In one chapter of the ‘Elephant in the Staffroom’ I used the phrase ‘manage your energy not your time. Recently I have been relearning what this means. One phrase that has come back to me and stuck with me in the last few weeks during the turn of the year is this one: ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup.’
The final few months of 2018 were particularly draining. There were many things that required my energy – required me to pour from my cup: a full time middle leadership job, exam board commitments, finishing off an MA, being a parent, and perhaps hardest of all dealing with my dad’s dementia. Whilst I have been able to cut back on some commitments, the truth is that most of these things are not going to go away and rather than reducing the pouring from my cup, I need to find ways of replenishing and refilling the cup so that it doesn’t become empty.
Here’s a few things that I am consciously trying to do:
1. Finding Space: I can’t remember where I read it but I remember someone talking about the margins on a page. Just as a page needs margins and spaces so that we can see these the sentences clearly , so too life needs empty spaces so that we can better understand its content. I need to give myself space. The rules that during my good weeks I live by: one evening at least leaving on time and doing no work, one complete day off at a weekend, taking a proper lunch break. All of these things create the white space on life’s page and the paradox is that the busier you are, the more you need to slow down and seek space
2. Stillness: Linked with space is the need for stillness. This is particularly important to me as an introvert. Starting the day with a time of quiet and stillness rather than scrolling through bbc news, emails and twitter or getting down to work straight away is important in preparing my mind for the day rather than filling it with worries. For me the time of quiet involves prayer; for others it may be meditation or using mindfulness techniques but whatever it is, it’s good to be still and switch off life’s noise.
3. Self improvement: one way of refilling is to take time to put good things in, things that build up the mind/soul. Things that develop us as people. There is a principle that what goes in affects what comes out. I have been listening to some podcasts from Rick Warren, the American pastor who took part in Barack Obama’s inauguration. They give me food for thought and challenge me and I can do this on the go. I am also reading more both on the subjects I teach and reading for pleasure. I am trying to listen to music more too. I am trying to avoid some of the negatives so less time online.
4. Social: I am also trying to be more sociable. As an introvert I don’t do this naturally but it is important to have one thing each week to look forward to: a meal with friends, a comedy night, a Burns Night supper in Staffordshire, and even a midweek trip to the pub with my wife – someone report me to the teacher standards people! I am trying to plan something nice each week If we don’t plan, a week can just drift by. I think there’s a saying about all work and no play.
There is still more to do. I need to exercise a little more and I would love to get back into playing the guitar a little more. So I am a bit of a work in progress.
As teachers we pour out from our cups every day, what are you doing to keep your cup filled?