TM4T - Time Management Basics 8: Habits

Life is tough if you're a kid. For the average young learner, going to school for the first time, mornings are SO complicated.  Quite apart from the effort of getting out of bed, there is simply so much to remember. Just leaving the house, there's a lunchbox to remember, and bus money, and coat and shoes but wellies if it is raining, and anything special for school - it's usually somebody's birthday, and mum is like: nag, nag, nag. And before you even get that far, there's breakfast - decisions, decisions, decisions - and before that there's an endless to-do list in the bathroom (loo, wipe, hands, rinse, dry, toothpaste, toothbrush, wash, brush hair...) and even before that there is the whole project of getting dressed; with tricky things like socks and vests, and NOT getting pants on back to front, and silly rules against inside-out socks, and endless tidying up. The whole thing is just silly and WAY too complicated.

But then...  somehow... it all becomes a habit. Of course for some, the crisis-management-model-of-mornings persists into adolescence, but for us adults, we just do it on autopilot, without even thinking about how complex it is. This is how habits work. This is their strength... and, of course, their flaw... because for most us, when we learn a habit, that's it.  The time involved in understanding a habit - two to three weeks - and the effort involved in learning another one - over two to three months - is just not worth the bother.

Or is it? The fact is that although habits are hugely useful - the alternative is making logical decisions every five minutes about every tiny aspect of our lives; they are obviously ingrained unconsciously without a lot of consideration for efficiency. Check the maths in the example below to see the impact of just one apparently harmless habit.

Example: I used to have a habit of 'popping' to the staffroom for a coffee and biscuit every break. As well as every lunch. And every PPA lesson. And after school every day. That's a 3 minute walk each way to the staffroom and 7 minutes drink-and-chat. 13 minutes x 4 coffees x 190 teaching days = 165 hours, or approximately 4 full WEEKS of teaching every year... or of course 4 full weeks of holiday, whichever way you like to look at it.

Now let's make the time-management point very clear here: TM4T does NOT recommend that I stop doing that and use my 165 hours on something more productive - that is NOT what TM4T is about. This coffee-and-biscuits lark was probably offering me important benefits or relaxation and social contact; the point is that I could - and did - get those rewards in a more effective and efficient way... but breaking habits like these is hard.

Searching for the holy grail: the idea of touchpaper habits, or keystone habits, is discussed a lot in time-management.

I met Lucy again at a CPD session during a consortium inset. We did our PGCE together, and I said 'Hi' during the coffee break but then made the mistake of offering her a plate of chocolate biscuits. Mistake. She rolled her eyes in a shocked-amused way and started... "Nooo thank you very much, I gave those up just after I stopped smoking last year; I was starting to put on weight so I joined a gym, but now I run instead which save sooo much time, so I was able to enrol in my M Ed which has REALLY helped with teaching, and now I've lost a couple of stone I'm sleeping so much better, but I usually get up at five to practice my yoga and write in my journal before daily half-marathon training...".  By now I was desperately looking for someone else to talk to, nodding and grinning like an idiot, but secretly gnashing my teeth. Lucy - yappy dappy Lucy - seemed to be effortlessly achieving all the things I'd secretly written down on my longer-term resolutions list, and she had done it all without the crutch of chocolate.

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