The first day of school is just around the corner for most of us. Are you ready? If the lists are hung by the door with care, desks neatly arranged, and hallways shining, those are at least good signs that we are ready for the first day. But being ready for the first day was not the question. Twenty youngsters, tons of forms, notes from parents, requests from other teachers, and the “gotta’ do it now” messages from downtown can turn the ready-for-the-first-day enthusiasm into thoughts of, “It’s going to be a long week year” pretty quickly.

Are you ready?” refers to having a system in place that will take whatever is thrown at it and turn straw into gold day after day, month after month, year after year. The kind of system I am talking about has five parts:

Handle the paper 
Tickler files keep your desk clean and trigger papers to be placed in front of you when you need them. Your inbox holds all of the new, untouched papers. “Pending” holds the papers you will need later today. Your outbox holds what needs to go somewhere else in the world to be handled by somebody else.

Trap everything in one place 
Your signature tool, be it paper or digital, holds all of your appointments, to-dos, delegated items, documentation, and projects. When it’s all in one place, there is only one place to look. For some, the tool is a paper planner. For others, it’s a smartphone. For others, it’s a system using a single legal pad. But when you get right down to it, it’s not the tool; it’s the person behind the tool, and the well-thought-out system they have for how to use it.

Put repeating tasks on “autopilot”
When time is limited and the demands on it are enormous, we cannot afford to make ourselves mentally re-create all of the tasks we perform every year about this time. The amount of stress created is too great. The chances we will actually remember and happen to think of them all at the right time is too small.

Manage the flood of incoming information 
E-mail is going to continue to pour in, the phone will ring, you will attend meetings and parent conferences, and you will be held responsible for knowing what was said and what was promised. We can curse the source of the flood, or we can craft tools that allow us to surf the wave. One little technique on Outlook called “drag and drop” is my secret to getting my e-mail inbox back to empty every single day and the commitments embedded in those e-mails into their proper places on my calendar and to-do list. For those of us who organize digitally, nothing beats having a paper journal to trap notes from meetings, phone calls, and workshops. Not one journal for parent conferences, one for faculty meetings, one for departmental meetings, etc. One journal, period, which simply flows chronologically from day to day. Trap the notes during the day. At the end of the day, decide what to-dos need to be extracted from them.

Handle multiple projects 
Jugglers are able to keep multiple balls in the air by knowing how many they have, the position of each one, and give each one a little attention on a regular basis. The same is true with our projects. Define what the finished product looks like, exactly what needs to be done next, and have a place for all of the information that supports that project, and you have it handled. Now you simply do the same with each project you have. It’s amazing how much can be going on at one time and you be on top of it all.

Are you ready? It’s a pretty good place to be, and when you get there, you’ll never want to settle for less.