Well, hello friends and welcome back to another episode of artworks for teachers. I’m your host Susan Riley and today it’s just you and me. Today I want to dig into a productivity hack, if you will, but I don’t even know that it’s a hack. I just know that it’s something that I tell myself. All the time and it allows me to really streamline and be as productive as possible. Well, know what it is. It’s a simple phrase that says, set yourself up to win. Now here’s why this is so important for me and I hope that this episode is gonna help you too.
Oftentimes, I can get bogged down in the minutiae, right? And I have a lot of things that I wanna accomplish, typically in a shorter period of time. So for example, in real life practice, our organization is getting ready to launch a lot of new things in the next 12 months. And back in March, we went on a leadership retreat to plan out these things, right? And some of the things that are coming would be a whole new website, a revamp of our learning platform. So the accelerator is going to get yet another big bump for the upcoming group of people that are coming in. We have a brand new event that we’ve never done before that is coming your way. And so we have all of these big ideas, big dreams, big visions. And so we go out in March and we’re just brainstorming these ideas. And we know that we want to launch these things as a celebration for the last ten years in business and almost 15 years in actually being online as the Institute of some sort.
So we wanted to celebrate in a big, big way. And so we have all of these great ideas and we’re writing them down. And my team’s looking at me going, well, when do you want to launch each of these items? I’m looking at them going, we can totally do this by the summer. And their eyes get big as saucers. They’re like, no, we can’t. That’s unrealistic because of everything else that we already have going on, right? How many times have you done that? How many times have you gotten really excited by something? Or you have a lot of responsibilities coming at you, and somebody says, hey, when can you get that done? And you’re like, oh, for sure, I can get that done in the next three weeks, right? And then three weeks comes up, and you’re hitting the deadline, and you haven’t even started yet, right? If that’s you, then you’re not in your head, welcome to the club, my friend.
So this is why I have this mantra called set yourself up to win, because our natural human tendency is to agree to do things, to bury ourselves in goals, and then not accomplish them. I mean, there’s a whole reason that there’s a New Year’s resolution cliche, right? So instead, I have had to work really, really hard to train myself to set myself up to win and not to fail. Because if I were back in that March meeting, if I said, if I had like dug my heels in and said, nope, we are definitely going to release this as of July 1, I think I would have burned out my team myself. I don’t, I think we would have collapsed in on each other. Right? And so we would have gotten to that July 1, things would not have been done. We would have been feeling super pressured to create everything and get it out into the world. And then when July 1 comes and goes, we feel like failures because we didn’t get done what we said we were gonna get done, right?
Why don’t we do that to ourselves? Why not give ourselves a little bit of grace and understanding and instead set ourselves up for the win? So that’s what we’re gonna talk about today. How to set yourself up to win rather than keep in this cycle of overburdening ourselves, stressing out and… quite honestly at what we’re setting out to do. So I have some tips and things that I’ve learned along the way. I hope that you’ll come back to this episode as you’re creating your goals and you’re thinking about your year and you’re trying to craft for yourself a new vision for what you want, whether that’s in your classroom or for yourself personally, or for your school or your district. I want you to come back to this episode. episode 51, and go back through these steps and really let them sink in. It took me a really long time to have each of these things really kind of sink into my body. Once they did, it really did change everything for me.
It is much less stressful in my life when I can set myself up for the win. So why is this important in the first place? Right? Let’s back this up with science. Y’all know that I love data and science and the things that prove to us what we believe in our gut, right? So why is this important? Well, science tells us that to stay motivated, we have to have small wins along the way, right? If we do not have small wins, and here’s the important part, and if we don’t celebrate them, we don’t stay motivated, and then we just collapse on our goals. And what does that lead to? Feeling like failure, right? And then we don’t wanna do that. So we want to think small, right? We don’t wanna think about big massive goals. We wanna celebrate the small steps along the way.
For example, last week was our 50th podcast episode. That is a major milestone. Now, did we celebrate that publicly? No, but internally we celebrated pretty hard. Now, when we get to 100 episodes, we’ll celebrate big, right? But for us, That first 50, that consistency of doing 50 episodes over the last year, that’s a win for us. So we’re gonna celebrate that, right? Same for you. Even if it doesn’t get you to your big goal, the small win that you took this morning to get up and actually get on that treadmill, right? Or the small win that you took to substitute out a diet soda for water. Or the small win of having your… objectives already up on the board from the night before rather than having to race into your room and get it all up before the day begins. Small wins celebrate your small wins along the way.
Now there’s a phrase that James Clear uses in his book Atomic Habits, which I’m actually going to refer to a couple of times in this episode because it’s a great book. Now here’s the thing about this book when you read it you’re going to go this is all really common sense and like duh. I did that full disclosure first time I read it. But then I went back to it and I really started to dig in and I thought, do I actually do these things though? Like, yeah, this is like a duh, this is how you should set up goals. But do I actually do that? And what I found was that I didn’t. And so keep an open mind if you’re going to go grab that book. It’s called Atomic Habits by James Clear. He also has a wonderful blog and a newsletter you can subscribe to that gives you small productivity hints along the way. We’ll link to it in the show notes. One of the things that he says is aiming for one for the 1% aim for the 1% which means aim to get 1% better every day, just 1%. So you get into a classroom disciplinary issue. And you know, normally it would set you off because it just triggers you and you’re upset and you’re so stressed. and you end up yelling instead of doing what you know you should do, which is to just wait a minute, stop, let the situation cool and then move forward. Right?
So instead of that, if you’re in the midst of like, it just triggers you and you go off and that’s, and that’s what just what happens if you’re in the middle of it and you’re like, I got to calm down and you then pause. That’s 1% better, my friend. Does it fix the whole issue? No. Do we still need to work on that? Yes. But did I get a little bit better today at that? Yes. And tomorrow, I’ll do 1% better than what I did today. If you keep that in mind, you are consistently getting better. And it’s small things, small habits that change over time that make big results. It’s not the big, you know, 15%, 20% goal for this year.
You know, oftentimes we will set goals for ourselves or our schools where, you know, and we do this all the time, we set a SMART goal, right? When we have it specific and measurable and attainable and all of these things. And yes, SMART goals are important. But what happens with SMART goals is that we set big goals for ourselves, right? Like we’re gonna improve student academic achievement in reading this year by 15%. That’s a big goal. And so we’re constantly striving for the big goal. And when we’re doing that, it’s hard to see progress over time. So we constantly get in this loop of, oh my gosh, I’m not getting there fast enough. Oh my gosh, I’m not getting to where I wanna be cause I don’t see progress along the way, right? That’s the beauty of the 1% every day. 1% better every day you can commit to. 1% better you can see. And when you stack those 1%, you’re gonna get beyond the 15% that you really want, right? So 1% better every day, think about that.
Also, in Atomic Habits, in that book, he shares that setting goals is something we need to stop doing, right? And I can agree with this to a degree. I think when we’re setting ourselves up for the win, setting goals can be detrimental at the beginning. James Clear advocates that instead of setting goals, we need to set systems. Things that are stackable habits that are stackable over time that it’s just the way we do things. These systems that we set into place can help us then to achieve the goals that we want for ourselves. This is a great way to set yourself up to win. Because as he says, the purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of setting systems is to continue to play the game. Right? So here’s the thing. Winners and losers all have the same goals. Think about the Olympics, right? Everybody wants to win the gold medal. Everybody wants to get on the podium, right? The way that winners actually achieve that is that they have systems that help them to win more consistently.
So if you want to set yourself up to win, Instead of focusing on goals for the future, which are difficult to tangibly see, set yourself up with some systems that are gonna help you achieve 1% better every day. So for example, this is something really, really simple that I would do every evening. I had an evening activity before I left the building. And I’m gonna tell you, and I’m not even ashamed of this, I left, the kids left the building at 4 p.m. I left the building no later than 420, every day, and I didn’t take work home with me. And there’s a reason for that, because I set up systems, right? So at the end of the day, I had a system in place that was gonna set me up for the win in the following morning, right? So I’d erase the board and I would replace it with the objectives for the next day. I’d get all of my copying done if I wasn’t able to get it done during my planning period. I would double check my lessons and have a sticky note as a reminder for myself in the morning, get these items prepped first thing. Cause I always had 30 minutes, cause I’m a morning person, so I would get there early rather than stay late. So I’d get there 30 minutes, sometimes 45 minutes ahead of when kids came in, so that I had that quiet time to prep. So if you can’t prep in the evenings, if you’d rather stay late in the evening so that you can come in like right on the dot in the morning, that’s up to you, that’s fine. But. Having your system is in place so that I had this system set up so that it was like clockwork. Every afternoon, I just had this system that I would follow in order to get me prepped for the next morning. And what that did was make my mornings so much smoother for me so that instead of feeling frazzled for the first class of the day to come in, I was prepped, I was ready, and I was good to go. That’s setting yourself up for the win. That’s why James Clear advocates for systems over goals. And what those systems do is that the more you get into the system, then the easier it becomes, the more you improve 1% every day, the more likely it is that you’re going to achieve your goal. Okay, so I hope that you’re thinking about what systems do you already have in place that are setting you up for wins? And what are some areas that you don’t have any systems in place whatsoever, that’s actually causing you stress, right? That’s causing you to feel overwhelmed and burdened.
That’s the key, my friend. If you are looking for where do I start, think about, visualize your typical day. Where is the spot that you start to feel overwhelmed when you’re visualizing it? That’s the spot that you need a system, okay? That’s the easiest way to get started. And then from there, you do 1% better in that area. Each day, you’re gonna feel less and less overwhelmed. Okay, next tip. And this is a really simple one, but something that we often don’t do. Set reasonable expectations for yourself. Here’s the thing. When I would think about what I wanted to get accomplished in a day. Right? Or if I would look at my planner or my agenda, if I go back and look at these things, it’s ridiculous. The amount of things that are on that list.
There’s like 20 things in a day that I needed to get done in addition to my regular work. OK, who does that? Right? If you are raising your hand, you are in good company with me, my friend. This is something many, many of us do. And that. does not set you up for a win, it sets you up for failure because there’s no way that you’re going to accomplish everything on that list without completely burning yourself out and going home miserable. Okay, I know we do this. Why do we do that? Because we have so many things on our plate and I’m gonna address it in just a minute, the easiest way to check those things off.
But here’s my first tip, okay? Set yourself up for success. Don’t create those unreasonable expectations for yourself. Don’t agree to go do something that you know is gonna take a lot of time and effort and try to cram it in an already packed schedule, right? Here’s an easy way to make sure that you can set yourself up to win for this week. Write down your top three priorities, no more than that. If you have less than three, if it’s only two, that’s fine. Okay, but write down your top three. Put them at the top of your list so that if those are the only three things you get done this week, you still feel productive. All right? So they have to be like big things for you to feel that you’ve done something, you’ve accomplished something. But put them up there. Whatever your three priorities are this week, what are the things you have to get done no matter what? And these are the things that are going to set you up for success long term, right? Here’s why this is important. when you do that and I swear by this I do this every single Sunday night this is my routine Sunday night I open up my planner book I actually create my own planner um I will show it to you I’ll actually I’ll flip to a blank page so that you can kind of see um what it looks like but I actually create my own planner and I have my calendar for what’s coming up I um I’m a person of faith so I have a biblical verse that’s going to spur me to success for the week, I hope. And then I have this area right here of top priorities. And it’s really small, friends. It’s not a long page. It’s enough for three priorities and that’s it. And then the rest of my schedule goes here to do the things that I just need to keep in mind front and center at some point is over here. And then things that I give the universe to do, like, I can’t worry about that. You’re going to have to worry about that for me. This is my typical planner, but I’m telling you right up here, these top priorities, I swear by it.
Every single Sunday night, I sit down and I write down the three top priorities that no matter what get done this week, because what happens is that when I check those off, I feel good. I feel like I have accomplished what I needed to do this week. No matter what else happens, that is taken care of. It’s off of my plate. I have done something good this week. it feels like success, right? So it feels like a win. And the more you actually feel the win, this is what science says, the more you feel the win, the more wins actually occur. The more you feel failure, the more you feel shame because you didn’t get something done, the more you feel angry or sad or upset or overwhelmed or burdened, guess what? You’re gonna continue to get those things. That’s what science tells us. The more of what we feel, the more we get back in what we feel, it’s a loop. So set yourself up to feel successful. Set yourself up to feel like you’re winning. One way to do that, top three priorities.
Another great example of this is when you have to create your PD plan for the year with your administrator that they have to sign off on. Here’s what I used to do. I used to put down like all of these goals that I had for the year because I thought it looked impressive. but then I’d get to May. And some of those goals I had done, but some of those goals I’m like, there’s no way I’ve got time to complete those goals. And so what did I do? Set myself up for failure. Instead, set yourself up for the win. Pick one PD priority that you wanna go into in depth this year. If that’s arts integration, go into arts integration as your PD focus, right? If it’s working on the science of reading. If that is your one PD focus, let that be your one PD focus. Don’t continue adding. Even if you think it looks impressive, stop it. It’s not going to help you in the longterm. Now here’s what does happen. You put one PD priority on there, you have the time and the space to really dig deep into that priority. You begin to start to look at how that can improve your practice. You start to work on it, you’re getting 1% better every day, and you’re gonna find other things that start to work with that priority that you’ll naturally start to add and build into because you have the space to do so. And guess what? When you get to May, not only can you share your progress on that one PD area with an administrator, now you can come back and say, and I also was able to do this, and I was also able to do this. And guess what looks more impressive to an administrator?
Things that are actually done. right, rather than a list that is not completed. So set reasonable expectations for yourself. Here’s another great tip that I always use, give yourself 20% more time than you need, okay? This is called working the margins. Oftentimes we think we can get done way more in a day than we actually can, right? And we don’t think we can get done enough in a long term.
So what I call the working the margins, where are you gonna spend 80% of your time? The other 20% is called your margins. So when I think I’m gonna be able to deliver on something within a month, I’m gonna add 20% to that. So I’m gonna give myself an extra week of buffer time. So while I’m gonna say, oh sure, I can get that done in September to myself, what I’m gonna tell my administrator is I can get that done first, maybe the second week of October, right? So when unexpected things happen, when my kiddo gets sick and I can’t continue to stay at school, I gotta come home and hit the drive and I’m not staying up until midnight because I fall asleep now at 7 p.m. on the couch, right? You can’t, you have to work in those margins. You have to give yourself some extra space. So when somebody asks for something and asks you when you can get that done, Think about what your first response is, whatever your gut says your first response is, and then add 20%. They’re not gonna know the difference, but it’s gonna make all the difference in the world to you.
Okay, another tip. If you are gonna set goals, which James Clear, to be clear, he doesn’t say you shouldn’t set goals at all. He’s just advocating that you set systems in place to reach those goals. So you do have to still have goals. So when you’re setting them, make them targets that you can hit with maybe one stretch goal and tie that back to the systems that you’ve created. Okay, so lots of times we are seduced by the idea of trying to set ourselves stretch goals like I can absolutely reach that. Yeah, that’s beyond my comfort zone, but we can do it. We can do it. We can do it. It’s not setting yourself up for a win. Set yourself up with goals are actually going to be attainable. And when you’re sure that they’re going to be attainable in the period of time that you have set, then tie them back to a system. And if you don’t have a system, create a system for reaching that goal. So whatever you need to do on a consistent basis in order to reach that goal that you’ve set for yourself. Right? And again, this goes back to don’t set yourself up with like five, six, seven goals. Pick one. two at the most, three at the very, very most. And even then, I think that’s a little bit too many. Okay? And then have that connected back to systems. If you have a goal without a system attached to it, that is a goal that you’re going to miss. And that’s not gonna set you up for a win. So I want you to tie your goal back to a system that’s gonna get yourself there. And then instead of focusing on the goal, focus on your system. Focus on being consistent. with your system and that’s gonna get you to your goal faster than you ever thought possible. Okay?
This also, this strategy, this allows you to avoid the goal hitting cliff dive. How many of you have set yourself a goal and you met it, you achieved it, and it felt really amazing for like 24 hours? Maybe. Might be 12 hours. and then your emotions took a cliff dive right off the cliff right and you’re back at the bottom of the ravine and you’re looking up and you’re like now what now I got to set a new goal now I got to get something else accomplished or worse what if I can’t do that again whoo that’s tough that’s tough right See, this is what happens when you just create a goal and you don’t tie it to a system. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken the goal setting cliff dive. More than I like to admit. This happens a lot for me. This shows up a lot for me when we set revenue goals for our company. It showed up a lot for me as a teacher when I would set. goals for how many students would register for my program or how many in my chorus program or how many teachers would participate in the PD days that I was running and if I would set a goal for 30 teachers and I would hit it and It was great. And then the next time I had to have those two another PD session I took this major cliff dive and I’d be like, what if I can’t do that again? What if it was just that one topic and nobody wants to do that again? What if I can’t make that happen again? That’s gonna make me feel like a failure. Because if I had 30 last time and only 15 show up this time, what does that say about me? Right? It makes it a personal component.
And there’s nothing personal about goals. And there’s nothing personal about systems, right? So if you are gonna set a goal and you tie it to a system, and let’s say you hit that goal because you worked that system. You can avoid the goal setting cliff dive because you know, the reason you hit the goal was because you worked the system, right? So if you could do that once, the system can do it again. Right. And if you need to adjust, you can always adjust the system. Okay. Another tip that I want to share is to keep track of your progress. in whatever way works for you. So identify those three priorities and then scratch through them when you’ve gotten done with them for the week. It feels so good to see visually this is what I did. If you are a journaler and you like to doodle or have a journal, create a visual representation of your progress so that you can see over time how far you’ve come.
Because again, if we’re only improving 1% a day, that’s not a lot. And it feels like we’re not doing a whole lot, right? But if I look back after 30 days, I’ve made 30% progress. So you need to create a way for yourself to be able to look back and see the progress that you’ve made. It is incredibly rewarding, it’s wonderfully motivating, and science tells us if we don’t track and celebrate our wins, we don’t keep moving towards our goals, okay? So keep track of your progress. Okay, two more things. First, I’ve talked a lot about connecting your goals to a system, but I also wanna encourage you to connect either your goals or your systems, both if you can, to a why, to a bigger why. Because if you’re just working a system, because it’s a habit, right, there’s nothing motivating you to keep going with that system. The reason that my afternoon system at school worked so well is because my why was that it allowed me extra time with my daughter in the evenings when I got home. See, I worked an hour and a half from where I lived. So in the morning, I was the first one to drop her off at daycare at 7 a.m. And in the evenings, I was the last one to get her at 6 p.m. So my why was that if I set myself up for the win in the morning, then yeah, I’m gonna be the first one to drop her off at daycare, but I don’t have to leave before then and let my husband drop her off, right? I was able to get her up in the morning and get her ready and get her breakfast and all of that good stuff before I dropped her off so that I had some prep time in the morning and in the evenings, I still got to enjoy time with her before she had to go to bed. That was my why.
That was why the system worked. Because I didn’t want to not do the system because that meant I wasn’t going to be able to wake up with her in the morning. I was going to have to get in even earlier to take care of it or have to stay later and miss the evening times. So you got to connect your system to the why, the larger why you’re doing it, in order for that system to work long term. But once you do, it’s really easy to do the system. It’s not hard work. It’s not hard work to set the goals. You just do it, you achieve it, you hit it, you move on, you set yourself up for the win.
All right, the last thing I’m gonna say, and this might be the hardest, is that the easiest way for you to accomplish your systems and your goals and to win is to say no, is to learn how to say no. And this is one of the hardest things that I had to learn. I was the queen of saying, yes, I was the people pleaser. I was, you want me to, you want to give me all the things. Okay, all the things. You keep piling them on, because I can handle them. I can do it. I’m like wearing my superhero cape right now. I did that for years and years and years and years. The thing that made me stop that was the year that I was on summer vacation as a team leader for our building. I was also going to be an admin intern. I was also setting up the Arts Integration Pilot for our building. That summer I got engaged and we got engaged in South Carolina. We live in Maryland. So we drove home to tell my parents, his parents, and his grandparents. But on the way home I got an email from my administrator at the time that said, hey, schedule for everybody for next year and can you please fix it and I need it by tomorrow morning. So when we got home I sat down at the table and instead of going to my parents or his parents or his grandparents who were in their 90s I sat down at a table and I worked on an elementary school schedule for the next three hours. And as I was sitting there, once I finished it, and I was like, oh my gosh, I’m glad that’s over. My now husband looked at me and said, that’s never gonna happen again. You need to learn how to say no, because now we’ve missed this opportunity to tell all of these special people to us. And I was like, well, but we can do it tomorrow. It’s not a big deal. He’s like, it is a big deal. Cause I called and I was so excited and I made sure that they were available. And now it’s too late. They’ve already gone to bed. And so we’ve ruined that one opportunity of excitement.
That was my wake up call. That was my call to say, no, I can’t do that. No, that’s going to have to wait. I now have become the queen of saying no. I get so many requests for so many different things and I love that and I don’t take it for granted and I am humbled by it. But if it’s going to not work with my daughter’s schedule, my husband’s schedule, or mine, and it’s going to sacrifice something personally important to me, I say no more than I say yes. Or if it’s not a flat out no, it might be a not right now, let’s check the schedule six months from now to see if I’m available for them. That you have to learn how to say no. The people pleasers in us have got to go because the more you say yes, The less you set yourself up to win, the more you say yes to others, the more you say no yourself. It is a cost to say yes. The cost is always your time, right? So if you’re saying yes to somebody else, you’re saying no to something you already wanted to do. So you gotta determine, is that yes more important than the thing that you wanted? So. That’s my last tip in order to set yourself up to win.
Learn how to say no and how to say no gracefully. Right, we don’t want to be nasty about it because we are grateful that people ask us to do things and it does make us feel important and it does mean that we can be counted on, right? So just learn how to say no gracefully. You can say, I’m so grateful for that opportunity. I just don’t have the bandwidth at the moment. Let’s double check schedules and see if we can find something else at a later date. That’s a really simple way to say no. And if it’s an absolutely no, I don’t ever want to do that. Another great way that you can share that is thank you so much for thinking of me. I’m very grateful for the opportunity. Unfortunately, this isn’t really in my wheelhouse right now, and I’m not able to take this on. But let me see if I can find a colleague who would be a better fit for you. and then recommend someone else. That’s another gracious way that you can say no. So that’s it for today, my friends.
We went a little bit long, but I’m hoping, again, that you come back to this episode as you’re working your goals, as you’re working your systems this year, and think about how you can set yourself up to win. Don’t forget to go over to the website, artsintegration.com, at art slash artworks. Look for episode 51, because there will be a downloadable resource for you there so that you can keep that as a reminder.
Also, don’t forget to make sure that you subscribe to the podcast if you haven’t already. And if you would, if you’re finding these things helpful, please leave us a review. It really does help other educators find us in the longterm and make sure that we’re building a community of positive, supportive educators. who are really looking to create wins for themselves and for others. That’s it for me today. Looking forward to being back again with you next week, my friend. Have a wonderful week.