Keep Calm in a Chaotic New School Year: 5 Tips

September 2, 2021

Whether you’re a student, teacher, or administrator, you probably expect a little pandemonium when you start a new school year. Maybe you even enjoy it! But the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has added a layer of uncertainty that could throw even the most organized among us off their game. 

Here are some tips for keeping your cool and keeping up during a particularly chaotic back-to-school season. 

1. Think beyond the checklist. 

Using a checklist to organize your to-do’s can be highly motivating. (Just ask anyone who’s ever experienced the joy of crossing off the final item on a list!) But putting all your tasks in one list can make it hard to distinguish which ones are urgent and which could be safely put off. It’s also all too easy to keep endlessly adding new items to a checklist, which is pretty much the opposite of motivating. 

If checklists are your main organizational tool, consider trying out a more visual system. Apps like Trello, Asana, and use a variety of visual aids to help you keep tasks in check, including charts, color coding, and drag-and-drop organization. 

2. Prioritize your to-do’s.

As we alluded to in tip one, identifying which of your tasks are top priority is one of the key steps to effective organization. A simple Eisenhower matrix, which groups tasks by urgency and importance, is a great tool for quickly mapping out which of your to-do’s to tackle first. You can also come up with your own prioritizing systems—for example, you could rank items on a 1-5 scale from least to most urgent. 

3. Batch similar tasks.

Did you know that multitasking can actually decrease your productivity? It may seem counterintuitive, but trying to do two things at once or two tasks in quick succession can actually lower your overall productivity through “switching” costs. Switching costs are the time it takes to change gears between tasks. Even though this may be mere fractions of a second, over the course of a day, constantly switching between different tasks can add up to a real drag on your productivity. 

Instead of juggling many dissimilar tasks, try grouping similar tasks together and working in batches. For example, you could organize your tasks into phone calls, e-mails, and in-person tasks, and then work on each group one by one.  

4. Ask for assistance. 

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that people are stronger when they work together. If your inbox is overflowing, or you want to run and hide when you think about the upcoming week, it might be time to call in reinforcements. 

Think creatively about this, and remember, you’re likely not the only one who’s feeling overwhelmed by the new school year. You could work on batched tasks together, or do regular accountability check-ins to keep each other on track. 

5. Know when to let it go.

If you’ve gotten to the end of this list, you might be thinking, “Let it go? But everything I have to do is important!” But is that really the case? Often, if we analyze all the things we “have to” or “should” do, we find we’re the only ones who think these tasks are somehow mandatory. 

Look for ways to distinguish between “must do” tasks and “nice to do” ones you can safely take off your plate. For example, noting the contact information for your student’s new teachers is important. Making them each a handmade gift to celebrate the start of a new year? Nice, but not a must. 

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