Preschool closet

Thriving in a “No Time” Workplace

Jess Ledbetter Uncategorized

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Do you have one of those overwhelming projects on your To Do list that weighs down your soul but never gets done? Or perhaps it’s a series of smaller projects that always get pushed aside by tasks that require immediate attention? I have one of those beastly projects: A disorganized (and slightly terrifying) closet packed with preschool supplies and learning materials collected by a previous teacher. Every time I walk through the closet, I feel discouraged and overwhelmed that I haven’t had time to organize it yet. Perhaps you can relate to this type of feeling.

Teachers today have so much to do and so little time to get it all done. When I changed teaching positions last year, I found many challenges being an experienced teacher in a new position. Having a long To Do list stresses me out, and big projects are hard to tackle because they require a significant time investment. Big blocks of time rarely exist in my workday—and unexpected tasks always arise to fill any time that comes along.

Well, I’m tired of waiting for a miraculous block of time to come along, so I’m taking charge instead! Last week, I decided to commit 15 minutes a day to working through the closet—NO MATTER WHAT ELSE I HAVE TO DO. I made the decision out of desperation, but I’ve noticed that the commitment is actually freeing! It’s reduced my stress, and most importantly, it’s changing my daily narrative. Instead of accepting a feeling of helplessness in a “no time” workplace, I see myself making small progress every day on one of my goals. And walking through the closet is starting to feel empowering and uplifting. What a change!

When I told my husband about my 15-minute daily strategy, he said it reminded him of a Japanese principle called Kaizen. In general, Kaizen means “continuous improvement,” and some people practice Kaizen by committing one minute per day to an undesirable (or challenging) task. It sounds really simple, right? It’s a great mental trick. One minute seems totally manageable—even for something that is really hard. Using the one-minute principle, you are supposed to commit at least one minute and continue for a longer period if you desire to do so. Over time, people start to notice a pattern of daily success and positive feelings toward the task. The task becomes more approachable and eventually…a habit emerges. When I thought about the one-minute principle, my closet task seemed even more manageable!

So what kind of tasks could teachers approach with a few minutes a day? Perhaps tidying up a workspace, deleting old email, reading or writing education blogs, creating a teacher website, or connecting with other educators through Twitter or social media to build their PLN? Personally, I think that lack of time is the greatest obstacle teachers face today—and for me, it’s one of my greatest causes of workplace stress and unhappiness. Committing a few minutes a day to something I want to accomplish helps me feel like I’m thriving instead of drowning. I don’t expect to be completely perfect, and I know there will be days when I might only do a few minutes. But I know the forward motion of progress will give me peace and increase my workplace happiness.

What about you? What tasks do you wish to accomplish and how could a small daily time commitment make a difference? Can you see these principles improving your workplace happiness?


Jess Ledbetter

Glendale, Arizona

I teach preschool students with developmental delays in a Title I school in Glendale, Arizona. I am a National Board Certified Teacher (ENS-ECYA) and an Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow. I earned my doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation at ASU. My research explored how early career special education teachers collaborated with peers to increase their team leadership skills working with paraeducators in their individual classrooms. I believe all teachers are leaders in their classrooms and possess the skills to be leaders within their schools, districts, communities, and greater context. I am passionate about National Board Certification, mentoring early career teachers, improving teacher retention, and collaborating with a network of courageous teacher leaders who passionately advocate for students. I believe that real-life stories from our schools should inform the policies that affect students, teachers, and their communities. Therefore, I am grateful to have the opportunity to share my stories here. I welcome your comments on my blog posts and hope that we can advance the dialogue together.

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  • Jen Robinson

    Thanks Jess! Great idea. The thought of spending one minute on something is doable, even 15 minutes. We all have 15 minutes to do something that is important for ourselves, right?

    • Jess Ledbetter

      Yes! And we deserve it, too! ;)

  • Eve Rifkin

    I love this. Something I’ve been thinking about are the simple things we can do to build rapport with our kids. Saying “good morning” while looking a student in the eye only takes 20 seconds and it feels like it makes a world of difference for me and for them. Thanks for reminding us of the importance of easy wins!

    • Jess Ledbetter

      Love that connection! Makes me think about how I could make a 5-15 min daily commitment to reach out authentically to catch up with a friend or coworker. For me, I tend to struggle with relationships when my work/life balance gets out of whack.

  • Amethyst Hinton Sainz

    This is a concept that a wellness group I am in uses as an approach to exercise. They recommend a commitment to five minutes a day of purposeful exercise. It’s not the calories that will get burned so much as building the integrity and making slow progress. For some reason, I have a really hard time with this, even though I completely understand and appreciate the value of the concept.

    One minute, huh? Clearing the desk, that would be my task.

    I have decided that deleting old emails is not worth the time it takes. I used to feel guilty about my loaded inbox, but I have decided it doesn’t take up much space in the world, and then I don’t have to waste energy deciding which ones to keep.

    • Jess Ledbetter

      Lol, I guess I need to rethink my concerns about old email :) I like the exercise idea. My husband mentioned reading about programs that only tell people to commit to putting their shoes on and standing on the treadmill. I thought that was interesting. Like you said, it’s all about building confidence and success :)

  • Alaina Adams

    Thank you for this reminder about the power of 15 minutes. When working on my dissertation, I was always amazed at how much I could get done in just 30 minutes if I set my alarm a little earlier each morning before work… 1 1/2 years post-dissertation, I’ve forgotten how powerful this dedication of time can be. Thank you friend for this anchor to re-ground me. :)

    • Jess Ledbetter

      Small amounts of time are so powerful for gigantic, overwhelming tasks :) Looking forward to hearing what new accomplishments you conquer!

  • Lisa Moberg

    Thanks for the important reminder, which really can be applied to anyone or anything in life! I remember using it when completing my NBCT. I also use it when writing during my quiet time each morning. Even if I feel lazy, tired, or just not “in the zone,” it holds me accountable to get my lazy butt out of bed and get to it! :)

  • Jaime Festa-Daigle

    I love this, this small amount of time could be the difference between good and awesome. Between getting it done and sweet sanity. Being purposeful in getting something completed is so important.

    • Jess Ledbetter

      Totally agree! :)

  • Treva Jenkins

    AMEN!!! Jess your post is bringing back so many crazy memories (PTSD) for me lol. I just went though this same situation a few months ago but then a miracle happened …I took 10 minutes each day and was able to organize a small area in my classroom that had become a war zone. It looked like someone had thrown a hand grenade in that area lol. But I was determined to tackle this area a little each day and it actually worked. I took pictures and sent it to everyone and their grandmother lol I was so happy that I had finally achieve the unachievable!! These principles work, they really do work!! It actually works for the National Board process too :)

  • Treva Jenkins

    Jess I just experienced this a few months ago when I had to tackle a small area of my classroom that looked like a tornado came and swept through, but I took 10-15 minutes out of day each day and slowly I was able to transform that space. I was so excited. I shared pictures with anyone who was willing to listen to me go on and on about this project lol. This 15-minute daily strategy really works!! It even works for National Board too :) Awesome

    • Jess Ledbetter

      Hi, Treva! I appreciate the encouragement! I’m sad to report that my daily strategy has gone by the wayside for nearly two weeks now–between getting buried in some stuff–and then having a bunch of stuff in the back room blocking my progress. I’m feeling on top of things this week, and I’m starting my strategy again today! :) Woot woot! Full steam ahead!

  • Susan Collins

    Jess, this is a great reminder than small steps over time produce big results. You have inspired me to get in and do the big projects on little piece at a time!