I was lucky enough to be allowed to go on a professional development day last week, titled ‘A Day with Steve Collis‘ and held at Northern Beaches Christian School. It was exactly as it promised a really interesting and worthwhile day with Steve, exploring ways to work smarter not harder. Steve broke the day into five chunks and in typical Steve style we also work-shopped in five different learning spaces. He titled these chunks Self, Work, People, Change and Space. I took away with me thoughts, ideas, practical tips and solutions in each of the areas. I hope to find the time to blog more about these soon. One of the idea that resonated with me was though, the idea of ‘hacking the system’.

Steve reminded us that we have to come to terms with the scarcity and preciousness of our time, energy and attention.  I know that I have had to realise that I can’t do everything. That when I try to work harder not smarter I become exhausted, grumpy and sometimes sick. I know that I cannot conjure more time in my day and that time out for me is just as important as time in. I know I need to hack the system. Steve gave us these tips.

  • Get someone else to do it.
  • Automate it.
  • Pay someone else to do it.
  • Make it redundant.
  • Don’t do it.
  • Do it in such as way as to ensure that you don’t have to do it again for a long time.
  • Clear everything and do it in a big concentrated block.

Now as a full time teacher it is impossible for me to ‘pay someone else’ to work for me or even ‘get someone else to do it’, on a daily basis in my classroom. Except that I have a student teacher every year. I see that as a way to give back, however it can also be a chance to catch up on marking and paperwork.  As a teacher who is also a learner though, I realised that I am already hacking the system to work smarter in many ways. So to Steve’s list I would like to add the following.

  • Listen to podcasts while walking, driving or exercising.
  • Have Ted talks running in the background while marking work that doesn’t require too much thinking.
  • Check your Twitter feed while waiting to collect children from sport, or school or pretty much anytime you have a few minutes spare.
  • Let your famiy think you are being kind allowing them to watch the sport and spend the evening catching up on your RSS feeds from the sofa.
  • Spend the time now to create IWB files or podcasts or videos that you can re-use next year.
  • Teach your class how to become experts in some software and then allow them to be the teachers.
  • Encourage your students to think for themselves, refuse to answer every little query,
  • Put the questions back onto them and teach them to ask a friend first.
  • Get your life organised, free up time and become more creative.

    I am sure there are many more ways to hack the system. What are you doing to keep up, to learn and to improve without working yourself to the bone? I for one also shamelessly employ a cleaner, less time cleaning means more time with my family and more time to blog.

    Finally, Steve also recommended the book ‘Getting things done’ by David Allen. I have listened to this as an audio book and can really recommend it as a guide and a system to organise by, thus freeing up your mind as well as your time.

    Leave a Reply


    1. Casey Allen

      Im a student at South Alabama in Dr. Stranges EDM310 class and majoring in Education. I enjoyed reading your post. I know I have a hard time putting things together and making sure I get things done one time. I hope as a future teacher Ill be able to have everything organized and in order so I can better teach my students!

    2. Thanks for the post and the summary – I’m very jealous as I couldn’t make it to the PD. I really like the advice about ‘getting someone else to do it’. In my first couple of years of teaching (and, to a large degree, in life in general), I seemed to think that I had to do everything myself or it wouldn’t be done right/properly. I even got into the mindset that it was ‘cheating’ to get others to do it. I’ve realised this is not true and, in the case of getting students to do things, I’m doing them a disservice if I do things for them instead. In particular, the statement ‘Encourage your students to think for themselves, refuse to answer every little query’ is a pertinent one. I stress to every grade who enters my computer lab that there is not one ‘teacher’ in the room but many of them and I don’t expect to see any of them sitting there lost if they are unsure what to do. If they ask me for help, my instant questions are ‘What did you try?’ and ‘Who else did you ask?’. Even the preps are getting used to having to problem solve and it’s definitely made my classroom a more productive place.

    3. Sally

      Thanks for this post. Have since checked out his sight. Where can I get the audio book for Getting things done from? Work/life balance and working smarter is something I’m thinking lots about at the moment and wanting to change

    4. Hi Sally
      I ordered the book ‘Getting things done’ by David Allen from audible as an audio book.I think though that if you search for it you will find David has a website devoted to this method.

    5. I agree Gillian, learning to let go can be difficult for us all but especially teachers, who traditionally have always had total control of the classroom.

    6. Lisa Taylor

      I am a student at University of South Alabama majoring in Education.I know as future teachers we need all the help we can get.I think we are starting to learn how little time we will have as teachers .I enjoyed this post and I hope to learn more from you in the future.