Time-wasters at work creep in when you least expect it!
What with massive caseloads, hefty paperwork requirements, and keeping up with CEUs and lifelong learning, it seems like SLPs would be the most efficient people around.
But if you have a caseload of under 60-ish students and find yourself consistently working late or bringing work home with you, it might be time to reevaluate what is eating up your time during the day. Now, I’m not talking about the special circumstances, but in general, you should be able to get your job done in the time you are given.
Although advocating for realistic expectations from your employer is a good skill, today I want to talk about changes you can make today to be a more efficient SLP. Sometimes we need to take a good hard look at how we’re spending our time and cut the fluff.
So, here are my top 10 SLP time wasters I’ve observed in myself(!) and others:
Time-Waster #1: Making everything cute
I was trying to find empty plastic bins the other day. I searched through a closet and found some materials I’d laminated from 5+ years ago. ⠀
And woah. I desperately needed somebody to tell me this back then so I’m saying it here today. ➡️ Just because it’s cute, doesn’t mean it’s effective. ?⠀
YIKES. Some of the things I had in these bins…⠀
I’m sure some of this was because I was a brand new SLP and didn’t really know what I was doing. But also, I’m POSITIVE a lot of it had to do with the fact that I was trying to make my therapy look “cute”. ⠀
Why else would I have laminated and cut pages and pages of CIRCLES of all of the things?! ? #thehorror⠀
So the lesson here is that you win some, you lose some, you learn and you grow buuuuut, just because it’s cute, doesn’t mean it’s effective.
In fact, I’ve noticed a lot of cute materials end up being sensory overload! If we stick to consistent color palettes, fonts, and materials, it helps therapy feel like a calm, learning experience.
Time-Waster #2: Spending time (and $$) on materials that you won’t use over and over
You get a new kid in therapy – maybe it’s a transfer student with some goals you’ve never targeted before, or maybe it’s a student who just qualified for some needs you’ve never worked on. What do you do?
Do you jump online and start looking for materials – games, toys, even TpT products – to fit that one child’s IEP?
You might be wasting your time!
Now, of course speech therapy should be individualized to the child. But there are skills that we work on over and over again. Language skills don’t occur in a vacuum and often one skill relates to all language skills.
Before you look to find something shiny and new for one specific student, consider if you already have materials that can be used or adapted for that goal.
Speechy Musings products are designed to teach skills and strategies in a clean, simple way. They can be combined with reinforcers
For example, do you need a separate, cute articulation activity each week? No! Find a good list of words and change up the reinforcer or activity. Do you need 100 reinforcers? No! Have a few solid ones that you rely on over and over. Bring two activities to your session and let the kids choose (just keep it two choices – if you show them the whole therapy closet you’ll spend 10 minutes deciding!)
Don’t waste your valuable time by searching for, printing, laminating, and organizing new materials. Invest in quality materials that can be used with many students year after year and stick with them.
Don’t reinvent the wheel once you have those solid foundational materials. If you’ve really invested in evidence-based, well-designed materials, you don’t need to go out looking for the greatest new thing. New materials won’t make you a better therapist. New materials won’t magically help your students achieve their goals. You’ve got what you need and you’ll achieve those goals through patient, consistent intervention.
#3: Beginning without all the information at hand.
There’s an SLP I know who is always two steps ahead of everyone else. She rarely procrastinates and get things done right away. Inspiring, right?
Unfortunately, she falls into a trap over and over. She is so anxious to get things started that she doesn’t always wait for all the information to be available.
She starts building her schedule ASAP, but it’s usually so soon that class lists are still changing. And you know how it goes – one change leads to five changes in a crazy domino effect.
She wants to get her IEPs done early and when she gets impatient waiting for teachers to meet, she fills out the paperwork. Smart and efficient? Maybe, but without that valuable teacher input (supporting kids to be successful in the classroom is why we have school SLPs, after all), she often has to rewrite or rethink portions of the IEP.
Working ahead is a great skill, but if it’s causing you to go back and redo work, you’re not saving time. Sometimes the most efficient thing to do is to wait for the appropriate moment so you don’t have to do the job twice.
Wait, did I just give you permission to procrastinate?? Just don’t wait until the very last minute! That’s not efficient either.
#4: Not using templates
Being a school SLP comes with a lot of paperwork. And a lot of what we write can be repetitive. Now, of course, we must treat each child like an individual. But using cheat sheets and templates for IEPs, progress reports, and evaluation reports, as well as goal banks are a smart way to work efficiently. We also make sure we’re not leaving anything out by using well-thought out prompts to complete our paperwork!
SLP Now also has a blog post about using a Text Expander, which is even easier than copying and pasting into reports!
#5: Overthinking every decision
It’s IEP time and you’re writing some new goals for an articulation student.
They have a lot of sound needs, so you’re trying to decide if you should target all the sounds or just some of them.
Then you wonder if you decide to go with some sounds, which sounds should you focus on first.
You think you’ve narrowed down the list, but now suddenly you’re worried that maybe you missed some sound errors and decide to go back and listen to some speech samples and make sure you caught everything.
An hour later, you think you’ve probably settled on the sounds you want to target. So you start writing the goals. You say your goals out loud a few times and change a word or two. You say them out loud again.
Maybe you start second-guessing those sound targets. Maybe you should just scrap these goals and focus on something else.
I know many of us struggle with imposter syndrome, but I promise, you are an expert in your field. If you work in the schools, you are likely the only SLP on your team. You are the expert. It’s ok if you’re not a perfect expert, but you know the most and through CEUs you’re always learning more.
Don’t waste time second-guessing yourself. Often, the first instinct is the right one. Follow that and move forward. If later, you get feedback from teachers or parents, then go back and tweak. But don’t waste time seeking perfection.
#6: Not Working at the top of your license
Do you spend most of your doctors appointments talking to the doctor or the nurse? Although doctors have the higher qualifications, we spend more time with nurses than we do with doctors. Doctors maximize their efficiency by spending time on the things that only they can do and delegating the rest.
Our kids are with amazing, qualified teachers and paraprofessionals all day long. Use them!
We have many demands as SLPs and we should be spending most of our time engaging in tasks that only a licensed SLP can do. Focus your time and energy on those things, like evaluations.
Coaching and collaborating might be things that fall to the bottom of our to-do list when we’re just putting out fires all day. But if you empower teachers (and parents) with information, they will do half of your job for you!
Consider where your expertise is most needed and focus your time on those tasks.
#7: Not being intentional about your social interactions/meetings
Having good relationships with the people you work with (teachers and staff) is important! It helps you be in a position to hear and listen what they have to say and for them to feel comfortable collaborating with you.
But, it might be worth taking a second look at your social interactions during the day. They might be creeping into your productive time
Are you engaging in the after-meeting meeting when the staff lingers and chats about what just happened? This is unproductive and
Do you find yourself venting about a stressful situation to your colleagues? Venting can actually perpetuate your anger, as opposed to providing a release. Take a minute or two to cool yourself down and move on.
Social interaction is important for job satisfaction, taking brain breaks, feeling connection, and working on a cohesive team. But, be honest with yourself about time spent chatting and focus on having intentional interactions. Side conversations add up over time!
#8: Being afraid to say no
Remember, if you are saying “yes” to this, what are you saying “no” to?
We might get asked to do a lot of things, big and small. And SLPs are generally a helpful bunch who want to make the world a little better. But those tasks add up over time and all come with a cost. Make sure you aren’t spending too much time making the world a little better when your time can be spent making something a lot better!
#9: Not being mentally present
96-262 times per day.
Opinions vary, but somewhere in that range is the number of times per day the average American checks their phone. That’s an average of once every 5-10 minutes.
It’s hard not to reach for your phone every time there is a lull in your day, and, like Pavlov’s dog, almost impossible to stop yourself from reaching out when there is a beep, ping, or buzz calling out to you.
Facebook, email, Instagram, and Twitter are distractions and time-wasters. It’s ok if you enjoy them, but set them aside during work hours.
Now, with so many districts and workplaces embracing technology tools, you might even have a work chat set up on your phone or desktop. It’s work related, but it can still be a huge distraction!
After checking your phone, it always takes a minute or two to regain focus. Now think about spending a minute regaining focus every 5-10 minutes all day long. It really adds up!
Find ways to silence your phone. Set aside a specific time to check for messages on your personal accounts and work accounts. If there is a true emergency, people will know how to find you. But you have to actively safeguard your attention, focus, and time.
Take an intentional brain break if you need it. Don’t constantly check your phone mindlessly during work.
#10: Forgetting what really matters – the students
It’s easy to get bogged down in the 100 details that make up an SLP’s role.
If you find yourself really rushing around, feeling tight on time, remember what matters – our students.
Is this task going to help your student? Will it make a difference in that student’s life? Is it personally relevant to your student and not just something you want to do for you?
We can’t always choose the tasks we have to complete. There are required aspects of our jobs that seem like time wasters. Get those tasks down as quickly as possible and move on. Don’t stress about them.
Time connecting with your students is time well spent!
It’s easy to be defensive and blame the problems on the system, and we might even be right to do so in some situations. But in the end, we can change ourselves today and try to change the system for the future.
What time wasters do you see in yourself that you can eliminate to be more efficient?