Scheduling Fun/Death of the “To-Do” List: How to be a First Year Teacher and Still Have a Life

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Over the course of the last three weeks I have done away with “to-do” lists entirely. They stress me out and they make me feel entirely unproductive because, well, I just never seem to finish them.

My decision to ditch the lists came after I read an article titled “How to be the most productive person in your office—and still get home by 5:30 p.m.” It discusses Cal Newport, a professor/writer/father/husband who is, very simply, a productivity machine. He has many words of wisdom associated with productivity, but the two biggest shifts for me were the concept of scheduling times to do specific tasks instead of writing lists, and accepting when you are most productive (morning), and when you aren’t (early afternoon) and planning your schedules accordingly.

I plan high-productivity things like developing new curriculum or designing worksheets on days when I have my prep period in the morning, and I plan mindless tasks like copying or writing emails for days when I have afternoon preps. Quite simply, I am more kind to myself and am mindful of how I work. It’s helped me to be more understanding of my students as well. I recognize their afternoon fatigue rather than being frustrated by it.

My Google Calendar is now filled with events including times when I make the copies I might need for a class, specific times when I might get up early to run before school, and time twice a week where I try to sit down with Duolingo and practice French and Spanish. I schedule when I will go to the grocery store, and what day I will get up early to do the laundry I’d otherwise put off.

The shift has been remarkable. I am more likely to complete the tasks I need to do to be prepared for class during school hours, and less likely to take home stacks of planning and grading on the weekends. I am more likely to read something for pleasure, and less likely to put off meeting friends for a drink at the end of a busy workweek. So go ahead and laugh when you see “read for fun” on my calendar, I don’t mind, because it’s thanks to all this scheduling that I’ve got the time for “fun” in the first place.

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