Redefining Time: A Guide to Meaningful Moments

By Suzanne Dailey and Lainie Rowell, Educators

McGraw Hill
Inspired Ideas


Do you ever wish you had more hours in the day? If you just had an extra few hours, you could get that essential 7–8 hours of sleep, you could spend more quality time with loved ones, you could exercise regularly, and maybe even read that book that’s collecting dust on your nightstand. Well, here’s the deal… We all get 24 hours in a day. Yes, we get 24 hours in a day. That means we get 1,440 minutes every single day, and we have the power to turn some of those minutes into moments that we’ll remember with gratitude.

We want to shift to feeling more time rich rather than time poor, but with all the time constraints educators face, where do we begin? In Teach Happier this School Year: 40 Weeks of Inspiration & Reflection by Suzanne Dailey, we learn that small shifts bring gifts. In other words, by consistently implementing small shifts in our lives, we can create positive, permanent change. When it comes to shifting the way we think about our time, this small shift in perspective can shift our behavior.

Time Auditing

Understanding how we spend our time is the first step in mastering it. Time auditing is about more than just tracking activities; it’s about uncovering the emotional impact of how we spend each minute. Here’s a streamlined approach:

Track Your Time (Inspired by Cassie Holmes)

  • Use a piece of paper or a digital tool to log your activities in 30-minute increments for a couple of weeks.
  • Be specific: Replace general terms like “working” with “staff meeting” or “lesson prep”, and “family time” with activities like “cooking dinner with my son”.
  • Cassie Holmes, author of Happier Hour, emphasizes the importance of this detailed approach for a comprehensive understanding of how we spend our time.

Monitor Your Emotions

  • Alongside each activity, note your emotional state. You can use a simple 1–10 happiness scale.
  • Consider using the How We Feel app for a more nuanced approach. This app not only helps in tracking emotions but also enriches your emotional vocabulary, allowing for a more granular analysis of how each activity impacts your mood.

Analyze and Reflect

  • After your tracking period, identify your most enjoyable and least enjoyable activities.
  • Look for patterns: Does the environment, time of day, or company influence your mood? This insight, as Cassie Holmes suggests, is key to understanding what brings you joy and what drains you.

Implement Changes

Based on your findings, make conscious changes to your daily routine. Allocate more time to activities that enhance your well-being and find ways to minimize or modify those that don’t.

“The real answer is not about being time rich;
it is about making the time you have rich.”

Cassie Holmes, Happier Hour

Time Wishing Based on What We Value

Even if you haven’t had a chance to do the time audit, try this. Finish the sentence, “I wish I had time to…”, by listing all the things you wish you had time for. You could even take this to the next level by rating these activities after you list them. For example, you could borrow from the classic golf balls, pebbles, and sand in a jar metaphor.

Basically, the metaphor goes like this: If you try to fill the jar with sand (trivial tasks) and pebbles (things with only some value) first, there won’t be enough room for the golf balls which represent the most important things in your life like your family, health, career, personal goals, and relationships. But if you start by putting the golf balls in first, and then add the pebbles and sand, everything fits.

In the context of our busy educator lives, the ‘golf balls’ might be quality time spent with learners, meaningful lesson planning, or professional learning. ‘Pebbles’ could be administrative tasks or meetings, while ‘sand’ represents those little time-wasters we all encounter. By prioritizing our ‘golf balls’, we ensure that our most vital tasks and joys aren’t sidelined.

Looking at your list, what are the golf balls (most important), pebbles (some value), and sand (trivial)? Label them accordingly, and keep this handy as you craft your time moving forward.

Time Crafting to Nurture Relationships and Improve Well-Being

As Lainie Rowell shares in Evolving With Gratitude: Small Practices in Learning Communities That Make a Big Difference with Kids, Peers, and the World, studies have shown that gratitude can significantly strengthen relationships and enhance well-being. Considering the substantial time we spend with our colleagues, let’s actively seek opportunities to experience and express gratitude, fostering a positive impact within our learning communities.

Four Quick Ways to Nurture Professional Relationships:

Notes of Gratitude: When checking your mailbox, bring an index card or sticky note and leave a quick message in a colleague’s mailbox. Ask about their kids, parents, or partner, make them giggle with an inside joke, or simply say hello.

Grateful Texts: Use your phone’s reminder/notes app to jot down people you want to connect with. Send a quick text or email when you have a spare minute to let them know you’re thinking of them.

Social Media Shout-Out: If appropriate, post a public appreciation message on social media, mentioning your peer's name and the positive impact they have on students and colleagues.

Make Meetings Memorable: During a staff meeting, take a moment to publicly acknowledge a colleague’s contribution or achievement. Recognition from peers can be very impactful.

The research is clear about what’s most important: prioritizing our time to nurture relationships. Shawn Achor, an advocate of positive psychology, shares that connecting to other people is not only important, it’s essential for overall happiness, success, and resilience.

Taking Action

Let’s start redefining our time today. Begin with a simple time audit or reflect on your ‘golf balls’. And remember, each small action, from a note of gratitude to a meaningful conversation, contributes to a more fulfilling life as an educator. The journey to feeling time-rich starts with one small step.

Suzanne Dailey is an instructional coach in the Central Bucks School District, where she has the honor and joy of working with over 600 elementary teachers and 9,000 students. She teaches model lessons, facilitates professional development sessions, and mentors teachers to be the best for the students in front of them. Suzanne is Nationally Board Certified, a fellow of the National Writing Project, and has a Masters Degree in Reading. She is dedicated to nurturing and developing the whole child and teacher and presents these topics at a national level. Suzanne is the author of Teach Happier this School Year: 40 Weeks of Inspiration & Reflection and the host of the popular weekly podcast, Teach Happier.

Lainie Rowell is a bestselling author, award-winning educator, and TEDx speaker. She is dedicated to human flourishing, focusing on community building, social-emotional learning, and honoring what makes each of us unique and dynamic through learner-driven design. She earned her degree in psychology, and went on to earn postgraduate degrees in education. An international keynote speaker, Lainie has presented in 41 states as well as in dozens of countries across 4 continents. As a consultant, Lainie’s client list ranges from Fortune 100 companies like Apple and Google to school districts and independent schools.

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