Stress Less, Focus More: Tips for Reducing Teacher Decision Fatigue
Ever hear of teacher decision fatigue? Or, experience it?
Teachers often bear the load of decision-making for themselves, their students, their school, and their families. The sheer number of decisions to make can quickly lead to decision fatigue.
According to data from busyteacher.org, teachers make an average of at least 1,500 educational decisions each school day.
- This means that in a six-hour day, teachers make four educational decisions every minute.
- Four decisions every minute.
And that’s just during the school day.
Factor in the decisions that you need to make when grading, planning instruction, and offering feedback, and that number continues to grow.
We’ve put this blog together to help you identify teacher decision fatigue and to provide helpful tips for overcoming it to reduce your stress level.
What is Decision Fatigue?
Edutopia defines decision fatigue as “a situation in which the brain is so exhausted and overloaded with decisions that it either looks for shortcuts or stops working altogether.”
Teaching is, by nature, a multifaceted profession. When you’re teaching, you’re assessing, monitoring, mentoring, coaching, disciplining, and more. All of those roles require minute-by-minute decisions—it’s no wonder teachers are exhausted.
So how can we tell if our decision-making abilities have reached that threshold? Here are four common signs of decision fatigue:
- Decision Avoidance
- Impulsive Decision-Making
- Dissatisfaction with Choices Made
The Risks of Letting It Go Unchecked
Decision fatigue takes a toll on our mental health and can leave you feeling burned out. According to WGU, there are three major effects of decision fatigue:
- It reduces our ability to distinguish between positive and negative attributes.
- It causes decision avoidance.
- It reduces our willpower, possibly leading to making decisions that are not in our best interest.
Experts at The Decision Lab state that as we go through our day, the quality of our decision-making declines in proportion to the number of decisions we make. In other words, the more decisions we make, the worse our decision-making becomes over time.
Minimize the Impact
Teachers carry an extraordinary load of decisions, which quickly becomes exhausting. Teacher fatigue is real! That’s why prioritizing self-care for teachers is crucial.
While we can’t eliminate every decision that we need to make, we can take steps to take care of ourselves so that we’re in a better mental state to handle them. Self-care doesn’t have to feel like another task on your to-do list. Here are a few simple tips to help you ease your stress and prioritize your mental health:
The Nike Training Club App is free to users and has a range of workouts from 5 minutes to over 1 hour. Workouts range from cardio to strength training to yoga.
Get Enough Sleep
Try implementing a nighttime routine to help you wind down and increase your sleep quality, whether that is spending a few minutes meditating, taking a warm bath, or even just spending some time reading a book.
You can either meditate on your own or try a guided meditation using an app like Calm or Headspace.
By taking care of yourself, you can avoid teacher burnout and make better decisions about the things that matter most to you.
Practical Tips to Reduce Your Teacher Decision Fatigue
Now that you recognize the signs of decision fatigue, what can you do to reduce the number of decisions you make in a day?
Create a Routine
Establishing a routine can help you to eliminate some of your decisions throughout your week. Take a look at your schedule and determine what’s realistic for you. Perhaps you can set aside one planning period a week to grade papers or catch up on parent emails. Pick a different day to do your lesson planning or instructional prep— consolidate your tasks in a way that makes sense for you.
In a perfect world, teachers would be able to get all of their work done during their planning periods. Most of the time, that’s just not possible. If you need to take tasks home, try to designate a day or time for you to complete your work. Creating boundaries for your work and personal life is essential—and remember, it’s okay to say no!
By choosing a day to handle tasks that you are able to set aside, you can free up your mental load on the other days of the week.
Using a checklist can help you organize your day by making sure you are staying on track. You can pre-make checklists for repetitive tasks you do to save time. Try rewarding yourself when small tasks are completed for a little boost of motivation.
If your students can read independently, consider creating checklists they can use for regular tasks they need to do in class.
Save and Organize Your Go-To Resources
When you’re tired, you may be inclined to hop on the internet to search for new ideas for your lesson plans. Instead of scouring Pinterest or Google each time you plan a lesson, create a system for your favorite, reliable resources. Not only will you save time, you’ll also avoid the overwhelm of information overload.
Organizing digital files
If you prefer to save your information digitally, you can use Google Drive to store your free printables, links to YouTube songs or videos, websites, and more. You can even make a shared folder for your teaching team so that everyone can share their favorites. However you choose to save your faves, make sure you have your digital information organized.
Don’t forget to bookmark your favorite sites for quick and easy access. Continental’s teacher resource centers offer the latest tips, resources, and videos from experts. Whether you’re teaching English learners, planning for back-to-school, or looking to refine your classroom management, our hubs make it easy for you to find the information you need.
As you go through the year, you’ll likely acquire lots of classroom resources and materials. Before you get overwhelmed with papers and materials, create an organizational system so that you can easily find what you need. There are many different ways to organize your teaching resources— figure out what works best for you. We’ve included a couple of ideas below to get you started:
- Use magazine files to store your prepped materials.
- Use milk crates to organize your daily or weekly copies.
- Use a rolling cart to store copies for daily copies or small group materials.
- Use labeled baskets or bins to store manipulatives for the week.
Create a Uniform
If you put some thought into your wardrobe ahead of time, it cuts down on trying to decide what to wear each day. Try creating a capsule wardrobe, which is a curated wardrobe made up of versatile pieces that you love to wear. Part of creating a capsule wardrobe is selecting items that you know will coordinate with each other—this streamlines your morning routine so you can “grab and go” without putting much thought into what you’ll wear that day.
Plan Your Meals
When you come home from work after a long day, oftentimes the last thing you want to do is figure out what to make for dinner. Meal planning can help you reduce your decision-making throughout the week.
- Pack lunches the night before.
- Make easy breakfasts in bulk, like overnight oats.
- Create a dinner schedule on the weekend and make a list for grocery shopping to reduce grocery store trips.
- Use a slow cooker so dinner will be ready by the time you get home.
- Create a meal plan and prepare in bulk to take advantage of leftovers.
You may find this planning also helps you do a better job of using food as fuel and getting the right nutrition you need to tackle the day.
Find Your Ideal Time
In 2011, a study was done to evaluate factors in judicial decision-making. The study found that judges had a tendency to give harsher sentences depending on when they had their last meal. While the study looked specifically at judges, it concluded that decision-simplification strategies were likely present for other experts who make sequential decisions (like teachers).
A lot of people have an easier time making decisions first thing in the morning than at the end of the day. However, some people feel they do their best work at night. Take some time to track when you feel the most tired or overwhelmed by decision-making. If possible, avoid making any important decisions during that window of time.
Take Charge of Your Decisions
Decision fatigue can permeate into every part of our lives and prevent us from being our best selves. As an educator, teacher decision fatigue affects not only your mental health but it can also negatively affect your students.
Once you recognize decision fatigue, you’ll be able to take back your energy, simplify your teaching, and make better decisions.