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Improving Your Teacher Habits Can Increase Your Productivity (and Your Well-Being)

A group of friends lean against a wall while looking at their cell phones.

Looking for more time in your day? Your habits are a great place to start!

If you feel as though your habits are running your life—you're right. Good or bad, teacher habits are the mindless activities and routines that make up much of our school day. Forty percent of the actions people perform daily aren't decisions but habits, The World Counts notes.

In a profession as structured and scheduled as teaching, taking control of your habits can be the key to improving time management, decreasing stress, and improving your well-being.

Further Reading: The 7 Keys to Consistent Action

Establishing good habits—such as eating well, exercising, managing stress, and socializing—can improve your mental health, boost your energy, and help fend off disease, Healthline says. Understanding how habits work is the first step toward making improvements and reaping their benefits.

What Are Habits?

In The Power of HabitPulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Charles Duhigg says habits are how your brain uses less energy and increases productivity. When you perform a habit, your brain is functioning on auto-pilot and conserving energy for more complicated tasks.

Contrary to popular belief, habits aren't just repeated routines. They're psychological patterns.

Duhigg describes the habit loop as comprising three parts: cue, routine, and reward.

Cues are the triggers that shift the brain into auto-pilot—like the bell that triggered hunger for Pavlov's dogs or the coffee craving you experience every day at precisely 2:00 p.m.

The routine is the behavior, thought, or feeling that the body experiences in response to the cue. This is what most people think of as the habit. It's the workout, diet, or behaviors that we follow to achieve our desired result.

The reward is the result and, most importantly, the reinforcement. Many of us make the mistake of trying to establish new habits by changing our routines. But to be effective, it's more important to focus on the reward.

How Can We Change Our Habits?

Duhigg's formula for ending bad habits and creating healthier, more productive ones starts with examining cues and rewards. He suggests tracking the craving you feel just before your habit kicks in and examining the reward you receive.

I tried this experiment with my own habit of immediately checking my social media feeds on my phone every time my students leave the classroom. Maybe that's not the worst habit in the world, but it's a habit that's wasted hours of my week that I could have used much more productively.

I quickly realized that my reward wasn't needlessly catching up on the activities of my former coworkers and high school friends or wishing my friends happy birthdays. It was the mental break, the relaxation and calm I felt from mindlessly scrolling.

After identifying the real reward, the relaxing mental break, I set out to develop a better, healthier habit that could offer the same benefit—one that didn't waste an entire prep period.

Duhigg suggests experimenting with cues and rewards until you find ones that best fill your needs; this will make breaking an old habit and starting a new one easier. While Duhigg says that no single method guarantees a change in habit, he suggests using this specific formula when creating a new habit or New Year's resolution: Pick a cue, choose a reward, then execute the routine.

This formula breaks the automaticity of the habit by forcing the brain to think again. To change your habits, fill in the formula with your observations, write the formula down, and post it somewhere you will see it often.

How Can We Cultivate Good Teacher Habits?

It's not likely that teachers will suddenly have less work to do or more time to do it, but examining your habits and identifying behaviors that may inadvertently be sucking your time or energy can help you more consciously make better use of the time you have.

Start by examining the rewards you desire—more energy, better health, more time, happiness—and consciously plan strategies to achieve them. It might mean getting up earlier, committing to leaving school on time, or prioritizing yourself and your needs. In any case, forging better teacher habits can help you be healthier and happier.

Further Reading: Homeroom Ideas: Tips for Making the Most of That "Free" Time

When it comes to changing habits, start small and tackle one at a time. Know that it typically takes at least 21 days—and often takes a lot longer—to change a habit, so you might want to enlist a friend or group to support you through the process. Breaking bad teacher habits and instilling good ones will take some work—but the results are worth the effort.