Making Over Your To-Do List

Spring cleaning your physical space can be life changing, or so I have read. However, it’s not just our physical spaces that may be weighing us down and in need of a little bit of attention. Our mental clutter can also be overwhelming. One of the biggest weights we carry can be our to-do list. If your to-do list is in need of a makeover, here are a few tips to try to get you back on track. Making a targeted approach to getting things done will help you keep on top of tasks and help you complete more items in a timely manner.

1) Create a dump list. Write EVERYTHING you need to do down on one list. Continue to add to the list as things pop into your head (unless that thing is very time sensitive, then do it now). Take a few days to create your initial list to make sure you have everything covered. Dump lists can be very useful if you are just getting started, but they are also great to do at the beginning or end of a week for planning purposes. Items on your list may include things like writing a specific lesson plan, updating the school website or social media, creating a fall book order, weeding the 900s, a collaborative meeting with a classroom teacher, working on a professional development presentation, watching a webinar, reading a professional article, or calling/e-mailing a vendor. Your dump list can be on physical paper or electronic. Either way, make sure it is in a space it can easily be accessed and won’t get lost.

2) Once your dump list is done, prioritize. Just as with your physical spaces, pick the things that MUST be done sooner rather than later. Write a #1 next to your priority items, pick the next neediest items and put #2 next to them, and so on.

3)  Schedule your tasks. Look at your plan periods, potential workdays coming up, or any other time you can dedicate to these tasks. Take items off your dump list in order of priority and add them into your plan periods/open times for the upcoming week or cycle. (#1 items go first, #2 next, and so on.) Overestimate how much time things will take. If you think a task will take 15 minutes, schedule 25. This way if you are interrupted or it takes longer, you are still good to go. If you get done early, you can always tackle something off the list you have scheduled for another open time.

4) Continue to add things to your dump list as they come up during the week and give them designations of #1, #2, etc. Add those into your plan periods as needed making shifts as necessary.

5) Finish a task completely before moving on to the next thing (unless the next thing is an absolute emergency). Multi-tasking is not your friend. All it means is you are not giving your full attention to a task. By focusing on one thing at a time, you will get more done faster.

Multi-tasking includes checking e-mail and social media. Turn off your e-mail alerts or turn down the sound on your computer so you don’t hear them while working on your task. Do not open social media, unless posting to your library or school’s social media is the task you are working on. Answering non-vital emails and checking in on social media can quickly deplete your designated task time.

6) Revise and reevaluate your list. Periodically, review what is still pending on your list. Has something moved up or dropped in priority? Are there things that can be taken off the list entirely or that need added? The end and beginning of a week are great times to review your original list so that you can set your intentions for the upcoming week. I find it incredibly helpful to rewrite my list to keep a clear visual of what still needs done. (I do often keep that old list though, so I can still revel in all the things I have checked off already.)

7) Acknowledge progress! Be sure to take a moment and give yourself credit for getting done what you have gotten done. It may not be everything and it may not be as much as you wanted when you wanted, but it is more than when you first started. Celebrate the accomplishment of each task checked off your list. All victories, no matter how small, provide the fuel to us to keep going.

For additional advice on organization for your school library, check out the following article:

Pentland, Courtney. 2019. “Tidying Up the School Library.” School Library Journal, 65 (1): 10-11.


Author: Courtney Pentland

Courtney Pentland is the high school librarian at North Star High School in Lincoln, Nebraska. She is adjunct faculty for the University of Nebraska-Omaha School Library program and has served on the Nebraska School Librarians Association board as board member at large, president, and chapter delegate to AASL. She is the 2023-2024 AASL President. Follow her adventures on Twitter @livluvlibrary

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Professional Development

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1 reply

  1. Hi Courtney,
    I separate my To Do list into sections; Space, Programming, Collaboration, Curriculum & Instruction, Resources/Curation, and Professional Learning. I’m not sure how much it helps in getting thing done, but it does help in seeing how I’m spending my time and the possibilities for adjusting my efforts!

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