Thursday, April 8, 2010

Become a Task Master


Time. It's something we have in limited supply. There are only 24 hours in a day, eight of which should be spent in sleep. The remaining hours must then be divided into work, personal time, and recreation/relaxation time. As a new teacher you'll find yourself overwhelmed with the number of activities and tasks that will fill your time. There are lessons to plan, papers to be graded, classes to teach, paperwork to fill out, meetings to attend, parents to call, colleagues to conference with, students to redirect, and more. At times it may even feel as though you are drowning. Then when you get home, for many of you, there will be laundry to do, meals to fix, shopping & cleaning to do, and families to care for. How can you manage all of these aspects of your life? That's where time management comes in. It is all too easy to let your tasks control you and your time. Instead, strive to be the master of your own time. Below are a few ideas to help you be a "Task Master":

Know your tasks. Our "To Do" list takes up much of our time and so often things get added to this list at odd moments. You may be walking down the hallway when the special education teacher stops you and says, "Oh, good, I caught you. Can you please fill out this referral packet on _____? I need it tomorrow morning." A little later you may realize, "We need more toilet paper at home." Then you walk into your classroom and get ready to teach the next lesson. It's no wonder that our "To Do" list can pile up on us with many items forgotten and left undone.

One way to keep track of all these items is to keep a small journal or a legal sized pad with you at all times. This is something I find helps keep me on top of all the different tasks I face – both personal and professional. Make two, three, or four columns on the page (depending on how many parts of your life require specific tasks). My list is divided into three columns of Work, House, and Family. In each column I then list the tasks I need to complete. If you keep this pad with you at all times, it is easy to jot down an unexpected task that comes your way. Put a star next to it to show higher priority, and a deadline date if one is given. I also mark down a day & time for specific items on my list. For example: Parent Meeting – Tues @ 3pm (office). That way if I don't have my calendar with me, I know what appointments are coming up. Keep the list for a week at a time. At the end of the week transfer any items not completed to the next sheet of paper on the pad.

Keep a calendar. This tool will be a lifeline when you begin ARD meetings, parent conferences, staff development meetings and all of the other appointments that will fill your time besides teaching. Outlook has a great calendar tool that will notify participants via email of appointments and changes to those appointments. You can even print out your calendar a week at a time and keep your "To Do" list as part of your calendar. Outlook also has a "Task Panel" where you can list all of your tasks to complete that week. As soon as you set up a parent conference/phone call, staff meeting, field trip, etc., mark it on your calendar. When you get memos from your administrator noting due dates, meetings, etc., mark it on your calendar. When another staff member requests your attendance at a meeting, mark it on your calendar. Then keep your calendar handy. Do not commit to any meetings until you have checked your calendar.

Allot specific amounts of time for tasks. If you get into the habit of using a calendar, you can then set appointments to complete certain daily tasks. For example, you might set an appointment each Wednesday afternoon to plan lessons for the following week. Go ahead and mark these on your calendar before school starts (don't forget to take into account weekly faculty meetings). Now when making appointments you won't accidentally over-plan your time and not have enough to grade papers and plan lessons. Also be sure to put in personal appointments on the same calendar. Keeping two calendars is simply too confusing with all of the tasks and appointments you'll have throughout the year.

Don't forget to allot time for those tasks that are important for your health and well-being. This includes time for exercise, personal reflection, and relaxation. Believe me, you'll find yourself so overwhelmed by work that these important activities will be left by the wayside. You need to take time for yourself each day and each week so that you don't burn out, which can happen easily in this profession.

Managing your time is all about allotting segments to accomplish the various tasks and appointments required by your job and personal life. Using a "To Do" list and a calendar are two ways you can keep track of all that is going on without getting overwhelmed. Don't forget to reward yourself when you've accomplished your major tasks and goals. Stop and eat a piece of chocolate or go out and watch that new movie. You see, when you are in control of your tasks, you can do these little things for yourself that make life more enjoyable. In essence, you become a "Task Master."


Column by Emma McDonald reprinted with permission from The New Teacher Advisor column on Education World found at

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