Taming Your To-Do List

Reclaim your free time, reduce the amount of stress in your life, and spend more time focusing on the plans God has for you.

Has your to-do list grown out of control? Do you feel overwhelmed by the increasing number of expectations and responsibilities facing you as a teacher? Not sure where to begin? 

If so, you can find encouragement in and feel empowered by the following framework designed specifically to help classroom teachers tame their to-do lists, save time, and experience less stress. 

But before diving into the framework, consider these empowering mindset shifts:

  • You cannot do everything, but you can focus on what is most important. 
  • You are not just a teacher. You have other roles and responsibilities that are also important.
  • Striving for the perfect schedule isn’t fruitful. Instead, consider working towards one that is sustainable. 
  • The key is intentionality. The more intentional you are about where you spend your time, the more effective you will be and the less stressed and frazzled you will feel.

Start Taming Your To-Do list

Start by writing down everything on your plate. This can include tasks on your current to-do list and the things you do on a regular basis such as organizing your classroom, creating lesson plans, and grading. 

Next, for each item on your list, you can do one of four things: 

  1. You can trash it. If it’s not necessary, stop doing it. 
  2. You can trim it. Do it less or put boundaries around it. 
  3. You can transfer it. Have others help you. 
  4. You can treasure it. If it’s important and beneficial, leave it on your list.

Trash It

Can you eliminate any of the items on your list? You may be thinking, There’s nothing on this list I can just stop doing! But consider taking a closer look. Most likely you could trash a few tasks on your list (even just temporarily). 
Examples of tasks teachers have trashed:
  • Correcting students' mistakes. Allow students to correct their own mistakes on assessments as an assignment. 
  • Taking on extra roles. Say “no” to additional responsibilities at home, school, or church that are not the best use of your time. 
  • Giving and grading homework. Eliminate homework assignments completely.
  • Editing videos. Leave the mistakes in your videos and let them be raw and simple instead of trying to perfect them.
  • Changing bulletin boards or classroom décor. Keep the same decorations up for the entire school year.
  • Keeping a paper gradebook back-up. Just use one digital gradebook.


Trim It

There are tasks that have to be done, so you can’t just trash them. However, you may be able to trim them. The key to trimming your to-do list is to stay focused and be intentional. The more you stick to this, the more powerful this strategy will be. 
Examples of tasks teachers have trimmed:
  • Grading. Be selective about what you grade; almost every teacher could grade less than they currently do.
  • Checking emails. Commit to checking your email once or twice instead of continually throughout the day. 
  • Spending time on social media. Put specific boundaries around the time you spend posting school updates. 
  • Sending a classroom newsletter. Send updates every other week or once a month instead of weekly.
  • Planning lessons. Use a timer to give yourself a deadline so you can stay focused and avoid going down a rabbit hole. 
  • Creating PowerPoints. Consider creating more simplified and less elaborate presentations.


Transfer It

It can be hard to ask for help because it will require you to relinquish some control. But, the truth is that there are a lot of classroom tasks other people can do to help ease your burden. At first, it may take longer to teach someone how to do a certain task, but the time you save in the end will be worth it.
Examples of tasks teachers have transferred:
  • Managing classroom duties. Give students responsibilities and meaningful roles in the classroom. 
  • Decorating the classroom. Ask if creative and artistic students and/or parent volunteers would enjoy decorating your classroom.
  • Setting up or tearing down. Schedule a paraprofessional or parent volunteer to help set up and tear down for special activities or lessons. 
  • Making copies. Organize a schedule for parents to help make copies or assign this role to a trustworthy student.
  • Creating review games. Have students create review games in preparation for an upcoming assessment or to reflect back on previously covered material. 
  • Organizing the classroom library. Allow students to showcase their organizational skills in this role. 

Treasure It

 In order to figure out what to treasure, you’ll need to figure out which items on your list are most important. Ask yourself, What tasks actually bring me closer to achieving my classroom goals? These are the tasks that you need to treasure.
Methods that can help you choose what to treasure:
  • Spending time in prayer. Ask God to reveal to you how He wants you to use your time throughout the day. 
  • Discussing with a trusted friend, family member, or colleague. Consult with someone close to you who can help you gain valuable perspective.
  • Making a list. Place the tasks on your to-do list in order of importance to help you visualize your priorities. 
  • Setting short-term and long-term goals. Gain a clearer understanding of what you want to accomplish immediately versus in the future.
  • Identifying what brings you joy. Find out what tasks give you a sense of fulfillment and let go of those that don’t. 
  • Determining what aligns with your gifts and talents. Explore ways to utilize your God-given gifts and talents to bless others. 

Are you ready to reclaim your free time, reduce the amount of stress in your life, and spend more time focusing on the plans God has for you? Start taming your to-do list today!

If you'd like help trimming, trashing, and transferring your to-do list, Linda will walk you through step-by-step in the Tame Your To-Do List System for Teachers

This framework for teachers has been adapted from the book Clockwork by Mike Michalowicz.

Linda Kardamis taught middle school math before founding Teach 4 the Heart. She is the author of Create Your Dream Classroom and Take Heart and Teach and the creator of Classroom Management 101. She and her husband are raising their four kids in Northeast Ohio.


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