3 Strategies to Streamline Work and Get Your Time Back

I received a question recently about how to streamline work and increase productivity as a teacher. I’ve learned a few things over the years that have taken me from disorganized and stressed, to more efficient and productive. By making a few little tweaks you can streamline your workflow and spend less time on work and more time doing what you love.

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Make an organized to-do list

How many of us have lots of post-it notes lying around with all of the things we need to do on them? How many of us keep track of things in our heads and then come to find out we forgot to do something and now we are scrambling?

I have found that making a comprehensive master to-do list has been super helpful. To have something physical for me to check off as I go not only gives me reassurance that I have remembered everything but gives me a sense of accomplishment as I check each item off. Ahh…progress!

However, the key to a good list is accessibility! What good is that piece of paper if it is sitting at home on your bedside table while you’re working your tail off at school? Less than zero good. That is why I like to use the Google platform so I can access my lists on the go. Making a list in Google Docs is one way to go. My preferred method is using Google Keep to create my to-do lists. You can create a variety of lists which are all accessible by computer, phone, and even Apple Watch. 

If you’d like a jump start I have multiple Google Keep headers premade on my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Once you set up your to-do list, think about everything that needs to get done and dump it all in there. As you go through the week, if you think of more along the way, add it in. Once you have your master list of things that need to get done, you can break it up into categories. For example, some to-do lists I have are:

  • Lesson Planning To-Dos
  • IEP To-Dos
  • MCAS (our state testing) To-Dos
  • Additional To-Dos

My lesson planning to-dos are mostly the same every week so I can just duplicate the list weekly. Things on the other lists may be singular and not need to repeat. Once this is done, move on to strategy number 2.

photograph of an open notebook with a clip saying Do It and a phone with a to do list on it with the words "The key to a good list is accessibility"

Plan early and efficiently

Do you spend your weekends working on lesson plans because they didn’t get done during the week? Do you dread Sunday nights because you have to scramble for Monday? Not with efficient to-do lists! (Unless one of your to-do items is “Lie in dread on Sunday night”).  I organize my lesson planning to-do list by day of the week. I have it broken down from Monday to Friday. Towards the beginning of the week, I do tasks such as setting up lesson plans, choosing materials for the following week, etc. The end of the week contains wrap-up tasks such as making materials for the following week and posting lesson plans. I make sure to spread out my tasks across the week to make use of my time each day and work through manageable chunks. For example, my to-do list might look something like this:

By the time I get to the end of the day on Friday, my tasks are done and I don’t have to do anything for school over the weekend! Now of course there are weeks when things get busier. Jobs come up like writing progress notes, report cards, or IEPs. During those weeks I can add these tasks to my to-do list or use the weekend time to focus on these less frequent tasks. 

Ideally, if you have a prep period daily or weekly, you can use that time to crank out items on your lists and not have to stay past your contract hours. However, if you are in a job like mine, that doesn’t always happen. Things come up during the day that I will be called in to handle and I won’t get that prep time. However, this strategy means that even if I have to stay after school for a bit, I know the exact tasks which need to get done and there is no wandering around wondering where to start. Cue the efficiency boost.

Delegate and/or Collaborate

Guess what? You don’t have to do your whole job alone. Think about that. You have a whole team of colleagues to collaborate with. One of the benefits of working in a special education classroom is the fantastic paraprofessionals I work with. It took me a long time to be ready to delegate jobs to them. I am a perfectionist and I like things done a certain way. But do you know what? That was not an efficient way of thinking. I was getting bogged down in all the tasks I had to do week after week because I was trying to do them all. Meanwhile, I had people at my disposal who were ready and eager to help. 

So I started outsourcing. I would delegate tasks such as material prep and creation. I would print out materials, and the paras would assemble. Then, I would start having them write the weekly comprehension quiz. Then, they would write the word problems for the week. Every time I delegated a task it lightened my load. I will be 100% honest here and tell you that it wasn’t always my idea. I would be working on a worksheet and have a para say to me “Do you want me to start doing those every week so you don’t have to?” In those moments I said to myself “Duh! Why have I NOT been delegating this!” 

Soon I started outsourcing activities. I would say to my group something like “Valentine’s Day is coming up, can you all put your heads together and come up with some activities we can do?” And do you know what? They were happy to do it and excited about contributing. And the events and activities they would come up with were amazing. And I didn’t have to do anything except show up and spend time with my students.

photograph of 8 different hands meeting in the middle and the words "Guess what? You don't have to do your whole job alone!"

Now, you might not have a team of paraprofessionals at your disposal. That doesn’t mean you have to miss out on collaboration. Find a colleague at your school and work together. Maybe you are all at the same grade level. You know you have to plan 4 class parties a year. Give each person a party to plan and just like that you have 4 events with a quarter of the work needed. Need to make copies? Keep a drawer of copies that need to be made and the next time you or a colleague go to the copy room take all the copying with you. Share the load and you will become better teammates and be less stressed.

If you’d like to learn more about streamlining tasks and why it’s important, check out these articles:

⭐️ 4 Ways You’re Faking Productivity (and how to fix them)

⭐️ 5 Ways to Lessen Overwhelm in Your Life

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Did you get any actionable takeaways from today’s blog post? Can you find one way to streamline work and become more productive? Let me know in the comments or find me on Instagram @sleepyowlteaching!

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