Become A Time Stealer

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
Read more about John Dabell

Are you a professional procrastinator?

The most significant teacher stressor is time pressure. There is just no time to do stuff. Out of all the professional skills that enable teachers to be effective then time management is probably the most critical.


When we are under stress then we tend to put things off, get priorities a bit muddled, sweep things under the carpet or shove things to one side. It’s a natural reaction but “I’ll do it tomorrow” can be a sign that we are not managing our time well – it’s a survival strategy but it’s also self-harming. Low energy and chronic exhaustion should never be seen as just ‘part of the job’.

How much does procrastination apply to you? The following questions might help you raise your awareness.

A self-assessment guide

  1. How often do I put push small tasks to the side when I could get them done straight away?
  2. How often do I leave starting difficult and demanding jobs until the last minute?
  3. How often do I use avoidance tactics to delay starting a job?
  4. How often do I tackle more enjoyable and interesting jobs first?
  5. How often do I put off an conversation, meeting, telephone call or email because it won’t be pleasant or straightforward?

Score your answers as follows:


Rarely Occasionally Frequently Usually
1 2 3 4



If you score 5-10 then this is very healthy but this would be unusual for a teacher.

If you score 15 or over then this suggests that you tend to postpone, defer and stall which is likely to be negatively impacting on the way you manage your time.

Steal And Save

There aren’t enough hours in the day. That’s certainly true for a teacher so what can we do to help ourselves? Steal.

We can reclaim control by stealing time. To be a time stealer means taking back what belongs to you – your life!

Stealing time operates on two levels: individual and ‘corporate’ so any talk of managing time better has to involve whole school decisions and not just our own efforts. Senior managers have to make time for this important issue and start thinking how they can be time stealers themselves to help the staff as a whole.

Examples of time stealers

Being a ‘Yes’ Teacher

Clearly there has to be a balance and we can’t say no to everything but saying no is important when managing our workloads. The importance of speaking out cannot be emphasised enough – always speak out and never be a ‘Yes’ teacher – your input may change the way things are done.

  • Am I afraid of causing offence?
  • Do I lack assertiveness?
  • Do I have clear priorities?
  • Does keeping my mouth shut cause me regrets?
  • Do I avoid difficult conversations?

Meetings are notorious time stealers and excessive meetings can suck the life out of a school.

Many meetings are poorly planned, pointless and ineffective.

In the publication Managing Teacher Workload you will find a ‘quick guide to meetings’ taken from the ATL’s workload campaign.

They ask some poignant questions and recognise that meetings are classic time wasters.

Review your meetings and see if they are stealing your time.


  • Is the meeting necessary, or is it a habit?
  • What would happen if this meeting were not held?
  • Who is needed – do I need to be at the meeting?
  • Are all of these people needed all of the time?
  • What percentage of the meeting was relevant to me?
  • Could the meeting be held at a more convenient time?
  • Could the meeting have been shorter?

Poor communication steals time from busy staff if things are not joined up or inexpertly implemented.

  • Is insignificant information passed on?
  • Is information passed on at the wrong time?
  • Are there too many misunderstandings?

Certain things we just have to live with because we can’t change them but there are parts of the day we can have a greater influence over.  Start by asking yourself the following:

1. What time management strategies do I already employ?

2. What parts of my day can I control?

3. How much time am I willing to spend now so that I can manage my time better in the future?

4. What will I do with the time I manage ‘save’?

The Eisenhower Matrix and The 4D Strategy

An excellent way to approach your time management is to use the Eisenhower Matrix, named after Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961.

As President, Eisenhower had to continuously make some incredibly tough decisions about which tasks he should focus on each day. He invented the Eisenhower principle and this is something we can all use to help us prioritise by urgency and importance and whether we do, decide, delegate or delete. The following 2 minute video offers a useful explanation:



Developing a sound perspective on what is realistic and achievable in a day can stop you burning-out and could guarantee your teacher survival. Managing your time more effectively will inevitably involve making and implementing some hard decisions.

Time management might not make your job any easier but what it should do is help you perform your job better and help you realise far more job satisfaction and enjoyment. We can either waste it, make it, save it, spend it or abuse it.

How will you use your time?

As Eisenhower once said,

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”

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