Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tip 64: Electronic lists

What is the hardest part of doing any job? If you said starting, this tip might be for you...

Tip 64: Keeping electronic to-do lists on file is a great way to help you feel focused and less overwhelmed when faced with seemingly daunting tasks. Most importantly, it keeps you from reinventing the wheel.

Today's tip is inspired by the start of the school year, as any teacher might guess. Every year we have to do what seems like 10,000 small and large tasks before the students walk in the doors. The longer I do this job, the better I get at estimating what I need to do and when, but this year I'm in the best spot I've ever been thanks to some smart work I did early last year. A year ago as I was preparing my classroom and my curriculum, I made a Word document of every little task I did. The 10 minutes of extra time it took me to translate all my hand-written lists into one simple file was definitely worth it. When I walked into school yesterday I printed out my to-do list and got to work.

 Confession: Sometimes when I get super busy I forget to eat lunch, so yes, I actually sometimes have to remind myself.

What are some of the things I have to do every year? I won't overwhelm you, but here's a quick peak:
  • Set up technology cart (VCR, DVD, LCD projector, speaker, computer)
  • Hang posters
  • Gather and organize office supplies
  • Get parking pass
  • Renew my membership in scholastic journalism organizations
  • Revise syllabus for four different classes
  • Request IT team to grant my journalism students access to shared server space
  • Make photocopies of all papers for first week
  • Set up class websites
  • Set up electronic gradebook

And that's just the beginning. Take the list above, multiply it by 6, and that's the work I need to accomplish the week before students arrive, in between hours of meetings that take up a decent chunk of the week.

This list has kept me sane. It has kept me from staring at a wall, or hitting my head on a desk, or hiding behind a pile of boxes, afraid to start.

My friend and colleague Cara likes to say that one of the things she loves about teaching is that it's different every year. Different students, different class schedule, sometimes different subjects, and a changing group of colleagues every year. I agree. But, at the same time, this means that every first week back is almost like going through new employee orientation every year. It can be a lot. The one constant? My list!

This organizational strategy can be easily adapted: electronic holiday card lists; electronic back-to-school supply lists; electronic packing lists for college students heading back to campus; electronic shopping lists with weekly menus.

How do you prepare to tackle complex organizational tasks?

Teachers: Stay tuned this week as I share some more teacher-friendly organizational strategies (that can also be adapted for other purposes as well!).

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