This is the time of year when my to-do list seems to double or triple each day! With the holidays around the corner, the end of the semester coming, and countless events and holiday happenings, this time of year can get overwhelming – quick! How do you tackle your teacher “to-do” list in a way that can be sane and still satisfying?
Write it All Down
There is nothing more overwhelming then having a million things going through your mind that “need to get done”. Find a large note-pad (or better yet a pack of sticky notes) and begin writing. Take a full 10-20 minutes just writing down all the things that are on your mind that need to get done.
When you think you are done, spend an extra minute or two in silence before moving on to the next step. These couple of minutes give those ideas that are buried deep a chance to surface. More tasks will come to mind as you proceed so keep your sticky notes or pad handy and jot them down as soon as they come up.
Prioritize by Importance
Now that your to-do list is out of your brain and on paper, now you have to prioritize things by importance. For example, entering grades into your school’s grading system or report cards is very important whereas bringing a homemade (and pinterest-worthy) gift to a friend’s holiday party is not as important. Of course, maybe a pinterest-worthy gift is high on your priority list – and by all means go for it. This process is for YOU and only you can determine what is important to you.
Now – I know – it’s all important. Just order them by importance or rate them (5 stars is most important, 1 star is least important, etc.).
Elimination Round 1
This is very “Survivor-esque” – choose the ones to vote off the island – I mean ‘to-do’ list. Look at the things you rated as least important and scratch out the ones that are completely unnecessary. A lot of times we carry around “should’s” and “supposed to’s” like the are our best friend – when really they are our worst enemy. Eliminate things that you feel you “should” do but when you really think about it is not that necessary.
Here’s a good one in this category – cleaning your classroom. Yes, I agree it is nice to come back from break to a clean classroom. Yes, I agree that it would be awesome if you could hit the “reset” button on your classroom organization system. So here’s the deal – invite students in to help you at recess or do only what you absolutely must do to feel minimally satisfied.
You could spend your entire early release day that was supposed to be for grading cleaning out your room. Work smart here! Put things like this on the bottom of your list and know that you are going to be OK if they don’t get done.
Prioritize by Urgency
Now that you know what is most important on your list, start putting them in order by urgency (or deadline dates). “Grades are due on Z-day, so I need to grade student journals by Y-day and get student projects turned in by X-day” for example.
Now your to-do list should be starting to look more like a planner. In fact, this is when it’s nice to have your planner handy, and actually write shorter to-do lists on sticky notes in your plan book. This breaks up your tasks into more manageable chunks.
Don’t forget to include personal stuff in there too – sometimes a personal phone call or appointment has to take priority over grading (or cleaning) when urgency is factored in.
Elimination Round 2
Now that you’ve taken a good look at it all and assessed how much time some tasks are going to take you, eliminate more tasks. You simply cannot do it all. Welcome to the human race. It’s much better to come to terms with that now so you can stop stressing and making everyone’s life miserable – rather than running yourself into the ground only to still be disappointed at the end of the day.
This is also an opportunity to look at what you can delegate. Asking for help is a sign or strength and shows that you know your limits. My family and friends were huge supports to me during the “busy” times like this during the school year. They loved helping and I loved having the help!! Use your resources and your community to be a life-line for you so you don’t burn out!!
Now Get to It – Tackle Your Teacher “To-Do” List
When you are stuck in overwhelm, a lot of people freeze and brood over how much there is to do. That doesn’t help anyone. So once the to-do list is made, get to it.
Start with one thing and then see how quickly you can get the next thing done and the next thing etc. Come to terms with the couple of extra hours you may have to put in, knowing that this is just a season of the school year and not indicative of a new reality.
At times, I have pulled one really late night to get 75% of my to-do list done, and then I could coast from there. At other times, I needed to just adjust my clock to leave school 30 minutes later. But I made sure those 30 minutes were productive – not just chatting with my colleague next door.
There was even a time when I decided I would come in for a few hours on Saturday morning – but that it would be an all-out sprint to get as much done as possible – and then I planned lunch with a friend and a pedi right after that so three hours didn’t turn into all day.
Know your limits and experiment week-to-week how you can get things done without getting negative.
Use Resentment as Your Red Flag
The moment you get resentful about being at school an extra hour or coming in on a weekend – STOP. Do NOT do it. Return to step 2, eliminate unnecessary tasks and re-prioritize. Accomplishing things on your to-do list isn’t worth sacrificing your spirit, contentment and joy. Your to-do list should not impact the way you approach your students or your family.
“Busy” has become a way of life for teachers. Instead, replace “busy” with “productive” and use negativity and resentment to cue you that you’ve crossed a boundary for yourself that you need to reclaim.
Make Self-Care a Routine
In the midst of these busy times, it is nearly impossible to draw healthy boundaries and habits. Instead we get so overwhelmed and fed-up that we burn out. We have no fuel in our reserve tank to get us through these busy times so we overreact by eliminating things from our to-do list that really fuel us (like preparing healthy meals, working out, taking baths, and spending time with friends).
That’s natural – and sometimes necessary. And it’s possible to eliminate these things from our list without resentment when our tanks are already full (notice the emphasis). If self-care hasn’t been part of your routine and you are running on fumes as it is, you aren’t setting yourself up for success.
We all go through busy times, but with some intentional planning and prioritizing, staying in touch with our mindset so that resentment can be a cue that things need to change, and making self-care part of our normal “filling up” routine, we can get through these crazy times!
What things work to help you prioritize your to-do list, eliminate unnecessary tasks, or stay fueled during busy times?
~Alison, A Teacher’s Best Friend