In my professional life, I rarely exhaled. But I was constantly breathing in, sucking up new ideas, reading blog posts, browsing Twitter, attending PD, going to conferences. Everything was input. I never gave myself time to reflect; to think; to digest all of that information.
As a result, I felt nervous and frantic. I didn’t know what to do next. I was overwhelmed. And then, my reaction to feeling overwhelmed was to… inhale even more ideas!
Let me say that again: I was overwhelmed, yet my instinct was to add MORE to my plate.
Inhaling Is Fun
Why? Well, honestly, I liked inhaling! Inhaling new ideas felt active and productive. No wonder I was so overwhelmed! I was trying to suck more air into already-full lungs.
But I didn’t need to read more articles. I didn’t need to go to another conference. My lungs were bursting, and I needed to make time to exhale.
Accidentally Exhaling While Driving
I noticed that on my drive home from school, my brain would start making connections. I would have interesting ideas. I’d remember things, seemingly out of the blue.
That’s because, while I was driving, I was accidentally giving my brain a tiny bit of space to do its work. I was unintentionally exhaling while driving.
Imagine what would happen if purposefully gave my brain some time to work? Maybe while I wasn’t also driving a ton of metal going 65 miles an hour! What if I intentionally exhaled?
Three Steps and Two Questions
Find a special place. I sit down Friday afternoons in a different place than usual. A place that feels like a treat. Maybe an unusual coffee shop. Maybe the big library in town. Maybe the lobby of a cool hotel. Definitely not in my house or my typical work places.
Prepare to be bored. I purposefully leave my laptop behind. I do not bring a book to read. I turn off music and podcasts. I find a quiet place and sit there. I stare into space with nothing more than a pen and pad.
I take 30 to 60 minutes and make two lists (taken from Sherry Walling):
- things that gave me life
- things that drained me
I bet you can already think of something for each list, right? This is easy! Yet, these are powerful prompts that have, without exaggeration, changed my life. After years of reflecting using these two questions, I’ve carved a lot of junk out of my life and focused on what I’m best at.
Reflecting Reveals The Obvious!
It’s as simple as noticing obvious patterns, like:
Every week I write down how much I hate grading and how my students don’t even look at the feedback or learn anything from the grade… Hmm, could I just grade far fewer things?
But if I never reflect, if I never sit there and just let my brain work, I won’t think to ask this incredibly obvious question. Do I even need to be doing this thing that is sucking my soul?
Or I’d realize that I was skipping some fundamental bit of teaching that I learned way back in my credentialing program:
I am drained when students misunderstand the steps and then I have to call everyone back and re-explain it and then someone still messes it up. Hmm, I guess I need to demonstrate the steps rather than just say them. Oh, wait, that’s called modeling. I should do that!
Yes, these are two actual realizations I had while reflecting as a teacher. They made my teaching life much better!
You might note that your school’s culture absolutely drains you. That’s the first step towards deciding, “I should probably just move schools.”
During my speaking career, I realized that talking about teaching to crowds drained me, but writing full lessons that people could actually use gave me life. Within a few years, I retired from speaking and was working solely on Byrdseed.TV. I am much happier now!!!
Leads to the Four Lists
These weekly, micro-reflections make it simple to create my four lists at the end of the year or quarter. Suddenly, it’s really obvious what I need to spend this year/quarter/month NOT doing. I really need to figure out how to stop doing the things that are draining me. Or else I’ll burn out completely.
It’s Not Urgent. But It Is Important.
I always have so many excuses for why I can’t possibly do it this week. But this is a matter of urgent versus important. If I don’t purposefully ignore the “urgent,” I’ll simply never, ever do anything important.
So, block out half an hour for big thinking. Process the ideas you’ve been accumulating. Toss out the things that are draining your life.
And let me know how it goes: email@example.com