You have to make 10 decisions before lunch, then after lunch you have 15 more to make before dinner.
Have you been there?
Educators frequently experience decision fatigue. There are literally hundreds of decisions that are made during a week, and decision fatigue is a real thing.
What is the best lesson design for this topic on this day?
Since yesterday’s results weren’t where you thought they should be, what’s next?
What is the best seating chart for my students?
What do I do now that this student has disrupted the class?
Should you allow a student to leave the room to run the errand he’s asked about?
Will my students be able to rise to the occasion when we do ______ (another decision) in class?
The student is using his cell phone during class. How do I address it? Do I address it?
Can I get my copies run before the IEP meeting?
What do I want students to do as they finish their test while others are still testing?
When is the best time to get by the bookkeeper’s office?
What is the best way to approach this issue with this person?
Can you relate?
We often overlook the amount of fatigue and stress that making continuous decisions puts on our emotional as well as physical health. I want to offer a few suggestions on how to combat the fatigue by decreasing some of the decisions that have to be made each day.
We don’t call our plants selfish when they need water. Let’s be okay with the idea of taking care of ourselves when we need it.
Use Classroom Systems
Systems work when they are more than words on a paper or an idea in our heads. Think of classroom systems as practices that support students by predicting outcomes and increasing efficiency.
For example, what is your system of collecting papers? Returning papers? What system is used for times when students want to leave the room to go to the restroom or run an errand?
Having systems in place reduces the number of decisions that have to be made because students understand “how things operate” in the classroom and procedures can be followed.
Does this mean that students won’t ask to do something that’s outside the boundary of the system? Absolutely not. But it gives the teacher the opportunity to say, “This is how we do _____ in this room,” without having to spend time deciding to allow or not allow a certain action.
Make Decisions on the Weekend When Your Mind Is Fresh
There are some decisions about the work week that can be made on the weekend. The first has to do with food and nourishment. I’ve always been a fan of planning a weekly menu for my family, and on the weekend I do meal prep for my weekday lunches.
Last year for my birthday, I purchased for myself the RP Strength Diet Template, which limited my food choices even more. Now, I grocery shop at Aldi. How does this help me? While the number of food items that I choose to purchase is lower because of my diet template, the number of food choices that I have to ignore in Aldi is more limited in the smaller grocery store. It reduces the number of decisions I have to make about my lunch menu for the week.
How many times after a long day of making decisions did you go home and not want to decide what to have for dinner? Or maybe instead of making a decision, you drove through the fast food restaurant and picked up dinner for the family. Your body craves good food and nutrients, and it’s easy to forget this component of being at our best mentally and emotionally by feeding our body nutritious foods.
What if you made your lunches and snacks for the week, then all you had to do each morning was to pack your lunch?
What if your dinner menu for the week was already decided, so all you had to do when you got home from work was to prepare it?
Wardrobe is another decision that can be made on the weekend. Go ahead and decide which outfit you will wear each day of the workweek, so that you won’t have to make that decision in the morning before you go to work.
If you’ve got Netflix, there’s a wildly popular show called Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, which is about decluttering our homes and only keeping the items that spark joy for us. (You may remember Kondo’s book The Life-Changing magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing that she wrote back in 2014—it was a New York Times bestseller.)
Try going through your closet and keeping only the items that spark joy, and you will lessen the decisions you have to make in terms of what you wear to work. And as a bonus, all of your choices are sure to bring you joy!
On my desktop, there are three tabs that I keep open each day. The first is email, the second is my calendar, and the third is my Google Drive. I know exactly where those three tabs will be during the day, and they are the ones I access the most.
I put everything on my calendar so that I can forget it. With the number of decisions that I have to make each day, I don’t want to use up brainpower trying to remember details that my calendar can remember for me.
Have a Morning and Evening Ritual
Your routine will be personal to you, and one person’s ritual will not be the same for another person.
Do you like yoga? Maybe you stretch in the morning.
Are you a coffee drinker who loves to birdwatch? Maybe you have a cup of coffee and watch birds for a set number of minutes. (Yes, setting a time limit is an important constraint of a ritual.)
Are you a blogger/writer/journaler? Spend a set number of minutes writing before your day of work gets started.
While there are many recommendations for morning rituals, I also believe firmly in evening rituals, especially during the work week. My husband and I have a ritual we do each evening just as it is getting dusk. We like to “walk the estate,” which simply means that we walk from one end of our driveway to the other (our driveway goes all the way around our house), and sometimes through our backyard. We talk about our dreams for the house and yard, recap events of the day, and talk about upcoming events. It’s a time that we look forward to, especially during the long, warm summer days.
Having an evening ritual helps to close out the day, reduce stress, and relax in order to get a good night’s sleep.
Here are some ideas for evening rituals:
- Have a cup of hot herbal tea and read for pleasure
- Journal for five minutes, writing down all the things you are grateful for from the day
- Try this exercise from Jim Rohn: Review your day and close it out. Tomorrow, you can’t bring back anything from today, so you must be mentally at your best to bring your best to your day.
As Rohn says, “at the end of each day, you should play back the tapes of your performance. The results should either applaud you or prod you.”
I hope these ideas will help you to recalibrate and stay energized. We need educators who are compelled to bring their very best to each and every day, which means finding ways to combat the decision fatigue that we all experience.
Jennifer Hogan is an assistant principal at Hoover High School in Hoover, Alabama. She is the 2018 Alabama Assistant Principal of the Year and one of three finalists for the 2018 National Assistant Principal of the Year. Visit her blog, The Compelled Educator, and follow her on Twitter at @Jennifer_Hogan.