I hope your weekend was filled with just the right balance of productivity and relaxation!
The question I probably get asked the most is how I find time for everything. And I'm going to answer that question today. The answer is.....drum roll.....I don't. Whew. I said it. That was a difficult admission for a type A "do-er" like myself!
The truth is, no one has time for everything. But it is true that some people are, by nature, extremely efficient. I happen to love efficiency. Scratching things off my To-Do list right and left is just the best feeling ever! I also love organization, which is a good thing, because organization and efficiency go hand-in-hand. Of course, it also helps that I love my career, which makes work not feel like work (most days!)
Being a working wife and mom to a toddler is hard. Add in a second part-time job, 3 dogs and a cat, writing a blog, creating materials, exercise, meal-planning, daily chores, piano practice, and more, and it's a recipe for unorganized chaos. And the cold, hard truth is that there are days when I'm busting out tasks one after the other, and there are other times when I put my car keys in the freezer. It happens to everyone, and it's okay!
While hard work and motivation play a huge part in staying organized and efficient, following are 10 tips I live by to stay efficient at my full-time school SLP job (many of these carry over into other areas of my life as well!)
1. Have a place for everything. You simply cannot stay organized if you don't have a designated place for your things. This means establish a filing system, de-clutter and get rid of things you don't need, and generally clean up your life. It's hard to focus in and stay on task when there is chaos all around you, so designate places for your items that make sense to you (i.e. don't put your trash can on the other side of the room from your desk.)
2. Schedule a time each day to put things away. You know, a place for everything, and everything in it's place. I don't leave work until my desk is clean each day. This doesn't mean that I complete everything before I go home, but I leave my desk neat and tidy and ready for the next day before I go home. At the beginning of the day, everything is neat and clean. At the end of the school day, there are stacks of board games and artic cards on the tables, dry erase markers without tops on the floor, play-dough smashed in the rug, and a stack of files on my desk. I schedule 10-15 minutes before the end of my work day for cleaning and straightening my room. If I have extra time, I may set out the activities for the next day as well. If you don't schedule time for it, it probably won't happen.
3. Keep ONE To-Do list and calendar for everything. I used to have a planner for life and a planner for work. Then I had separate To-Do lists for work, my blog, home, and Teachers Pay Teachers. I was drowning in sticky notes that were easy to lose. When I finally organized one To-Do list and calendar for everything, I stayed much more organized. I personally like to have a "month-at-a-glance" calendar where I put my bills, appointments, meetings, etc., and then a To-Do list for the week, divided into "Must Do, Should Do, & Do Eventually (as time permits).
4. Pace yourself and plan ahead. i.e. write things down on your calendar and keep an eye on next week. This is where the month-at-a-glance calendar comes in. It helps me to see which IEP meetings I have coming up and stay ahead. I try to have my IEPs and reports written days before they are due, so I'm not stressed and my colleagues aren't either. If I know I'm going to have 14 IEP meetings in one given month, I start working on them ahead of time and pace myself, so I don't get behind. Whether or not you have to write lesson plans, having at least a general idea what you're going to do with your speech groups ahead of time helps as well. I try really, really hard to leave work at work and not take it home with me. Home time is family time. So except for extenuating circumstances, I find time during my work day to get my tasks accomplished so I don't have to stay late or take it home (even if that means sometimes giving up my lunch break.) But speaking of breaks...
5. Take breaks! In addition to physical exhaustion, mental exhaustion is real, and it can be a bear when it comes to staying motivated. Mental breaks are important, and they really do help you stay focused. I try to incorporate movement breaks into my day, especially if I've been doing paperwork at the computer for hours. This may be something as simple as walking to the office to check my mailbox. Or going ahead and straightening the room. Sometimes it's reading a new quick children's book to see if it will work for a group of students. Anything that gives my mind a quick break. Then it's back to work!
6. Don't procrastinate. Procrastinating and pacing yourself go together like peanut butter and jelly! It's not feasible to write 6 reports in one day, so don't have unrealistic expectations to begin with. Don't put off to tomorrow what you could (and should) do today. There are most definitely tasks associated with my job that aren't my favorite (medicaid billing, anyone?), but they've got to be done regardless. So keep it as painless as possible, and work on them all along. Don't put all of your unwanted tasks off to the last minute. You'll be stressed to the max and you'll still have to do them anyway.
7. Use checklists for repetitive tasks. You know, those things you do over and over and over again. Like IEP meetings and paperwork. I have an IEP meeting checklist that I run down each time before a meeting, with things like "update IEP and goals, update goals in Talk Trac, send copies to parents, update due-date list," etc. Even though I do these tasks frequently, having a quick checklist to run down before the meetings ensures I'm not forgetting anything, especially when I have 5+ IEP meetings in one week! Daily tasks, like taking out the trash, shutting down the computer, etc. can also be made into checklists. I have a daily checklist at home as well that I skim over each night. It includes tasks like "feeding the pets (I admit, I would forget this one often if I didn't write it down), exercise, take out trash, lay out clothes for tomorrow, prep meal for tomorrow," etc.
8. Set times for meetings and/or tasks and don't go over. We all have one in our life. It may even be you. That person that can turn a 10 minute meeting into an hour and a half. Please understand that I'm not suggesting that you rush through an IEP meeting and not give each topic or person adequate time. However, as a whole, IEP meetings or parent conferences should not take half of your morning. There are most definitely going to be situations that arise where an extended meeting is necessary, but those shouldn't be the norm. If you're not leading the meeting, let your colleague know that you have a group of students or another meeting coming up afterwards, so you need to be finished by XX time. If you're running the meeting, stay on topic, don't beat the topics to death, and offer parents the chance to ask questions or express concerns throughout the meeting. Meeting agendas help, but are not always practical. I keep a sticky note in front of me with the topics/examples I need to discuss, and try really hard not to chase rabbits. :)
9. Advocate for yourself and your time. This has just recently become more of a problem for me. Sometimes when colleagues or administrators look at my schedule, they see blocks of time without students and assume I can fill in or do something else during that time. While I absolutely love helping out my school, there comes a point when we have to become comfortable saying "no," followed by a reason if necessary. Just this week I had to explain to my administrator why I have "blanks" in my schedule. Even though I'm not seeing students during that 30 minutes or hour, I'm entering data, billing Medicaid, testing students, writing reports, writing IEPs, etc. That time is crucial to me being able to get everything done. Sometimes, it just takes a simple explanation, and they understand. I'm a "do-er", and I like to help out. But I've had to learn that never saying "no" only stretches me too thin, which in turn affects my students in the long run. Know your limits, and stick to them.
10. Disconnect and buckle down when needed. There comes a time in every SLPs life where she/he just has to shut their office door! I'm all about keeping the door open to portray friendliness and approach-ability, but there are just some times when I have to keep it shut. I always tell my colleagues, "if you need me, come on in!" But sometimes you've just got to shut out the distractions (including your cell phone), pull up your sleeves, and dig in. My Fridays are usually like this, when my schedule is a bit lighter and I have time to just crank out the tasks back to back. These days are needed from time to time! Turn the music to something you like (or don't if it's distracting to you), put your cell phone on silent, take off your shoes (if you're like me), and dig in!
So there you have it: My top 10 ways I stay organized and efficient! I should probably throw in a disclaimer here and say that my life is not always organized. It took me 3 hours to clean out my closet this weekend, and you should see my car right now! But it's a proven fact that the more organized and on-task you stay, the more efficient you are.
Feeling like you could use an organizational overhaul in your life? You can do it! You've totally got this! Now get to work! ;)