I am not – as my friends can confirm – naturally organised. The reason I use some of these tips and tricks is to try to counteract my natural tendancy to be ten minutes late for everything, with the important stuff still at home on the diining room table. Originally, my blog was going to be a place for teaching-specific ways to stay organised, and I still mention some now and again. This is one of those times.
Staying organised is about having what you need handy and getting jobs done on time. That’s it. Put like this, it sounds simple. If you’re wondering why anyone would write a blogpost explaining how they try to do it, then you probably don’t need it! I think the reason I sometimes struggle with deadlines is because I take on too much, or because ‘real life’ gets in the way. And with two kids, there’s a lot of unexpected events. The best way to make sure these issues don’t cause problems is to stop thinking about them. Let your extelligence do it for you instead.
Use a good calender, probably electronic. I like google calender, which combines with my preferred jobs list software (Astrid). I can add jobs using my phone or android device, or by email, and it reminds me when they’re getting close. Put work and home things on the calender – different colours might help – and make sure your partner/kids can see it too. This will probably involve some duplication, but obviously you’ll negotiate whose job it is to add items to a central place, whether that’s electronic (and therefore automagic) or paper (kitchen family planner or similar).
What will help get the jobs done on time? Knowing you’ve got them, to start with. I take minutes in meetings with my android, using Evernote. Any jobs for me are highlighted and the note is tagged as ‘next action’, which means it shows up on my front page. I also tag them as ‘work’ – more about tags in a moment.
I’m trying hard to make sure that I’ve got a headstart with regular jobs, by improving my organisation and staying longer at work before heading home. You may find setting a marking schedule, based around your PPA time, helps too. Effective peer marking, sensible policies and time savers like stickers or stamps with frequent corrections will all help. Depending on how you use AfL, you can probably tweak this to help with parents’ evening and reports preparation.
Summary: electronic calenders have lots of advantages, especially automagic reminders on mobile devices or to email.
Everything in the Right Place
Paper stuff is easy to sort out – check your timetable, just like we tell the kids. I try to put resources, marked work and so on (including lost pencil cases) on a shelf in my lab, one space marked out for each group. I’ve been using an electronic timetable (A+ on Android), so I can check it anywhere. If you produce a version on Excel, or the Google equivalent, you could include links to electronic markbooks, saved resources online or add reminders for extra materials or stacks of folders.
This brings us to electronic stuff, and in some ways it’s the most variable. There are lots of solutions, and which works for you will depend on how much you move around your school, how confident you are with computers and how obstinate your setting is with firewalls. Once more the aim is for everything to magically appear in the right place, already organised, so you don’t have to think about making it happen. Combining a common set of tags or labels with the web application IFTTT (IF This, Then That) is a huge help. I got the idea when I set up my Gmail so anything tagged as ‘work’ is forwarded to my work email.
Basically, once you’ve signed up for IFTTT you can set a load of conditional commands which link your various tools together. Following these recipes lets all kinds of things happen, effectively ‘behind the scenes’. Anything I tag as ‘work’ in GReader (I follow blogs etc by RSS) gets copied both to Evernote and my work email. I use ‘next action’ for setting myself jobs in the same way. Other similar rules let me save items that will be useful for my blog, or for home. I can also save items direct from each web browser I use, at home, work and mobile. All tweets that I favourite are archived too. As Evernote synchronizes automatically, I can get at these bookmarks, reminders and ideas wherever I am.
Files are a little harder. They can be attached to Evernote, but Dropbox and similar services (Google Drive, SkyDrive, SugarSync and so on) are easier. Find one that works for you, meshes easily with email and isn’t blocked at work. Add shortcuts to your desktop and make sure you have a lesson planning or resources folder, so everything you need is always to hand. You may even find that it’s easier to use your school VLE, uploading resources from home to use in lessons.
This kind of post makes me realise how badly the term ‘digital natives’ describes my students. Although they happily use social networking, it’s rare to hear them discuss any of these strategies to make their lives easier. Imagine if they could save everything they did, at school and home, to one searchable archive. Maybe we need to model this for them, as well as all the other skills we’d like them to learn.
What electronic shortcuts help you stay organised?