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Emma McDonald:
The New Teacher Advisor

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 then must be divided into work, personal time, and recreation/relaxation time. As a new teacher, it's easy to become overwhelmed by the number of activities and tasks that 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 might even feel as though you're drowning. For many of you, there also will be laundry to do, meals to fix, shopping and cleaning to do, and families to care for when you get home. How can you manage all of those aspects of your life? That's where time management comes in. It's 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 the list at odd moments. You might 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 by tomorrow morning." A little later you might 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 those items is to keep a small journal or a legal-size 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 for Work, House and Family. In each column, I list the tasks I need to complete. If you keep the pad with you at all times, it's easy to jot down an unexpected task that comes your way. Add a star next to important items to show higher priority, and a deadline date if one is needed. I also mark down a day and 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 page 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 when you're not teaching. Outlook has a great calendar tool that will notify participants via email of appointments and changes to those appointments. You even can print 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 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, and so on, 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 additional 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 then can 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 those on your calendar (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 personal appointments on the same calendar. Keeping two calendars is simply too confusing with all the tasks and appointments youll have throughout the year.

Don't forget to allot time for those tasks that are important for your health and well-being. That includes time for exercise, personal reflection, and relaxation. Believe me, youll find yourself so overwhelmed by work that those 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's 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 those little things for yourself that make life more enjoyable. In essence, you become a Task Master.

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