Keeping Focus, Monitoring Time

Time management has always been a strong suit of mine, until I moved out of the classroom that is. In my classroom, I was the master of starting class on the right foot, pacing lessons to stretch student engagement, and I could always find time when to break off into smaller group work or some individual tasks so that there was a great flow and pacing in the class. Students wouldn’t spend too much time on one class and get bored, which led to happier students and better results in class. I don’t care how much you love poetry, or physics or history, everyone has a limit of how long they can hold focus and be actively learning. I was a great judge of that, in my classroom.

After transitioning out of the classroom, I found it a struggle to calibrate my own engagement levels and time management when it came to tasks and projects. I was frustrated, and I had days where I looked at my calendar and thought “why would I schedule 10 appointments today?” or “when am I going to have time for ‘project x’ when ‘project y’ is taking up so much time?” And why did I say I would help with “project z” when I don’t have enough time to eat lunch? It had been a long time since I felt this overwhelmed about what is going on in a day, maybe even back to my first days as a classroom teacher. I needed a system of organization that worked with my workflow, something to help identify and prioritize those things I need to do now, and those I can wait to do tomorrow, or next week.

After searching the internet (because what else would a tech TOSA do?) and asking a few administrators and fellow TOSAs/Specialists, I narrowed down a few things I could do to ease my stress, make my workflow more organized, and untangle the stressful mess of projects and assignments into manageable chunks.

First step was recognizing I had a problem. Once I realized that, it was a matter of coming up with a plan to help me work it out. For me, step one was making sure I was properly scheduling appointments. Was I allowing for travel time and organizational time between appointments? Was I allowing for prep time before? It wasn’t enough to use my calendar, I had to be strategic about it and build it for my success, as a tool for helping me rather than just keep record of what I needed to do. After restructuring my calendar and building some pre- and post- meeting time for reflection, preparation and organization, I felt much less stressed about my schedule. It also forced me to schedule less in a day than I was, which also helped me breathe a little easier.

Next was coming up with a system of prioritizing my work, making sure the hottest fires got dealt with first and leaving the others to simmer until I had some time. This process was daunting at first. As a TOSA, I have a very well-defined job description and duties. I started with those things explicitly on that list, and placed them at the top of the To-Do pile. All those things that fell outside those defined duties needed to be reevaluated: am I the one to do this job, or am I taking it on because I was asked to? This was hard because it is in my nature to help when people ask for it, and when I was in the classroom, the last thing I wanted to hear when I needed help was “that’s not my job.” But if I wanted sanity, I realized that sometimes you must redirect assignments to someone else, and I had to be OK with that.

I took prioritizing one step further by categorizing things into 3 groups: To Do Today, To Do this week, To Do within two weeks.  I scheduled 15-30 minutes every night at the end of the day to go over that list and adjust for the next day. I could cross off what I did, promote things to get done, and push things back that needed more time. This 15-30 minutes a day has proven to be my saving grace, and I have become much more purposeful and focused on tasks now. I estimate that those 15-30 minutes save me at least two to four hours a week because I am better organized and can manage what is coming up without it being overwhelming.

not my actual desk!

Lastly, I cleaned my desk. I read that you can waste 10-15 minutes per project just looking for the right materials. I do not have the best organizational skills when it comes to my workspace, I am more “organized mess” that I just happen to call my “system.” It wasn’t very systemized at all, and mostly based on when I last touched something. If I touched it in the past day or so, it was on the top of a pile. If I hadn’t seen it in a week, start looking under piles. I knew that I needed to straighten up (literally and figuratively). It took about three hours of good organizing and sorting and labeling and foldering for my desk to be clear. I found things I was missing, discovered things I didn’t know were there, and got to see the actual top of my desk for the first time in a while. I felt accomplished after that cleaning and organizing. Now to keep it that way. To make sure I don’t regress back to my “system,” I now use my 15-30-minute closing routine to put everything in its place. I put away what I finished today and take out what I need for tomorrow. In this way, everything is ready for me in the morning and I can start my day organized and on the right foot.

I am still working on perfecting this method, and there are times when something gets dropped in my lap, but unless it is due that day (which can be rare), it makes the organizational list during my planning at the end of the day. I place it under the right heading and deal with it like my other duties and tasks. It felt strange for the first two weeks or so, but it has evolved into something that is helping me become that master of time management, like I was in the classroom.


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