15 Tips to Purposeful Planning

You have a plan time, so why do you have to take so much work home?  Well, let’s see. You have emails to respond to, phone calls to return, paperwork demanded from administrators, papers to grade, copies to make, plans to write, a restroom break would be nice.  The list seems like it is neverending!  Am I right?!

In the last couple of years, I have tried to make my time at school as purposeful as possible so that when I closed my classroom door, I went home and focused on my family.  I won’t say that there was never a time that I didn’t take something home, sure it happened, but the times were few and far between.  Is it possible to leave it all behind the classroom door?  Yes, I know it is, but for me, it was a mindset.  I had to keep my focus on what I needed to accomplish so that when I left, I could do what I needed and wanted to do.  My ultimate goal was to preserve my plan time.  To preserve my plan time, I needed to be organized, and as I mentioned, I needed to be purposeful.

Peek at the Year

At the beginning of the year, I always map out each subject and what I plan to teach each month.  How does this keep my day purposeful?  This keeps me focused and allows me to know what I need to be planning next.

You can download my editable Peek at the Year in my Free Resource Library

Reevaluate the Peek at the Year

Come December; I reevaluate my peek at the year to see what I have taught and what I haven’t gotten to yet.  I then revise it to reflect what I need to focus on for the second half of the year, leading up to state testing.  How does this keep my day purposeful?  I know what I need to focus on for the rest of the year and can use my plan time to focus on those skills/standards.

Standards Checklist

I always have a checklist for my standards available at my fingertips.  The list not only allows me to check off what I have taught, but it also allows me to stay focused on what I really need to teach.  How does this keep my day purposeful?  I can look at my checklist and peek of the year and know exactly what I need to focus on for planning.

You can download an editable 3rd, 4th, and 5th Grade Standards Checklist in my Free Resource Library

Find a Favorite Publisher and/or Teacher-Author

I have a favorite publisher and/or teacher-author that provide the majority of resources that I need.  Why would this be important?  How does this keep my day purposeful? It’s a timesaver because I have a go-to for resources.  It takes out the constant searching for what I need by following the one that can provide me with the most.

Digital Folders

If you are like me, most of my teaching resources are now in digital format.  I’ve taught for over 16 years, and things have definitely changed.  I no longer have a file cabinet to keep all my hard copies, and I no longer have shelves that hold teaching resource books.  I have a handful of resources that I still use that were initially hard copies, but with the ability to scan and upload, they are now digital!  In Google Drive, I have a folder for each of my subjects. Within each of my subjects, I have a folder for each standard.  How does this keep my day purposeful?  I don’t have to do a lengthy search for what I need.  What I need is organized by subject and standard.

To-Do List

I {heart} a to-do list!  A to-do list is what keeps me the most focused.  It could be classified as my arch-nemesis.  It keeps me focused, but it can also stresses me out because I’m always on a mission to get through it.  With that said, I always have a working to-do list.  I consider it a working list because I know that I’m not going to always get through it.  If I don’t get through my list, I simply add what’s left to the next day’s list.  Also, I always have my to-do list handy so that I can add to it throughout the day if needed.  How does this keep my day purposeful?  It gives me a focus on what I need to work on during my plan time!

Make Notes as You Teach

As you all know, as we teach, some things come to mind.  I always keep sticky notes at my fingertips so that I can keep track of things that come to mind while teaching a lesson or while observing students during cooperative learning or independent work.  How does this keep my day purposeful?  During plan time, I can redirect my lesson.  Also, by keeping these notes, I can save them for the next year and be prepared for similar situations.

Take Advantage of Every Minute

You know those minutes before school begins, those minutes your students are at recess, those minutes after school that you have to stay until you’re allowed to leave?  Yes, those minutes.  Take advantage of every minute and consider allocating those times for specific tasks.  Before my students arrive, I spend that time filing notes and papers into students’ Friday folders.  How does this keep my day purposeful?  I’m utilizing every minute of every day.

Before Leaving

Every day before I leave, my number one priority is to clean off my desk.  I want to come back to a clean slate.  How does this keep my day purposeful?  There is nothing worse than walking into the classroom to a messy desk where you can’t find what you need.

Parent Volunteers

Parent volunteers are priceless!  Utilize them to make copies, file, organize.  How does this keep my day purposeful?  Utilize them to do anything that will make your workload lighter!

Plan Time

Close Your Door

This one is a hard one for me.  I don’t like to have my door closed, because I love to chat with my teacher friends.  How does this keep my day purposeful?  There are times when it’s necessary to get things done.

Two-Minute Rule

This concept is new to me and can be used in any area in your life.  It’s called the “Two-Minute” rule.   The idea comes from David Allen’s Getting Things Done:  The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.  The concept is rather simple.  If you have a task that can be done in two minutes or less, don’t procrastinate.  Do it!  How does this keep my day purposeful?  Putting it on a to-do list will result in having to organize and review it, which in turn will take even more time.  Emails and phone calls are great examples in which the two-minute rule can be applied.

Specific Day, Specific Task

My number one goal is to shut my classroom door and leave it there at the end of the day.  This is even a bigger goal on Fridays.  One thing that I started doing was assigning specific tasks to specific days.  For example, Thursdays were used only for planning.  I spend my plan time preparing my lesson plans for the upcoming week, always.  Fridays are spent making copies and preparing materials for the next week.  If it is a short week, I adjust those days so that the last two days of the week are spent on planning and preparing.  How does this keep my day purposeful?  I’m always prepared for the upcoming week.


Grading has never been a real huge deal for me because I do a lot of formative assessments and am always checking in with students, and assigning busy work is not my thing.  I only grade the minimum amount of student work.  By minimum, I grade what the district tells me I need.  Two grades per week, per subject, are typically the norm.  That’s all I do, and it works!  How does this keep my day purposeful?  I’m not wasting time “grading” unnecessary worksheets.

Don’t Forget These!

Don’t Give Up Your Lunch Break

I never give up my lunch break to work in my classroom.  Never!  I spend my days in my classroom being purposeful.  I keep my head down and keep moving forward with all the demands.  When it comes to lunch, that’s my time.  It may be a tiny amount of time, but it allows me to get out of my classroom and to chat with my teacher friends.  We all need that!

Stop Trying to be Perfect

It’s definitely easier said than done, but we as teachers tend to want everything to be perfect.  Stop trying to get it all done and stop trying to make it all perfect.  You will be amazed at how things will work out if you let the little things go.

Mandy Neal at Teaching With Simplicity
Mandy Neal at Teaching With Simplicity

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