3 Toxic Teacher To-Do List Mistakes

Toxic Teacher To-Do List Mistakes (And How to Fix Them)

Staring at an infinite to-do list can take a toll on your motivation. But I don’t have to tell you that. Here are a few sticking points that might be making your list unmanageable. Plus, how to get (closer to) a list of things that are actually doable—and then done.

Problem #1: Uncross-off-able tasks are clogging the pipes.

If you think you’re tired now, try looking at a list of after-school tasks and seeing that item number one is: Analyze student data and make up long-term, individualized plans for each student. Multi-part projects on a daily task list are more likely to shut down your engine than get you in gear.

The fix: Aim for a single verb in each item—preferably one you can handle in less than one hour of work.

Try to put items on your to-do list in a form you can actually cross off. And then, when you finish, cross them off your list. When it’s time to stop working, you’ll know you’ve made progress. When it’s time to restart, you’ll know where to pick up again.

So, what to do when you really do have a big, multi-part project to tackle?

Don’t write: Huge Multi-Part Task X.

Do write: Take the time to break Huge Multi-part Task X into smaller, concrete steps that can be fully completed in a reasonable amount of time.

Do that first. Then, cross it off your list.

Problem #2: Your to-do list is actually more of a vision board.

You absolutely should have long-term goals as a teacher. And you should have a place to collect great ideas that you’d love to put more thought into at some point. But adding vague, ethereal goals to a daily task list can be hazardous.

Get better at parent contact is a worthy teaching goal but not a to-do list item.

You also shouldn’t have a to-do list item that reads, “Learn about soccer? Make World-Cup-based math unit?” Not only do these items stay on your list forever, they constantly remind you of your shortcomings.

The fix: separate long-term goals from short-term tasks

For long-term goals, keep a separate, ongoing collection of ideas you’re not ready to implement yet. Schedule a time to look at this list when you’re less busy. Until then, you can use the word-search feature to find items on the list when needed.

The important thing is to keep wish list items off your list of tasks that need to get done this week.

You may indeed get better at parent contact over time. Today, you just need to call Javier’s dad.

Problem #3: Classroom task creep is putting you on the oh, s#*t! time-management system.

With all there is to do every day, it’s tempting to funnel your off hours into teaching tasks or turn your home into a satellite office for your classroom.

Although taking stacks of work home might seem like a sign of dedication, it actually gives you an out.

Why finish at school if you can shove that stack of papers into a tote bag and grade them later? Maybe you’ll grade in front of the TV while watching your favorite show! Or maybe you’ll get a burst of energy right before bedtime! Or. . . maybe. . . you’ll have several tote bags full of ungraded papers sitting on a chair next to your dinner table until the day before grades are due. Suddenly, you’re on the “Oh, s#*t!!!” time-management system, in which tasks divide themselves into two categories: things that can wait until tomorrow, and things that (“Oh, s#*t!”) can’t.

The fix: Force yourself to face the math.

Teachers are often encouraged to do something called backward planning, starting with what students should learn by the end of the year.

Try applying the concept of backward planning to your own schedule: What would have to happen for each Monday morning to feel like the start of a new week instead of an undone-task hole that gets deeper as the year goes on?

This is easier said than done; in fact, it’s one of the topics I often work on with teachers in Office Hours. But unless you can manufacture more hours, working within the hours you actually have is a worthy goal.

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Honesty, humor, practical advice, and occasional oversharing, always with the goal of making the week ahead more manageable.