While this blog generally focuses primarily on technology in education, a lot of the apps and tools I discuss focus on productivity. They generally go hand in hand. So while the following is less focused on tech, I hope it still appeals to my audience.
I first read David Allen’s Getting Things Done in early 2014, just before I decided to become a teacher. Since then, I’ve tried countless apps (I always come back to OmniFocus) to help manage my GTD system. I’ve re-read GTD multiple times and revamped my implementation often. Still, in my 3rd year teaching, I continually find myself stressed, behind, or overwhelmed by everything I have to do.
Fortunately, I was recently encouraged I’m not alone in a tweet by Fraser Speirs.
I first picked up Getting Things Done 14 years ago and I’m just now getting to where I feel like I’m actually halfway-good at it.— Fraser Speirs (@fraserspeirs) October 14, 2016
But I often wonder if education is a field where I’ll never feel on top of all my tasks.
One factor in my struggle to get ahead of my work is a conscious choice. I work hard to make sure work doesn’t interfere with my family or my health. I regularly work out before school instead of arriving before sunrise and I leave at a reasonable hour to spend time with my kids before they go to bed.
Being there for my girls (and being healthy enough to be there for a long time) will always take priority over extra hours spent at work every day to get through my task list. So maybe my issue isn’t with GTD or a particular app, but with a profession that doesn’t necessarily align itself with my priorities in life.
Outside of the lack of time and large amount of tasks, teaching is a difficult profession to get things done because outside the moments of actual teaching, it is difficult to create a routine. Recently I created a “Routines” calendar which had items like “Plan Math” or “Email” in it at the same times every week. This just didn’t work for me due to variations in my schedule. True, I have a planning period at the same time every day, but that period can be taken by parent meetings, assisting other staff members, or helping a student in crisis. Things can come up last minute which make it next to impossible to know every Tuesday at 10:30 will really be free. So I’m forced to find time anywhere I can to plan, email, and manage all of my other teacher admin, but it has to be stuck into random places in my schedule instead of prioritized.
I recently downloaded the app Streaks to help me handle some of these tasks a certain number of times in a week instead of on certain days. We’ll see if flexibility helps me accomplish tasks better than the specificity of a calendar.
The system works in that I do get most things I need to done. However, David Allen’s promises of GTD keeping you from being overwhelmed are not being fulfilled. This isn’t necessarily Allen’s fault. Our profession doesn’t lend itself well to its principles. I’ll continue my grand experiment to find a way to get ahead of my task list, and will share more if I ever find anything works well for me.