Fine-Tune Your Time Management This Year with Affective Forecasting

August 27th, 2019

If you’re a teacher, you’re probably punctual and can be counted on to get things done. But even though your time management skills are strong, you can still fine-tune them as the school year starts so you reduce your stress in the classroom and have more time to recharge at home. Affective forecasting, a Decision Education concept that means taking the time to make reasonable predictions about your future emotional states, can improve three sneaky time mismanagements that plague even the most conscientious teachers.

Sneaky Time Mismanagement #1: “Procrastiplanning”

The problem in other words: You pursue small accomplishments that provide immediate gratification instead of finishing the difficult tasks on your to-do list.

You might not think you’re prone to procrastination because no one’s ever going to catch you scrolling through Instagram with your feet up on your desk. But even though you’re always doing work that bolsters your teaching practice and classroom culture in some way, pay attention to when you’re not doing the task you should be doing. Don’t procrastiplan! An example of procrastiplanning would be spending your prep period downloading every free lesson resource remotely related to a unit you’ll be teaching next month instead of grading the stack of essays that looms behind you. Although unit planning will eventually benefit your students, it’s really just a fun distraction from a task that is more important now.

How affective forecasting can help: Predict how you’ll feel about dealing with the grading later. Which Sunday afternoon sounds better to you: hunching over your kitchen table scribbling constructive criticism on 100+ essays, or leisurely browsing for that lesson inspo with Netflix on in the background and a bowl of popcorn at your side? Taking a moment to imagine the tasks you’ll face in the future because of the tasks you’re doing now can strengthen your commitment to choices you’ll feel better about later.

Sneaky Time Mismanagement #2: Falling victim to the planning fallacy

The problem in other words: You underestimate how long tasks will take to complete.

The planning fallacy is a cognitive bias that results from unsupported optimism about what we can get done in a certain span of time. We tend to expect the best-case scenario of how situations could go instead of imagining the many details that will demand our attention and deliberation. The planning fallacy can have these consequences:

  • Doing a subpar job on a task because you failed to budget enough time to work on it
  • Feeling mentally fried because you thought a task would be easy to complete all at once instead of breaking it up to ease your cognitive load
  • Getting overwhelmed because you assumed a task would be a breeze, so you took on additional work

It’s usually not as easy to zip through the items on our to-do list as we think it’ll be. To get a better sense of how long a task will take, time yourself completing one component of it. For example, if you have to grade writing assignments for five classes, see how long it takes to grade one from a student whose level of work is typical of most students in the class. Then, multiply it by the total number of papers to get an estimate of how much time you should set aside. With a task like grading writing assignments, this kind of calculation might persuade you to distribute it over a few days (instead of deferring it until the weekend like you would if you just had a vague feeling that it would take about an hour).

How affective forecasting can help: When you estimate how long your task will take and how cognitively taxing the work will be, predict how you’d feel about working on it if you had other things to get done at that time and also how you’d feel if you worked on the task in one long period vs. in smaller chunks.

Bookmark this Anti-Planning Fallacy Spreadsheet to help you plan your grading sessions.

Sneaky Time Mismanagement #3: Envisioning lesson activities taking place in a vacuum

The problem in other words: You have to scrap lesson activities when you realize social, developmental, or time circumstances make them unrealistic. You waste time (and get stressed out) when you have to scramble to create new activities.

The success of a lesson depends not only on the content but also the context. Often, an activity that looks great on paper seems unfeasible when it comes time to deliver it. This experience comes as a result of having a high-level construal of the situation, which means that the further in the future an event is, the more abstractly we imagine it. We usually don’t consider the real-life factors that will influence our ideal plans. It’s even more difficult to envision the details if we lack experience with the situation, so we need to push our imaginations, talk to people with more experience, or do research to inform our predictions about how it’ll go.

How affective forecasting can help: To make better predictions about how a situation will turn out, it’s better to have a low-level construal of a situation in which you imagine more concrete details. Try to predict how your students will feel about doing an activity you’re planning. Ask these kinds of questions:

  • Will students be getting enough time in the preceding days to practice the concepts that are foundational to the activity?
  • Will students be distracted by a big event like a pep rally or a field trip?
  • Do they feel comfortable enough with their classmates to collaborate or perform? (Consider whether you need to do more to scaffold an unusual activity like writing and performing a skit.)
  • Is the activity appropriate for your students’ emotional and cognitive maturity? (This is especially important to consider when you’re planning activities over the summer for students you haven’t met yet. It’s natural to be optimistic about working with a new group, but it’s usually worth waiting until you know more about their capabilities before you commit to a grand plan.)
  • Will your students be experiencing cognitive overload because of other assessments around that time?

The Takeaway

Affective forecasting is a Decision Education skill. It means taking a moment to predict how you’ll feel in the future about the ways you’re spending your time now and also when you have to take action on your plans. Affective forecasting can improve your time management because it can:

  • Motivate you to complete arduous tasks during the work week instead of letting them take over your downtime.
  • Inform you how to break tasks into manageable chunks.
  • Guide you to develop lesson activities that consider how timing, relationships, and maturity will impact what students learn.

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