Just look at everything you could be doing with your time. Look at it! (Photo by Dan Moeller)
By Dan Moeller
Do you often find yourself sitting bored at your desk, avoiding any number of important things? Jikan mottainai? The following 10 activities include ways to stay on schedule, better oneself, and break up the humdrum hours spent “organizing your desk.” If you’re not being productive, then you are wasting your time. We all have scattered free periods and sometimes free days. You should always have activities on hand to keep yourself busy and productive. Here are some simple ways to do so. Feel free to suggest something not mentioned here! Caution: productivity may cause urges to recontract.
1.) Write something.
It’s probably a lot easier than you think. You could write an article for the Wide Island View, or there are plenty of other writing opportunities, as well. Write a column about your experiences in Japan for your hometown newspaper. For that matter, you could even try to write something for your Japanese school or town’s newspaper or website and (find someone to) translate it. Start a blog. I’m sure there’s a topic out there you know a lot about that would interest other people. Write some poetry. Start writing a book. It’d be a shame to pick up so much Japanese and then learn a few years down the road that your English has become rusty.
2.) Actually use the Jet Diary.
I know. Crazy, right? But I always have my diary with me to mark down important events. Also, every day I write important things I have done… so my planner becomes more of a history. It’s great when I want to look back to see when I paid my bills or even to catalogue what I’ve been doing with my free time elsewhere. Have I been exercising enough? Too much? Have I been reading too many leisure books? I haven’t eaten vegetables for a week?! One thing that helps is to underline one thing important to you that reoccurs. For me, I strike a bold line under all the books I read. Then in the back, I make a list of all the books I read during the year. I think I recorded around 22 last year, but more reading was my goal. I also write down all the movies I watch. There is plenty of room for notes as well as various time saving conversions.
3.) Got a problem? Tackle it.
You can snag a self-help book, read the chapters and underline passages. It does help. If you’re a bit savvier, then just help yourself. Do research! Figure out what you will do after JET. It’s never a bad time to update your résumé. Figure out a list of areas where you might want to travel next. (Having Internet access helps here.) If you have no immediate problems, bang out a list of “What I Am Grateful For” – it will make you appreciate life a lot more. Also, it will put things in perspective when you feel like crying over that one teacher who offers a bright and cheery “onegaishimaaasu” five minutes before class while handing you a lesson plan template with all of the fill-in portions blank except for the “game” section, which says “game”. It could be a lot worse.
4.) Read about culture.
I was lucky enough to have a shelf of culture books from my predecessors. If you don’t have access to books on culture, there are plenty of Internet resources where you can learn more about Japanese culture. For starters, there is Japan Zone and Culture At Work with articles and resources you can get lost in. CiNii has a bunch of professional cultural studies (search for the PDF links). Also in the realm of academia, head to anthropologi.info and search for “Japan”. You can pick which aspect of culture you want to read about. It definitely parallels language study and gives insights you might not find anywhere else. Also, since this activity relates to Japanese culture, I mentally file it under “work-related” and feel good doing it in the workplace. And if a colleague leans over, it can be a great conversation starter. You can practice a little Japanese and clarify points from the book. A lot can also be learned from JET publications in other prefectures, such as the Hyogo Times and The Black Taxi.
5.) Nihongo no Benkyou!
For kana and kanji practice, if you have Internet access you can hop on Readthekanji.com, which can help you prepare for the JLPT. Otherwise, swing by your local Hyaku En shop and after gazing into the Country Mama Cookie section, pick up a few kanji workbooks. You could even snag some Japanese from the Internet, double space the text, print and try to write each sentence. If you’re learning kana, draw out a grid for the two syllabary alphabets. Across the top write A, Ka, Sa, etc., and down the side write A to O. Copy it and BAM!, you made your own progress exam that you can grade yourself! For general study, though I know CLAIR books can be a pain and sometimes inconsistent, it’s really simple to knock out a four-page lesson each day at work and then do the audio at home. Once you finish a book, go back through the glossary and write down the words you don’t recognize or know well enough. Glance over the paper every few days and you’ll surprise yourself when you actually start using the vocab. USING THE VOCAB… get it? Try striking up a conversation with a random person everyday.
6.) Break up the monotony.
Don’t burn yourself out on one thing. Get up. Walk around. Join a gym class. Try to keep time in music class…“What measure are we on, again?” Teachers and students enjoy your presence. You may want to ask permission beforehand or just pull the gaijin card. If everyone is in class, shoot some hoops by yourself. Take some artsy pictures of your school and frame a collection for your principal. Depending on your workplace, you may or may not be able to do certain things. On my B.O.E. days, I’m given free reign, so to speak. I sometimes bring a “leisure” book. That being said, my leisure reading doesn’t include Harry Potter, the Twilight series and Seventeen Magazine. Try to challenge yourself with classics like “The Jungle”, “Catcher in the Rye”, and even “Moby Dick”. Besides, I save Seventeen for bedtime reading. ::giggle:: If you’re not so keen on blowing money on overpriced English books, you can peruse the free reads on Google Books or Gutenberg, and there are also a million interesting and informative websites and blogs out there. A few of my favorites are The Paris Review, the heat of it all and aurgasm.
7.) Prepare lesson plans and classroom materials.
For example, I printed out pictures of faces for L and R and then made a bunch of paper-sized ‘L’ and ‘R’ flash cards: brain, crown, frog, etc. Simple and effective. Also, every week I search the Internet for eikaiwa ideas. You don’t have to teach English; teach computer usage, math terms, lyrics to your favorite song, English sayings, road signs, slang…you name it. You could copy pages from workbooks you might have, or there is an endless supply of worksheets online. Some sites I find particularly helpful are TheTeachersCorner.net, which lets you build your own worksheets from their materials, and the TESL Journal, which has a wealth of articles, lessons, games, etc. Anyone can hit the print button, but have you thought about how will you incorporate these materials into a fluid lesson plan? Also, don’t forget about the slew of team-teaching books we got from the various acronymed associations of Japan. They actually help. Or did you burn them to keep warm this winter? If so, peep the PDFs. Don’t be afraid to go above and beyond the call of duty. Create an English bulletin board. Link your students to other students or friends in your hometown and start a pen pal exchange. Help a teacher grade some homework or tests. You might actually get Valentine’s Day candy next year.
8.) Learn everyone’s names.
It’s never too late! Map out a floor plan of the office and write teachers’ names on desks. Make it a point of learning one name a week and using it. Or if you have time, quiz yourself on the seating chart. If you’re reluctant and as horrible at names as I am, just do it to see the shock on the teachers’ faces whose names you haven’t used for the last seven months.
9.) Exercise your eyes.
As silly as it sounds, your eyes are muscles the same as your biceps and your glutes. If you sit on your butt all day watching anime, you might notice pains in your neck and back and maybe a decrease in general muscle tone, well, everywhere. The same goes for your eyes. If you stare at the computer screen or the pages of a book for a good part of your day, you may be straining your eyes or letting some parts of your eyes grow weak. Check out the wikiHow. I suggest doing these exercises in an empty office; otherwise be prepared to get some strange looks.
10.) Ask yourself “Where’s the money?”
You just got paid but those last three enkai put you in a slump. You hadn’t realized it yet, but you bought and ate 23 of those peanut cream snack packs this month alone. Save your receipts and plug them into an Excel file for “2010 Finances”. Excel is not so complicated and it will do all the addition for you. Put the months down one side and the categories across the top. Besides the obvious expenses like cell phone, gas and groceries, it’s helpful to track specifics like travel, fun, even drinking or something you worry about. You may want to factor in remittances and money in the bank separately at the bottom to see the “whole picture”. You can also track your income and expenses by specific days, but for me a simple glance in the bank book suffices. Let’s face it, we are grownups and this is what grownups do.
Use your discretion as to when and where these activities are most appropriate or possible. One example is that you may want to get your daily intake of online tools when Internet access is available and save bookwork for when it’s not. Also, you might not want to read the The Cove script in your B.O.E. … or maybe you might.
These activities are all very simple and not exactly a burden of space. If you do all 10, you’ll be carrying around your diary, two smallish books, a notebook, your CLAIR Book, a lesson plan folder, some paper or printouts and maybe a camera. This amounts to about 5 or 6 pounds at most and ensures you will always have something productive to do. Remember, you can stow things in each of your school desks.