Tools for Teacher Time Management
When I first started teaching I taught five periods with one period of prep time, unless of course I had to sub for a colleague. I also took grad school classes two nights a week. The school I taught at also had a fantastic copy room set up, where teachers could drop their copies off, and then students would copy them and we could pick them up the next day, collated, stapled, and ready to go. This was great when I planned ahead, by devastating when I would need to make copies the same day.
Needless to say, my first year was tough, as it is for all teachers. However, what I do appreciate about that experience is that it helped me develop some tools that helped me be efficient and productive in the limited time I have to prepare for my classes and grade student work.
The Holy Grail: My To-Do List
My repeating to-do list is possibly the most important thing I’ve developed for myself as a teacher, and I’ve created a lot of things I’m proud of. There are some things I just need to do every day, and having them laid out frees up my mental space for the daily work of teaching. I have a three-page document for each 9 week term that functions as both my to-do list and a calendar. Every day I do the following: setup the next day’s agenda/lesson plan, make a note about the day in the “Make-up Work” binder, record my attendance, check my email and respond (no more than 10 minutes), and write a short reflection on my lessons. All but the agenda/lesson plan can be done in about 10-15 minutes, and depending on the day, the agenda/lesson plan can take anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes,.
Then there are the recurring tasks that need to be planned on a longer timeline. I plan my lessons for weeks 3 and 4 of a term on week 1. Then, I make my materials for week 3 and 4 during week 2. I copy all materials for the next week on Thursdays. Having these items already on my to-do list makes it easy to stay on top of things.
I also use my to-do list as a calendar, and write down meetings and due dates for other projects. I have space to add additional tasks as needed as well. I can also always bump a few items to tomorrow after a crazy day (we all have plenty of those!)
Getting Focused: Projects vs. Action Steps
I highly recommend the book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen. Two years ago it completely changed my organizational system and helped me become far more productive. One of the most important ideas in the book (for me) was about the difference between projects (big goals with multiple steps) and action steps. Planning my next unit is a project. Designing book club reading assignments, making vocabulary lists and planning the opening lesson are all action steps that help me complete that project. Once I made the shift to having a projects with actions steps listed beneath them, I was able to tackle projects one action step at a time rather than being overwhelmed by the scope of what I needed to accomplish.
Staying Focused: Using Time Wisely
As the years progress I have become more purposeful about how I allot my time. I think much more clearly in the morning, so now I try to do as much lesson planning and material development work as possible then. Sometimes that means setting aside 40 minutes of my first period prep time to plan a few days of lessons. Sometime that means getting to school an hour early to get some really effective grading time in. But most importantly, I differentiate between “quick-n-easy” tasks (like making copies, answering an informational email, entering essay scores, etc.) and “thinking tasks” (planning lessons, making materials, commenting on papers, etc.). I set aside morning time for my “thinking tasks” and will often set aside 30-40 minutes of a prep period where ALL I do is plan lessons. I don’t check email. I don’t sort papers from the last class. I do nothing but plan. Then, when my time is up, I give myself a brain break and check some of those “quick-n-easy” tasks off the to-do list before the next class comes in.
Of course, the tools you can use to be more productive are endless. While my paper to-do list has served me well over the years, I have recently made the digital switch. I currently use Evernote to store project notes. I also now use Swipes as my to-do list. While I have found these apps to be extremely helpful at keeping me productive, I cannot emphasize enough that the main action that supports my productivity is the To-Do List. When I am able to dump all the tasks that I need to do out of my brain and into a plan, I’m instantly more focused and able to accomplish more. This to-do list also allows me to allot my time wisely and also stay focused on action steps rather than overwhelming projects. The work of teacher is both intellectually and emotionally demanding, which is one of the reasons I love it. My productivity system allow me to maximize the energy I spend on teaching, supporting, and learning with my students, which is always where I always want to be.
Interested in developing your own productivity system? Email me for more information on how to set up a personal consultation.