Do you know how many decisions you’ve made so far today? Think about the moment you woke up to the moment where you are now: many decisions lay in the wake of that brief timeline. By some estimates, the average adult makes as many as 35,000 decisions in a single day. A single day! And if you’ve ever felt a bit weary from the vast quantity of choices in your daily life, you’re definitely not alone! “Too many choices exhaust us, make us unhappy and lead us to sometimes abscond from making a decision all together,” writer Jane Porter tells us after finding that there are 1,161 different kinds of toilet brushes on Amazon. (Who knew?) The accumulation of these big decisions and small decisions adds up to energy depletion. Decisions about dietary choices, working out, and how free time is spent are just a few examples of the choices depleting our energy, and the decisions surrounding our work lives matter just as much as these decisions that surround our personal lives. So what do the experts suggest for beating decision fatigue?

Social psychologist Dr. Roy Baumeister states that “Good decision-making is not a trait of the person, in the sense that it’s always there. It’s a state that fluctuates.” So his advice, according to his studies, is to conserve willpower through establishing habits that rely on routine and eliminate the mental energy of making choices. This advice is especially important for teachers who are under pressure to make choices which affect the lives of all the young people under their care. Teachers are easy victims of decision fatigue due to the nature of the profession, so getting an active routine established early on will be of great benefit to both teachers, who need all the energy they can preserve, and students, who are impacted by just how tired a teacher is at any given point of the day because, let’s face it, we aren’t performing well or making the best decisions when we are completely depleted. So how do you know if you’ve hit decision fatigue?

Signs of Decision Fatigue

If we consider that decision fatigue equals too much reliance on willpower and choice and not enough on routine, then a habit of googling lesson plan ideas and constantly changing up the structure of a day or lesson format are signs that you might be on the path to burn out. And while looking for fresh ideas and experimentation in the classroom is perfectly healthy, if you find yourself doing these things often, you may be causing yourself headaches that could be easily cured by setting up a basic routine.

Tips from Teachers

One smart way you can establish a routine as an educator is to work with the learning outcomes in mind as your starting point. As educator Angela Watson explains, beginning with what kids need to be able to do at the end of a unit really simplifies the process of, and time spent on, lesson planning. “It immediately became clear when I was planning that if kids need to do XYZ by the end of the month, I’d have just one week for each skill leading up to that outcome. I’d then think about what aspect of that skill to teach each day during the week, which was relatively simple to do because the lessons were cumulative. Once I knew the target outcome for each day, I no longer felt any need to look through tons of activities. I realized I had 45 minutes to get kids where they needed to be and there was no reason to look for fun worksheets or cute projects. I’d ask myself, ‘What’s the most impactful way I can help kids get to this target?’ and all the distractions would fade away.” Another tip? Establish a grading system that is straightforward, suggests educator Gerard Dawson. “Commit to a few skills you know your students must work on this year. Stick with them throughout the year. Base your grading on these. Do this instead of jumping from focus to focus, expectation to expectation.” Gradelink offers some excellent tools for grading quickly and accurately, such as grade codes allowing you to mark assignments in a single click, a classes menu to switch easily between subjects, and attaching files like worksheets or a syllabus for downloading by parents or students.

Ideas for Routines: Lesson Openers and Closures

For teachers looking to set a routine for the handful of minutes at the beginning and end of class, here are a few interesting lesson openers and closures that are both productive and beneficial:

Opener: The Reading Minute

Originally from English language arts teacher Kelly Gallagher, this activity involves finding a reading passage online or in a book and reading it aloud. After reading the piece of writing—whether that is an essay, article, or poetry—students open their notebooks and write a single-sentence summary to remember what they had just read. After a month of modeling different types of passages, students then sign up to bring in a passage to read aloud for the Reading Minute. At the end of the year, students can reflect back on their collection of single sentences and write about which was their favorite passage and what they learned from it.

Opener: Share Good News

Educator, writer, and curriculum developer Jamie Goodwin suggests starting the day on a positive note by sharing some good news with students. Having a good news minute allows students to share great things that have happened to them personally, or to comment on good news that is happening locally or globally. They can connect what’s going on with their lives outside to the classroom, or bring the world inside. Feel free to share good news that you come across with your kids, too! A positive mindset is contagious and can set the tone for a cheerful class.

Closure: Parent Hotline

Give students an interesting question about the lesson without further discussion. Email their guardians the answer so that the topic can be discussed over dinner.

Closure: Students I Learned From the Most

Kids write notes to peers describing what they learned from them during class discussions.

Closure: Out-the-Door Activity

After writing down the learning outcome, ask students to take a card, circle one of the following options, and return the card to you before they leave:

  • Stop (I’m confused.)
  • Go (I’m ready to move on.)
  • Proceed with caution (I could use some clarification on __________.)

Building in the systems, habits, and routines that value our mental energy allows us the freedom to give our best selves to life, both professionally and personally. As author John C. Maxwell put it, “Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.” Set those routines so you can get on with living your best life.

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