Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors has been arranging funeral services for over 165 years. Many of the knowledgeable and experienced staff members at our branches in Horsham, Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint have joined us from other industries, bringing a wealth of varied skills and talents to the team. The theme of today’s World Teacher Day is ‘Changing Course’ so Jennifer, from our Crawley branch, shares some of the lessons she learned in her former life as a secondary school teacher and explains how they help her to stay on top of things in her current role.
Before joining the Freeman Brothers family, every minute of my working life as a teacher ran to a shared schedule. Spreadsheets, calendars and planners guided every aspect of school life and, as an organisational system, it was as close to perfect as I’ve ever experienced. Though teacher workload is no doubt a very real concern, the systems and routines that underpin it are sound.
And it’s certainly a universal problem. Getting organised and staying on top of tasks is a challenge everyone encounters at one time or another – even without the added stress of grief or challenging life events – but it’s a cruelty of fate that, just when we feel the greatest need to be in control, we find it all the more difficult to see our way out of the mire.
After leaving teaching, one of the hardest adjustments I had to make was to once again become self-sufficient, retraining myself to manage my time without the safety net of a timetable. My solution? I treated my work as if I was still at school, applying many of the lessons I’d learned (and taught!) about planning and organisation. Here are a few of the best:
- Treat problems and challenges like a tough exam question: read it, leave it and come back to it. Our brains are extraordinary tools but – like most tools – they need to be given time to warm up before reaching their optimal performance level. When struggling with something, look through the information available but then move on to something else: your brain will continue to work on a solution and you’ll be amazed how clearly the answer will come to you when you eventually come back to it. Fair warning, however – don’t be tempted to ignore the issue completely: your brain needs all the facts if it’s going to have a fair chance at solving the problem!
- Plan from the end result backwards. When teaching new skills, an obvious requirement is to know what skills the student will be asked to demonstrate in their final assessment, but it’s easy to get bogged down or waylaid by tasks that are familiar or comfortable just to make ourselves feel productive – whether they help us to reach that end result or not! At the start of a project, spend some time describing your aim then work out the steps necessary to achieve it. This helps enormously with time management as you’ll begin with a realistic view of what needs to be done and how long it’s likely to take.
- Make an appointment with yourself. Your time is valuable and you are the best person to decide how it should be spent. Though flexibility and adaptability are qualities appreciated by others, don’t be tempted to work around other people’s schedules so much that your own priorities become meaningless. If it helps, schedule specific appointments with yourself and block out time to complete particular tasks: you’ll feel far less guilty about saying ‘No’ if the time is already accounted for.
- Accept that your concentration will be exhausted after 10 minutes. If jelly beans have taught us anything it’s that we thrive on variety – and this is no less true when planning our daily lives. That heart-sinking feeling when we tell ourselves we’ll spend a full day on a single project is universal: it’s your brain warning you that you’re bound to fail, and with a great deal of heartache. We tend to expect too much from our cognitive functions, planning work to the clock rather than to our own concentration spans. To alleviate this problem and make yourself more productive, break your time up into short chunks of varied tasks that alternate between listening, writing, movement, interaction, discussion, research and reflection. You’ll see a noticeable improvement in the quantity and quality of the tasks that get done.
- Realise that you will never be finished. Mental load is often exacerbated because we think in terms of whole projects, and things often get forgotten because we tend to place business concerns above all else so refuse to focus on domestic or personal tasks until the ‘work’ is done. To really making the most of your time, and give yourself a varied and interesting day, split your to-do list into projects that include home, hobby and personal attainment goals as well as responsibilities, dividing each project into bitesize tasks. These can be planned into your day as and when you have an appropriately-sized chunk of time available, keeping your mind stimulated and helping you to feel super-productive by the evening: it’ll feel better to have made a small dent in several projects than to not make much headway in one area.
- Make time to plan. At school, time to plan (in the form of inset days, twilight sessions and free periods) is built into everyone’s schedule – and that time is sacrosanct! Take time daily to sit down with your diary, calendar or chosen planning tool and focus solely on organising your day: I prefer to do this first thing, but a late afternoon session can help you to switch-off properly if you often suffer anxiety about ‘tomorrow’. Also, though it may seem old-fashioned, writing things by hand can make it easier to remember them. Online calendars that pull data from emails and messages can be very efficient, but they run the risk of excluding you from the routine so you may not remember an appointment until it’s too late.
- Traffic-light your priorities. To-do lists can be an excellent way to relieve the mental load, giving you a place to record tasks so they don’t have to be stored in the brain. To make sure you don’t get bogged down – or are tempted to procrastinate with less crucial tasks – use traffic light colours to mark which tasks must be completed in the short, medium or long term. The added bonus? When you’ve got a quiet day and aren’t sure what to do next, it’s very satisfying to be able to tick off some amber or green tasks and get ahead of the game.
So there we have it. It may have been a long time since many of us were kids at school, but the lessons learned there can be invaluable to the adults we’ve become.
Freeman Brothers are here to advise you about every aspect of funeral planning and can help to ease the associated mental load. For the most up to date information about how to go about planning a funeral, visit our website or contact any branch to speak with a member of staff.