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Organizing Your To-Do List for Maximum Productivity: Part 2

This is a guest post by Pamela, who doesn’t currently have her own blog. Pamela teaches elementary in Michigan.

1215277_spiral_notebookIdeas for organizing your subcategories
In part 1 of this series, I talked about the shortcomings of traditional to-do lists and the increased productivity that results from using a to-do schedule. With a to-do schedule, your list is organized by day, and each day is broken down into subcategories. The schedule makes it easy to plan ahead, since you have a list for each of the next 7-10 days. Today we’ll talk about some of the subcategories you might use for your daily lists.



One way to organize your day is by using time of day categories

  • Before school
  • During class: without students (things to do while they take tests, etc.)
  • During class: with students (miscellaneous things not reflected in lesson plans)
  • During prep. period
  • During lunch
  • After school
  • Evening

Why do it this way?
This method makes it easy to follow your list in chronological order, without needlessly spending time scanning your list to decide what to do next. Of course, for non-teaching days (or if you’re not currently teaching), this could be adapted with categories such as: before lunch, during baby’s naptime, etc. Click here for a sample time of day schedule.

Another way to organize your day is by using type of task categories

  • Errands
  • Phone calls
  • With spouse (or with family, or with kids)
  • Computer related tasks (non-internet)
  • Computer related tasks (internet and email)
  • Other

Why do it this way?
This method makes it easy to see at a glance which types of tasks are related. Completing similar tasks at the same time is a great time saver. If you find yourself listing more than 2 or 3 related tasks each day, think about creating a subcategory for those items so that you can accomplish those tasks consecutively. Click here for a sample type-of-task template.

A third way to organize your day is by using priority categories

  • A (3 high priority tasks)
  • B (2 medium priority tasks)
  • C (1 low priority task)

Why do it this way?
This method is great for people who don’t want their list bogged down with every little mundane task they must complete. The user can focus on the overall picture and make sure the big ticket items are accomplished each day. Simply tackle the three high priority tasks first, then the 2 medium priority tasks, and finally the low priority task. Click here for a sample ABC priority template.

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Choosing your subcategories
The number and type of subcategories you use will depend on:

  • Personal preference
  • The types of tasks you’re responsible for each day
  • How busy your typical day is
  • How well you remember things without writing them down

If you’re a busy elementary teacher, you have dozens of tasks to complete each day and you’re constantly on the go, so you may want a number of very specific subcategories. On the other hand, if you’re retired and have very few things to do each day, a list with general categories like the ABC priority categories may suit you better.

Personally, I’ve found time of day categories the most useful on the days I’m teaching. On non-teaching days, I prefer a combination of the priority categories and the type of task categories.

Scheduling your day the night before
Taking ten minutes each night to review and finalize your list for the following day will increase your productivity tenfold. This is especially true if you’re so busy that you hardly have time to look at the next item on your list, let alone mentally sort through it and prioritize as you go. This is also a good time to reschedule lower priority items if you realize that you’ve already overbooked yourself for the following day.

Five minutes here and there add up quickly
One of the best examples of the importance of organizing your schedule ahead of time is my “during class: without students” category. Here I list things that will take me five minutes or less that I can do when all of my students are engaged in something else. As soon as I realize that I might have a few minutes to myself, I quickly glance at this category and immediately begin a task. In five minutes, I can catch up on some filing, write a quick note to a parent, or check my school email. If I had to spend 2 or 3 of these five minutes scanning my list and thinking about what I could do in that short amount of time, these mini-breaks would go to waste. It may not seem like a big deal to waste 5 minutes, but 5 or 6 of these mini-breaks throughout the day equates to a half hour of tasks that don’t have to be done after school, on my own time. That’s two and a half hours worth of tasks each week that are accomplished in 5 minute spurts.

Scheduling: minute by minute
On teaching days, my lesson plans serve as a structured, “down to the minute” schedule and my to-do schedule subcategories simply allow me to look at what tasks I need to get done during my limited “free” time. When you have exactly 42 minutes for each class period, the importance of scheduling things down to the minute is obvious.

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If you’re ambitious and really want to make the most of a non-teaching day, try scheduling your day in one hour (or less) blocks, using specific times. I’ve decided this method works well for me on non-teaching work days (Monday-Friday) when I want to feel like I’ve had a productive day and don’t want to be side tracked by the typical work-from-home distractions. Those of you who are very ambitious (or busy) may choose to schedule your weekends down to the minute or hour. Personally, I like to have a lot of down time to rejuvenate, so I just can’t bring myself to schedule my weekends with such detail. For me, the ABC priority categories work well for weekends. It’s a good balance of letting myself kill time as I see fit, but still remembering the few things I really want to accomplish before Monday morning.

Give it a try
I’ve included sample templates for each of the three types of subcategories listed above. At the end of each template, after the daily lists, you’ll also notice a place to list items that haven’t been scheduled yet (your “to do soon” area). There are a few ways to organize this area – by month or by type of task. I’ve included examples of both within the different templates.

You can use, copy, and customize these templates for your personal use only, as long as the “created by” acknowledgement line remains intact. Permission to publicly post or distribute the templates is not granted, so please don’t do it. ?

If you’ve tried one of the methods mentioned above, or you have another method that works well for you, please feel free to share it in the comment section below.

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