Do you do to-do lists?


Another former SecEd NQT diarist extols the virtues of to-do lists for the busy young teacher.

One of the secrets of getting more done is to make a to-do list every day, keep it visible, and use it as a guide to action as you go through the day. 

No, this isn’t a quote from a self-professed business guru or one of the mantras from a “how to teach” manual. It comes from a 16th century French writer, Jean de La Fontaine. 

He wrote dozens of books, full of hundreds of short stories. He was clearly someone who got a lot done, in a time when there weren’t that many labour-saving devices around. 

I have found that the start of a new year is always busy and you need to get a lot done in absolutely no time. And each year so far has, for me, been busier than the last. My first year was a nervous one, full of worry about the new classes I was going to meet and teach for a full year.

The next was getting stuck into planning schemes of work and taking more of a “hands-on” role within my departments. This year I’m the head of two departments and have several staff to line manage. I have a lot to do, all the time.

To start with, I resisted the temptation of to do lists. I honestly thought that they were just for weirdo obsessive-compulsive types. You know, the ones who have to have their pencils lined up in height order and spend their weekends ordering and re-ordering DVD and CD collections in alphabetic or date orders. That was until I started to have more and more to do. 

My to do list conversion started small, with post-it notes stuck to the screen of my school laptop, then progressed to loose pieces of paper, which I kept losing, so I then progressed to a small book.

I realised that I was becoming one of those weird people when I almost filled a book up in a half-term. So when I got a new phone, I was amazed to discover that there really is “an app for that”. In fact there are literally hundreds of to-do list apps out there, in any format. 

Personally I love “Epic Win” which is a weird fantasy quest thing in which you earn “Gold” for completing prizes. But what’s best about keeping your to do lists on your phone is that they are all in one place and you don’t look totally mad collecting them, just obsessed with your new shiny phone!

Ticking something off my list is a really great feeling. What’s nice is that at the end of the week, when I’ve got all my teaching “to-dos” done, I’m able to relax. Which is something that few teachers do enough of once a new term starts. So if you do one thing this year, and you want to get more things done, follow Mr de la Fontaine’s advice and use a to-do list, keep it visible and use it to guide your actions through out the day.

  • This NQT diarist wrote anonymously for SecEd. He is now in his third year of teaching and works at an academy in the east of England.

Free best practice download for NQTs

This article has been published as part of SecEd's autumn 2012 NQT special focus, which comprises a range of best practice and advisory articles aimed at new teachers as they approach the end of their first term at the chalkface. The special focus has been supported by the NASUWT and you can download a free PDF containing all the articles from the Supplements section of this website by clicking here.


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