I received this email from a reader:

get organized

I heard you in person about 1 year ago and bought your book. I looked through it and didn’t read it. I’m as unorganized as ever and now I have an old iPhone and that’s not really helping either. I am teaching full-time special education and taking two graduate classes.  Any ideas?

Of course, my first suggestion would be to read the book. Aside from that, what follows is my response in hopes that it would not only help that one reader get organized. It may help many others who find themselves overwhelmed.

Get organized by getting paper under control

I would suggest starting by reading the chapter on handling paper. The major concept in that chapter is using the tickler file to keep your desk clear of papers and have paperwork appear on the day you need to see it.

Start by clearing one drawer in your desk and putting your tickler file (and nothing else) in that drawer. Next, start going through the papers which have accumulated on your desk, on top of the filing cabinet, on tables, etc. Pick up each piece of paper and ask yourself, “What does this piece of paper mean to me? Why is it here? What needs to be done with it?”

You will find some of it going in the trash as a result. At the bottom of most peoples’ piles, you find paper which has outlived its value. Throw it away.

Handle the reference material as well

You will come across other papers that serve as reference material. These will include forms which need to go in student folders, correspondence from parents which you may need to keep for documentation purposes, lesson plans, etc. Take time now to file them.

You will likely come across papers that you have no idea what to do with. Ask yourself who would be able to help you understand what to do with them and when you would likely see that person. Put a sticky note on the paper with a reminder to yourself of who you were going to ask about the paper. File it in the tickler file for when you think you will see that person.

You will come across other material which you are going to need at some future time. Instead of allowing it to stay on your desk and hope you will look at it at the right time, make a decision about when you want to see the paper again. File it for the appropriate day in the tickler file.

Get organized by adopting a simple tool such as this

You mentioned having an iPhone, but it’s not helping. As you are finding, having a smartphone does not make you organized. It would be the same as taking someone who does not understand math and giving them a calculator.  Digital systems are good for people who have a good organizational system but need more speed and want the portability a digital system offers.

I am attaching a paper form to give you a start in your quest to get organized. Print it, being sure to select “landscape” mode. Put it on a copier and make 30 or so copies for the next month. Date each page and put them in a folder. At the beginning of the day, list any appointments from your calendar. In the “Fab 5” section, list the 5 most important or most critical items for today. In the “Organized Task List” section, list the other things you want to do today in the order you want to do them. Things you want to do during your planning time should be listed together. Things you want to accomplish after school should be listed together.

Keep that one sheet of paper with you throughout the day. On the right-hand side is a place for you to jot down whatever comes up. When you talk with a parent on the phone, take notes in that space. When you meet with a parent or attend a faculty meeting, take notes there. If you fill up that section, continue on the back of the page.

At the end of the day…

When the day comes to an end, read the notes you have written. Decide what you specifically need to do about any of them. Write the results of those decisions on your to-list for the next day, some day later in the week, a day next week, etc. If there are items you had on your list for today that you did not do, re-write them for tomorrow or another day.

At the top of the page is a place for you to answer the question, “How did you make today count?” That question forces you to think about whether or not your time was spent accomplishing something of worth. File the completed page in the folder where you have the blank pages for future days. You will now have notes from all of your parent contacts, faculty meeting notes, etc.in one place. You will have your to-do list for future days waiting for you.

When to move to a digital system

Ironically, the time to move to a digital system and keep your to-do list and calendar on your iPhone will be when your paper system is working really well. Again, it’s like the math and calculator example. Once a person learns the concepts and can do math without a calculator, that’s when he or she needs to start using a calculator. It adds speed and efficiency. When your paper system is working well, you can move the same concepts to a digital system on your computer and sync it with your iPhone. So, for now, give the paper planner page a try.

Let me know it works for you.

Frank Buck

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