If you are blessed to be a part of molding the minds of tomorrow by working in a school system, you will be juggling multiple responsibilities, for multiple children, with multiple disorders. The most important thing I can tell you is to budget your energy.
I told this to a friend the other day and got an eye roll so big I feared surgery would be necessary to reorient their eyes! Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but this seems like such a cop-out cliché that I understood the reaction. However, it has been the best policy for me, and I notice a STARK difference in the times when I do budget my energy versus when I do not. I want to share some concrete strategies I employ to help me do this.
The first thing is to plan your week in advance. Planning in advance allows you to have insight into where your energy needs to be directed. Take time to prioritize the events that are coming up.
- Make sure that the time you use for planning is purposeful; be mindful! It’s easy for me to sometimes go on “auto brain” when trying to plan, but it is vital to pay attention to what you are scheduling and when including any traveling necessary.
- Include time for any paperwork needing doing (Billing, IEP paperwork, report writing, progress notes, etc.), and any set up that requires more detail (i.e. having a specific unit theme and needing to assemble materials for an activity).
- Something to keep in mind: while YOU may have finalized your schedule for the week, life happens! Be aware of the need for flexibility! Your beautifully-organized, perfectly-timed plan may change even during the same day.
- In the moment, it can be so tempting to slack or push something to a later time slot. If at all doable, DON’T.
- On rare occasions, life happening opens some free time when you hadn’t planned on having any. Utilize it! Although pushing times later has never helped me stay afloat, moving the end of day/week tasks to an earlier time slot has. Pull up that billing/IEP/report/progress note/etc. and knock some of it out! Don’t worry if that leaves a hole in your schedule later in the week; something will come up last minute to fill it!
Just as important as planning work time is planning to have time AWAY from the demands of your caseload. Burnout is a real threat to speech-language pathologists everywhere, especially in school settings where we are often overloaded with kids, buying our own materials because there is not enough school funding for supplies, inconsistent or absent formal space for therapy, misunderstanding of our role by our coworkers... At some point, we all feel a little bit of burnout. A consequence of burnout is being less efficient and effective at our (super important and totally awesome) jobs. Here’s how to help keep burnout at bay.
- Sometimes you will have to take work home. Even if all you work on at home is planning and prepping, that is still active work for your caseload and is also unavoidable.
- But, you still need time off. The main way I see this handled is to have a set cut-off time for work tasks; maybe an agreement with yourself that after XX:XX p.m. you will not work anymore; or that you will work in the evenings weekdays but will not work on the weekend. Again, life happens, and there will be times you have to break that agreement with yourself, but make having time for you a priority.
- During those times you have set aside for no tasks, truly be off work. Give your brain a break! Do something that refreshes your body and nourishes your spirit. Take a hot bath, read a delightful book, marathon the Harry Potter movies, bake a cake, learn a new hobby, TAKE A NAP, play a board game (that you don’t play during therapy!), pet a puppy, drink some herbal tea (or whatever beverage you prefer when you are off work), or whatever helps you rebalance, renew, and refuel for the next day.
One last bit of advice I would like to share is specifically for those who travel between sites of service. I have provided travel therapy for most of my career; these tools have helped me most with the trek.
- Use technology (computer, smartphone app, GPS, etc.) to find routes between your sites. Choose at least two (2) ways to get to every site you cover. One is the main route that you take all the time—maybe the shortest, or the most direct; the other one is a backup route that you can easily access if your main route is unavailable for any reason. Then, take an afternoon or weekend drive and test them out. Get comfortable enough that you can drive them easily, and can switch between routes 1 and 2.
- Figure out how to organize your “car office”. Dedicate some trunk or backseat space for supplies that need to travel with you or can’t live at a site. Keep it organized! I am terrible about throwing stuff in there, then scrambling to find something later. Maybe have a “grab-and-go” tote for each site with the essentials needed for that location.
- Possibly the most important: make an awesome music mix to jam out to on the drive! Fill it with your “get your energy pumping” songs. Get revved up and excited! It also helps to practice a couple of discreet, or not so discreet, dance moves that you can do in the car. I often get some weird looks, but I always arrive pumped up, in a good mood, and with a catchy tune in my head.
I know the prospect of time management can seem a little overwhelming and scary. I hope that these suggestions come as some use to you this year, and maybe decrease some of that intimidation.
Author: Adele Dunkin, MCD, CCC-SLP