Let me start by saying that I’m not holding myself up as a model of best practice here – there are plenty of areas that I need to improve on! However, I have picked up tips and tricks from lots of places and people over the years which have helped me, so I thought I would pass them on.
The work never ends! As soon as one task is over, at least three more hit the in tray. It’s really important to prioritise and I use Covey’s time management matrix in my head to sort the jobs into four categories:
Careful planning should stop things creeping from box 2 to box 1. I hate leaving things hanging around! Equally, the unimportant things do need attention too…eventually. What I find on a day-by-day basis is that something will usually happen which will jump straight in to box 1. A teacher will need support, an angry parent will turn up in reception, a student issue will suddenly blow up. One of the hardest leadership lessons I’ve learned is being able to drop all of my work when something like that happens, but it was also one of the first and most important. Senior leaders need to be there for staff, students and parents no matter what. I can do my work later. The same goes if someone comes to the door for a quick word. It is so important that that person gets my full attention – turn away from the screen, put the work down, and listen. For this reason I’ve learned to be about a week ahead of myself in lesson planning so that, even if something time-consuming and involving happens unexpectedly, my lessons won’t suffer. Too much.
Email is great but it can easily become overwhelming. I like to read email as soon as it arrives; I have it linked to my phone so this is usually possible. If I’m able to deal with it quickly, I will, then file it away in the relevant folder or delete it straight away. If there’s more action required I’ll leave the email in my inbox until it’s sorted. This acts as a kind of visual reminder to me to deal with it – old emails sat in my inbox leave me twitchy so It works well for me!
I haven’t used a paper diary, mark book or planner for a long time! All my class records are stored in SIMS or spreadsheets, and I use the Outlook calendar to organise everything. We have a two-week timetable which makes programming recurrences in for my timetable a bit laborious around the holidays, but I do it in one big go once a year. My calendar is synced to my phone and iPad via Exchange so I can enter an appointment into any device and it will appear on all of them. I am absolutely fanatical about putting things into my calendar, from ten-minute meetings to parents’ evenings. I once forgot to turn up to a lesson observation in my previous job because it had been rescheduled and I hadn’t remembered to update my calendar. I still wake up with guilt about it sometimes. Never again!
I’m a great list maker. I use Evernote to keep my lists synced across platforms. I use the iPhone app to make a note of things as I think of them and Evernote will update these to my account which I can access from my phone, iPad, or computer (the Chrome browser even has a handy Evernote extension) . I also use post-its to make daily to-do lists as there’s something really satisfying about screwing them up and binning them once the jobs are done…
Twitter and Blogs
Keeping up to date with Twitter is a challenge in itself! I have several tips and tricks here which help me keep on top of what’s happening. I’m indebted to @TeamTait‘s excellent guides for many of these!
- Twitter Lists: I organise the people I follow (and some that I don’t) into lists which help me filter them. The native Twitter web site and app don’t make this easy, however, but there are a couple of solutions which help…
- Flipboard: this is a beautiful iPad and iPhone app which displays my twitter feed but also the feed from my Twitter Lists and Favourites in handy panels which I can flip through. It’s actually a pleasure to use! You can also create your own “magazines” in Flipboard and “flip” things you find into them. I have magazines called Education, Media and Inspiration but I’m really only just getting started!
- Tweetdeck: I find Tweetdeck quite distracting so I don’t use it as my default, but it’s really useful for following #SLTChat or the other education chats which happen. Basically you can set it up so that each column shows a different feed from Twitter. I have columns set up for each of my Twitter lists so I can filter out the tweets into categories, plus a column to follow #SLTChat at #ukedchat or #engchatuk and a few other tracked searches. I also have a column for my interactions so I know when anyone has favourited, retweeted, or replied to one of my tweets. After half an hour of #SLTChat my head’s usually spinning anyway! Again, there’s a great Chrome extension for Tweetdeck as well as the web interface.
- Pocket: how did I live without this? Jon Tait’s “How To” video will get you started. In essence, you open a Pocket account, then whenever you see a link to a blog, resource, image, video or anything you think might be interesting on Twitter or anywhere on the web you can “put it in your pocket” to read later. There’s an iOS app and add-ons for Firefox and Chrome to make this a one-click business. I usually set aside some time to sit down and read through my Pocket every other day. When I’ve read something I’ll add tags to it (e.g. “English”, “Leadership”, “CPD”) so I can find it again from the archive. If you’re not already using Pocket or a similar service, you must start!
Gone are the days of six different versions of the same document existing on various machines, of emailing resources from home to school, or the disaster of losing my memory stick. I store everything related to work on my school network. This is important not just for organisation but for data protection – if my laptop or memory stick falls into the wrong hands, I don’t want any pupil data or potentially sensitive school information on there. I use Remote Desktop to work on the school network. If I want to transfer files I use DropBox which again has an iOS app and a Chrome extension. I can save files from the web, my phone, or any computer to my DropBox and pick it up from any other device – just one version, synced everywhere. I don’t like leaving things there though, so I clear it out regularly.
I don’t get much post apart from junk mail. I was advised very early on in my career to open my post over the bin, and if it didn’t look important in the first five seconds after opening, to drop it in…
Find what works and try something new
I’m always looking for new ways of working more efficiently and effectively, and there are lots of solutions out there. Try them! And if you’ve got a great tool or app or system out there, please let me know!