Cool Tools for Schools, Thing 21: Productivity Part I

This is a topic I’m excited about! While I think I’m a fairly productive and organized person, I also think I could be more efficient and get more done in less time. I’d love to figure out where I can save some time or work smarter so I can spend my time on other things (like coming up with awesome lesson ideas or spending time with my husband or hiking with my dogs or reading a book…)

Here are some things I currently use that I think make me more productive, efficient, organized and, a just plain awesome person:

  • Good old pen & paper

My teacher planner from Erin CondrenI know this isn’t the most ground breaking or exciting think to cite on a list of your productivity tools but for me, as much as I love my tech, nothing beats paper and pen for keeping me organized. Two things I’ve learned about myself over the years: I am a visual person and writing things down helps make things “real” to me. I need to see my schedule on paper and my plans on a calendar for them to make sense for me. I also need to write things down whether its on a calendar or a to do list, for them to really sink in with my brain and become fact for me. Typing an event on my iPhone calendar or into a to do list just doesn’t make it stick in my brain quite the same as writing it down does.

To that end, two of my favorite pen & paper products are those pads of paper that double as mouse pads (I use mine to keep my to do list literally right at my fingers without having another thing cluttering up my desk). The other think I can’t live without is my Erin Condren teacher planner. They aren’t cheap by any means but, they work better for me than any other lesson book I’ve ever seen. They’re also gorgeous and you can personalize them to further meet your needs. When you depend on good old paper & pen as much as I do, sometimes you just have to splurge on that paper.

Okay, here’s the thing: as a first year teacher librarian last year I was completely overwhelmed with the task of coming up with a curriculum map and lesson plans for the 24 classes I taught each.and.every.week. I know as a first year teacher that is kind of par for the course and all but, it still sucked and stressed me out. See, I was the third librarian in three years at my school. I inherited an empty desk and an almost empty file cabinet. There wasn’t a single lesson plan or curriculum map to guide me. I was overwhelmed trying to come up with a curriculum map for all seven grade levels from scratch. Like, to the point where I found myself occasionally being jealous of my classroom teachers because the modules told them exactly what to do and when to do it. When you find yourself coveting the thing most of your fellow educators hate with the burning fire of a thousand suns just because it gives them a direction, you know you need to find a better way to do what you’re doing. While hunting the inter webs for some sample curriculum maps I came across this website. I tried some of her sample lessons and really liked them. So, when her full curriculum went on sale over the summer, I bit the bullet and bought it. I don’t regret it at all. Her lesson plans are complete, creative and can be used as stand alone lessons or library centers (I had dabbled with library centers last year and wanted to try them more this year). She even organized all the extras for the lesson plans (power points, Prezis, activity sheets, recommended websites etc) online by grade level. Now, instead of spending hours a night and my whole weekends creating lesson plans, I spend one weekend a month organizing my lessons into centers for the upcoming month. I think it  ended up being two cents a day for all this. My time and sanity are definitely worth the two cents a day.

Oh, and she did several free webinars over the summer that I found very interesting and helpful. I especially enjoyed the one on library helpers and how to promote your school library during open house.

If one of your resolutions was to follow a budget or just be more fiscally responsible Mint is your new best friend.  Mint lets you create your own budget, gathers all your financial information into one place so you don’t have to login to all your accounts separately to see what’s going on with your bills/money, sets up bill reminders, gives you a free credit check, alerts you to unusual activity and more. Mint can seriously save your hours of time – I have a brother-in-law who spends hours each week inputting each and every receipt and transaction he and his wife have made that week into a Quicken spreadsheet. Mint does that all for you automatically (and then some) and it’s FREE! (I have told said brother-in-law about the awesomeness of Mint but for some reason, he’s still kicking it old school when it comes to his budget…) Mint lets me feel uber responsible about my money and very adult like (I can tell you exactly how much I spent on clothes and entertainment last month and whether or not it was in budget in seconds) without requiring a ridiculous amount of time and effort on my part.

  • Stitcher app

I don’t know if this one makes me more productive or efficient, but it does make my 50 minute commute more enjoyable and I feel like a smarter more interesting person after a week of listening to my Stitcher app, something I couldn’t ever say about listening to morning radio DJs.

The Stitcher app allows you to “stitch” together your own list of podcasts, news and, public radio into your own personal radio station playlist. There are literally thousands to choose from on the Stitcher app. Here is what I enjoy listening to on my way to and from work:

Stuff Mom Never Told You                                    The Math Dude Quick and Dirty Tips

The Dog Trainers Quick and Dirty Tips              The Splendid Table

TED Radio Hour                                                      Stuff You Missed in History Class

60-Second Civics                                                     How to do Everything

Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips                   Stuff You Should Know

A Way with Words                                                  Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me

Stuff to Blow Your Mind                                       Freakonomics Radio

So those are some of the tools and tricks I use already to try to be a more productive and amazing teacher/librarian/person. Next time I shall what I decided to try in the name of being more productive and amazing than EVER BEFORE!


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