If you are disorganised your colleagues will think you’re less effective, even if you aren’t. Unfair but true. Prioritised lists and well-planned lessons disperse the illusion of chaos, but what else can you do?

1. Buy a Dictaphone. A must for the car so you can declutter your brain on the way to and from work. You probably have a huge mental list of things to do in the day ahead, or ideas that spring to mind as you sit at the traffic lights! You’ll be amazed how a Dictaphone will reduce your stress levels and brain clutter. Play the tape back once a day and don’t lose the brainwaes that come to you at a time when they can’t be jotted down. Prices start from about £19.99 in all high street electrical retailers.

2. Use your time smartly. An extra half an hour at school in the mornings could amount to 2 1/2 hours a week. That’s one less set of books to mark at home, or more!

3. De-junk the paperwork. Throw out junk mail before you leave the staff room and create individual files for everything else – file it NOW to keep your desk and in-tray less cluttered. Stand by the bin when you open your post.

4. Bulk buy. If your budget and storage space will allow it, buy as much as you can for the year ahead. You’ll pick up discounts for buying in larger quantites and your colleagues will be immensely impressed that you never seem to run out of glue sticks at a crucial moment.

5. Keep things in perspective! Is an immaculate cupboard really that important? Find some bored but trustworthy pupils one lunchtime to carry out simple tasks in return for a warm classroom and a couple of merits, get them to collate, sort, and put away.

6. Get some help!. Ask for extra admin time and put a positive spin on it. “I’ve got a great idea for a new display but need help to clear a backlog of filing first” is a much more palatable request than a “I’m fed up with my workload, what are you going to do about it?” type moan at a staff meeting.

7, Crisis? What crisis? Don’t waste time worrying but plan how you are going to tackle the problem and get on with it. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice or admit to a mistake. Replace “I can’t do it” with “I can do some of it”.

8. Don’t be a squirrel. Clear space and throw away all the ancient books and work that you put to one side a couple of years ago ‘just in case’. Go through every area of your classroom and workspace and be ruthless. Donate things to other teachers or give out piles of old books for pupils to take home.

9. Multitask. As you move around your classroom tidy up odds and ends as you go.

10. Be prepared. If you are always getting things ready 5 minutes before they’re needed, you’re reducing the quality time you have to spend on other things. Before you leave in the evening, layout all you need the following morning. This will avoid the 8:30am panic and give you more time to deal with post, speak to colleagues and plan ahead. You will also be less likely to get stressed out if you’ve been taken for cover and have to step in and deliver an impromptu assembly.

11. Workspace SOS. Beg for extra filing cabinets, shelving and storage units. Be creative with storage and keep paperwork and other clutter out of sight. Label everything in sight and organise everything into clearly defined sections (eg. by year group or subject). It goes without saying that you need to lead by example – if you are meticulously tidy it may shame some of your less tidy colleagues into changing their ways. TEX

First published in Teaching Expertise magazine, Issue 1 Autumn 2003

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