Time Management Tips for Teachers

ALI Staff | Published  March 30, 2023

Ask teachers what resource they need more of, and chances are most of them will say, “Time!”

For teachers, managing time effectively is a survival skill that applies to both time in the classroom and time spent before and after class, preparing and planning lessons, grading, assessing and documenting, setting up the classroom, and handling a million other details.

Taking a time management class is a great idea, but many of these classes are generic or focus on the business world.

In this blog, we summarize a wealth of tips and techniques for teachers that will help up your game in both classroom time management and organization of your time outside of class.


chalkboard background with clock and books in foreground


Take the time to plan ahead


Set goals and priorities

Teachers recommend setting your goals and priorities both every week and every day. This involves three important lists. 

  • Every day: make a short list of the most important goals for the next day—no more than 3–4 items. Do it the night before, so you can hit the ground running in the morning. This is not an exhaustive to-do list: it should be the top three and tie into your weekly goals.

  • Each week: set goals for yourself. They don’t have to be lofty: just what you need to see in the rearview mirror to make the week successful. Write them down so you can see them.

  • Each week: make a comprehensive to-do list that you can check off as the week progresses, giving you the satisfaction of having completed items. You can keep updating this list as the week goes along. Include small, 15-minute tasks as well as longer ones, so if you have a short window of free time, you can complete one of them rather than checking personal email or social media.

Check-in with your goals and priorities every day until it becomes a habit. Notice when you have spent time on activities that don’t serve your goals and consider how to decrease the time spent on them.

Some teachers plan the week by doing a different type of activity each day, for example, lesson planning on Mondays and filing and organization on Thursdays.

Others recommend using a weekly teacher planner that includes lesson plans for the week. With all your important papers together, you’ll never be caught flat-footed, and if you have to call in sick, your sub will be grateful to you!

Make sure to think long-term as well as short- and medium-term. If parent-teacher conferences are coming up in four weeks, plan to prepare a little each week. Use a monthly planner as well as a weekly teacher planner.


Plan homework assignments thoughtfully

As you do lesson planning, consider which activities use class time best and what types—often repetitive practice—are better done at home.

Consider the implications for grading, as well: don’t place too much of a grading burden on yourself at any one time. Space out writing assignments, in particular, since they require more attention and feedback.


Plan for the unexpected

If you have already thought through how you will respond to specific situations, you will be calmer and more decisive when they occur and can adapt gracefully, even to events you haven’t planned for.

Your lesson planning goals will help guide you if time is compressed by the unexpected. Some examples:

  • Building issues or weather disruptions. Know your emergency procedures, of course, so you don’t have to scramble when the unexpected happens. Then, once you’re back in class, use your list of weekly priorities to zero in on the most important activities. Educator Nancy Barile describes a winter when her district had 108.6 inches of snow, and her sophomores needed to prepare for a critical state exam. “When we finally returned to school... I streamlined the curriculum, homed in on the most crucial skills, and utilized every single minute of class time.” Another tip: If a lesson plan depends on a particular location in the building, have a contingency plan in case that location is inaccessible.

  • Student behavior crises. Get to know your students, so you’re aware of what triggers this kind of crisis, then anticipate and handle it before it peaks.

Apply classic time management techniques to teaching.

Time management training for business professionals is practically an industry unto itself, and teachers can draw plenty of basic lessons and techniques from that discipline.

Most time management courses will focus on setting goals and prioritizing to-do lists, as we’ve described above.

Here are a few more specific techniques teachers working to effectively manage time have drawn from the time management canon.

  • Apply time management guru David Allen’s two-minute rule to any task: that is, if it takes less than two minutes to complete a task, then do it now. It will take longer if you put it down and return to it later.

  • Don’t touch any document twice. When you pick it up, take the extra few seconds to put it where it belongs (and if there isn’t anywhere yet, create one). This will keep your space organized and save you time in the long run—plus, you will be able to find it when you need it.

  • Break big jobs into smaller, more manageable pieces. As they say, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” If you break larger goals down into smaller bites, each one will be easier to complete.

  • Just take a first bite. If you’re feeling unmotivated about a big task or are procrastinating doing it, set a timer and give yourself permission to work on it for just two (or five or twenty) minutes. This will get you started, so when you next start working on it, some of it will be already done. And often, you’ll find getting started was the hardest part, and you’ll continue working after your timer goes off.

  • Do the hard thing first. If there’s something you’re avoiding doing, tackle that before you do anything else. You’ll save yourself a lot of mental and emotional energy, and everything else will feel easy once that one is out of the way.

  • “Pre-load” a big project. The day or night before you need to tackle it, organize your workspace, get all your files in order, print anything that needs printing, bookmark any websites you need to refer to and do anything else that will help you hit the ground running when you start on it the next day.

Take the time to set yourself up for success


Organize your lessons and materials

Take the time to set up a system where you can put your lesson plans, handouts, and other related materials in order so they are together and grouped by subject or skill for quick retrieval.

Organize it in whatever way works best for you: binders with plastic sleeves and tabs, file folders in a drawer or file box, or digital folders on your computer are some possibilities.

This may seem time-consuming, but the time you put into this in advance will save you time throughout the school year and in years to come.


Take advantage of tech tools

There are lots of them out there for teachers.

It’s worth taking the time at the beginning of the school year to become competent with the technology you’ll be using, including physical tools like your smartboard or projector.

  • Bookmark online resources and organize them in folders.

  • Save your passwords and other instructions in an easily accessible place.

  • Set up email group lists in advance—parents, your teacher team, other teachers, committees—so they’re already in place, and you won’t ever leave someone off by mistake.

  • Invest the time to learn how to use your digital curriculum, online gradebook, and other reporting software and tools like your district’s online procedure for requesting a sub. If necessary, save instructions to a folder so you can access them quickly.

Explore other tech possibilities in advance

For example, Google Forms could help with homework (and grading). You could use Jing to make audio files of your feedback so you don’t have to write it on students’ homework.

If your students will be using websites and online tools in the classroom regularly, take the time at the beginning of the year to have all the children bookmark any resources you will be using on their devices.

Have them create a single folder in their browser for all of these bookmarks. This will pay off in time savings throughout the year, as everyone will be able to immediately find the resource without holding up the class as they search or contend with a misspelled URL. You might also create a URL reference bulletin board with all the online resources students will routinely use. 


Establish procedures and routines

Students and adults alike function better in an orderly setting where they know what to expect. This models a good approach to student time management and gives them a sense of security.

  • Decide on the procedures and routines for the classroom, and communicate them clearly to students at the beginning of the year. This might include where to find assignments, how to find other information, where certain items go when you’re done with them, and what the daily routine tasks are.

  • Some teachers find that having a weekly or bi-weekly routine for themselves helps them make the best use of their time. You might choose particular days each week to send out parent letters, switch out your centers, plan/prep lessons for a particular subject, or do your copying. Or you might set aside the same half hour for grading after school every day. Some classroom teachers suggest always planning the same subject on the same day of the week—e.g., two weeks of language arts on Monday, two weeks of math on Wednesday—so they can maintain their focus on one subject at a time.

  • Help your students learn to manage their own time and keep the classroom schedule on track by signaling transitions from one activity to another in a standard way. You might set a timer as a five-minute warning, signal words like “One, two, three: eyes on me,” or a triangle or chime. It is also helpful to post the instructions for an activity on your smartboard, so students know what to expect and can refer back to them if they forget.


Manage your time mindfully


Set aside time—for planning and for yourself

Good time management practice in any setting involves deliberately setting aside sacrosanct time for planning, reflection, and prioritization. This applies to both your professional life and your personal life.

  • Every week, no matter how busy you are, set aside protected time when you can relax and refresh yourself. It will increase your resilience and ability to manage whatever arises in the classroom. Take time to get enough sleep, get outside, exercise, and relax. If you find yourself doing things that don’t help you relax—scrolling through social media, getting involved in fractious email chains, volunteer work that stresses you out, multi-tasking—think about eliminating or decreasing them so you can relax fully.

  • Every week, set aside protected time for ongoing lesson planning and prep. Do it in a place where you won’t be interrupted, and do nothing else. Turn off your phone, discipline yourself to ignore distractions, and turn all your attention to planning and prep.

  • Every week, spend time planning ahead and thinking about priorities in the classroom. Even if your workload feels overwhelming and you don’t feel you have time to do this, you will thank yourself in the end for having set aside this oversight time.


Learn to say no

Build the habit of protecting your time by not automatically saying “yes” to every request from administration, the union, other teachers, and student groups. Of course, you must meet your contractual obligations, but beyond that, be clear with yourself and firm with others about your availability and be prepared to say “no” (or a diplomatic “Let me think about it”) when asked.


“Grade wisely” 

Virtually every teacher knows the psychological burden and time implications of piles of grading. Veteran teachers who have tackled this time management challenge have several tips for managing the load. 

  • Before making assignments, think about what really needs to be graded by you, what could be graded by students or volunteers, and what doesn’t need to be graded at all. The “Grading Matrix” by One Stop Teacher is a helpful graphic for categorizing work.

  • Delegate: Have kids grade their own assignments using a colorful pen. Walk them all through the answers, and take the time to explain for those students who don’t understand the material. Now you’re teaching, not “just” grading.

  • Have students trade papers and grade a classmate’s answers. Choose lower-stake assignments to avoid embarrassment. This exposes students to other ways of thinking about a problem and can lead to productive discussion.

  • Have parent volunteers grade assignments that have clear right/wrong answers. Once they mark the incorrect answers, you can review them to see which students need further help.

  • Break grading into small bites. For example, grade the work of one group per day rather than an assignment for the whole class. Do a small pile each day rather than saving it all for the weekend. Enter it immediately into the grading software so that it is 100% done.

  • When you need to get your grading done, set aside a time and a place where you won’t be interrupted. Some teachers turn out the overhead lights in their classroom and close the door; one suggests hanging a “Working in Progress” sign on her door handle; others discipline themselves to grade only at school since they know they’ll be too distracted at home. Don’t grade in the staff lounge, where it’s easy to socialize and join in discussions with your colleagues. Take yourself in hand and focus: don’t multitask, turn off your phone, shut down your email, and do it until it’s done.

  • Alternatively, just as a walking buddy can help you stick to your exercise goals, having a grading buddy can help you focus—set aside a weekly or daily time at school to grade together.

Delegate classroom tasks to students and parent volunteers

Any task someone else can do frees up your time to do the tasks that only you can do; sharing the work also models responsibility for the children and gives them a sense of ownership of their classroom. 

  • Assign classroom jobs to students, like cleaning up centers, organizing supplies, handing out papers, alphabetizing completed assignments, managing playground equipment, making end-of-day checks to make sure everybody takes their water bottles, lunchboxes, hoodies, etc. home, and, as described above, even grading each other’s quizzes and worksheets.

  • Ask parent volunteers to make copies, work with small groups on specific skills, grade quizzes, and worksheets, and prepare materials that need to be copied or cut out. Set up a station with tasks for volunteers and the materials they will need so they can get started without your help.

Take Time to Make Time

Making good time management a habit is a process; nobody learns it from just one course or book (or blog)!

It’s about trying things out, seeing how they work for you, trying something else, learning, and relearning, until you develop habits and techniques that fit your teaching style.

The goal is to use your time as effectively as you can so that you can focus on what you love—the teaching—and maintain a good sense of balance while you do it.

The hardest part of tackling time management, especially given all the technological distractions and growing expectations of teachers in today’s teaching environment, is maintaining a level of mindfulness about your own use of time.

When you’re faced with a long to-do list, a packed schedule, and a Mount Everest of grading, it’s difficult to take the time to step back and assess whether what you’re doing in the moment is serving your goals and priorities.

Whatever time management skills and techniques you acquire, take the time to regularly step back from the work of the moment and take a broader perspective of your work and how you will approach it.




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