The teacher’s to-do list is never-ending; thus, using organization systems and time management strategies is a necessity. Over the years I have purchased so many planners, clipboards, and notepads that I wish I would have purchased stock in Office Depot. Ultimately, I have realized that it works best when I create my own templates and use those throughout a school year. So, here are three tips, with downloadable resources, for staying organized and managing your time well.
Disclaimer – There are many apps that exist to aid with organization and time management; however, I need the paper and pencil in order to remember and keep track of all items. Therefore, the tips below are paper-based tips.
1. Chart all recurring tasks and deadlines.
There is no need to waste valuable time each week writing out your recurring tasks and deadlines. Instead create a template or chart, whatever works for you, that you can easily print and use as your starting base each week. What tasks are always on your weekly to-do list? What deadlines do you have each week? What events or commitments are part of your weekly routine? The answers to these questions live in this chart.
- Weekly Tasks & Deadlines Org Chart
- Calendar & Tasks — I simply took a screenshot of my calendar each week and replaced the top image.
2. Create an organization system that separates your to-do NOW from your to-do LATER.
Inefficiency often occurs when something that can actually wait until later distracts us from what we need to accomplish now. By creating a note-taking template for meetings and “later lists,” you are able to visually see what can wait until a later meeting and what can’t. Later lists* are templates that include almost every colleague’s name (and a blank space just in case), and when you think of a question or idea for a specific colleague, you write it under their name. Then, LATER, when the time is appropriate (in a meeting or once you are finished with your current task), you complete that item on your later list. Later lists prevent you from pausing your current task because you intend to send a quick text or stop by their room for just a second, and end up returning to your current task hours later, or not at all.
- Later Lists (PDF version here)
- Meeting Notes (PDF version here)
- Example Weekly Worksheet
I give credit to Hannah Twillman for teaching me about later lists and creating the later list, meeting notes and example weekly worksheet templates.
3. Track your time & build time-awareness.
For some, inefficiency occurs because a sense of time or “time-awareness” as I refer to it, is non-existent. I am known for saying, “I’ll have this finished in 20 minutes,” and 2 hours later I am still working on it. Tasks always take me more time than I anticipate. This becomes a problem when I have, for example, a 3 hour window of time and 6 tasks that I believe will take 30 minutes each. Because I struggle with time-awareness, my first task will take 2 hours and then I am left with 5 tasks to complete in that remaining hour.
One strategy for building time-awareness is to track your time. Use a prioritized to-do list by first writing down everything you need to accomplish, the time that you believe each task will take and the due date. Then, prioritize this list by choosing the top 6 tasks and reordering them accordingly (#1 being the task you will complete first). After you complete each task, write down the actual time it took you to complete the task. This process helps you learn the time tasks take to complete, how long 30 minutes truly is, and often helps you remain on-task better because you are aware of the time.
- Prioritized To-Do List (PDF version here)
Choose one of these tips to put into practice this week and then celebrate yourself when you strengthen your organization and time management skills!
Meghan Thompson joined Teach For America in 2008 and began her career in education as a 9th-12th Special Education Teacher in Charlotte, NC. In 2010, she was a member of the founding team at Henderson Collegiate (a school that has ranked in the top 3.5% of all NC public schools for the past 4 years). In 2014, she was a member of the founding team at Democracy Prep Baton Rouge and throughout her time at DPBR served as a middle school ELA teacher, middle school math teacher and the Middle School Campus Director.
Great article! As a teacher, I found it effective and realistic. Thanks for sharing!