Using these methods, teachers can better prioritize the tasks they tackle in limited prep time or before and after students arrive. Carter said the technique also makes it easier to face daunting tasks. There’s a big difference between staring at a stack of essays and committing to half an hour of grading, for example. “I look at a big project and I drag my heels,” she said. “But if I block out a time to just do as much as I can for 30 minutes, I still feel productive. I still get that dopamine hit.”
Carter knows that teachers aren’t always in charge of their time, even in prep periods. Students may need extra help, parents may call, and staff shortages may mean they’re helping out in another classroom. In her experience, though, the investment in being intentional about the parts of the day she can control paid off. Her increased productivity and heightened awareness of what she accomplished each day allowed her to leave school at school and focus on parenting while at home. “When we can take a step back and maybe have a better understanding of systems and strategies and time permanence for ourselves, we can take that time back,” she said.
Finding what works for you
On Saturday or Sunday nights, Carter cozies up with a cart of paints and markers, considers the week ahead and designs her next journal pages. The ritual has become a self-care practice. “[M]y brain has a chance to calm down, my blood pressure lowers, and I have managed to spend a little bit of time away from the screen,” she writes.
In her book and on Instagram, photos of Carter’s journals show the many creative banners, lettering and accents she employs throughout her pages. The artistry sometimes intimidates other teachers, she said, but she encourages not to focus on perfection. She has developed her style over several years, pulling inspiration from bullet journal enthusiasts and sketchnote artists on social media. Plus, the end product in her photos isn’t where she begins. “I’ll start with a very minimalistic design and then come back on a Sunday night as I’m watching TV and add some flourishes, some doodles and drawings and stickers and stuff and make it look very pretty,” she said.
Teachers can reap the benefits of time management and mental decluttering even without those extra touches. “You can literally grab a spiral notebook off your back shelf and a pen and start and find something that might work for you,” Carter said. “The more it speaks to you, the more likely you are to come back to it.”