The Most Underrated Tool for Dealing with Teacher Information Overload

As a speaker at new-teacher orientation events, of the first issues I try to address is that new teachers aren’t just on information overload: they’re on super-important information overload. With this in mind, an organizational system I share with incoming teachers or their mentors is a strategy I call “A Big Box.”

The supplies necessary for the “big box” system are:

  1. Literally, just a big box
  2. A marker, used only to label this box “Ideas for Later.”

Then, the box goes into the classroom closet and stays there forever. Its job is to serve as a lesson-idea limbo for materials with no clear, immediate use that nonetheless feel too valuable to trash. The teacher may dig through it one day and suddenly realize they would like to use that 270-page unit on whales. Or, the teacher may never look at it again. Either option is fine.

Is there a computerized version of the “Big Box” system?

Yes. Here are three possibilities. To get into the information-management spirit, use whichever of these work for you. Completely ignore the rest.

  1. Start a folder on your computer desktop labeled “Ideas for Later.” You now have a place to drag and drop any files you’ve saved in a digital version of stacking giant training binders on your ironing board (at least that’s where I always put them).
  2. If you already have a way of organizing links on your computer or messages in your inbox, now is the time to start an “Ideas for Later” category.
  3. Start a secret email address: something like Save it in your contact list, but don’t share it with anyone else. Any incoming email that seems like you should really, definitely, absolutely look at it. . . at some point in the future gets forwarded directly to this address. You can also send yourself ideas. Like the information you get from others, some of your own ideas will be brilliant. Some of them, on second thought, won’t be worth the trouble—at least for now. In any case, nothing is gone forever. It’s just in a place where it won’t accidentally end up clogging your to-do list.

If you’d like more some help cutting through the mental clutter, you can sign up for the The School Year Starter Kit, a free, three-day email series meant to help you focus on the few, basic things that will most help you prepare for the first day of teaching. You can sign up at this link or using the form below.

I hope you’ll find these emails helpful.

But, if anything is not exactly what you need at the moment, at least you’ll know exactly what to do with it.

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