Teaching can be an incredibly rewarding job. From instilling a love of learning to helping students master complex concepts, there can be many “aha!” moments along the way that make the high stress worth it.
However, teaching and face-time with your students is typically only a small part of the role. With multiple objectives competing for your time and attention, how should you consistently choose the activities that will have the biggest impact on your students’ learning? How do you balance your time so that you can step away from your work and refresh for the coming school day?
Having a task manager that works as hard as you do is a great first step. Whether you have an hour to quietly plan between classes or you’re on the go between hectic meetings, a reliable productivity app will help you to quickly capture, organize, and prioritize all you need to do. This Teachers’ Guide shares ideas to optimize your efficiency as an educator and bring clarity and organization to your academic workflow.
Start the semester off by getting everything as organized as possible beforehand. You’ll likely be teaching more than one class. Create a unique Todoist project for each of your classes that allows you to organize your tasks methodically. This strategy can be applied to both the distinct subjects you teach (e.g., Math and Chemistry) or the same course across different sections (e.g., History 120A and History 120B).
If a project has multiple large components to it, keep each part separate using sub-projects. For instance, you may teach both the lecture and run the lab component of your Biology course. Just drag and drop a project underneath its parent to make it a sub-project.
Capture and organize all your tasks, big and small
With your Todoist account structured around your teaching roster, you’re ready to add tasks. At the start of the semester or quarter, add tasks and key dates that you’re aware of in advance — important exams, projects, field trips, professional development days, and other events you’ll need to plan for.
Of course, no matter how well you plan in advance, new things come up all the time. Trying to keep everything straight in your head is stressful and often leads to important tasks getting missed. Assign a due date to each task to help you keep track of upcoming deadlines and plan accordingly.
This is a strategy that has helped Lisa Dumicich, an E-Learning Coordinator from Melbourne, Australia. “I input all meetings and classes in Todoist, then plan tasks around them so I know what I can realistically do in a day,” Dumicich says. “It keeps me sane”.
With Todoist, you can capture and organize your tasks from wherever you are — Todoist’s apps are available on over 10 platforms including iOS and Android. That means you can effortlessly add tasks the moment they come to you whether you’re on your computer in a classroom, on your tablet while facilitating a study session, or on your phone on the commute home.
Dr. Robyn Wiens, principal of Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls, says the ability to quickly add tasks from anywhere helps her be more present while away from work:
“If I just got home from work and I’m with the family and I remember I have to tell someone a few different things I can just quickly grab my cellphone and pop those into my Todoist. That way when I’m back into work mode the next day, I can remember to get those things done. I basically have Todoist on every single device that I touch.”
Set task reminders
Stay on top of your meetings and other time-specific tasks by setting reminders in Todoist on your desktop or phone. You can opt for push notifications, emails, or SMS messages.
Tali Lerner, a Math and Science teacher from La Jolla, California makes use of this particular feature to stay ahead of his workload. “I use Todoist to keep track of incidents, emails and calls that need follow-up. I have reminders to upload project pages and I keep notes for my weekly email,” Lerner says.
If you have a Premium account, you can choose between two types of reminders in Todoist:
- On a time and date. Send a reminder to your phone 30 minutes before your office hours start to prompt you to head back to your office.
- At a specific location. Receive a reminder text to remind you to pick up classroom supplies while you’re at your local art supply store.
Sync your to-do list with your calendar
If you’re like most teachers, your day revolves around your calendar. With the Google Calendar and Todoist integration, your schedule and your tasks can go hand-in-hand.
This integration automatically adds all your Todoist tasks to your calendar and all your calendar events to Todoist as new tasks. Any changes to a task you make in your calendar, such as a date or time, will automatically be displayed in Todoist. You’ll end up with a birds-eye view of everything you need to get done in any particular day, week, month, or even quarter.
Turn on this integration by navigating to Settings and then Integrations while logged in to the Todoist web app.
Set and assess your goals regularly
Setting a goal to increase your productivity can be a great first step. However, adding in an accountability system to hold you to those goals is what really makes a difference.
Craig McClennan, an Elementary School Teacher from Nashville, Tennessee finds that Todoist Karma has been invaluable for setting productivity goals and assessing his progress regularly. “Just having daily goals in Karma helps me keep my head above water,” says McClennan.
Here’s how to make Karma work for you too:
- Set productivity goals for your day and week. Use Todoist Karma to set daily and weekly goals for the number of tasks you want to complete. You’ll be able to build daily and weekly streaks and earn Karma points as you achieve your goals. It’s a fun way to hold yourself accountable for making progress every day.
- Review the # of tasks you’ve completed over time, color-coded by project. Are you giving your classes equal attention? Does a new class require more of your time while one you’ve taught before is less demanding? Are you more productive some days than others? Keep track of your productivity over time at a glance.
- View all of your completed tasks. Having a chronological list of everything you’ve completed can be incredibly valuable when answering the question, “Where did all my time go?”. Browse through to see the days where meetings and coordination might have eaten into your planning and prep.
Lesson Planning and Teaching
Break big tasks into more manageable ones
Creating a lesson plan from scratch is no easy feat. A lesson plan could include setting an objective, defining learning outcomes, creating relevant assignments and assessments, acquiring any necessary or resource materials, and developing key talking points. Simply adding one task to your list to encapsulate all of those items can be a recipe for feeling stressed and overwhelmed. That’s where Todoist sub-tasks can help.
Avoid to-do list overwhelm by breaking down your lesson planning — or any other tasks that loom large on your list — into smaller, actionable sub-tasks. To create a sub-task, navigate to a project view, hover over a task, click on the grey “handle” that appears to the left of the task, and drag it underneath another task. You can also create sub-tasks on your phone by long-pressing on a task and dragging it to the right.
With time constraints and competing priorities, it simply isn’t realistic to think that you’ll be able to get it all done all the time. Make room to do your best teaching by focusing on the activities that will most impact your class.
Prioritize your tasks in Todoist by selecting one of four priority levels. For each task, you have the option of categorizing it as Priority 1, 2, 3, or 4, with 1 being the most important and 4 being the least important. When you view your tasks for the day, your highest priority tasks, marked in red, will appear at the top.
Use your time efficiently
As a teacher, you don’t often have the luxury of large chunks of uninterrupted time. You need to be able to efficiently use the small amounts of free time you have to get things done.
You can use Todoist labels to quickly identify the tasks across all of your projects that take 15 minutes or less. Just type @15min into the task field and hit enter. The label will automatically be added to the task. Whenever you find yourself with a small 15-minute block of open time, search for “@15min” to pull up all of the associated tasks in seconds. You won’t waste any time getting to work.
Save your ideas in task comments
Whether you’re actively working on a lesson plan or doing something else entirely, inspiration can strike at any time. A unique example to clarify a concept can come to mind or a fellow teacher can throw a great idea your way. Attach your notes to the relevant task as comments that you can browse through when you get the chance to sit down and tackle an item.
Here are a few examples of comments you can add to a specific task:
- New talking points on an upcoming lecture
- A current events topic that fits perfectly into your powerpoint presentation
- A question brought forward by a student that you want to answer more fully
Attach the files you need to get work done
Keep your resources and notes in one place by attaching them to your tasks. This way, when you’re ready to face your to-do list head-on, everything you need will be right there. If you have a task to revise an existing lesson plan, attach the old one. If you’re building a presentation for next week, attach an image of the textbook diagram now so you don’t need to flip back and find it.
You can attach items to your tasks from:
- Your computer or phone’s file storage or your Dropbox or Google Drive accounts: Attach files, PDFs, images, presentations, or anything else you need to the relevant tasks so you can find them again quickly.
- Photo Library (mobile apps): Attach snapshots from your phone. For example, photos of diagrams that help illustrate a core concept or a student’s work you want to save as an example.
Turn emails into tasks
Students will often reach out to you over email with burning questions about an upcoming midterm or help catching up on concepts from a class they missed. Don’t linger in your inbox! Instead, answer quick-response e-mails immediately and send the rest to Todoist as tasks with due dates to follow up on later.
Grade assignments more efficiently by automating the submission flow with Zapier, an service that lets you connect the apps you use and set up automated workflows with Todoist. Rather than digging through your inbox to find and sort email assignment submissions from students, follow the following steps:
- Require your students to submit assignments to you with a specific naming convention in the subject of the e-mail (e.g., Firstname_Lastname_CourseCode-SectionCode_Assignment Name)
- Set up the following Zap on Zapier: “Add emails matching certain conditions to Todoist as tasks”
- Use a search query that matches the naming convention you selected i.e. subject:”hist290″ and “a2” and “term paper”
- Ensure you select “attachments” to display in the task comments
Now, every email matching your subject criteria, along with the actual assignment attachment, will be visible on your Todoist task list in the project of your choice.
Set recurring tasks
As a teacher, grading assignments and exams is an ongoing task. Reflect those repeating tasks in Todoist with recurring due dates. Determine when you’re regularly in grading mode and schedule accordingly.
Here are a few examples of what that might look like:
- Grade post lab assignments every wednesday and thursday at 2PM
- Grade sociology papers every day for 5 days
- Grade mid semester submissions next week monday, wednesday, and friday
Todoist’s smart Quick Add will automatically recognize the due date as you type it in and schedule your recurring tasks accordingly. Whenever you complete a recurring task, it will automatically reschedule for the next due date.
Meetings and Collaboration
Share projects and assign tasks
There are quite a few scenarios where you might have to collaborate both inside and outside of the classroom.
You can make collaboration and communication much simpler by sharing projects and assigning tasks in Todoist. Everyone will be able to see who needs to do what and when. You can even discuss details and share files in task and project comments. Your teammates will get notified via push notification or email about any new comments. Unlike in email, everything stays organized and accessible for everyone right with the relevant tasks.
To get started, create a new project for your team, click on the person icon in the top-right corner, and enter the email addresses of the people you need to collaborate with. They’ll receive an email inviting them to view the project in Todoist (and to create a Todoist account if they don’t already have one).
Make meetings more efficient
You probably have several staff meetings throughout the week. Todoist can help get everyone on the same page beforehand and ensure that agreed upon actions are taken afterward. Here’s one way to do it:
- Create a new meeting project and share it with the relevant people.
- Create a new task for each meeting with the associated due date and time (unassigned tasks in a shared projects that have a date and time will show up on everyone’s to-do lists).
- Before the meeting, attach the agenda to the task comments and post a comment asking for additional questions or topics that need to be discussed.
- During the meeting as new action items come up, create new tasks and assign them to the person responsible.
- Afterward, post the meeting minutes to the task so everyone will have a record of what happened.
Save articles to read later
Taking the time to stay up to date on new developments related to your teaching can help you continual improve your students’ learning. Naturally, one of the best ways to hone your expertise and stay abreast of the latest in your field is through reading.
For online reading, use Todoist’s extensions for Chrome, Firefox, or Safari to save links to interesting articles and papers that you find in academic journals, industry email newsletters, and authoritative websites directly to your Todoist task list for later reading.
Pursue opportunities to follow up on
Aside from self-directed professional development, there are countless conferences, conventions, events, webinars, and workshops that aim to equip you with information about the best teaching styles to support students or the most recent developments in your area of expertise. Seeking out these opportunities can be invaluable in pushing your career forward and informing the way you approach teaching.
- Create a Todoist project. Add all the professional development opportunities advertised through your institution, posted to your school’s online portal, or discovered online as tasks.
- Assign a deadline. Once you decide on the ones you would like to pursue, add a due date and begin working on any necessary applications or letters of intent.
- Get the most out of it. While you’re away from the classroom at a professional development event, stay alert for any action items that you could implement immediately. This could be a suggestion from a speaker or an idea explored during a break-out session. Add these action items to a specific project or to your Todoist Inbox to sort through later.
Being responsible for teaching anywhere from a handful to hundreds of students can be exhausting. It’s important to take the time to relax and do the things that re-energize you outside of school. Use Todoist to help make them a priority.
You can create projects and tasks for your personal life too. Add tasks with specific due dates and times for things that you know boost your mood — for example, exercise, reading, or spending time with friends and family.
Hans Smits, a Special Education teacher has found that using Todoist has brought him a level of calm in a high-stress job. “Many of my colleagues are under pressure, but thanks to Todoist I am the one who is ready at 3pm.”
If you have tips that have helped you stay organized and productive as a teacher, we want to hear about them in the comments below!