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The New Teacher Advisor

Getting Organized
In the Midst of Chaos

Here you are, school in full swing; students, parents, and colleagues coming at you from all sides; and you feel as though your life is in total chaos. Oh yes, some of it is planned, but the paperwork, documentation, and requests being thrown your way are notand you have no idea what to do with it all.

Do you find yourself staring at all those piles of papers on your desk and wishing they would just disappear? If so, perhaps it's time to get organized.

Getting organized isn't easy, especially when you have so very little time. The tips below should help, however. They're not designed to be quick fixes, but rather suggestions that will help you take baby steps toward becoming a bit more organized than you are now.

"Baby steps" is a concept I learned from the FlyLady, an organization guru who has quite a loyal following. The FlyLady recommends two organizational tricks that I in turn recommend to you.

The first is a timer. When you are faced with a mountain of mail, memos, and forms, set your timer for 10 minutes. (I like the 10-minute limit because it doesn't take up too much time.) Try to organize as much of the mountain as you can manage during those 10 minutes. When the timer goes off, stop working. You won't have accomplished everything during that time, but you will have made a start. If you spend 10 minutes a day working like that, before long you'll be on top of that paperwork mountain, boasting about your organized files.

The second piece of advice is to work forward before working back. Once you've set your timer for 10 minutes, start with the mail, memos, and forms you found in your box today. Get those either filed away, thrown-away, or dealt with first. Then, if you have time left, start working at the top of the rest of the pile. That way, the paperwork won't continue to pile up on you. You respond to the most recent paperwork 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 that home is a trash can, a 3-ring binder, a file folder, a tray, or a carry-all for return to someone else. I don't know if you are the kind of person who likes to hang on to magazines, but I am. I just love catalogs and all those lovely things I might buy one day.

To keep all those tempting catalogs from piling up on me, I pull out from each the order form and the pages I'm interested in. I punch holes in them and place them in a binder. I like the binder because I can tab each catalog, rather than stuffing them haphazardly into a single folder. When I have the time (and money) to order something, I can go to my binder and find what I need. If you do not have a home for it, that kind of mail can pile up on you very easily and become overwhelming.

For those of you without the luxury of your own classroom or office space to work in during planning periods, make a commitment to stay after school for at least thirty minutes each day. Set your timer for 10 minutes and go from there. Even if you're facing a pile of papers to be graded, you can use the 10-minute strategy to at least start working your way through the pile. Also, remember that not everything must be graded with the same intensity. Sometimes a simple check-plus or check-minus will do.

No matter what you're working on, in fact, if you keep working at it 10 minutes at a time, before you know it that pile of paperwork will start shrinking to nothing, and everything will have a home. And what do you do thenwhen your pile of paperwork is gone, and your timer hasn't gone off? Take what's left of the 10 minutes and start making homes for the other areas in your classroom.

Sure, you can spend 6 or 7 hours in a single day going through your paperwork all at once, but that kind of effort quickly leads to burnout. You'll find you're so tired from the hours of going through paperwork that you let it pile up again. Before you know it, another long day of doing nothing but paperwork looms.

Make no mistake; these tips represent a process, not a quick fix. Just take it one step at a time, 10 minutes a day, and watch those paperwork piles fade away!


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