1. Use the Reminders app, including categories and setting specific dates and/or times.
When I started grad school on top of working full time, I knew I needed to either crack down on using a daily planner or digitize my to do list. I’ve always found making lists satisfying, especially when you’ve earned the accomplishment of checking off a task, but only for the last year and a half have I streamlined my to do list organization. It’s about more than just adding items to a never-ending list; the key to successfully using the Reminder app on your iPhone is to set days and even times as well as create different categories for your reminders. This is the number one piece of advice I give all of my current and former students when they ask me for tips to staying on track and organized. Check out how I organize my Reminders app below.
2. Use the Notes app.
This blog post wouldn’t be possible without the notes app. I’ve always kept little tidbits here and there on the Notes app, but again in the last year and a half, I’ve become diligent organizing my previous notes and pulling up the app any time I have an idea about a lesson I want to teach or a blog post I want to write.
3. Keep your work email silent but accessible.
Every teacher I know gave me this advice when I first started teaching, and both having the app accessible but at the same time silent have been so beneficial in my work/home life balance. As a general rule, I don’t have any notifications turned on my phone besides messages and calls, and that’s something that saves my mental health. However, sometimes I need to be able to send a quick message or look up an email on the go, so it’s convenient to have the app already downloaded.
4. Silence your personal messages at work.
My job has given me no choice (I don’t get any service in my classroom), but now that I’ve embraced this “inconvenience,” I’ve found that I’m more focused on my job and less tied to my phone. I used to have my personal messages sync to my work MacBook, but this year I disabled them. My friends and family know that if they need me during the day, they have to email me or message me on Google Hangouts. iOS 15’s new Focus feature helps with this if you don’t work in a cinderblock building like I do.
5. Be intentional about not taking work home with you.
I know in many humanity professions, that’s impossible (I’m a teacher — I get it!), but the grading or paperwork can wait. I’d rather stay a little late at work and actually accomplish something than lug a bunch of paperwork home only for it to sit in my car.
6. Maximize your smartwatch.
I have an Apple Watch, but there are many smartwatch brands these says. You can tailor the notifications you want to receive so you’re not chained to your phone but still aware. I have my main screen set to show me the time, the temperature, the date, and my activity for the day, but I also have shortcuts to the timer and workout feature because those are what I use most. I asked for an Apple Watch for my birthday the semester I student taught because my co-teacher was constantly using his to set timers in the classroom, and this is a practice I still use today. The same feature is extremely convenient when I’m cooking too.
7. Set time limits.
I blogged about utilizing Apple’s Screen Time feature in my post 5 Ways to Set Social Media Boundaries, but I believe you need to set time limits for tasks that aren’t on your phone as well. Give yourself an hour (using the timer on your Apple Watch, of course) to sit down with no distractions to write a paper or read a book. Challenge yourself to get your list of chores done in two hours, and then regardless of what you accomplish, do something else when that time is up. This is how I avoid burnout and the trap of mindlessly scrolling on my phone because I don’t want to do something.
8. Maximize travel time or other mindless tasks by scheduling a call during that time or listening to an audiobook or your favorite podcast.
This is the newest habit I’ve picked up and it has been a game changer in my life. I haven’t once dreaded my commute to work because of it. Even before having an hour drive each day during the work week, I always felt more productive just cleaning the house or organizing a closet when I had a continuous voice in the background. In the past, I tried this with TV, but the problem with that is I’m tempted to stop what I’m doing and just watch.
9. Plan time every day for something you love that fills you up.
This looks different for everyone, but for me, moving my body in a yoga class or on a walk outside really makes me feel like my best self. This is time for me and no one else, and on days when I don’t make time for this, I don’t feel like myself. Resting is important too, but for me, a day spent sitting on the couch watching a show I love just makes me feel more tired and out of touch with myself. I have to move!
10. Plan time to spend with God each day.
I intentionally put this tip last because it’s the foundation for all other nine tips. I believe God created us as working beings, so rather than do it with contempt, it’s important we work with a joyful heart. John Mark Comer’s book Garden City really helped me understand this. Right now, I’m just six or seven weeks shy of finishing the Bible in a year. I’d be lying if I said I sit and truly mediate on God’s word each morning (I’d like to, but I’m human and I’m a human in the middle of writing a post about productivity… I have a hard time sitting still!), but I do wake up and immediately write verses of the day in my journal, list three things I’m grateful for, and listen to the audio of my Bible in a year reading for that day while I get ready. This sets the tone so I can be at my best — and most productive — each day.