“Time has a wonderful way of showing us what really matters.”
As a rule, occupational therapists are driven by “what really matters.” However, OTs who work in schools face time constraints that make focusing on what really matters exceptionally challenging. Navigating all of the paperwork, administrative requirements, data collection, meetings, class schedules and more can be time-consuming and immensely frustrating. Tackling this seemingly endless flood of tasks can make school-based OTs feel like there’s little time for what matters most – helping their students thrive in the classroom and beyond.
Ironically, although we may feel like we are in a race against time, as educator and author Margaret Peters points out in the quote above, time can actually help us see what matters most. Stepping back and viewing life through the lens of time can offer perspective on where to focus our efforts in order to make the greatest impact. Prioritizing and planning can help school-based OTs reduce stress and be more successful. Here are some time-saving tips to help school OTs focus on what really matters.
Before you begin each day (and your work week), devote some time to putting tasks in order of importance. Put IEP meetings, OT appointments, goal collection due dates, etc. on the calendar first and fill in with other tasks. Prioritizing your daily to-do list will help ensure you accomplish the critical tasks first and build the rest of your schedule around those, rather than getting pulled in many directions and losing valuable time during the day.
2. Group Similar Tasks
To boost productivity, set aside segments of time to tackle similar tasks. Think of how you feel at the end of one of those days when you’ve been running in circles – pulled between answering emails, rushing to meetings, scheduling consults, managing caseloads, completing evaluations, returning phone calls, and more. This kind of day is exhausting and can make you feel inefficient. To be more effective, delineate a separate time for answering all emails, making all phone calls, etc.
3. Break Down Complicated Tasks
If you have large tasks or complex goals looming over your head, avoid the urge to keep bumping these items from day to day until you can find more time. Instead, devote a little time to breaking the tasks or goals into smaller bits you can accomplish over time. Pat yourself on the back as you finish each subtask. This can help you charge forward as you feel much more accomplished and less overwhelmed!
4. Keep Meticulous Records
As a school OT, you’re required to keep accurate, detailed documentation. Therefore, you must avoid the trap of believing you can go back later and write notes from memory. While you may think you’ll remember the details, a busy day can cause you to lose focus. Instead, enter notes directly into your laptop while working with students or during IEP meetings. This can help you improve productivity and accountability.
5. Use a Timer
It’s easy to lose track of time when writing goals or making reports, talking with others, or working with students. Setting a timer or an audible alert on your calendar can help you stay on task – it can also give others a friendly cue it’s time to wrap things up. Using a tool like the Pomodoro Method, in which you set a timer for 25 minutes for one task and 5 minutes for a break, can help. If you make the break useful for tasks like decluttering your desk, tossing or shredding old papers, or organizing a few files, you’ll be doubly efficient!
6. Rely on OT Tools and Resources
There are so many factors to juggle as you craft your schedule – you must consider the demands of various students, teachers, parents, schools, other therapists, and more. Instead of reinventing the wheel, ask your colleagues for useful tools or turn to existing resources. OT School House and Tools to Grow OT offer useful tools, including OT scheduling forms, parent letters, student info organizers, parent communication logs, OT meeting notes, time management tips and more.
7. Celebrate What Really Matters
When you can get organized and can tick off the minutiae like a well-oiled machine, you can spend more time accomplishing (and enjoying) what really matters! Be sure to celebrate the accomplishments of your students, your colleagues and yourself! You’ve chosen this field for a reason – to improve the lives of others. You deserve to enjoy the reward of helping students make changes that will last a lifetime.
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