t take a second to stop and appreciate what you accomplished each day. NOT TRUE! Look at those check marks! What a productive day! 

2.) Write your list the day before.

I got this tip from a business article and it was one thing top CEOs did each night. What do you want to get done TOMORROW? If your list already exists when you wake up you’ll be clear right away on what you can start on. It’s like having a boss give you tasks for the day, expect YOU are the boss. Tasks can be added the next day, but by having the list ready helps you know where to start!

3.) Break down the big stuff.

 I loved assessment day, because it was fun to see what students could actually do with the language and all we had learned in the unit and yes… also because it an easy day for me.  But then grading 120 assessments… yikes. That’s a tough pill to swallow. It would take me too long to get those assessments back to students because I would drag my feet getting it done. Who has a whole night free for writing feedback? Eventually I realized I didn’t need to do them all at one time. Duh. I started breaking down the job into more bite-sized chunks. 



To Do

  • Grade 5 assessments from 1st period
  • Grade 5 more 1st period 
  • Finish grading 1st period’s assessments 
  • Enter 1st period’s grades

I later realized I could do 5 assessments before class started or while I heated my lunch or while another class was taking the same assessment. Each little task chipped away at what used to feel like an impossibly big job. Even if ALL assessments weren’t graded in a day, I felt progress – not stress or guilt.

4.) Evaluate the list.

Are YOU giving yourself unnecessary tasks? 


I was. For me, it came in the form of grading stuff that didn’t need grades. I was doing it because I thought I need to. I assumed students wouldn’t do an activity if I didn’t give points. I assumed that lots of grades showed I was doing my job. Later, it finally sunk in that fewer grades were more impactful, less frustrating for students, and saved me a ton of time! This freed me up to do more of what mattered to me… planning better lessons, spending more time with family, and enjoying time away from work! 


When I work with teachers, most mention grading as one of the things that weigh them down. How many grades does your school ask for? 3x week? What if that’s all you did? Could they self-assess an activity or exit slip? Absolutely! Plan to only grade tasks that best showcase student learning. Anything that leads up to that is just practice with feedback! 

Consider this: Stations are a great way to create time to work 1-on-1 or in small groups to give feedback. While the rest of the students are reading, having conversations, listening tasks, etc. YOU can sit down with a student and talk them through what think when you grade. Grab a proficiency rubric, show them where their work falls, and one thing they can do to aim for the next sublevel.

5.) Learn to delegate little tasks.

Are there things on your list that don’t require your expertise? Cound someone else help?  

I always had a student or two who loved to straighten papers on my desk before class. At first I thought was weird, then I saw the opportunity. I would ask if they wanted to alphabetize papers for me. They would put assessments in order so that after I graded them, I could enter them in the computer super fast. It was (strangely) fun for them and saved me time. 


Can you let your artistic students do your next bulletin board or word wall? Give them a theme and let them shine!


My friend Toni and her husband are both teachers and they decided as a family to share the cooking responsibilities. They all take turns cooking so all the work isn’t on just one person. Could your own children start helping you cook so you have a night out of the kitchen?


We do a lot, but we don’t have to do it all alone. Inviting others to help isn’t being lazy, it’s smart and it makes us a team!

6.) Get started with power half-hours.

Kara taught me this trick and it got me through grad school and made my time after school much more productive. Set a timer for 30 mins. Eliminate all distractions (emails, texts, snack breaks, Facebook Group interactions, even #langchat shoutouts – ALL OF THEM). Pick a task and knock it out. If it’s not on the list… ignore it for now. It’s hard at first. You’re going to notice the picture on your wall might be crooked or start to look for other random things to do. Don’t fall into those traps. You’ll be amazed at what you can get done when you truly focus. When your timer goes off, take a little 5-minute break. Get a drink, tidy up, whatever… then time to focus again.

7.) Rollover unfinished work.

You checked a bunch of tasks off your list! Good job! Make sure you’re prepared to teach tomorrow, but other than that, the rest can rollover to tomorrow’s list. It’s time for teachers to take back their personal life. Having a cutoff point helps you know when to be done and it encourages you to waste less time during the day.  

8.) Reward yourself with the time you saved!

Eat a good dinner, work out or go on a walk, play catch with a kid or a pup, or get a great night of sleep. Do things that you love to do! People who work other jobs get to do things like this during the week and teachers should, too. Those who make time for themself have more to give others later!
What helps you be more productive during the work day so you don’t bring so much home?

If you had someone to help you 5 hours a week… what would you like them to do for you?

It’s fun to dream, right? 


  1. Vilma Montealegre

    THANK YOU for these fabulous tips and reminders Megan! I would also add to get a notebook that you like in which to write all those lists. For years I´ve written lists on sticky notes, lost them and wasted time looking for them! Just today a colleague showed me her pretty floral spiral notebook in which she writes down all those lists and journals them!
    It´ll must also be rewarding to see all that has already been accomplished by flipping through the past pages!
    As you said, DUH! SHould have done this years ago!

    • Megan Smith

      Haha, Vilma! I still have a million random stickies and that’s a mess for me, too! Pretty notepad/notebooks make lists even better. Yes, when I flip back over past lists it reminds me that I’m moving forward!

  2. Lacey

    Assigning student numbers has saved me. After a test, I have a student volunteer to put them in numerical order for easy grade entering later. Also, the last period of the day, I have two student volunteers to erase my agendas and objectives and change the calendar for the next day, and they also straighten chairs if students forget to do it, and occasionally wipe down chairs or table tops.

    • Megan Smith

      I love that straightening up the class is part of the routine and students are part of it! That’s pretty normal in classrooms around the world – they clean up – no custodians. Good life lessons, Lacey!

  3. Kattia Higdon

    I need this, I am doing the National Board and it getting overwhelming. I have a ton of papers to grade and a whole lot of writing.

    • Megan Smith

      Hang in there, Kattia! Some seasons are extra busy but that hard work will pay off. Focus on what MUST get done and rollover the rest until life slows down a bit. You can do it, amiga!

  4. Stephanie

    Merci! It would be great too to hear any tips for those of us that teach 5+ preps! How do you all do it? I teach French 1, 2, 2honors, 3, 3honors, 4, AP in 5 periods… there’s no time to create! I’m all ears for tips and tricks even after doing this for 7 years I still need help!

    • Megan Smith

      Stephanie –

      There’s NO easy solution to that many preps! You must be the only teacher? If I were in that situation (and I had some freedom from the school) I would teach the same unit to both level 1 and 2 and the same units to 3 and 4. I would adjust the proficiency goal so while they are seeing the same authentic resources and given the same assessment scenario the expectation for output (speaking or writing) would be unique to each level (ex. NH for level 1, IL for level 2). That way your brain can narrow in on a few units and not be going in 5 different directions at one time! Kara did this when she was blessed with a mix of levels 1-3 in the same class. Chat with her if you are interested! (Extreme challenges call for extreme measures!)

  5. Chris Cashman

    Good stuff. I am SO easily distractified in life. This entry is helpful.

    • Megan Smith

      Thanks, Chris! Hope this post didn’t distract you from other important work. I try to be understanding of students, because I’m easily distracted too. (Pros and cons of tech, right?)

  6. Dan Bouvier

    All EXCELLENT tips! It is so easy for us to get overwhelmed. Mil gracias!

  7. James Richard

    Thanks for talking about Be MORE productive and LESS stressed. I appreciate your effort for these fabulous tips and reminders Megan!

  8. Amanda Brincks

    I love these and they all seem doable. It’s not like they are ideas that I would struggle to complete. Poco a poco, se anda lejos!

  9. Amanda L Brincks

    I’ve found my students really struggle to read directions and then complete an activity on their own. Previously, I could set up stations and then have myself as a station to meet 1:1, but this year was extremely tough doing this. Even with the directions listed step by step, they still asked for clarification and/or just said they didn’t understand and wouldn’t work until I came over to them. Do you have any suggestions?

    • Kara Parker

      We’ve heard educators from all over saying that this year was even more challenging than last year, so it could be that online “complete and submit” assignments have “trained” them to be less motivated to figure things out on the their own.
      Here are a few tips that helped me with stations:
      I always tried to only use activities at stations that we had done a few times in class together. So let’s say I’m putting “Highlight Away” with some tweets at a station. They have definitely done “highlight away” in other lessons, so it should look familiar (at least one student in the group recognized it).
      The first few times, stations were kind of chaotic! But I kept doing it. Sometimes it was my directions, so I tweaked them. I didn’t see your class, but it sounds like they may have been being a bit “unmotivated.” I’d suggest to keep explaining the importance of being an independent learner. Show them HOW to figure things out, instead of giving up. Overall, the more they did it, the better they got.
      Lastly, how are they accountable for their learning in the stations? I would give a formative assessment to check what they learned. Here are some more links with solutions about stations:


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.