By Capella Hauer
Time is one of the most important commodities we have, especially as social workers. When I started my career, I heard a lot of remarks about working overtime and being underpaid. To be clear, these were not always complaints. More often they were stated as a fact; as if the harder we worked and the less we were paid, the better, more honorable a social worker we became. Don’t get me wrong, I bleed for social work. However, if I am overworked and burnt out, I am not the best social worker I can be. I made a promise to myself in graduate school that I would set firm boundaries and adhere to them, especially when it came to my time. And guess what – it worked! Yes, I had some days which necessitated some late afternoons and evenings, but overall, I was headed home at an appropriate time. There are a few things I did to make this happen, but a large contributor was my organization skills.
I know what you might be thinking… ‘I don’t have time to read an article, let alone the time to create an organization system!’ But here’s the thing - you have to spend time to get time back into your very busy schedule. The more you have to do, and the less time you have to do it all, the more time you should spend planning how you will get it all done. Once you have a solid organization system you will be able to see what needs to be done now, and what can be put off for later. The time and energy you put in now for organization will pay off!
Everyone needs to find a system that works for them, but here are a few things I found helpful for myself:
Write a to-do list. So simple, but so few people do this! If you choose to have a physical, pen and paper to-do list, make sure you have access to it at all times. Other options include using your phone, Outlook Calendar, or an app (Check out this article on suggested apps). We have all experienced a teacher stopping us in the hall, just for you to get back to your office and totally forget what they requested. Make sure you have a system that accommodates these situations. Personally, I had a planner I created for myself using Tul and Excel. Customizable discbound planners, like Tul and Happy Planner, allow you to create your own planner that works for you. You can use pre-printed calendars and notepads or create your own! Mine had one page per day with three columns: one column broke my day into 15-minute increments, a to-do list took up the entire second column, and a third column had boxes where I jotted in each group’s lesson plan. Anything that was not checked off on my to-do list at the end of the day was transferred to another day’s list. This was also a great way for me to turn off my work brain, and get into home mode. I didn’t have to end my day thinking about my to-do list, because it was literally another day’s problem. If you are interested in a create-your-own discbound planner, check out Michaels, Staples or Office Depot.
Prioritize your day. Give yourself a few minutes at the beginning of each day to review your to-do list. What is a priority? Not everything can be treated as a priority or crisis. Highlight or color code the top three priorities for the day. At the end of each day remember to transfer any tasks not completed to another day when you will have time.
Fill your calendar. Whatever type of calendar you use (planner, Outlook, Google Calendar or one of these Apps) be sure to assess where you have some gaps which could be put to use. Every week my district required PD hours for our teaching staff, which I didn’t necessarily need to attend each time. I used this time for administrative work or to call parents and agencies. I also liked scheduling time in my week to walk around campus to reinforce our PBIS system, and to spend time on the playground with the kids and teachers. Sometimes we need to schedule those moments to reinforce positive relationships!
Stay on top of your emails. Seeing a coworker’s inbox with thousands of messages makes me immediately overwhelmed. Thankfully, email systems have great tools to help you organize, such as folders and the search function. I always have folders for common emails I may receive (ex: ‘referrals’, ‘administrative’, ‘PBIS’). I use my email inbox as my second to-do list. As soon as I am done with an email, it is placed in an appropriate folder, or deleted. Do you really need all those email chains on what each grade level will be dressing as for Halloween? The only emails left in my inbox are ones I need to follow up with.
Take some time for spreadsheets. Oh how I love Excel. The colors, the formulas, the various data and pivot charts. Excel truly seems to have no limit to the things you can do. Take some time to either learn or refresh your knowledge in Excel. Spreadsheets can help you stay organized in so many areas. For example, when new students were referred to me, it was a process with multiple steps. It was impossible to remember which referral was in which phase, especially at the beginning of each new school year. Enter Excel. The best part is you can customize it to your needs, your thought-process, and visual preferences. Even better, explore Google Spreadsheets and cut down even more time by combining Spreadsheets and Forms.
Above all, when it comes to your time and boundaries, be realistic and remind yourself – I am one human. You cannot do everything when the piles of work are so overwhelming. So be kind to yourself. You are one human, doing an immense job. And if you physically can not do your job as just one person, take a look at some of our advocacy tools at sswaa.org. Maybe it’s time to fight for more SSWs in your area.
Capella Hauer is the Membership Coordinator for the School Social Work Association of America. She graduated from New Mexico Highlands University in 2015 with her Master’s in Clinical Social Work. She practiced School Social Work for five years in Tucson, Arizona where she obtained her certificate in Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics and ran a non-profit bakery out of her home. She currently lives in Louisiana with her husband and two dogs. If you popped into her home, you would most likely find her reading or baking cookies.