In the last two years, I have been wearing many hats, sometimes more than one at a time or swapping them out. The roles I find myself in are teacher, Applied Behavior Analyst, consultant, company founder, designer, accountant, marketer, sales rep…and the list goes on.
It’s fall and the school year is in full swing, which means I’m wearing my teacher hat much of the time. At the same time, my company Autism Expressed is gaining significant traction. I need to manage my time and prioritize tasks more than ever. This level of executive functioning has been as much of a challenge for me as it sometimes is for my students.
My morning begins with the intensity of maintaining the engagement of eight students in my high school autistic-support classroom. The atmosphere of my classroom is designed to promote positive and productive social behavior among my students. Students can earn “classroom money” that is used to purchase products and privileges like bottles of water, computer time, and to pay their classroom bills like desk rental and their Internet bill. They earn this “money” for the demonstration of behaviors we want to promote, such as eye contact and appropriate body language, as well as contributions to the classroom environment, like being an active participant in a lesson, collaborating with others during group activities, sharing materials and providing constructive feedback to peers. At the same time, students will lose their class money for violating the classroom’s established social norms. These negative behaviors include lying, arguing, interrupting, and repeating. This system allows me, as the teacher, to facilitate a project-based learning environment, where student autonony can flourish. My role as teacher also includes managing relationships with other professionals, such a social workers and therapeutic support staff who visit and observe students during their programs of strategies.
But when I take a lunch break during the school day, I find myself squeezing in time as the CEO of Autism Expressed: responding to business emails, returning calls to advisors and directors of autism-based programs, connecting with my Autism Expressed designer for the next iteration of changes to the website, and scheduling meetings to keep Autism Expressed moving forward and growing.
Using the same tools that I am teaching my students to use, like Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, I am developing my own time- and task-management systems. No matter how savvy the system is, the number of tasks both on the educator side and the business side keep piling up. And even if you have created a master system by which you can juggle all those hats I mentioned before, and look good doing it, you can also become consumed by that system. At times I’ve felt completely consumed by my work.
Columnist Arianna Huffington recently posed the question, “Are You Living Your Eulogy or Your Resume?” She described the eulogy as the “foundational document of our legacy.”
Huffington went on to list quotes one would never hear in a eulogy, for example: “She dealt with every email in her inbox every night.”
This line resonated with me. I realized that the most challenging part of wearing all these hats, is knowing when to take them all off. Finding balance among the roles that I play every day, is essential to sustaining both my career as an educator and my endeavors in business. I’m still working on the formula for keeping my sense of urgency in check and blocking out specific times to run through emails and business-related tasks. Then I make it a point to pull back, close my laptop and connect with friends.