I get asked quite a bit how I manage to teach full time during the day, plan lessons, grade essays, start a side-biz, do webinars and Facebook Lives, spend time with my family, and still maintain my sanity.
People wonder if my husband and child are neglected (they’re not), if I have a virtual assistant (I don’t), or if I’m dropping the ball somewhere (I don’t THINK I am…). Someone even told me that I must be very organized. This statement made me pause because I didn’t have an answer, and I began to wonder just how DO I get it all done.
I pondered this notion during a blissfully long, 3-week Winter Break. Absent of any grading or lesson planning, I scheduled my time around activities aimed at moving my side-hustle forward.
- I did quite a bit of maintenance on my blog and social media accounts.
- Connected with like-minded teacherpreneurs and teacher bloggers on the Teacher Blogger+Seller Network Facebook group, as well as on other Facebook groups.
- Held a couple of Facebook Lives and a webinar for my audience.
- Read a couple of books on business mindset and practices.
All of this, plus spend quality time with my family.
However, during all of this business development, I wondered:
- Do you need to be organized in order to be productive?
- Are the people with all of the perfectly labeled bins and color-coded files better at getting things done?
I deferred to the internet for insight. Here are my findings.
What does it mean to be organized?
Have you ever been to someone’s classroom, and their desk looks like this (or maybe this is an actual picture of your desk)?
For some of us, this would be completely unacceptable, and the assumption would be that this person is disorganized. However, the owner of this desk probably doesn’t understand what the big deal is. They probably think that society has it wrong when it comes to organization.
I honestly believe that to be organized really means 1) to know where everything is, and 2) that everything is where it needs to be. Where is that place exactly? Where you need it to be.
I mean, think about it: If we were to clean up these files and put them in neat little stacks, binders, or bins, we’ve now ruined this person’s system, and therefore created a state of disorganization.
Have you ever had someone try to clean up your room or organize for you, only to spend literally HOURS trying to find something after? It’s difficult to even be grateful because YOUR stuff is now organized according to someone else’s system.
True organization happens in our head and is a result of the way we approach life. Any system worth its salt only works if the person using it understands and believes in it. You could organize your file folders alphabetically, by subject and then alphabetically, by season, by color, and by number.
But there’s not necessarily a right way as long as it makes sense to the person organizing it.
You could have the most expensive Erin Condren teacher planner (and they are PRICEY), or a host of productivity apps on your phone, but if that system doesn’t fall within the way your brain categories and places values on various things, it’s a complete waste of time and money.
My own attempts at being organized
In a previous post, I mentioned how I’d discovered the Pomodoro method for grading large stacks of assignments. I felt pretty good about myself for finally deciding on an effective way for me to stop procrastinating with grading and feel more productive.
The thing is, that method works for me, but it may not work for you. You may not be able to tune out distractions during each Pomdoro. It may be difficult for you to stop at the 25-minute mark because you’re in “the zone.” Or maybe you have another way of batching that works with the way your mind flows with grading.
That’s the interesting thing about productivity and organization – the success of any program or hack lies in the mind and eyes of the beholder.
Technology can actually be the enemy
I’m one of those Apple cult nerds who is
tetheredconnected in every way to a device. Apple watch? CHECK! iPhone? CHECK! iPad? CHECK! MacBook Pro? CHECK! All four of them synced to the same calendar, notes, messages, email, etc.? CHECK!
One would think that with all of the technology available to me, I would be the most hyper-organized person around. Ironically, productivity apps such as Things, ToDoIst, and OmniFocus actually hindered my progress. I’d spend so much time just making my darn lists and categories, as well as moving things into proper folders, that they ended up being a time-suck. I’d forget to add my to-dos into those categories or lists, and just scribble it down on a Post-It or in my Notes app.
Furthermore, using digital products actually proved to be a distraction rather than a panacea for the chaos in my brain. I simply CANNOT go on my device without checking my notifications, email, Facebook, Instagram, and cats on Neko Atsume.
My poor colleagues that have to work with me
It’s obvious just how “personalized” my organizational structure is when it comes to my school work.
I’m one of those teachers that likes to create my own materials and then share them with my colleagues. During the creation process, I end up having multiple versions of these products – one that’s editable, one that’s maybe in PDF form (to be used in Notability on my students’ iPads), one that’s a template, etc. Also, I often have different versions for various levels of scaffolding.
Overall, I may have 5 or 6 files relating to one product in one folder. But all of it makes sense to me.
At first glance, it seems like I have WAAAAY too many folders and uncategorized files.
Okay, maybe at second or third glance it seems like that as well. And you’re not even seeing the subfolders!
When I share a folder with my colleagues, it’s reminiscent of this:
Usually, they ask me, “So…which is the real one?” I finally decided that I would just share the final version with them in View mode so that they have to make a copy. I didn’t have time for them to judge my “organizational structure!”
That’s not to say I haven’t tried to organize my Google Drive. I had folders for different types of writing, different short stories or novel studies, one for grammar, etc. But when that didn’t work for me, I started a system of organizing the folders into quarters since I tend to teach the same standards during the same quarter each year. This has been the easiest method, but I still have yet to come up with a system for everything else.
But, do I even need a new system?
It depends. Yes and no.
Look, despite my apparent digital and mental clutter, it all makes sense to me. I know where my files are, or can easily find them with the search function. Seriously. It almost seems silly to organize everything into “proper folders” when the search field is omnipresent.
At this point, if I ever scale my business to the point where I’d need a virtual assistant, we would both be screwed! Trying to make sense of my nonsense would be a herculean task. So as I progress with my business, I’m going to have to be even more purposeful about being organized. I should probably find a system that still works within my day and flow, and that doesn’t require EXTRA work from me.
So how DO I do it all?
- Currently I print out lesson planning sheets from JupiterEd to organize my week. My school has a rotating block schedule, so I have to keep track of what I do on 1-2-3 and 4-5-6 days. I keep it near me so that I can write down where we left off at the end of each period.
- I’m also trying not to create new lessons and materials, and am refining what I already have. Until I’m out of building mode for my business, I want to keep things simpler on the school front and just continue to master my good stuff.
- For blogging and my biz, I’ve created a daily schedule that involves the research and planning, writing, editing, and publishing phases of my blog posts, as well as the creation of promotional images for my social media. Sometimes I fall behind, but overall, I manage to publish a blog post every Tuesday or Wednesday.
What about you?
Help a sista out here: how do YOU stay organized? What kinds of systems have you found to be successful?
Drop some sage advice in the comments below and let me know! I obviously need all of the help I can get!