When you just don’t feel like working
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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined, episode number 234
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Hey, builders, welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagined podcast.
I'm your host, Robin Jackson. And today I want to talk about what do you do? On the days when you just don't feel like working? I'll be honest with you, I'm having one of those days. Right now, you know, when you wake up and you're just dragging, you feel worn out, you feel tired, you go to work, and you're just pushing through, but you don't have the energy or the bandwidth to really do a good job. And yet, your students and your teachers are expecting you to show up. And to bring your best self every day, they don't really notice or care that you may be just having a blog day they need you. So what I'm going to do is I'm going to share what I do now, of course, this is not comprehensive, you may have other tips and strategies that you use. And if you do, I'd love to hear about them. You can you know, post them in the school leadership reimagined podcast, Facebook group or you know, send it to me directly. I'd love to hear your strategies.
I'm going to just share with you what I do, how do I get through a day when I just don't feel like working now, when I was a teacher, I'll be honest, those days, that's when you have that you break out that movie, or you break out that tasks that kids can do quietly and you just, you know, you just do everything you can to get to the end of the day, when you become an administrator, it's a little bit harder, because people are expecting you to show up differently. And you all you don't always have control over your day. Sometimes you might just say, Look, I'm going to do whatever I can to just get through this day, it's just and then get home. But there's a parent waiting for you or there's a teacher who needs your help, or there's a disciplinary issue that crops up, or there's something that you have to investigate or there's a fire alarm or everything and anything can happen. So you don't have the same control over your day where you can manage your day.
The first thing I do is I check in with my self physically.
If I wake up, and I'm just having one of those blog days, you know, often it's because I didn't get enough rest or because I haven't been eating correctly or taking care of myself. So on those days, what I do is I try to find ways to take care of myself physically as I can, you know, I don't consume a lot of caffeine, but that might be a day where I need a little bit more caffeine. So I might do a green tea. I am gentle of myself in terms of what I eat, I don't exacerbate the problem by just consuming a whole bunch of junk and crashing. I tried to get a lot of protein on those days to give me some sustained energy. So I'm doing like nuts instead of stealing the gummies from the kids cafeteria trays.
Do what you can to take care of yourself physically and it's more important on the days that you feel blah, you need the energy you need the fuel, if I if I can manage it, I even try to do a little 10 minute cat nap.
So I have been known to if I'm really just dragging, go down to the nurse's office and say I just need to like lie down for 10 minutes and take a cat nap and hide out. So do what you need to do to make sure that you have enough physical fuel to get through the day. And look ya'll don't ask me for taking cat naps in the nurse's office. You know listen, more of us should probably do that. But yes, take if you can get a nap. Make sure you're eating as well as you can during the day and not add into the problem by, you know, putting your body through a lot of extra stress by doing that.
Okay, so the second thing I do is that I take a look at my to do list and I prioritise it. So what is the thing that I absolutely must get done that day? And what are the things that maybe I should wait until I have a little bit more bandwidth to do. And the way that I prioritise the list is not just by what's urgent, but what's going to move our vision, our mission and our core values forward. So if I have meetings, that can't be rearranged, I keep the meetings on there. But then I also take a look at anything else that really needs to get done. And then everything else I give myself permission to say, maybe not today, doesn't mean I won't get to it. But I commit to, you know, tackling the 123 most important things on my list, and everything else I give myself permission to deal with another day. And that helps me to make sure that I get the most important work done that I don't get bogged down in busy work, because I'm just too tired to do anything else, I'm still focused on the most important work, and I can still feel like at the end of the day, I've accomplished something.
Okay, so making sure that you have that prioritised list. And well, that's one of the things that I love about having a vision of mission and core values is that when you have a vision, mission and core values, the priorities become so much easier to spot the work, you don't get caught up in just what's urgent, or the squeaky wheel, you can, you know, see through all the noise to see what work is really important. And then to spend what very little energy you have on doing the work that's most important. So that that you can still have something accomplished at the end of the day. And the day isn't just a watch. Now the other thing I do is I look on the list for those tasks that will give me the most energy. So I'm going to go through and make sure I get at least my number one thing done. But then if if if there's some wiggle room, I'm going to find the things that I enjoy doing.
So I loved, you know, spending time talking to kids, that would give me energy.
So I look for any task on the list that fed me anything that would help create energy, even though I'm physically tired and maybe mentally foggy. What are some of the things that really feed me, and those are the tasks I'm going to try, I'm going to prioritise on my list as well, so that I'm doing things that don't deplete me but doing and saving the things that deplete me for another day. Instead, I'm doing the things that feed me, because I need that today. So think about your list and look at and be aware of the stuff that feeds you, I, I love talking to kids. So that's a great day to do focus groups, that's a great day to maybe get in the halls a little bit more, that's a great day to visit classrooms.
Maybe I don't visit some of the more difficult classrooms on my agenda. And I spend some time in classrooms that are really working. And that might feed me, I'm going to be very careful about what I do. Now, listen, you can't avoid the difficult classrooms forever. But on a day, when I'm really depleted, that's not the day to go in and observe a difficult classroom, maybe I I reschedule and move that around. I don't want to leave the teacher in alert. So be careful about if I have a formal observation schedule for the for that day, I still have to do that. But if it's an informal and that was just saying, you know, I'm going to follow up, maybe that's not the day to do that.
So I think about the things that feed me and those are the things I'm going to prioritise on my schedule, versus the things that deplete me.
Then the other thing that I do is that I give myself grace, you know, I'm a pretty, I'm a mastery driven person. So I want to make sure that I'm getting as much work as I can done during the day and I gotta get stuff done. And I feel horrible if I don't get stuff done, because it just piles up. And instead, I give myself grace and say, there are days when I am on it, and then there are days when I'm not. So I'm not going to beat myself up for not getting through my To Do lists, but by prioritising the to do list with the things that are most important. And then also sprinkling in the other things that are that feed me that gives me enough to get through the day and feel like I've still accomplished something and I'm not going to beat myself up because I didn't accomplish as much as perhaps I'd even plan to accomplish I know I got the most important work done anything else I'm going to move because I know I'm not showing up as my best self. And then the other thing that I do on days when I'm really depleted is I don't have the the the energy or the focus to be able to sustain long bouts of work.
So I try to break up my work into Sprint's.
Now I learned this this strategy when I was still a high school student that you can add Slow, get more accomplished and do it more quickly by working in Sprint's rather than just gutting it out for hours and hours at a time. And so what I will do when I work in a sprint is I'll give myself 15 to 20 minutes, and I'll say, okay, in the next 15 to 20 minutes, I'm going to accomplish a, or a and b, no more than that. And then I set the timer, I work for 15 minutes. And I'm able to do that if it as long as I can interrupt it, but I'm able to do that, knowing that, you know, it's only 15 or 20 minutes, and at the end, I get to take a break, I get to get up, I get to walk around and get to do something else. So I will say okay, I'm going to try to get through and respond to tends to pick up five emails in the next 15 minutes, and give thoughtful responses to that. And then at the end of that, I'm going to get up and I'm going to walk around. And the hard part is that, you know, sometimes you get into a state and you're like, oh, I can keep going. And you have to resist that you have to get up in 15 minutes and walk around. And what you're doing is you're renewing your energy.
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So I do something for 15 or 20 minutes, when the timer dings, I get up, I go get a you know, drink a glass of water, or I walk around my office or I step out for a second and then step back in, you're doing something to change state. So then what happens is, you you it's almost like hitting the reset reset button or the refresh button. And then I go and then I sit down and do another 15 minute sprint. And so that's how I'm able to kind of gut it out and get through the work. If I had to sit down and do something for an hour or two on a day like today, when I just don't have the mental bandwidth, I would not be able to do it. So those Sprint's really kind of helped me be productive and get some work done, and then getting up and changing my state. Sometimes I will even bribe myself. Okay, so like, alright, yeah, I'm a two year old, but I will bribe myself to do that 15 or 20 minute work. So I will say, Okay, if I can get through the next 15 or 20 minutes, then I'm going to go make myself a cup of masala chai, which I love so much. And that'll be kind of my reward. Or if I can get through this 15 or 20 minutes, then I want to go spend some time with some kids.
I have something to look forward to at the end of my sprint that allows me to, to work through it.
Knowing that on the other side of that, there's something else waiting for me. So even if it's so especially if it's work that I really don't enjoy doing, but it's got to get it out and do knowing that there's a reward at the end, that works for me, like I said, I am a two year old. But so what I understand that and I take very good care of my two year old self. And that means my two year old self is well behaved on days when I'm really struggling. And then if I can, instead of just staying late and saying oh, I didn't get all the stuff done today, because I was just dragging, I tried to get out, you know, those are the days that I'm going to leave on time. And I'm going to prioritise leaving on time because staying just satisfies my guilt, but it doesn't actually make me any more productive. So I'm going to leave on time, I'm going to go home, I'm going to eat something healthy for dinner, and I get in bed and I'm gonna try to get in bed early so that I can replenish and renew so that my bad day doesn't become a bad week or a bad month and take care of myself.
Now listen, when I say take care of myself, I'm not, you know, you know how I feel about you all the messaging that they give educators, you know, your job is untenable, but take a bubble bath and it'll make it all better that I don't believe that. But when I say take care of myself, I mean that I'm not going to beat myself up because I went home at a decent hour for once. I'm not going to further exacerbate the problem by eating junk and sitting on the couch and watching Netflix until two o'clock in the morning and then dragging even more the next day when I say take care of myself. I'm going to recognise that my body is telling me that I need a break. I'm going to listen to my body and I'm going to give my body what it needs. Because I can't do this work if I'm continually pleated, I've got to fill myself back up. So that's what I do. And I just want, you know, wanted to talk to you today. Because all of us have those kinds of days, all of us have those days, when we're just exhausted and depleted. And mentally, we just don't have the bandwidth. And the message out there is gutted out, push through your kids need you sacrifice yourself, and that messaging is unhealthy.
We're all going to have those days. And when we do have those days, it's good to have a plan, it's good to be gentle with yourself, it's good to, to give yourself a break.
Understand that doesn't make you a lazy person or a bad person, and you're not cheating the kids, you can only give what you can give. And so on those days when you're depleted, rather than trying to gut it out, and treat that day as if it's if it's any other normal day. Just be gentle with yourself, prioritise, do the things that that that aren't, are the most critical things to your vision, mission and core values, even if they're not the most urgent things, sprinkle in as much of the energy feeding things as you can in the day, take a nap, if you have to go home early, you live to fight another day.
Now, of course, nothing I've said is profound. Here, you probably already knew that. But the challenge is, how many of us do it, how many of us actually give ourselves some grace, when we're having a day where we just don't have the energy, we just don't have it, it's just not there. Instead, we beat ourselves up, we feel guilty about it, we feel like we should, you know, I'm asking my teachers to show up every day, then I should show up every day. And we we play those games with ourselves to make ourselves feel really guilty for being human.
So although these, these techniques are not earth shattering, and you know, like you probably knew this already, it's good to be reminded, it's good to be reminded that we are human, that we do have those days, that you're not a bad person for having those days. And that we do, we need to do what we know to do that we know this intuitively. So we need to do it. And we need to give ourselves permission to do it. Because nothing is a straight line, you're not going to have the same energy every day, you're not going to have the same motivation every day. And when you try to act like you have the same thing every day, you end up gutting it out and often doing more damage to yourself. And to the work. We have days when we are on it, we're in the zone. And on those days, when I'm in the zone, I take advantage of it. I don't say Oh, well, you know, it's, it's, it's, it's time to leave and I need to leave now if I'm in the zone, I'm going to work I'm going to work through I'm going to keep going because I'm in the zone and I want to ride that wave. And doing that also allows me to give myself grace on the days when I'm not in the zone. And on those days, when I'm not in the zone, I go home on time I if I can get out early, I do it, I take a nap, I take care of myself, because I know that that that I have given extra on the days that I'm in the zone so that I can draw on that on the days when I'm not.
So even though you know this already, I just wanted to get on today to remind you that it's okay to have a tough day.
It's okay to not feel up to doing the work. It doesn't make you a bad person that they hope if your whole year is like that, I mean that there's something else going on. But if you have an occasional day where you're just depleted, you're human. And it's okay. And you don't have to put on your cape and act as if you're not human, and that you're some superhero and got it out because the kids need you. The kids do need you. But they need all of you and you do more damage you deplete yourself. So there's nothing left to give to the kids, when you don't take some time when you need it to take care of yourself. So that's my challenge to you this week. Share yourself a little grace. If you have a day where you just don't have it. You just don't have it. Take care of yourself live to fight another day. And then on those days when you're in the zone, be in the zone and get the work done. And it all balances out. Especially if you are approaching your work every day like a belter. I'll talk to you next time.
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