Thursday, October 21, 2010

Getting Organized in the Midst of Chaos

Here you are with school in full swing, students, parents and colleagues coming at you from all sides, and you feel that you are in total chaos. Oh yes, some of it is planned, but what with every new piece of paperwork, documentation, and request thrown your way, you have no idea what to do with it all. Do you find yourself staring at all those piles of papers on your desk wondering what to do with them all? It isn't easy getting organized, especially when there is so very little time. Below are a few tips that I hope you will find helpful. They are not designed to be a quick fix, but rather to help you take baby steps in getting yourself a bit more organized than maybe you are right now.

"Baby steps" is a concept I learned from someone called the Fly Lady. She is an organization guru and has quite a following. She recommends two things that I in turn will recommend to you. The first is using a timer. When you are faced with an enormous pile of mail, memos, and forms with only 30 or 45 minutes of conference time, use a timer. Once you have checked your box and returned to your classroom (for those of you not kicked out during that class period), set your timer for 10 minutes. I like setting it for 10 minutes because it doesn't take up too much of my time. Try to get whatever you can organized during that 10 minutes. When the timer goes off, stop. You won't have gotten everything accomplished during that time, but you will have made a start. If you spend 10 minutes a day working like this, before long you'll be on top of that paperwork and have organized files.

The second piece of advice is to work forwards before working back. Once you've set that timer for 10 minutes, start with whatever mail, memos, and forms you found in your box today. Get those either filed, thrown-away, or completed and ready to return. If you have any time left, start working at the top of that pile on your desk. This way the paperwork does not continue to pile up on you. You can respond in a timely manner and stay current with your mail, communications, and other necessary forms.

Every piece of paper on your desk should have a home whether it is the trash can, a 3-ring binder, a file folder, a tray, or to be returned to someone else. I don't know if you are the kind of person that likes to hang on to magazines or not. I am. I just love catalogs and all those lovely things I might buy one day. What I started doing to keep the catalogs from piling up is to pull out the pages and the order form from each catalog that interests me. I punch holes in them and place them in a binder. I like the binder because I can then tab each particular catalog rather than stuffing them all in one folder. When I have the time (and money) to order, then I can go to that binder and find what I need. However, if you do not have a home for this kind of mail, it can very easily pile up on you and become overwhelming.

For those of you without the flexibility of having your classroom or office space available during your planning period, make a commitment to stay after school for at least thirty minutes. Set your timer for 10 minutes at a time and go from there. Even when faced with papers that need to be graded, you can use the 10 minute strategy to start working your way through those piles. Also, remember that not everything must be graded with the same intensity. Sometimes a simple check or minus will work.

Again, if you keep working at it 10 minutes at a time, before you know it that pile will start shrinking to nothing. Everything will have a home where you can easily find it. Also, once those paperwork piles are gone, take what is left of the 10 minutes and start making specific homes for the other areas in your classroom. Make no mistake; this is a process and not a quick fix. Sure, you can spend 6 or 7 hours one day after school going through it all, but that kind of behavior quickly leads to burn-out. You are so tired of going through paperwork that you let it pile up again and before you know it you have another evening of doing nothing but sorting through papers. Just take it one step at a time, 10 minutes a day, and watch those paperwork piles fade away!

Written by Emma McDonald, reprinted from her column on Education World.

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