Saturday, December 9, 2017

Reducing Decision Fatigue or Embracing the House Dress

Every year...since forever, I start off early fall on a new mission--I'll work less, I'll walk to work every day, I'll take care of myself, manage stress, I'll......screeech--crash! (the sound of my plans spinning at high speed off the road by mid-October)

I was determined to not follow this same habit again this year(no, really!).

At the end of summer, I read this great post by Gerard Dawson at Cult of Pedagogy on decision fatigue in teachers.  It was the first time I'd heard that term, but it named the overwhelm I'd been feeling in my work and home life, and described many behaviors I had unconsciously continued doing as I careened toward burnout each year.  I recommend taking a look at it.  The author made me think about the many distractions and decisions built into my routine, and examine how I could minimize them.

I took the author's suggestions seriously and put some of his ideas into practice and...things are indeed different for me this year.  While I still have many stressful days(hello, I'm still a teacher and single mom), I feel more sane, but it meant some changes in my thinking and habits.
  • In the classroom:
    • I collaborated with colleagues to establish some simple, clear expectations, especially at the middle school level.  We use the CHAMPS model, but I don't think it matters which model we use, as long as expectations are clear, fair and followed consistently. My blood pressure has gone way down, being able to use the simple language built into these expectations to respond to situations instead of trying to always figure it out on the fly.  I'm pretty sure my students would say I'm a lot nicer to be around, too.
    • Work routines: Instead of my old habit of doing something new and different everyday, I have daily routines--different content, same procedures. Practices like FVR Friday, Music Monday in elementary, and individual CI activities for the first few minutes of class as middle school students trickle in(listening to a recording, podcast, short video, read an article--all can be used for interpersonal tasks or for thinking routines during class). My students know what to expect, and so do I.
    • I've put limits on my innovation by choosing some practices, activities, units, technology(you name it) that work and save big changes for summer or other breaks by pinning ideas to Pinterest and archiving ideas for the future when I'm not in the midst of a full teaching schedule.
  • In life:
    • Unless it's really an emergency(really), I don't work from home. It was hard for the first 6 weeks, and sometimes that means staying late or coming in early to make it happen, but it's a firm boundary. I feel more focused and fresh at work as a result, and am a more present mom at home.
    • My morning routine is only about getting ready for school(no work until I actually get to work!), and my daughter and I have enough time most days to walk. 
    • Food: I pretty much eat the same thing everyday for breakfast and lunch, shopping for the week and bringing items to work so I don't pack a lunch everyday. 
    • Finally, let's talk about the house dress.   I couldn't afford to replace my current clothes with a capsule wardrobe, BUT I did downsize my collection(I'm a thrift store hoarder) and treat it like a uniform. When I'm at home, the uniform is off and I put the house dress on.  This practice is a concrete reminder that I'm at home and not working. Plus, it just feels amazing.
My biggest take away from Dawson's post was that it's not about having one way to address the stress and decision fatigue, but finding habits that would work for me.  I feel a little exposed blogging about these new habits, but I'm hoping that by posting this, I'll have to keep holding myself to them.

 So for now, I cling to my house dress.

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