Untangling Boundaries

Updated: Mar 29

In March of 2020, education "like it used to be" came to a screeching halt, flipped upside down, doused in gasoline, and lit on fire, all while being on stage for the whole world to see. Out of the absolute necessity of health and safety, educators and families were asked to do what no other era of teaching has done before: stop doing everything you know and have ever done, learn 29387 new tech tools and do everything differently....with just a few weeks notice.


Just about everyone who wasn't in education suddenly became an expert about education & had an opinion about what should or shouldn't occur. Critics came out of the woodwork (and media). There was a massive trial-by-error learning experience that required educators to figure out how in the world to teach online from home while still keeping up with life during a global pandemic. Inequity was underlined, boldface, and highlighted.


Let's say that collectively, things got messy.


Educators continued to step up in every way possible while still not knowing if/when there would be a light at the end of the tunnel while also trying to adjust to a new normal. Both schools & families did the best they could with what they had at the moment, and that’s all that could be asked during such a unique and uncertain time, but that didn't stop the work-home boundaries that were previously established from coming crashing down epically. Truly, there was no great way to have a healthy separation of work and home because it all blurred together.


Time.

Days.

Months.

All a blur.

It was as if we were in some boundaryless continuum of time.


We're now over half-way through the year, and while we (in Texas) are primarily face-to-face, I still find myself working to re-establish the work-home boundaries because, for me, they got tangled up like 7 pairs of headphones in a dark drawer.


Before I proceed, let me emphasize what I hope you already know: education is NOT an 8-4 job.


Anyone in education can attest to that.


The school days are filled with so much that there are just not enough hours in the day to plan, prep, follow-up, design, connect, accommodate, differentiate, communicate, create, etc. The expectation isn't that educators must work outside of hours, but there's an assumed understanding that it does happen. Most of us are ok with it, to a degree.


When the lines cross, and work-home boundaries are flirted with as they were in 2020, there are some strategies that you can employ to help redefine boundaries so that your home time doesn't get completely sucked away by work.


I know there are many more great strategies, but I'm only speaking to the ones I've practiced first-hand.

Urgent vs. Important


Understanding this is a BIG deal.

If you treat everything like an urgent priority, everything will be an urgent priority, which means that nothing is a priority, and everything is urgent.


And that's EXHAUSTING.


Until you understand the 2, you'll have no scale of urgent vs. important and no way to sort out the things you need to do at home and the things that can wait until tomorrow.


An unclear understanding of the 2 is one-way educators get bogged down into toting lots of "extra" things home. If you're not super sure about the urgency or importance of what you're taking home, I will encourage you to take a listen to Craig Groeschel speak on The 4 Tiers of Efficiency in his podcast series Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast.


((I plan to elaborate on this particular topic in a future blog post because there's a LOT of value in understanding the two.))

3x3 Sticky Note Strategy


This is a strategy I learned last year, probably from someone on Twitter.


**Sidebar: If you're not tweeting, you're missing out on a whole world of fellow educators that are doing the exact.same.thing and are faced with the exact.same.dilemmas. A strategically & intentionally curated Twitter feed is of great professional value and growth.**


First, notice that it's singular: note

Not plural: notes


Part of the need for this strategy was to bring home sticky notes, and not a single one of them got done.


Here's how I make the sticky note for me:


If I know that I have urgent work to complete at home, I will write my "must-do" list on a 3x3 sticky note. If it doesn't fit on my sticky note, that means it's not of high enough urgency for me to complete it at home that evening or over the weekend.


Be careful with this because that 3x3 blank space will fill up quickly if you're not careful. If you find yourself writing in size 8 font and filing up a full 3x3 sticky note (knowing you won't get even a 1/4 of the list complete, but kudos on the tiny handwriting), get yourself some of the smaller sticky notes and use those instead. This is helpful for me because it helps limit me to a reasonable number of tasks.


We can make urgent & important lists all day long, but they're useless if they're overwhelming and 3 miles long.

Intentional Scheduling


Home has a lot of competition for time.

Like, a whole lot.

I'm certain you feel this sentiment as well.


If I am not intentional about carving time out for something that I may not want to mess with, there's a 100% chance it's not getting done.


It's important to pre-plan how long you'll let yourself work on work at home.

Do you need 3 hours to knock out your sticky note? Strategically carve that time out of your schedule.

Break it up into chunks of time throughout the day.

Set a timer.

Hide in a closet with your laptop.


Do what you need to do to get whatever done in the time set aside but hold yourself accountable to the boundaries set forth.


You get to set yourself up to succeed here by writing your own rules.




Again, I know there are many other strategies that people use to help define boundaries. If you've got other great strategies for maintaining a healthy work-home balance, be sure to share! Sharing is caring ; )