Sunday, June 28, 2009

Pictures of My Home Office

The major project over the last several weeks has been moving out of an office and merging two offices (work and home) into one (home). In a later post, I will detail the list of tasks I worked through in order to wind things down at the office. Aside from the obvious tasks of collecting empty boxes, there are those less obvious tasks, such as organizing digital files that others would need and then wiping clean both my computer and office-issued BlackBerry to prevent others from seeing private information.

In this post, I will share pictures taken of my desk and files at home. In little more than a week following the last day at the office, everything is done except hanging the pictures and plaques on the walls. All of the books have found a home. Reference files are set up. All of this was in addition to spending considerable time finishing book #2. Here are some pictures of the desk at home.

The desktop is free of paper, sort of a trademark for me. There may be more in the way of memorabilia on the desk for some would prefer, but everything has earned its place. Everything is special in some way.

Some may wonder why I have two clocks. One is from my wife on my 45th birthday. The other is from the Pizitz Middle School Band as a going-away gift in 1993. For someone with no paper, I have quite a few paperweights. Again, each one has some meaning. A "Superior" rating medal from State Band Contest was made into a paperweight. Another is a medal from an honor band I conducted. There is a paperweight from a United States Senator during my childhood days. The "Outstanding Young Men of America" paperweight rounds out the quartet. The gold object in front of the paperweights is a miniature flute, a gift from my wife many years ago. (I have a degree in flute performance.) My wife, Davonia, is pictured at the corner. The candle is a present from a co-worker and very dear friend.

On the right-hand side of the desk is my Inbox. I picked that one up at Bombay Company for $10. It was s steal! The lid features a gold lion. The school bus paperweight in the left of the picture is a limited edition made from Georgia marble. The glass paperweight is a cube resembling an aquarium, a gift from a teacher during my days as principal.

From left to right, there is a picture of Davonia, a picture of Bonnie & Skipper (our two Shelties), a picture of me with a very dear friend from work, a collectible bear given to me by that same friend for my 49th birthday, a clock given to me as a retirement gift by one of our principals, and the "Simplify" box given to me by my friend as a Christmas present.

While I was presenting at the NAESP national convention in 2008, my wife was buying me a beautiful present, the globe which sits next to my Inbox. In front of it is a set of two cubes given to me as a thank-you gift for serving as an NAESP editorial adviser. Each side of each cube displays a different word or two. Together, the two cubes communicate a message. In all, 36 messages are possible. So whether I turn the cubes so that they say Be, Recognize someone...without fear, or Think...with passion, it's all good!

Above the desk are bookshelves. On one shelf, you see my nameplate from work. Just behind it is an engraved silver bowl, a retirement gift from the school system. The book end is part of a set given to me by my school when I left as principal and moved to the central office.

Over the computer, is more memorabilia. If you have been counting, you now see the 4th clock. This one is a Lasercraft clock with a nautical theme. To the right of the clock is a pocket watch. The inscription on the watch reads, "John P. Buck from Sister Xmas '99." John P. Buck was my grandfather and died before I was born. The "99" refers to the year "1899." Just behind it is a framed note card picturing the front of the school where I was principal. The note cards were so attractive that framing one became a traditional gift for retiring teachers.

If the paper is not on the desk, then where is it? Anyone who knows me well will tell you the paper is in the tickler file. Mine is located in a drawer just under the computer, a 90 degree swivel from the desk.

Across from the desk is an ornate filing cabinet matching the desk. Here is my reference filing system.

Finally, here is my set of "A-Z" files. Those who have read the book know that the contents of these files do not need to be acted upon, are for short-term reference filing, and most of the contents will eventually wind up in the trash can.

That's about it. Everything I need is close at hand in a drawer. The desktop is clear. Perhaps a bit too much in the way of memorabilia, and certainly more clocks than necessary. But, everything there is a reminder of something or someone who has made a difference in my life. That's the home office!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Workshop Comments from Virtual AETC

In the last post, we talked about what workshop participants from Virtual AETC would do with an extra hour. In this post, you can read comments from the workshop as keyed into the comment box by participants:
  • This is great. Motivates me to get organized!!
  • So true!
  • Sheer panic
  • I've had teachers learn this lesson the hard way!!
  • Learned the hard way
  • It only takes one time to lose your data til you come up with a backup system.
  • I learned when I lost a 27 page (in the works) research paper...thank goodness for Norton Recovery
  • I have a couple of flash drives because I have lost my backup system before.
  • Don't forget your pictures.
  • This is exactly what i need
  • This is what I need!
  • Wow is right!
  • Too cool! I always enjoy your presentations
  • I always enjoy them, too
  • Good presentation and information.
  • Thanks so much! Very informative!
  • Great for people like me who forget everything
  • I love this! Exactly what I need!
  • Great tool!!!!!
  • Definitely!!!!!
  • Great
  • Great Presentation...Thank you
  • I always enjoy your workshops. Great information.
  • Thank you so much! Great presentation!
  • Thanks so much- I have sessions from you before and as always get very useful information
  • I ALWAYS learn new STUFF in your sessions! Thanks
  • Great workshop
  • Great ideas...thanks!!
  • This session SOOOO informative!!!!

It's always a pleasure to present to people who are hungry for easier ways to navigate life. This year's Virtual AETC was my first experience with presenting via the computer. I learned a lot along the way, and for me, learning something new every day is important.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants

One of my summer projects is taking an online course to fulfill the requirements for a "professional learning unit," the new vehicle by which Alabama administrators renew their certificates.

One assignment asked the question, "What differences do you see between you as a student and the students of today?" Here is my reply:

I think the issue has to do more with the change in the environment than the change in the person. Students today were not genetically wired any differently than a generation ago. They are products of their environment, and it is an environment which offers far more choices than we knew as students.

I grew up with 3 TV channels (4 if the weather was just right), a radio, a turntable, one telephone in the house, and print media. Of those, the only one of them which was portable was print. In addition, only one held any type of suspense--the phone. Will it ring? If so, who will it be? The environment pretty much lent itself to focusing on the task at hand.

Contrast that scenario to the student of today who has access to over 100 channels, a go-anywhere iPod, go-anywhere cell phone (which rings, delivers text messages, and delivers e-mail), the internet, instant messaging, Facebook, MySpace, etc. The ability to take the cell phone anywhere means students are prone to being interrupted anywhere or interrupting themselves from anywhere and at any time. Curious about who may have sent an e-mail or left something on Facebook, self-interruption fragments their time.

The readings put a positive spin on "multitasking." Notice the dates--2001 and 2005. That's a long time ago in the world of technology. I did a Google search for "multitasking studies." Click the link and see if you get the same impression of what current thought says about multitasking as I did.

What all of this says to me is that time is as finite as it ever has been, yet the demands on that time grow. Our students have two choices. The first is to allow technology to be the master as they allow themselves to overwhelmed with new piece of input feeling as if there is no other choice. The results is that they do twice as much half as well, a result that looks like this video:

The other choice is for our students to use technology as a tool. Let technology perform a Google search that will return more relevant information in 2 seconds than two days in the stacks of the local library would yield. Use the "found time" for endeavors that require creative thought. Let Excel crunch the numbers in 2 seconds instead of spending 2 hours with the calculator. Use the "found time" to focus on something of quality.

In a world filled with choices and where interruptions and diversions abound, self-discipline and the ability to focus are going to be the keys to accomplish anything of substance. Like anything else, teachers are being looked to for guidance in this area. That's why we've got to be on the forefront, learning.

The frightening thing is that if someone is going to teach our young people how to use technology as a servant rather than letting it be the master, that someone is going to be us, the "digital immigrants."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

If I Had One More Hour Every Day...

During my workshops, I like to ask participants to finish this sentence:

"If I had one more hour every day, I would..."

I ask this question because the concepts from the workshops, if implemented, will save at least an hour a day. In many cases, the amount of time could be far more.

Usually, workshop participants write their responses on slips of paper. During the "Managing Digital Data With Ease" session during Virtual AETC, participants keyed their responses in the comments box. Here is what they had to say:

If I had one more hour every day, I would:
  • Sleep
  • Spend with my family
  • Sleep
  • I'd realize how far behind I actually was
  • Pray
  • Spend time with family and prayer
  • Rest
  • Do laundry-- 3 kids under 8
  • Relax
  • Have quiet time
  • Clean my house
  • Mark more things off my list
  • Spend it will my daughter
  • Spend time with family, read
  • Play with my dogs
  • Spend it with friends and family
  • Rest and spend time with family
  • Clean my filthy house
  • Volunteer more
  • Sleep
  • Relax and enjoy family
  • Have quiet time
  • Give myself a little more time
  • Rest
  • Play with the kids
  • Sleep
  • Spend more time with family and friends
  • I would attend more virtual conferences
  • Play more golf
  • Read
  • Enjoy family and friends
What about you? If you had another hour every day, how would you spend it?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My Checklists Part III

In this post, we will take one more goal from beginning to end. Putting quality teachers in every classroom is at the top of every principal's priority list. Most teaching vacancies occur during the summer, but they could occur at any time. Filling that position entails a process which includes quite a few steps. The process will differ somewhat from district to district. For me, hiring and inducting a new teacher encompassed the following steps:

  1. Talk to superintendent regarding resignation and filling position
  2. Position posted
  3. Screen applicants
  4. Check to be sure applicants meet certification and HQT requirements
  5. Set up interviews
  6. Contact references
  7. Submit recommendation
  8. Board approval
  9. Notify successful candidate
  10. Notify non-successful candidates
  11. Add to birthday list
  12. Assign copier code
  13. Assign alarm code
  14. Assign voice mail
  15. Assign ikey
  16. Establish e-mail account
  17. Add to e-mail group
  18. Label mailbox
  19. Add to STI
  20. Enroll in Lee v. Macon training
  21. Add to School Renewal committee
  22. Assign mentor
  23. Put "Acceptable Use Policy" in box
  24. Start a personnel file

Every one of those steps was required in order to hire and induct a teacher. When a position became available, my first step was to go to the Notes section of Outlook and drag to the Task button the Note entitled, "+Position has been filled and new hire inducted." In that Note were all of the steps listed above.

To start things off, I would amend the subject line to tell me which position is being filled. The line may then read something like "1st Grade Position has been filled and new hire inducted." Next would be to cut the first task, "Talk to superintendent regarding resignation and filling position," and paste it in the subject line just before the "+" sign. Then I ask when I want to see that task again and assign a start/due date.

From now until that new teacher is hired and inducted, I am working through the 24 steps. At all times, I know exactly what comes next. It's pasted just to the left of the "+" sign. I also know what comes after that. It's listed in the note section of the Task.

With this method, I can track many goals at the same time. Nothing slips through the cracks, because everything is in writing and dated so that it appears at the right time.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Checklists Part II

In the last post, I talked about the checklists which I maintain and house in the Notes section of Outlook. In this post, I will show how I work through these checklists using as an example one titled "+Grading Period has been concluded."

During the summer, the ending dates for each grading period will have been established. When each grading period ends, I want to be presented with a list of things that need to be done without my having to think about them. Armed with the ending dates of each grading period, I do the following:
  1. Open Outlook and click the "Notes" button.
  2. Locate the checklist which says, "+Grading Period has been concluded."
  3. Click on the checklist and drag the mouse to the Task button.
  4. When I let off the mouse, a new Task has been created. The subject of the task is automatically completed--It is the same as the title of the Note. All of the information in the Note is duplicated in the body of the Task.
  5. Assign a start/due date to the task coinciding with the final day of the first grading period.
  6. Save and close the task.
  7. Repeat the process for each grading period, dragging the checklist to the Task button, assigning a start/due date, and saving/closing the task.
When the final day of the first grading period arrives, I see a task in the Task list which reads, "+Grading Period has been concluded." The note section of that task contains the following items:
  1. Allow grade posting
  2. Remind teachers to post grades
  3. Run check to see who has not posted grades
  4. Run "Missing Grade" report
  5. Run Accelerated Reader Marking Period Report
  6. Disallow grade posting
  7. Reconcile grades (Utilities, Grading, Reconcile grades)
  8. Run report cards
  9. Run Honor Roll
  10. Put Honor Roll ribbons in boxes
  11. Send Honor Roll list to newspaper
  12. Run grade distribution
  13. Run failure list
With my system, the "+" at the first of the line indicates that I need to define the next step toward the accomplishment of my goal. Those steps are listed in the note section. I look at the first step, "Allow grade posting." In the student administrative software, I turn on grade posting, which will allow teachers to electronically report their grades to the office.

I look at the next step, the one which involves reminding teachers to post grades. I immediately open a new e-mail message and quickly send information to teachers that they can post their grades.

The next step says, "Run check to see who has not posted grades." I cannot perform that step right now. I will have to wait until teachers have been given a reasonable amount of time to post their grades. I can go no further with this goal right now and must stop. What I do is cut the step which says, "Run check to see who has not posted grades" and paste it in the subject line just before the "+" sign. Now the task reads as follows:

Run check to see who has not posted grades+Grading Period has been concluded

I ask myself, "When do I want to see this task again?" and assign a start/due date in Outlook. Now this task and this goal are out of sight and out of mind. They will magically reappear on the date I had prescribed.

When the deadline arrives for teachers to post grades, I can resume working on this goal. I know exactly where I left off. The next step is in the subject line of the task just before the "+" and the goal is to the right of the "+" sign. In the administrative software, I run a list of teachers who have not posted grades. If one or more teachers have not posted their grades, I can go no further with this goals. I send a reminder to the teachers and reschedule the task to appear the next day.

On the other hand, if all teachers have posted grades, I can go straight to the next step, "Run 'Missing Grade' report. If there are missing grades, I can go no further and must alert the appropriate teachers of what is missing. If there are no missing grades, I could continue straight down the list and accomplish steps number 5-13 to the extent that time and my level of concentration will allow.

My feeling is that when one starts to work on a goal, the best practice is to take that goal as far as possible before switching to something else. When you must leave that goal, put a bookmark in it. That bookmark consists on cutting and pasting the next step into the subject line just before the "+" sign. The next time you want to resume working on that goal, you know exactly where to start.

One final point is important. I need a trigger to cause me to look at the grading period checklist back in the summer and start dragging this and other checklists to the Task button. That trigger consists of one repeating task which comes back every summer. It instructs me to look at all of the checklists, drag them to the Task button, and start to assign start/due dates.

JSU Workshops Tuesday

There are still plenty of seats left for the Get Organized! workshop offered through the Jacksonville State University Inservice Center on June 23. The time is 8:30-4:00.

The inservice is providing a free copy of the book to all participants! Registration is limited to those in the JSU Inservice Center Region.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Virtual AETC Sessions Archived - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more The sessions from Virtual AETC have now been posted so that anyone who missed a session can view the archives. It is my understanding that they will be available for the remainder of the month.

You can view and listen to the my sessions by going to each of the following links:

These sessions are presented through Elluminate. You may be prompted to do some downloading of software one time.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


A couple of days ago, my Inbox contained what was without a doubt the nicest e-mail I had ever received. New e-mail came rolling in a few minutes ago, and now it's a tossup.

For many years, I've practiced and preached the value of technology as a tool for efficiency, a way to get the mundane done more quickly, and a way to create more time for the creative aspects of life.

Lately, I've realized more and more the power of technology to maintain relationships. Sometimes important thoughts need to be expressed in the moment or they become lost forever.

Yes, I wrote recently that e-mail starts fights, and I could tell you some stories from personal experience about the ruffled feathers that have been caused by misinterpreted e-mail. At the same time, e-mail, and Facebook, and blogs, and my newly-found friend Twitter also serve to keep us close when we can't be face-to-face.

Out of sight need not be out of mind.

My Checklists

Making a coconut cake
Enrolling a student in school
Ending a grading period
Packing for an out-of-town trip

All of these activities have some commonalities:
  1. They have a number of steps involved in order to be complete.
  2. They will happen numerous times, so having a pre-defined list of the steps will serve as a huge time-saver.
  3. They do not necessarily recur on a regular schedule (every week, every month, etc.)

As an elementary school principal, at the end of every grading period, we performed the following steps in the main office:
  1. Allow grade posting
  2. Remind teachers to post grades
  3. Run check to see who has not posted grades
  4. Run "Missing Grade" report
  5. Run Accelerated Reader Marking Period Report
  6. Disallow grade posting
  7. Reconcile grades (Utilities, Grading, Reconcile grades)
  8. Run report cards
  9. Run Honor Roll
  10. Put Honor Roll ribbons in boxes
  11. Send Honor Roll list to newspaper
  12. Run grade distribution
  13. Run failure list

Working through the list was a cinch. Trying to remember everything on the list would have been a nightmare and surely manifested itself in forgotten items time and time again. But where does one keep this sort of information? How does it work into the overall system? Enter the beauty of checklists.

For me, the answer has been to use the Note section of Outlook. Each checklist is a separate note. Here are the checklists that I have in my Outlook Notes:

+Additional Academic Indicator of 95% has been met
+BBSST To-Do List
+Calendar dates have been scheduled
+Calendar for new school year has been adopted
+Code of Conduct has been revised
+Computer is set up
+Distribution lists have been updated
+District Accreditation review has been completed and paperwork submitted
+Evaluations have been completed
+Grading Period has been concluded
+Interpreter for PTO meetings and Awards Day have been secured
+Lee versus Macon Training has been completed
+Packing List
+Position has been filled and new hire inducted
+Professional Development has been planned
+Professional Development Plan has been submitted
+Recruiting Fair has been organized
+Renaissance Place is ready for new school year
+SETS is ready for new school year
+State Superintendent's Art Show has been held
+STI is ready for new school year
+Teacher of the Year/JSU Hall of Fame have been submitted and winners honored
+Time Management Workshop has been planned

Look at what each one of these titles has in common:
  1. Almost without exception, the title consists of a statement which is either true or false.
  2. As long as the statement is false, there is more to be done.
  3. When the statement is true, the goal has been achieved. In other words, we can "check it off."
  4. Each statement begins with a noun.
  5. Each statement is preceded by a plus (+) sign
  6. Each title represents a goal which will be undertaken once or more every year.
  7. The exact dates involved with any one of the goals will vary from year to year.
In the next two posts, I will take two of the samples from the list and "think out loud" so that you can see how what seems to be an overwhelming list becomes a set of small, doable tasks which simply become part of my task list.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Why E-Mail Starts Fights

E-mail is great, but not for everything. This short video tells us when e-mail should not be used.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Collecting Data

Every year, schools across America have in their computer databases a wealth of data that can be reported in any number of ways. Every year, schools across America dump a portion of that data as those computer programs promote students from one grade level to the next, promote the exiting grade of the system entirely, remove the connection between a student and the teacher from the previous year, and change the school year calendar. The challenge comes in making good decisions about what data to extract before the data is rolled over for the next year.

Here are the suggestions I gave our school system's reading coaches and elementary principals on what reports to run from Accelerated Reader and STAR. What is listed may seem like a great deal, but in less than an hour you will have data that can be used for year-to-year comparisons and will be useful for years to come. As far as where to file them, my filing cabinet has a folder labeled Assessment Data—Accelerated Reader and one labeled Assessment Data—STAR. There is also a folder for each of the other assessments we give (ADAW, ARMT, etc.). Each begins with “Assessment Data” followed by the name of the assessment. Each year is stapled together. That way, one folder holds all of the Accelerated Reader data for a number of years. By labeling the folders the way I have suggested here, every piece of assessment data is right together in the filing cabinet where it is easy to access.

Accelerated Reader

Schoolwide Summary—Set date range from the first day of the school year to the last. Group by Grade. This report will give you your year in terms of how each class earned points, the % of questions answered correctly, the book level on which the class is reading, and what % are at-risk. You see the same information for the grade level as a whole. This is your best “at –a-glance” report.

Diagnostic Reading Practice—Use the same settings as above. This report will give you a record of every one of your children in terms of points earned for the year, % of correct answers, and average book level.

Marking Period Progress—Select all marking periods. This report shows you how each class progressed over the year in several key areas (basically the same areas as the Schoolwide Summary).

Quiz Usage—Set the date range for the first day of the school year to the last. Select the 10 most taken quizzes. Sort by Rank. You will see the results for each class. This report will give you an idea of the most popular books for each class.

Point Club Summary—Select the date range for the first day of the school year to the last. Select the point clubs you would like to view. This report will give you an idea of which children the top point earners throughout the school.


Snapshot Report—Sort by grade level. For every student, you will see their score for the most recent test. Pay particular attention to the Grade Equivalent score. You also see group averages for each grade level.

Growth Report—You will be able to see the results of each administration of STAR for each student.

In a future post, I will provide some suggestions for other data that a school may wish to keep year after year and then how to organize that data.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Sample "My Documents" Folder

Thanks to everyone who attend one of my breakout sessions at the North Alabama Administrators Conference yesterday.

We did run out of the handout that gave you a screen shot of a sample "My Documents" folder. The great thing about being able to refer to this blog is that we can get that information to you. You can download a copy of that handout by clicking here. You can also view it below.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

My iGoogle Gadgets

iGoogle is my home page, and for good reason. It functions as a virtual dashboard, giving me access to a variety of resources all in one place. I first talked about iGoogle and how to set up an iGoogle page in this post. I talked about the links I have in my Bookmark gadget in this post.

Here is a list of the gadgets I have on my iGoogle page. Clicking on each link will take you to an explanation of that gadget and give you the opportunity to add it to your iGoogle page.

Google Reader
Inspirational Quote & Picture
Google News
Education (from
MapQuest Driving Directions
Zip/Area Code Lookup
Document to PDF

Monday, June 08, 2009

Follow-Up from "Your Own Blog in 10 Minutes of Less"

This post is written for those who participated in "Your Own Blog in 10 Minutes or Less" through VAETC (Virtual Alabama Educational Technology Conference).

These are the sample blogs that we viewed:
The site we used to create customized title banners and other images is

For instructions on how to remove the Blogger navigation bar, click here.

Do you know of other examples that would benefit teachers who are interested in using a blog in their classes? If you do, please leave a comment.

This Friday, I am offering "Managing Digital Data With Ease" from 11:00-12:00 through VAETC. Search the PD Catalog for

If you are in the Jacksonville State University Regional In-Service Center area, there are still seats left for "Get Organized! Time Management for School Leaders." Click here for free registration. The in-service center is providing copies of the book free to all participants!

For those in the University of Montevallo Regional In-Service Center area, join me for "Your Own Blog in 10 Minutes or Less," a half-day version of "Get Organized! Time Management for School Leaders" and a half-day session on "Get Organized With Your BlackBerry." Further information is located here.

I hope that you will check back here often!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Twitter...I Finally Gave In

After hearing about Twitter and how many people love it, I figured I probably needed to at least give it a try. The account was free and surprisingly easy to set up. If you are on Twitter and should be so inclined to want to "follow" me, I am located at

There is an excellent flash demo which walks you through all of the capabilities. I viewed it very briefly and have it on my list to spend some time with several weeks from now. You can access that demo by clicking here.

One question came to mind quickly. If the whole idea is to tell people what you are doing at any given moment, shouldn't there be a way to do that easily from anywhere--such as from my BlackBerry? I found a site that walked me through how to do exactly that. Basically, I have added a contact to my BlackBerry. When I want to "tweet," I e-mail that contact. That set of instructions is here.

How much I will use Twitter remains to be seen. In many ways, the "what are you doing now" concept parallels Facebook. While I have quite a few friends with Facebook accounts, I cannot say the same for Twitter. Maybe that will change. Maybe it won't. Stay tuned!

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Master List

In the last post, I talked about a lengthy to-do list as being a positive thing. In this post, let's look at how to organize that list so that it can be lengthy without being overwhelming.

My to-do list is, in fact, one long list. It is organized chronologically. Since the BlackBerry does not have a "start date" field, every task from now on into the future is listed one after the other. As of this moment, I have an entry which comes due in 2017!

What is important for me is to see a well-organized list of what I want to accomplish today in the order I want to accomplish it. Each day, I quickly scan the list of items with a due date of today or earlier and adjust the due dates to move the things I want to accomplish early in the day to the top of the list. I look for a group of half a dozen or so items which fits together well and assign them a due date of five days ago. They move to the top of the list. I scan the list for another few items which I want to accomplish next and give them a due date of four days ago. I continue the process and have a groups of items dated three days ago, two days ago, yesterday, and the remainder left with today's due date.

What if I have additional time? A trick I use is to employ the last day of the month as a place for my "master list." Those tasks are the ones which have no urgency. Many do not have to be done at all. They are options that could add to the richness of my life. Whenever I have"cleared the deck" of those items which must be done now and am open to options, I always know that I can scroll to the last day of the month and pick up some ideas.

When the month ends, I will never have finished everything that was on the that "Master List." I wait for the next day, the 1st day of the month, and look at what is still on the list. It is then that I reassign due dates. There may be 150-200 such tasks. Many of them will simply be re-scheduled for the last day of the new month. On Outlook, simply putting a number in the due date field translates to that day of the current month. For example, if this month is June and I enter "30" in the due date field, Outlook converts that to "6/30/2009."

Other tasks will have gained some urgency or will seem to fit well on a particular day during the month. Those tasks will be given assigned a due date accordingly. Still other tasks are such that I know I do not want to see them again for several months. Those tasks will receive a due date for the last day of the month several months hence.

By maintaining that "master list" on the last day of the month, my list for the current day is manageable. At the same time, I have a place to store the rich supply of activities to which I can look forward.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

JSU Workshop

There are still plenty of seats left for the Get Organized! workshop offered through the Jacksonville State University Inservice Center on June 23. The time is 8:30-4:00.

The inservice is providing a free copy of the book to all participants! Registration is limited to those in the JSU Inservice Center Region.

Monday, June 01, 2009


One principal who helped mentor me described the end of the school year as “…like being on a sled going down a steep, snow-covered hill. Things just get faster and faster and there’s nothing you can do about it. You just try to avoid running into a tree.” We forget just how much hits us until it arrives. The end of the year just seems the logical time to bring closure to just about any activity you can name. Everyone is trying to clear up everything all at the same time. Work shows up faster than we can possibly get it done. Without intervention, next year will be no different.

As the year comes to a close, we would actually like to enjoy it. Everything we have worked for all year long is now blooming. How nice it would be to savor the moment instead of feeling the stress of so much to do in so little time!

It doesn’t all have to be done right now.
Some of what is on our plates could wait until the dust settles. Our fear is that by the time we actually have the time, those good ideas will have been forgotten, so we try to cram it all in while things are fresh on our minds. Two simple tools allow us to take those worthy tasks and carve a place for them in our future. One more gives hope that we could prevent this onslaught next year.

The Tickler File
There are the physical things which are lying around in the form of papers and files. Their physical presence serves as reminder of the work to be done with them. Every time we look at them, we are distracted from the task at hand. That’s where the tickler file comes to the rescue. We have a pretty good idea of when the dust will settle and life as normal will resume. Drop those papers in the tickler file for that time. They will resurface exactly when you have decided you wanted to see them.

The Signature Tool
There are the mental things rolling around in our heads. Every one of them screams “Don’t forget to…!” yet still we forget. Those things which could be done later compete for our limited attention with those things which much be done now. Our signature tool, be it paper or digital, is the answer. Pick a date when things will be more settled. Write it down or key it in depending upon whether you system is paper or digital. Either way, you have earned the right to forget about it. It will come back on its own, and it will do so on exactly on the date you had chosen.

The Repeating Task List
Some of the avalanche is caused by other people. Some of it, we likely have nobody to blame but ourselves. It seems as soon as life settles down in June, we forget the feeling of overwhelm and what we might have done to minimize it.

The world of education is a cyclic world in which many of the same tasks and same projects repeat every year. Some of what we are doing in May could have been done in March, if only we had thought of it in March. You can structure a system which will cause you to think of it in March, or at any time you choose. I have spoken often of the value of the repeating task list, a simple tool which allows us to think of something one time and then let our system remind us at just the right instant.

Finishing teacher observations, scheduling next year’s dates, grading mountains of make-up work, or taking inventory of our equipment are just a few examples of the tasks which need not be able to left for the mad rush of mid-May. If all of what we are trying to fit into a small window of time was actually written down in one place, we would instantly realize that we have set ourselves up for failure and begin to do something about it.

Master these three tools and watch your productivity go up and your stress level go down:
1. Tickler File
2. Signature Tool
3. Repeating Task List

End the Insanity
Mid-May is a terrible time to fix the problems of mid-May. June is a perfect time to lay the plans and implement the procedures that will make next May the perfect end of a perfect year.

Our two greatest problems are gravity and paperwork. We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.
— Dr. Wernher Von Braun