Folders full of papers line a shelf.

7 tips for staying focused during your planning period.


I know I’m not the only one who has had their planning period hijacked. One minute, I’m sitting down behind a messy desk, a full email inbox, a blinking voicemail light, and a to-do list the length of the Constitution, and next thing I know the bell is buzzing, and the students are trickling back in.

And. Nothing. Got. Done.

Know that feeling?

Distractions and disruptions are par for the course when it comes to teaching. Our jobs are super unpredictable; we have got a whole lot of variables to juggle. And while we can’t change any of that, we can use strategies to protect our time and get the most productivity out of our prep time at school.

  1. Shut your door. I am all for throwing classroom doors wide open — except during my prep. I’m just too tempted to help passersby and make small talk with colleagues — which is great until I’m still grading papers at 10 p.m. Make a sign that says you’re unavailable and tape it to your closed door.
  2. Keep separate office hours… Don’t feel guilty for safeguarding your time to be productive. Instead, make standing appointment times for tutoring, mentoring, and socializing with students and colleagues where your door is open, and you are available. Post these times on your bulletin board.
  3. …and separate email hours, too. An unexpected parent email can throw me for a loop and then — poof! — there goes my prep. Try designating one or two set times a day outside of your planning period where you check email. Depending on your mailbox traffic, this could look like 15 minutes before and then again after school. Ditching your inbox during your prep time can help you move more of your to-dos to done.
  4. Map out your time. Jot down a priority-first list of what needs to get done and stick to it. Give each task a set amount of time and try to stick to it. A visual is a great tool to help you stay on task.
  5. Two words: airplane mode. Yes, I know. It’s hard, but turn your phone and other devices off or switch to airplane mode so that you won’t be enticed to check your social media notifications or text that funny meme to a friend.
  6. Run errands at the end. If I head up to the front office at the start of my prep, I guarantee I’ll end up chatting by the copy machine or sipping coffee with the secretary. I can’t help it — my coworkers are just that cool. So I’ve learned that when I run my errands at the end of the period, I’ll stay on task because I have a limited time frame.
  7. Speak up. Sometimes, last-minute meetings or sub rotation can’t be helped. But if it’s getting to be a constant issue, meet with your department chair or administrator to brainstorm solutions.  

Not every planning period will be a vault of productivity, we know. Take intentional steps to make your prep time more efficient and see its impact on your workload.


  • Amy Casaldi says:

    Only having two preps this week I definitely needed to read this to remind myself on how to most effectively use that time so I can accomplish what I need to during this precious time.

  • Tim Ihms says:

    Thanks for taking the time to provide the helpful tips. I especially like separating email time.

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