On social media, I see many of my fellow SLPs feeling burned out by their jobs, overloaded with stress, and trying to find time to keep up with it all. You see pictures of other SLPs with fabulous lessons planned for their students, with gourmet-looking dinners served seemingly every night. How do they do it all????
I’m often asked myself how in the world I find time to create the therapy materials that can be found in my TpT store – some of which can take 50 hours or more to create – as well as have a family and a full time job.
Want to know my secret? I DON’T do it all! I’m not perfect by any means, and I still get stressed out sometimes – but what I have learned is the importance of being able to prioritize and say no to things that aren’t as important, as well as asking for help when I need it.
My family – my husband, Kyle, and our cats – is a priority to me. Since my husband is a teacher, we both know how exhausting the school year can be, and are on the same page about what needs to be done during the school week. He also has his own hobbies, so we can quite happily spend time together on the couch, working on the computer (me) or playing video games (him), or both of us working on projects for school.
Reducing what stress I can and making things easier for myself is also a major priority.
When I was looking for a new job a few years ago, I specifically looked for a position with a reasonable caseload size that was within a shorter commute of my previous job (which was an hour away). I also was looking for a population I enjoyed working with, preferably a typical elementary school. I knew these factors were the most important in reducing my stress level and leaving me more energy to do the things *I* wanted to do outside of school. I ended up taking a job that paid less than my original job, but for me, it was definitely worth it.
Finding a good job fit can take some time, and you may end up in some less-than-desirable positions as you wait, but I think it is one of the components to being happy in life overall. If you are in a position that is less than ideal and can’t move right now, learn to advocate for yourself. If you are facing a ton of issues (Are there too many students on your caseload? Do you need more time to get those ten evaluations done? Are you assigned extra school duties when you really need that time to do Medicaid billing?), come up with some potential solutions and take them to your boss or administrator.
Another way to reduce stress is to set limits for yourself. I go in to work 45-60 minutes early (I live across the street now, which definitely makes things easier!), since I’m ready to go, and I focus better in the morning. I do my best to get done what has to be done in this time, as well as my plan time during the day. I very rarely stay after school, because that is my time for home, family, and second job (my TpT store, blogging, etc.). Does that mean I don’t always have beautifully scripted, original lessons with tons of new materials each time? Yes. But that’s not necessary to do my job well.
I do take the time to know my students and their goals well, and have all sorts of materials in my room to pull off the shelf and use in therapy. I also can’t afford to spend ten hours on every evaluation report that I write – so I’ve learned to create report templates, how to be be concise, and to block off longer chunks of time in my schedule to be more productive. (Seriously, if you can write evaluation reports in ten minute chunks, more power to you! I need at least 40-50 minute time slots to both test individual students or make a good start on a report.) This means sometimes I have to have slightly larger groups than I would like, or student groupings that aren’t my favorite, but it’s also necessary for my sanity.
I do obviously make some of my own materials, but I can’t do that for all of my students for every session. My fellow sellers on TeachersPayTeachers have made that job SO much easier – I could spend every hour of every day making new materials for all of my students, or I could set a limit for myself, and spend a few bucks to get some great new materials right away.
There will ALWAYS be more than you can get done at work, no matter how much time you put in. Decide for yourself what is the most important, and how to accomplish that in the most efficient way possible. Don’t stress yourself out over everything else. Do you put off writing reports and doing paperwork until the last minute, then find yourself at school late the night before they are due? Try setting a goal for yourself to come in ten minutes early every day that week, and use those ten minutes wisely. (Turn off your phone and internet if you have to!) Do you dread progress report time, because it takes forever to look at all your data? Set up a new system for yourself – try a new binder to organize your things, separate your students’ records by grade or days of the week that you see them, use something like my progress monitoring tools to keep data over time, try to avoid scheduling IEP meetings for the week progress reports are due, etc. Ask a friend at work or another SLP to help you come up with new ideas or solutions to help you get things done more efficiently.
I set limits for myself at home, too. I don’t cook a full dinner every night during the school week – the crockpot and freezer meals make things so much easier! (Also, kudos to my mom, who is awesome at making extra meals and leaving them in our freezer!) When I do cook, I try to make sure there are leftovers to carry over for lunches, or to make my own freezer meals for later. And yes, our house can get pretty unorganized during the school week. But you know what? The world doesn’t end because of a messy kitchen counter, I promise!
My last secret? Give yourself grace. No one is perfect, and no one can accomplish everything. Sometimes, you are going to need a night off, where you order delivery or have cereal for dinner and go to bed early without writing those progress reports or doing that load of laundry. Sometimes, you’re going to need to take that sick day just to sleep. It’s ok! You – and your family – have your own needs, and you have to pay attention to that.
Tell me, how do you “do it all?” What are your tips and tricks to make life easier?