Time Chunking: Survival Tips for Busy Teachers


Written by Cassie (Teach Starter)

It’s 7 pm and you’re finally home. The day’s lessons have been taught and meetings attended to.  It’s time to chip away at some of that ever-growing To Do List…

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In some ways, this is the hardest moment of the day. Where do you begin?

If you plan to work for just an hour or two and then go to bed at a reasonable time, what can you realistically hope to complete? Are you likely to end up flitting between a group chat on Messenger, a pile of short stories that need marking and a half-fleshed out plan for tomorrow’s lessons only to discover that it’s almost midnight?!

There are many reasons why we might find ourselves in this position. However, this post isn’t about identifying the long list of factors that contribute to teacher workload. Instead, I want to introduce you to time chunking, a time-management strategy that might help you get more done in less time.

wooden desk with stationary - time management tips for teachers

What is Time Chunking?

Time chunking, or batching, groups similar tasks together to reduce the time that is lost when you switch between one or more completely different tasks. Remember, multitasking is a productivity myth!

There are a few different approaches to time chunking. It’s a concept that can be applied in a great manner of ways. While the last thing you may feel like doing is planning out your planning time, it’s something that if done well, will create mental breathing space.

1. Daily or Weekly Time Chunking

In our classrooms, we know that breaking the day into smaller chunks of focused activity is an important part of maintaining our students’ engagement. In essence, time chunking requires you to do the same for the non-contact time you spend on school work.

Weekly time chunking entails:

  • looking at the week ahead and identifying your non-contact, and outside-of-school working hours
  • breaking this time into 30-minute or 60-minute “chunks”
  • looking at the types of tasks that you complete on a regular basis
  • grouping similar tasks together
  • and, allocating each group of tasks to a specific day of the week.

For example, Mondays might be allocated to administration, photocopying, filing and organising materials. Tuesdays and Thursdays may be for forward lesson planning, sourcing resources and planning for differentiated learning experiences. On Wednesdays and Fridays you might focus on marking, data-entry and reporting.

Daily time chunking works in a similar fashion, but in greater detail:

  • looking at the week ahead and identifying your non-contact, and outside-of-school working hours
  • breaking this time into 30-minute or 60-minute “chunks”
  • making a list of the week’s tasks and priorities
  • grouping similar tasks together
  • and allocating each group of tasks to one or more chunks of time.

For example, from 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm every Tuesday and Thursday you might spend time gathering resources and lesson plans for the next few days. Then from 5:00 pm – 5.30 pm, organise your photocopying for upcoming lessons. On Wednesday afternoons from 3.30 pm – 5:00 pm you might schedule marking, and then from 5:00 pm – 5.30pm data-entry and filing.

How to Group Like Tasks

It may sound like a basic concept, but there can be an art to grouping similar tasks when thinking about time chunking. In different situations, at different times of the year, the way you group tasks may change:

  • Group by location (e.g. all of the tasks completed at school, tasks completed at home etc.)
  • Group by type (e.g. all communication and administration, all marking, all lesson planning etc.)
  • Group by priority (e.g. working through all urgent and important tasks first, then the important but not urgent tasks.) Our Eisenhower Matrix templates are a great tool to help with this!

Hand holding a stopwatch - does the Pomodoro technique work for teachers? Yes!

How to Get More Done in Less Time

In addition to the five ways that you can ditch multitasking and master monotasking that we’ve previously explored here on the blog, you might like to try out the Pomodoro Technique (a trademarked concept that comes with its own ridiculously cute tomato timer!).

Set a timer for 25 minutes and work solidly, with laser focus on the chunk’s allocated task or tasks, during that time. When 25 minutes is complete, take a 5-minute break. Stand up, go for a walk and have a stretch! Then return to the task for another 25 minutes. After three or four ‘Pomodoros’, take a 20 or 30-minute break.

This really is an excellent technique for tasks that require a long stint of attention, such as marking, preparing for teacher-carer interviews and writing report cards.

Why Should I Plan my Planning?

Time chunking and batching are strategies in a teacher’s time management toolbox that may, or may not, work for you. Ultimately, we’re exploring a range of different time-management and self-care tips here in the Wellness category, with the hope that one will help you feel less “over it” and more “on it”!

The message underpinning all of these processes and ideas is that flexibility and self-compassion must come first. Just like your students need time to practise and master a new skill, you need to be able to forgive your own stumbles when you are refining your own approach to managing teacher workload.

Have you tried time chunking? How did it work for you?

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Comments & feedback

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Since I started time chunking for Report Cards, my stress levels have lessened and I spend about a tenth of the time on them. Instead of doing bits and pieces over a protracted fortnight or 3 weeks, I set aside one day the weekend before they are due and I work like a demon with no distractions to get the task done in one day. I turn off the TV, put my phone in another room and send the family out for the day. Then I work solidly for 45 minutes then a 15 minute break. During my break I usually have a cup of tea, something to eat, do something I enjoy like knitting, watching a favourite TV show or go for a walk and get some fresh air etc. I find I can usually get them done in 4 to 6 hours. It’s a big day but so much better to lose only one day then 2 or 3 weekends and several evenings. I’m less stressed because i don’t even allow myself to think about them until that day. My prep is ensuring I have all my grades spreadsheets and student notes organised and I am good to go with comment writing, and entering data. It is amazing how much you can do when you work with a singular focus!

Angela Hade Harris · Aug 8th, 2017

Hi Angela,

Yes! It really is surprising just how much of a difference this approach to working can make! Marking and reporting are definitely the “easiest” kinds of tasks to complete using this approach.

Thank you for taking the time to comment and share your real-world experience with time chunking too!

Kind regards,
Cassie (Teach Starter)

Cassie (Teach Starter) · Aug 8th, 2017

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