How to Get Things Done, The BrokenAirplane Way

Recently I was honored by a fellow teacher for helping to support her and other teachers. In her speech to our colleagues, she mentioned that I must have discovered time travel because of the number of things I am able to get done in a day. I have grading, lesson/project planning, writing a blog, side projects just like everyone else but I have discovered techniques and tips that help me use my time really efficiently.

I remember a financial planner telling me once, "it is not how much you make but how you make your money stretch", and this is true for time as well. For some people, giving them all the time in the world wouldn't help them get any more done. Here are some suggestions on how you can accomplish everything you hope to.

1) Set boundaries: This must be done first. Just like financial experts encourage "paying yourself first", similarly you need to decide when are your times to work and when are the times to play. Family, friends, and your happiness are far more important than anything else you are working on so make sure you decide when is your time for each.
  • For me, I primarily use my teacher prep period. Things come up so I wake up early. When I come home though except under extreme circumstances, I do not work.
2) Plan, Plan, Plan: I have lots of Google Documents and Spreadsheets where I have ideas started. Lots of lists and random thoughts that come to me about a project, lesson, or blog idea. I will write them down and then add them to the Google Docs. 
  • Once a project has reached a critical mass, I can start planning that project and create the fine details. This is much better than spending 6 hours planning a project from scratch in my opinion. If you are just starting out, there are many great ideas for projects at the Project Inspiration page.
  • It was really helpful for me to take our school calendar and block out my projects and plans. This allowed me to start thinking in terms of "2 week projects" or "projectile motion". This is also helpful as a safety net, that while you can refine and improve this schedule, it is always there in case you need something to fall back on.
  • Ask yourself if there are more efficient ways of doing what you are doing. If small changes can reduce the amount of work you have to do, then you have more time to do other tasks. 
3) Overcome Your Fears: When I first started projects, there was a lot more preparation than daily lessons, plus building guitars or robots has a lot more risk involved than a unit plan. I had some worries that would keep me from doing this project or that one. "What if it fails, this is a lot of work, maybe I should just do something simpler." You have to stop listening to that voice and just move along. If it doesn't go perfectly, you can always refine it for next year. Don't stress.

4) Breakdown your Tasks: Figure out what your maximum productivity time is and stop after that. If you go beyond that, and push yourself, your work and happiness will diminish quickly and will kill your creative spirit. Every semester we write a comment to each of our students and some prefer to do them all at once in a couple of days. For me, I divide the number of comments by the number of days and do that many each time. Sometimes, I will do more than needed and finish early which is always very satisfying.

5) You Need a ToDo List: Something simple that allows you to keep track of what needs to be done and what is most important. I keep it simple with Google Tasks. It is right there in my email and my mobile phone. 
  • Astrid and Remember the Milk are great Android apps. Evernote is really popular and available on every desktop and mobile device there is. Of course you can use good old fashioned pen and paper, I just don't want to be you if you forget it.
6) Do Not Feed the Social Butterfly: I have amazing colleagues, so amazing in fact that I could easily get engrossed in a conversation for hours with any one of them. So when I need to work, I lock the door. Additionally, turn off all notifications and pings from your social life. If you really want to be in the zone for that hour, turn off your phone ringer, close Facebook and Twitter, and hide yourself away. 

Work hard play hard. Get it done, be productive and creative and then go and do the other things you enjoy doing. For me I love being productive and getting things done. It is a wonderful feeling to go home without stress and be with my family because I have everything done. 

Do you have other suggestions for getting things done both at work or at home? Leave a comment to share with everyone else.