There are a lot of moving parts in any teacher’s day, and often little blocks of time in which to get all the non-student focused stuff done. An effective to-do list is essential. But if you’re like me your to-do list often feels more like a wish list (I wish this could get done) or a lesson in overwhelm. Revamping the way you think about and create your to-do list can make it a tool that actually works for you.
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3 strategies for a better to do list
I’ve tried a lot of ways of making my to-do lists, but these are three things that are working for me right now: setting an intention, being realistic about my times and what I can do, and the Strikethru System. Oh, and I like to have my list in a planner that I love looking at.
Set an intention
When you set up your to-do list each day, start with an intention for the day. If you know your day is full of challenging meetings and rushing from one place to the next, your intention may be to stay calm. If you feel like it is a day you can knock off a lot of things, your intention might be Productive or Energized. Your intention can affect how you approach the things on your list and even what you put on the list for that particular day.
Anyone else put 300 things on their to-do list … and then get 3 things done? It gets overwhelming looking at a list that long and discouraging realizing how little you got done. When there are so many things you need to do it can be hard to be realistic about what you can actually get done. But if you get realistic about your list, you may find yourself actually being more productive because you focus on a few things you commit to instead of being bogged down by too much to do. Plus when you can cross off everything (or to be realistic, almost everything) each day, it’s tremendously satisfying.
There are three tips to help you be more realistic about your to-do list:
- Limit your list to 5–10 things. You aren’t going to do all the things on your mental “needs to get done” list, so don’t put them all on your daily to-do list. What things will you commit to doing today? Limit yourself to 5–10 things that are most pressing, that fit into your day, or that you are most excited to do.
- Note how long each thing will take. When you are looking at the things you are committing to do today, jot down how long each will take. Add up the time it takes to do them. Do you have enough time to get them done? If not, edit your list to be realistic.
- Schedule the things on your list. Once you choose to do items and know how long they will take, actually schedule them. Things like appointments or meetings have a set time, but other things like buying groceries or prepping that new game for your literacy station can easily get lost in the shuffle, but if you assign them a time, it’s easier to stay on track with your list.
Use a system that works for you
I know people who do all their planning on Post-it notes and others who can’t get by without Bullet Journaling. Others use online tools like Trello (read my Trello experience.) While I love Trello and the Bullet Journal sounded intriguing, neither quite fit my needs.
The system I’m loving is the Strikethrough System. There are several parts:
This is probably my favorite part of the whole system, and it is exactly what it sounds like. You dump everything—ideas, tasks, errands—that is floating around in your head. This section collects all of your to-dos. As new ideas and things you need to do surface, you add them to that section.
The live list
The live list focuses on what needs to happen now. Essentially this becomes your to-do list. There is only one Live List. If you’re using a plain notebook you could use one page per day. I make my Live List in my planner, so my Live List ends up in my weekly spread.
On your live list page, draw 9 circles down the left side and label them 1–9. These are the 9 spaces you allow yourself each day for tasks. Among the 9 tasks, use the 1-3-5 rule—work on 5 simple tasks, 3 medium sized tasks and 1 large task. Fill in your list based on what you remember or by looking back at The Dump.
When you complete a task, you strikethrough it. If you need to move a task or continue it on the next Live List draw a right arrow. If you need to move a task to the Vault (explained next), use a left arrow.
Here you add set tasks for specific projects or other lists. The Vault can feed into your live list.
For example, you may have a need to organize an excursion at school. You could add a list in your Vault called Zoo Excursion. There you would list all the things you need to do for organizing that task: write permission note for parents, send notes home to parents, organize bus transport, telephone the zoo to confirm the time and numbers, etc. Then when you’re reviewing in the evening and doing tomorrow’s Live List you would select items from your different lists in the vault that needed to get done that day.
Calendaring and referencing
The system also involves a calendar system that works with the Live List. There is also a way of referencing (you need to number the pages in your notebook or planner). Once you set it up, it can make cross-referencing other lists quicker. You can learn more about all the parts of this system and get a PDF of their set up at the Strikethrough website.
Keep it pretty & fun
While you can use the Strikethrough system in their own notebooks or in a plain notebook, I really love my Erin Condren Life Planner. I was delighted to find I could use this system with the planner that I love to look at. I use round colored stickers to keep my Live List pretty and fun. Because if I like creating and looking at it, I’m more likely to keep it in front of me and stick with it. This system can adapt well to the teacher planner you use.
I still have days I don’t get done all I want to do, but when I stick with my system and create an intentional, realistic to do list, I tend to get done the things that matter — and with less overwhelm. Win/win.
What’s your favorite to do list tip?