The One Habit that Will Immediately Reduce Your Stress

One of the most unbelievably annoying things in my house is to run out of cat food. We have two cats and they just go crazy.

“Good morning, Boots.”


“Morning, Crispy.”

“Reow” (Yes, he has an “r” sound instead of the “m”)

Then all I hear is

“Meow. Reow. Meow. Reow.”

It escalates until it is is unbelievable.

You can't get anything done. Don't pass Go. Don't collect $200. Don't even breathe.


This Saturday I jumped up out of bed at 7am ready to write and there they were with eager paws and whiskers twitching.

They descended in feline fury upon me and, you guessed it, I ended up going to Wal-Mart before being able to fire up my computer and start writing. Then, I saw I needed toothpaste and Cascade and several other things. I went ahead and started laundry while I was at it. So, I started at 9:30 am after one thing that led to another.

That is what happens when a little thing is allowed to slip until it becomes a big thing. The cats will nag when they aren't fed. It is a law of nature. Then, you will lose focus. It is a habit of humans who have let the urgent usurp the important.

Avoiding the Cat Nag
This is what we call the “cat nag” in my house.

It means that we haven't taken care of business and have let something get to a critical state so that everything else comes to a stand still until that one need is met.

Paper in the printer. Ink in the printer. Getting behind on grading. Running out of Milk.

I”ve blogged about these things before when I talked about applying the Pareto principle to your life but this is sort of different.

What are the things that bring your life to a standstill? Index cards for the kids? Pens. Pencils?

What about in your classroom? Dry erase markers? An eraser? What are the things that bring your life to a halt?

These things should go on a checklist.

Step 1: Prepare Your Punchlist
Sit down at your table now and make two lists. Make a list at home of the things that “bring the cats running.”

What things bring everything to a standstill forcing you to go to the store or interrupt your schedule?

Do the same for your classroom. What are the things that bring the classroom to a standstill and force you to attend to that problem? (And we know what happens when the students know you're distracted or you have to go to the copy room to get more paper!)

It is tough enough to teach but when a small thing keeps you from teaching, that small thing is a big thing.

Look at your two lists and work to figure out how much of those things you need a week. If you're not sure (like dry erase markers) then your list would say:

“Clean board. Check dry erase supplies.”

Step 2: Make a Weekly Appointment to Punch Out Your Punchlist
Now, make an appointment with yourself where you will do the items on your punchlist. For me, at school I do my list every Wednesday at 11 am and at home, I do it every Saturday morning. My goal is to handle those items once a week.

So, at school this punchlist looks sort of like this:

  • Check ink in printers (If I'm below 50% in ink, I go ahead and order more.)
  • Get paper from copy room (I keep 4 reams of paper which is more than enough now that my student work doesn't require paper.)
  • Wash and clean board. (I throw away dry erase markers that don't work as I find duds and keep a certain number at my board.)
  • Check my dropbox and make a list of all things I have to have graded by Friday (Grades are due Monday and my goal is to not grade on the weekends)
My “Home” (Saturday) punchlist includes:
  • Restocking my fridge at school (after I get groceries I drive straight to the school and put the bottled water in my small fridge.)
  • Check toilet paper and make sure there is enough for the week everywhere.
  • Buy enough milk for the week (OK, this is a problem. On a good week it is 3 gallons – some weeks I admit the kids have had 8 gallons – I have three very tall kids who are growing a lot!)
  • Making a list of chores for the kids to do that day based upon a run through of the house.
  • Check cat food and dog food and buy more if needed.
  • Check pens, pencils, and paper by the telephones.
  • Check laundry detergent, check dishwashing detergent, shampoos, etc.
Not a lot of things. Just the things that will add to stress in my life. Who wants to leave the house at 9:30 pm to go get one thing at the store?
This one thing has helped me a lot. I know that stress will happen, but why waste my time and anxiety on the doggone cats?
I had that epiphany on Saturday and thought I'd share it with you. Sounds like I need to follow my own guidelines more closely or just realize that my cats may have started eating like my kids and I need to buy a little more. ;-)
Remember your noble calling, teacher. Do what you can to plan ahead so you have less stress in your life and can focus on the most important thing in your classroom: your students.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere