4 Powerful Ways to Tame Your To-Do List
The demands this year are extra insane, leaving us overwhelmed, stressed, and frazzled. It's time to take back control of your to-do list, and we'll give you a powerful framework to do just that in this episode.
shift your mindset around your to-do list
This year, the boundaries around your time have been blurred. Your to-do list has grown out of control. The expectations and responsibilities for teaching have expanded. In this article, we share a powerful framework for taming your to-do list, even in the midst of this crazy year.
(By the way, if you want more, we dove in much deeper into this framework at the Tame Your To-Do List System for Teachers)
Before reviewing the framework, let’s remember some mindset shifts we discussed in the article "How to Survive Pandemic Teaching Without Burning Out". If you missed that article, you’ll want to look at it and then come back. Some of the mindset shifts were:
- You cannot do everything; you have to focus on what’s most important. Ask yourself, “What matters most?”
- You are not just a teacher; you have other roles and responsibilities that are also important.
- This year is not ideal. Don’t try to have an “ideal” schedule, but work for something that’s at least somewhat sustainable, realizing it won’t be like this forever.
- The key is intentionality. The more intentional we can be about where we spend our time, the more effective we will be, and the less stressed and frazzled we will feel.
This framework is intended to help you put these mindset shifts into action.
(This method comes from the book Clockwork by Mike Michalowicz, which is actually geared toward business, but we think it's really helpful for teachers as well.)
getting started with your to-do list
You’re going to begin by sitting down and writing down everything that’s on your plate. You can write down what’s on your to-do list, but also consider the things you do on a regular basis, such as cleaning the room, creating lesson plans, and grading. These are habitual tasks.
Now you’ll try to pare down every item on your list. For each item, you can do one of four things. You can trash it, which means if it’s not necessary, you’ll just stop doing it. You could also trim it, meaning do it less or put boundaries around it. Next, you could transfer it by having others help you. Finally, you can treasure it if it’s important and beneficial, which means leaving it on your list.
In order to figure out what to treasure, you’ll need to figure out which items on your list are most important. You can do this by spending some time thinking about what matters to you and what your goals are this year. We will actually spend time doing this together in the Tame Your To-Do List System.
Then, think to yourself, “Which of these tasks actually move me in the direction of my goals?” These are the tasks that you need to treasure; the ones that will actually make a difference in your life.
Next, you’ll want to look for things you can just trash. You may be thinking, “There’s nothing on this list I can just stop doing!” Take a closer look- that’s probably not true. There are probably a few things on there that you could stop doing and your life, your classroom, and the world would not fall apart. Even if it’s something you stop doing temporarily for this year or this month, it can make a difference because it will free up time for things that are higher priority.
If you’re still thinking there’s nothing you can trash, please join us in the Tame Your To-Do List System to watch the replays.
There are a lot of things that we can trim. These are tasks that need to happen, so you can’t trash them. For example, you can’t stop grading student work. But there are ways to make it take less time and trim it down. One way to do this is by doing the task less often. For example, instead of grading every homework assignment, maybe you grade it once a week. Grade it randomly, though, not in a predictable pattern, or your students will catch on. There are probably a lot of things on your list you can do less often than you’re doing now.
Another way to trim is to create time boundaries. Maybe you find yourself going down a rabbit hole with lesson planning. You’ve intended to spend 45 minutes lesson planning and two hours have passed by! Next time use a timer and decide, “I’m going to work on this lesson for 45 minutes and I need to be done at the end of it.” You could even have a second timer set for 10 minutes before the deadline as a way to remind you, “I have to wrap up now.”
A timer doesn’t work if you come back to the task later. That’s not the point; the point is to say, “I have to be done at the end of this.” It’s a psychological thing that helps you to be intentional and stay focused. Choose how much time the task is worth to you.
You can also do this with emails. Set a timer and tell yourself you have to respond to your emails by the time it goes off. It keeps you from writing a huge book and keeps you on track. The more you stick to this, the more powerful of a strategy it is.
As a teacher, you may think, “I don’t have an employee or an assistant who can help me.” Maybe you do have a paraprofessional, but you don’t know how to utilize them. As teachers, we underuse delegation because we like control and think we are the only person who can complete this task. The truth is that there are a lot of things other people can help with. We went into a lot more details around this at the Tame Your To-Do List System, but here are some main ideas.
First of all, who can you transfer your tasks to? A paraprofessional is an obvious choice, but you can also transfer responsibility to your students. Another option is parent volunteers, because even during a pandemic, there may be some things they can do virtually. Your spouse or your family can step in with school-related tasks, especially if they see how burdened you are, or they can step up at home with home duties. Another source of help could be education students looking for internship hours. They can help you virtually or in-person (depending on policies) and there aren’t as many opportunities for them to get hours right now. If you’re an elementary school teacher, there may be secondary students looking for volunteer hours who can help.
There’s a whole training about how to transfer tasks in the Tame Your To-Do List System, but the main idea is that you want to transfer tasks that are repetitive. The reality is that it does take longer to teach someone to do certain tasks rather than to just do them yourself. However, if this is a task that you do on a regular basis, such as a spelling test you grade weekly or a PowerPoint that you produce every unit, it’s worth teaching someone else. The first time, it may take more time. The second time, it may take the same amount of time as if you’ve done it yourself. But by the third time, they’ll be saving you time and they will continue to save you time every time they do the task after that.
The Tame Your To-Do List System talks more about how to train another person efficiently. For example, if it’s an online task, you can record a quick Loom video to show someone how to do it. If it’s something you do in person, you can have them video tape you doing it.
How do i find time for this?
This is an incredibly helpful framework, but just listening to it isn’t going to help you. You actually have to sit down and use it. If you’re thinking, “I don’t even know when I’d have time to do this!”, you need to sit down with your calendar and schedule a time with yourself to complete this. Re-listen to this podcast episode or re-read this article and pause and complete each step.
You can also join us in the Tame Your To-Do List System to walk through this. Together, we go through each piece and discover how to know which method is best for each task. We also talk about how to organize your to-do list in a way that’s not overwhelming and leads to a feeling of accomplishment rather than discouragement. Sign up for the Tame Your To-Do List System to reduce your stress for the remainder of the school year.
Clockwork by Mike Michalow
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