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Do you manage your time or does time manage you? The lines between work and home life have blurred over the past year of remote working conditions for many educators. The feeling of always having something to do or an email to answer can be hard to turn off. Cognitive overload is real for educators.
But honing executive functioning skills will make it easier to find balance between work and life. Here are five ways to get started.
1. Make your calendar work for you
Many calendar applications allow for more than scheduling video conferencing meetings. The calendar application within my productivity suite allows me to set “reminders” for myself. The significance of this is that unless I hit “mark as done” or delete each note, these reminders stalk me throughout the week by bumping to the next day like a digital tap on the shoulder.
When scheduling a meeting a week or more in advance, book time on your calendar 3-5 days prior to the meeting to check notes, send reminders, prepare slide decks, etc. Spacing these out in smaller increments across multiple sessions makes them more manageable.
Use your smartphone
For important personal and professional reminders, set events on your smartphone calendar with alerts. In some instances, I set multiple alerts or recurring reminders to stay organized.
Paper calendars work, too
Every Friday I physically write down my schedule for the following week on a paper calendar. Doing so allows my mind to feel more at ease over the weekend knowing that I’ve planned ahead for any upcoming events and am prepared and not surprised come Monday morning.
2. Up your email efficiency
One of the most useful functions of my messaging client is the ability to schedule emails. When I know I will be out of the office, I complete the required paperwork for my absence and schedule an email to go to the appropriate person the day after I return. Teachers can think ahead to important dates (i.e. picture day, field trips, report card pick up, etc.) and schedule emails to go out the night before.
When teaching productivity skills to others, one area I focus on is labeling and/or filing emails. Placing an email in a folder doesn’t mean it is gone, it just means it is stored away until needed again. One of my email labels is “Upcoming Meetings” where I move video conference links, conference logins and registration materials, etc. I even have a “to-do” folder where I place materials I am interested in looking at but don’t have time to look at immediately.
In my role, there are correspondences that need to relay the same information but at different times. Creating a template with the necessary information makes my response quicker and doesn’t take much brain space to complete. Whether it’s permission slips for field trips or instructions for teachers about PD vouchers, you can create an email template to use over and over again.
3. Plan ahead in writing
Educational technology is forever changing. Tools enter and leave the market, and new ideas for innovation often come to mind during the planning process. For me, I use electronic documents, like Google Docs, to stay organized.
In my graduate courses, I keep a “notes for next time” document. As I am teaching, I put new ideas or current assignment enhancements there, so I have a reminder for the next time I’m reading to teach the course. I don’t need to start from scratch. I lead monthly meetings for technology coaches where I use the same methodology: If I see a resource I think would benefit coaches, I keep a running document that I add to between meetings.
4. Organize your digital file cabinet
Spend time creating folders (and additional folders within those folders) for big picture themes. Similar to the email mindset, just because something moves into a folder doesn’t mean it’s gone; it’s just put away! I have separate folders for all of the areas I support, such as coaches and technology-specific subject matter. My digital drive also includes a “NOW Projects” folder as well as a “Maybe Someday” folder!
5. Develop a routine to keep learning and stay connected
Remember that paper calendar idea on Fridays? It’s a routine that helps me “remove” work from my memory over the weekend and allows me a quick glance as I start each morning. I also take time at the start of my workday to glance at newsletters I subscribe to and check out the ISTE PLN forums I belong to. With all of the wonderful ideas I garner from these sources, I need to stay organized and reduce my cognitive overload. The tips above help me do this.
Nicole Zumpano is the Chicagoland Regional Educational Technology Coordinator for the Learning Technology Center of Illinois. She is an adjunct instructor at three universities as well as a former teacher and instructional technology coach. Nicole is active in her ISTE PLNs and on Twitter. Connect with her @nmzumpano.