To Do Lists

It’s been a day of to do lists.

I think that teachers are not very good users of to-do lists, generally.  We go to meetings and listen to reports, but we rarely create action items from those reports. We hear a lot of recommendations and a lot of guidelines, but I think rarely do we (do *I*) generate a to-do list from all of our meetings, particularly at the beginning of the year.

Today, though, I made lists like they were going out of style.  Here were the big items:

  • ¤ Plan a conference on Design and Government for 5th-8th graders for November 3, 2012 (coinciding with the election)
  • ¤ Brainstorm 12 things third graders can do with maps.
  • ¤ Update web pages at school
  • ¤  Email participants about an internal Design Day on October 14
  • ¤  Review curriculum for Middle School SEC (social-emotional curriculum)
  • ¤ Email all homeroom parents
  • ¤ Prep materials for fundraiser for DC trip
  • ¤ Call bus companies about DC trip
  • ¤ Set up grade book entries for all classes
  • ¤ Set up advisory folders in filing cabinet
  • ¤ move furniture in the Design Lab
  • ¤ Make Proposals for Extracurriculars
  • ¤ Plan morning before-school program (Chess before 8am, really?)
  • ¤ update design curriculum web pages
  • ¤ Design brochure for November 3
  • ¤ Design brochure for April 6
  • ¤ Check registrations for April 6  (No one has signed up yet…)
  • ¤ Set up supplies for New Student Activity on Saturday

And these were just the big ones.  School doesn’t even start until Tuesday.

Atul Gawande in the book, The Checklist Manifesto, argues (sometimes forcefully) for the need for checklists in our hyper-scheduled, ever-more-complicated world.  I’m involved in running two different programs in my school — the DC trip and its attendant fundraisers, and the Design Lab — that have long lead-times on major events, with little supervision along the way.  It practically requires checklists to get involved and stay involved.  And while I’ve experimented with a number of useful and amazing digital tools for keeping to-do lists and checklists, I have to say it.

Nothing beats paper.

I wish I could find a technological solution to the problem of keeping to-do lists.  I wish I could find a simple system for keeping track of all the things I have to do — on my phone or on my iPad or on my computer.  But the truth is, I haven’t found anything as good as plain old graph paper, so that I can draw a simple check-box next to the item on the list, and check it off when it’s done.

I’ve thought long and hard about why this is so. I don’t have an easy answer.  I think the simplest answer is that there are no fiddly bits.  A pen and a notebook are the only minimal requirements, and those are almost always available.  You can’t run out of battery power, and you don’t have to worry if Siri has understood you, and you don’t have any challenges about what complete means in a given moment.

So I think that teachers should make a point to make to-do lists more often, and they should use little paper notebooks to do it.

But I do have an ulterior motive, though.  The next time someone says in my hearing that teachers don’t do enough, I want us all to whip out our little to-do notebooks, with their notes about papers to grade and web pages to update and class newsletters to design…

and I want us to beat the stuffing out of them with our to-do lists.

Addendum: Wherever in the list above, you see this symbol “¤ ” — that means I did that.  I’m done with that item.  Pretty good day.

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