“Can you bake some cookies for the staff meeting this Friday?” - “Jose’s IEP meeting isn’t due until next month but Christine wants to move it up to before break.” - “I can’t make my bike rack duty this week - can you fill in for me?” - “Mom - I need poster board for TOMORROW! It’s IMPORTANT!!!!”
Sound familiar? December is hands down the craziest month of the school year. Not only are you juggling the end of the first semester of school, but also balancing in the personal things that pop up during this time of year: holiday parties, family visits, holiday shopping, family traditions, and ASHA renewal dues just to name a few. Professionally, you are closing out the semester, gathering data to complete dozens of progress reports, attending annual IEP reviews, completing triennial reevaluations, processing referrals, and dealing with the generalized anxiety that pervades every staff member on your school campus this time of year.
So how do we have time to do it all?
As a school-based SLP, there are three important principles to keep in mind no matter what time of year it is:
Time: Plan It. - Protect It. - Maximize It.
Plan It: You likely have a plan when it comes to things like IEPs and METs. Many people map out their due dates for the year so they can shift things around where needed, lightening up months that are top heavy by moving up meetings when possible. But what about Medicaid? This is just as important of a task to plan in your daily schedule. Those who are most successful (e.g. the least stressed out) by Medicaid billing are those who complete it daily. And you also have to make sure you build in some time to plan for the unexpected: running to make a copy, making a phone call, running to the bathroom, etc. You can’t fill every minute back to back with therapy. Schedule in a lunch, schedule in planning and prep time, and schedule time for transitions between groups.
Protect It: The next step is to be sure you protect that time. The interesting thing is we often think we only have to protect our time against other people, such as the co-worker who wants to come in to your office and tell you every detail of her weekend when you finally have 30 minutes to write that report. What we don’t always consider is that we also need to protect our time from ourselves. It is so easy to plan for something like Medicaid, and then go make copies instead; or to answer emails; or to organize your therapy shelves (anything but Medicaid, am I right?!). But the bottom line is if you write in your schedule that you have a certain amount of time to accomplish a task, be sure to use that time to complete the task. Otherwise, it will just sit there, left undone, and you will not only have guilt about NOT doing it but you will also have to find the time to actually get it done!
Maximize It: The last step to consider is using every single minute you have effectively. We encourage our students to take brain breaks, and this is necessary as adults too. Sometimes you may need to take a walk around campus, or eat some chocolate, or check your Instagram page…but the difference between us and them is that we have intact executive function skills and need to make sure we don’t get stuck in this off-task behavior. Take a short break to refocus if you need it, but if you are still powering through your morning full of your morning coffee or Red Bull, and have 10 minutes that you can use effectively, map out in advance ways you can do that. One example is how you organize your student files. You can have a filing cabinet that houses all of your student files, but then have a “working drawer” for your active files. This drawer or space should be dedicated to those students who are in process, and then organized by process in order of due date (e.g. permission received/ready to test; IEPs to write; evaluations to write). If these files are already in the working drawer, organized by due date, then when you have a 15 minute block of time you can grab the first folder in the queue and get right to work, rather than spending those 15 minutes thinking, “Hmm…I have 15 minutes. What can I do? Whose IEP is due next? And where is that file?” Each little block of time you can use effectively will contribute to your overall efficiency and allow you to work a more balanced (and sane!) work week.
SLPs are people pleasers by nature. We hate to say no and often will say yes to everything, which ends up causing us to work late hours and get burned out during the school year. One of the biggest lessons we can learn is to say no (even to ourselves!). Still need some help learning how to say “no”? Check out this great BuzzFeed video for a funny tutorial on the topic.