A Task Management System For Teachers That Works

Mrs. Callaway (not her real name) uses more sick days than any other teacher in the building.  But she is rarely sick.

She simply has trouble getting stuff done.  She lets her to-do accumulate to an astronomical length, feels overwhelmed, and routinely thinks that the only way to cross of the list to stay home and get it done.

(However, knowing that she doesn’t have professional responsibilities for the day proceeds to rationalize her way into sleeping in, having a prolonged breakfast, and finally realizing that by 3:30 she has done nothing but wasted a day set a side to do everything)

On average, by her own account, she takes a “to-do” day about every two weeks.  She and I have been working on a system, together, to manage this issue and had seen limited success; until we implemented the system described in this article.

This article is about a to-do system that is easy and actually works.  Further, when using it, you’ll find that to-do lists not only shrink in size, but virtually disappear.

Stephen Covey is a name you probably have not heard, though his work is ubiquitous.  You’ll find his most notable book, The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People on almost every coffee table, book shelf, and bathroom basket on Earth; he has sold over 25 million copies.
His to-do list advice is actionable because it is visual.  This is a version of his famous time management matrix I find helpful:

Important refers to tasks that are not just important to you, but to teaching- objectively decide whether a task is important.

Why does this system not only work, but also diminish the size of your to-do list to the point where it ceases to exist?

The matrix prioritizes important tasks.  Once quadrant 1 is complete, you move to quadrant 2.  Important tasks that are not due soon are taken care of with plenty of time to spare; the deadline is never in danger of not being met.
As you work through your work week, you’ll find that there are several opportunities to cross of an “important but not due soon” task.  Under this system you’ll find that the “important and due soon” quadrant is empty and only filled with important daily tasks.  You do important tasks far ahead of the deadline as you take care of them while in quadrant 2; they are never “due soon.” 

In other words, most of you time is spent in quadrant 2 preventing tasks from taking the leap into quadrant 1.  Bottom line, important need-to-do work gets done.

That’s it; that’s the system.  It is simple and effective.  Stop reading here if you are convinced or keep reading if you would like to find out how I personally use it.

One of my core constructs in my methodology is returning assignments within 24 hours.  It is important to me that my students receive their work back in a timely manner.  Because of the strict deadline and the necessity of sticking to my personal expectations, “grade x to return” is always in my first quadrant…always.  I also, selfishly, put “read x” in my first quadrant; a task that I accomplish immediately upon rising in the morning.  Normally, I’ll have an administrative task in my 1st quadrant and also a planning component.  On a good day, I’ll accomplish my quadrant 1 tasks before my students even enter my classroom at 7:30, which gives me the rest of the day to look at quadrants 2, 3, and 4.

But I have something to confess, I rarely do quadrant 3 tasks, and never do quadrant 4 tasks.
If the task is unimportant to me, then it is not necessary.  Since time is finite and extremely valuable, I’d rather not spend time doing unimportant things.  I chuckle as I write the last sentence; at no point did I ever think that I would have to decide to not do unimportant tasks.

(An obvious discussion regarding the difference between unimportant and unnecessary tasks and unattractive but necessary tasks is not needed- everyone loathes paperwork)

Though there are a variety of ways to manage a list of tasks, the method developed by Covey is pragmatic.  By pragmatic, I mean that you can start utilizing this method tomorrow if you choose to.

Thanks for reading.


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