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Get Organized for the Upcoming School Year: Tips for the School-based OT

I must confess first of all that organization and I have a long and sorted history. I am often jealous of coworkers who are meticulously organized (Jayson!) as I have often felt that I am missing that gene. My disorganization has been an ongoing struggle starting in grade school with my desk and backpack. I was the student with random crumpled papers crammed into the back and objects falling out onto the floor. As a result organization is one of those areas I have researched and tried to improve as it is necessary to working in a school district. Here are the 10 tools and tricks I use to keep my hot mess somewhat together.

1. Create the simplest system that you will maintain regularly in order to form a new habit.

As OTs we often look at student's habits and routines. I decided to use the same approach with myself. In order to create a new habit you have to be able to start and maintain that new behavior for a period of time consistently. This allows your brain to create a new pathway that as it is used will become more automatic. If your organization system is too involved you will not be able to maintain it. Keep whatever system you decide to use simple. For example I keep track of students treatment times, annuals/triennials/assessments/equipment/master schedule/treatment log etc. all in one planner. I found that using multiple binders for all these things was not simple enough a system for me and I couldn't maintain it. Keeping a daily journal or log of everything in one spot helped me to create a new habit

2. Make time weekly or biweekly to organize your desk, files, notes, etc.

Make time each week to organize and clean out your desk, OT school bag, desktop, email, and files. This will help you to keep track of what you need to get done and keep a clear work space. I had an overwhelming workload at my previous position and I found this difficult to make time for but it is necessary. Scheduling this time in the office will help you clear clutter and get more productive. I also experienced far less anxiety when things were put away.

3. Take time to organize your email and desktop folders

I tend to hoard emails. I leave my inbox full most of the time. It can be stressful however to open up emails and see hundreds in there and scrolling through emails can take time. Take time to set up folders on your desktop and email it will save you time later when you want to review or remember what someone asked for!

4. Keep a daily paper planner, log, or journal

Presently most districts do not have easy electronic documentation and well, if you're like me most of the day I'm running from classroom to classroom so jotting notes down in a planner became a life saver. I take a simple planner with daily pages and times in order to write down what I was doing when. Some examples of what I would include would be treatments, COTA supervision, teacher collaboration, groups, equipment, and meetings. This way when I go to write notes at the end of the day or the next morning I can transcribe my daily journal/log without missing anything. The log is simple enough I can fit it into my OT bag and travel with it more easily between schools.

In my planner/log I also pre-list annuals, triennials, and track my 60 day timelines. If its something I see every day I'm not likely to forget.

There are three other notebooks I keep as well as a daily log. A phone conversation notebook that I keep by my desk phone, an IEP meeting notebook, and a staff-meeting notebook. These seem to be the three things I want to be able to remember. I mistakenly had these all in the same notebook in the past, but this became super confusing. I use my planner mainly for tracking treatments, assessments, equipment list, teacher conversations, meeting times, and anything else I’m doing during the day.

Essentially I have tried to create a journal of each workday in the school year that I can reference as need be.

5. Create a priority list at the end of each day with 3 "Must do" items for the next day.

Setting your intentions for the next school day the afternoon before will help you get your mornings rolling. Get those top 3 difficult tasks off your plate first! I have always had issues with anxiety and procrastination. I have found that knocking out the difficult tasks first thing can lead to greater focus during the day as I am not wasting brain power on worrying.

6. Schedule times to check and respond to email and keep work email OFF OF YOUR PHONE!

Scheduling email checks for noon and 4pm each day will allow you to keep your morning priorities productive and your inbox clear. I found the when I’m overly connected with emails on my cell phone I’m not being as present as I could be with the students. If there is something dire you will likely get a text or a phone call. Scheduling email times can also help you keep your inbox clear.

7. Keep your car and school bag organized and cleaned out regularly

Ok so this is a seriously difficult thing for me to do. Random crayons have been melted to my car seats and tempera paint has ended up on the seat of my pants. I have had to remind myself to throw things out! If I haven’t used it I need to get rid of it. Organizing my school bag allows me to come up with new treatment activities and plan other options when treatment plans were maybe too easy or too hard.

Make sure your tools frequently used are accessible. I have found to that when my bag is organized the students love looking to see what all is in it. I presently use a scrapbooking bag with lots of pouches and clear zipper pockets so you can see all the fun things. Larger Items are stored in the middle section. Items that are larger I can balance on top (i.e. scooter boards etc.).

8. Remember to plan

Try to plan your treatments in an organized way. I have been guilty of planning on the fly (which if your school bag is organized and ready to go isn't so bad) but I have found that when looking at student progress keeping treatments consistent planning is important!

A strategy I have found useful is to make student work folders preplanned worksheets that monitor the goal that the student can use at each treatment session. I make sure I have enough handwriting paper, cutting activities etc. in there to cover multiple sessions. Planning out this way allows for better progress monitoring than treatment notes and random work samples. Hopefully when it comes time for the annual you will then be able to have a series of work samples that easily demonstrate progress because you clearly had a plan.

9. Take a few minutes to clean at the end of the day

When you make your priority list take 15 minutes to clear your desk or work area by putting things away. This will help you start fresh the next day and help your mind end your school day. I found myself constantly obsessing over the work I had to do every night and this helped my brain be somewhat done with work so that I could enjoy my evenings and personal time to reset.

10. Remember to be kind to yourself this school year

This is probably one of the most important things I've learned on my unorganized journey. If you’re like me and become disorganized easily be kind to yourself and take a few hours to get it sorted. Getting organized is a form of self-care you need to keep so you can be more productive. The students will pick up on your vibes as well so being kind to yourself will bring that same kindness to the kiddos you work with particularly the disorganized ones.

Hopefully some of these tips and tricks helped! Remember to keep it simple as organization is a tool to help things be less stressful and keep you a productive OT or COTA!

What organizational tools do you use? How is it you are staying put together for this upcoming school year?

Have a happy and great start to the new school year!

Thanks for stopping by!



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