Organizing a Day, a Week, a Life

course design
Early in my teaching career, I attended a professional development event. The only session I remember was one given by Alan Lakein. It featured his book How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life. He proposed an elaborate scheme for making and prioritizing to-do lists. I don't remember most of the details, but making a daily list of things to do became a regular feature of my professional and personal life. A short piece in College Teaching and an interview, both on checklists, got me thinking about time management and how we use and don't use the time we have.

To continue reading, you must be a Teaching Professor Subscriber. Please log in or sign up for full access.

Related Articles

Love ’em or hate ’em, student evaluations of teaching (SETs) are here to stay. Parts <a href="https://www.teachingprofessor.com/free-article/its-time-to-discuss-student-evaluations-bias-with-our-students-seriously/" target="_blank"...

Since January, I have led multiple faculty development sessions on generative AI for faculty at my university. Attitudes...
Does your class end with a bang or a whimper? Many of us spend a lot of time crafting...

Faculty have recently been bombarded with a dizzying array of apps, platforms, and other widgets that...

The rapid rise of livestream content development and consumption has been nothing short of remarkable. According to Ceci...

Feedback on performance has proven to be one of the most important influences on learning, but students consistently...

Early in my teaching career, I attended a professional development event. The only session I remember was one given by Alan Lakein. It featured his book How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life. He proposed an elaborate scheme for making and prioritizing to-do lists. I don't remember most of the details, but making a daily list of things to do became a regular feature of my professional and personal life. A short piece in College Teaching and an interview, both on checklists, got me thinking about time management and how we use and don't use the time we have. Catherine Anderson points out that our 18-year-old beginning students “experience unprecedented autonomy in deciding how to spend their time” (p. 210). And many of them end up not doing a very good job of managing it. Sometimes we forget that time management is also a skill, one that can be learned and one that is directly related to effective study routines. Truth be told, until I heard Lakein, I hadn't ever thought of making a plan for the day, and by that point, I'd been in school many years. Organization is not a strong suit for many of us. I frequently claim that in my next life I plan to be “organized, thin, and driving a race car.” So what I'm proposing here isn't a thinly veiled attempt to get the disorganized among us organized. It's about what teachers need to do to help students learn and be successful in college and in life. Atul Gawande, a surgeon who writes beautifully, has a book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, in which he traces the history of checklists and their role in adding accuracy to complex tasks that must be completed routinely, such as preparing planes for takeoff. Gawande worked with various health professionals to create surgery checklists and has evidence to show that using them results in a significant decrease in operating room errors. The point here is that what checklists can accomplish is not trivial. Anderson uses them in a large introductory linguistics course. She posts one at the beginning of every week, such as “Week 3: What to do this week.” They're detailed, with due dates, time windows, and boxes to check off an item when it's completed. A whopping 78 percent of her 600-odd students reported they checked off at least some items (20 percent said they used the checklists consistently), and the same 78 percent rated them as helpful. In fact, they were the highest-rated item on a list of course elements. Requiring completion of a set of checklists or submission of daily to-do lists isn't the recommended approach here. An approach more likely to engender a positive response from students starts with modeling—simply posting them on the LMS, as Anderson does, with the advice that the checklists are there to keep students on track with what's happening in the course. I can imagine each class session beginning with a to-do list: “Here's what we need to get accomplished in class today.” Or maybe before the first exam, a study checklist could include what to study, when, and for how long. In my first-year seminar, I used to have students submit a game plan that described preparation schemes for the first exam. I was always surprised by how many students said they'd never done that before, and then I was dismayed with how few of them executed their plans. But scores on the first exam were almost always disappointing, which provided an opportunity to suggest that they might try following their game plan next time and seeing whether it made a difference. I was pleased by the number who reported they did and saw their scores go up. I can't say for sure that following the plan helped, because there are other variables here, but I rather suspect it at least helped. So that's the case for taking time to help students, especially beginning ones but also more advanced ones, facing complicated and challenging assignments to develop the time management and planning skills that will improve their performance on the assignment, on the exam, in the course, and in the degree program and for the rest of their lives. References: Anderson, C. (2017). Checklists: A simple tool to help students stay organized and motivated. College Teaching, 65(4), 209–210. Gawande, A. (2009). The Checklist Manifesto: How to get things right. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company.