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Organizing your thoughts

Last night, after my fifteen-month-old daughter Macy woke up in the middle of the night (which doesn't usually happen), and then she was coughing every fifteen seconds (poor thing!), I had a hard time falling back asleep...not only because I was worried about her, but because I was thinking of everything I had to do! In order to fall back asleep last night, I had to calm myself down by organizing my thoughts.

Organizing your thoughts: Strategies, apps, and more for organizing your thoughts and improving your productivity!

As I was calming myself down, I thought this might be a good blog entry. In many ways, I am not by nature an organized person. I am organized in my teaching, but if you ever saw the inside of my desk or my car, you would laugh! In order to not let my thoughts pile up like items in my desk, I have had to devise ways to organize my thoughts and lessen my stress. Here are some ideas that will hopefully help you out too!

#1: See the tree, not the forest: 
It can be very easy to be overwhelmed when you are looking at everything on your to-do list. I have often had this conversation with my nine-year-old Jenna, when she is close to tears because her room is so messy and she just doesn't know where to begin when cleaning. I have told her to not look at everything in her room, but to look at one small section. "Look," I'll say to her, "your bed needs to be made. Just make your bed first. After you are done with your bed, look at the first shelf of your desk and clean that." This has helped her out, and has also helped me out when I looking at my to-do list. If I look at the fifteen things on my to-do list, I'd start having a panic attack. Instead, I focus on just a few at a time. If I have fifteen minutes to get things done, I'll choose a few things I think I can get done in that time. I don't worry that there are twelve other things on the list...I will worry about those things later! That being said...

#2: Organize your to-do list:
Instead of just having a list of things to do, you might have them organized into categories, like shown below:

I created this sheet for my "Organized Teacher's Calendars and Lists," which you can find here:

If you'd rather just create one on your own, you could just make a word document with categories. I have been using the list shown above this year, and have enjoyed having categories. It makes my to-do list a little less overwhelming! 

There are some apps which also allow you to categorize your to-do list. My favorite is Toodledo, which you can find by clicking on the picture below:

This app allows your to categorize and prioritize, which brings me to my next point...

#3: Prioritize
Like I said for #1, if you looked at your entire to-do list, it could make you want to curl into a fetal position and cry. So instead, when you have a block of time, number off or circle the tasks you want to complete in that amount of time. Be optimistic, yet realistic. I have done this with my to-do list the last couple of days, and it has helped me so much. The other day, I had nine things I wanted to do after school, and I completed eight of them. Not all of them, but hey, eight isn't too bad!

Also prioritize when doing non-school related things. If it is important for you to get coffee and socialize a bit with your team, then do it, but set a limit for yourself so you'll still have time to do what else you need to do...which now brings me to my next point!

#4: Talk to a friend
Sometimes just venting to your friends about all the stuff on your to-do list helps. I was venting to my friend Tina this morning about my stress. On top of the snow day on Friday (which was relaxing, but made me miss a much-needed rehearsal with my choir), a choir concert on Thursday, and a singalong next Thursday, I realized that I didn't have much time to prepare for my third grade program in February. I vocalized some ideas to her and she confirmed she'd done the same thing with her kids, and told me how she got it to work. So glad she was there to listen to me vent!

#5: Listen to music
We all know how therapeutic music can be. If all else fails, close the door, turn off the lights, and listen to calming music. Or while you're in the car, turn it up and sing your heart out! It will help!

#6: Adapt
Sometimes in order to for something to be successful, we have to shift our thinking and change our strategies. I've already changed the plan a bit for my third graders so I can make sure they have enough time to learn all of their music, and I feel so much better! I also changed the ending to one of the choir's pieces to make it easier to polish in the last two rehearsals we have before their performances. You might know the difference, but the audience won't, so have a back-up plan. I don't like to change the plans radically--like changing a concert date--because that affects a lot of people. Try first to adapt what you're doing in small ways so you and your students can be successful.

#7: Be positive!
Breathe in, breathe out, and tell yourself you can do it. Because you can. Take it one step at a time, and you WILL get things checked off your list. If you tell yourself you can't, then you won't. So stop doing that! :) Being positive goes a long way!

I hope I've given you an idea or two to help you organize your thoughts! Have a great week!


  1. Great post, Aileen!! I know I need remember many of these things. I especially love #5. Its crazy sometimes how we (music people) forget that one. :)

  2. Great post! I also like to organize my list by "time blocking". I sit down and write out the blocks of time I have when I'm not in class (which is often 45 minutes here and 20 minutes there) and I write down a few things I think I can accomplish within those few minutes. That has helped me SO MUCH! :)

  3. Such a great reminder! Thanks for that! And I totally love your lists! How awesome!!

    1. You're welcome David! Thanks for stopping by! :)

  4. I like your #4 point!! Great post...gotta share it!))

    1. Glad you enjoyed it...thanks for stopping by! :)