The Minimalist Educator Podcast

Episode 025: Streamlining To-Do Lists and Managing Priorities with Jessica Holloway

February 27, 2024 Tammy Musiowsky-Borneman
The Minimalist Educator Podcast
Episode 025: Streamlining To-Do Lists and Managing Priorities with Jessica Holloway
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Imagine transforming your chaotic to-do list into a streamlined, dynamic tool that propels your productivity forward. Our guest, Jessica Holloway, TechX Educator of the Year and an innovation coach from Tennessee, gives us insight into her ingenious tiered to-do system. Weekly, she prioritizes her tasks and sets aside time each Friday to power through her list. We also delve into Jessica's unique approach to managing her overflowing inbox and resisting the urge to prioritize urgent tasks over important ones.

The conversation deepens as Jessica unfolds her strategies for managing priorities and the underestimated power of saying 'no.' She provides an inside look into how she establishes her own deadlines for accountability and her team action plan's vital role in filtering what needs to be done. Jessica's philosophy of protecting her 'yeses' and aligning them with her personal and professional goals offers a fresh perspective on maintaining a balanced work-life. Join us for this insightful conversation, packed with practical strategies to enhance productivity and keep focused in the ever-evolving field of education.

Jessica Holloway is an innovation coach for Hamilton County Schools in Tennessee. Her focus is on supporting K-12 STEM/STEAM education across the district. In her 17 years as an educator, she has taught middle school language arts and was a school-based instructional coach prior to her current role. She is a 2019 ASCD Emerging Leader and Tennessee ASCD President. 

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Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Minimalist Educator Podcast, a podcast about paring down to refocus on the purpose and priorities in our roles with co-hosts and co-authors of the Minimalist Teacher Book, Tammy Musiowsky-Borneman and Christine Arnold.

Speaker 2:

In today's episode, we speak with Jessica Holloway about her tiered to-do system that she utilizes each week. She also discusses how she puts aside time each Friday to work the list. Jessica Holloway is an innovation coach for Hamilton County Schools in Tennessee. Her focus is on supporting K-12 STEM or STEAM education across the district. In her 17 years as an educator, she has taught middle school language arts and was a school-based instructional coach. Prior to her current role, she is a 2019 ASCD Emerging Leader and Tennessee ASCD President. Hello everyone and hello to our guest, jessica Holloway. Thanks for joining us today and would you mind introducing yourself and telling us a little bit about yourself before we get started today?

Speaker 3:

Hello everyone. I'm Jessica Holloway. I am an innovation coach in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and I'm also a 2019 ASCD Emerging Leader and Tennessee ASCD President.

Speaker 4:

So, jessica, you just recently received a pretty amazing award. Can you talk a little bit about that? Congratulations.

Speaker 3:

Yes, thank you. So the other night I did win the TechX Educator of the Year award for the Child Tech. It is an organization in Chattanooga that brings together technology professionals. They do some outreach and sponsors sponsorships and scholarships for students, and it's just a really great organization that I've gotten an opportunity to get connected with. They also have a group for Chottek women that do events like STEM for her that really encourage young girls to see themselves in technology careers.

Speaker 4:

That's amazing and, in your role as an innovation coach, you know obviously that award is well suited because STEM and STEAM is still, I guess still considered innovation, right, because there's just so many things changing all the time. But you're in charge of this all for your district, which is a huge job, and so how do you manage working with so many different entities at different levels and stay focused?

Speaker 3:

Well, I have learned the hard way. I'll say that I've done a lot of things wrong to figure out what works for me. And one thing is really tackling my to-do list. It's like laundry no matter how many things I check off the to-do list, there's going to be something else that comes back on. So, figuring out how to prioritize my to-do list. So I've come up with a system, really informal, but it's kind of like a tiered to-do system with what I need to do this week. So I typically do this on Friday afternames, so that way on Monday, mondays are already hard to kind of come into work, so to work on Mondays with a plan it feels a little bit better.

Speaker 3:

So on Fridays I try to look at the week ahead and think what needs to be done by the end of the week. Those are my top tier to do. If it's actions that need to be completed, if it's meetings, make sure I'm prepped for any meetings that I'm going to Then the next tier are things that are happening within the next two weeks. That, if there's time, go ahead and start preparing and working on that. Then after that is just things that are on the horizon. That again, if I can get to those if I have time. It helps me realize not all of those things have to be done right now. So to alleviate some of that stress of saying these are the half-twos, these are the one-twos and these are the hope-twos, so it just kind of puts it into organization for me.

Speaker 3:

But another piece of that that I've started doing when I moved into a district role the amount of emails that I get has exponentially grown. So my inbox was running me instead of me running my inbox. So a piece of that on Fridays is I also go back to Monday of that week and I spot-checked my entire inbox to make sure that I've replied to all of the communication that I've received, make sure if there's any action items that need to go on the list, that they make it to the list. It's just a good way of getting on habit on Friday just spot-check Monday into that way Everything that comes in new after that Friday. I know that's where I need to start as far as checking my inbox. So I've put it on my calendar. It's called Work the List. It's my focus Friday work the list, get my list all ready to go. So that way Monday I am ready to walk in and be the best version of myself I can be.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, any strategy that is going to make Monday morning better is definitely going to be welcomed, that's for sure. Where do you put the items that come up that you have no way of knowing that they're coming? Where do they fit in your multi-tiered list? Is it the unscheduled, unknown events that come up as part of our work?

Speaker 3:

Well, if they come to my inbox, there's a pin feature on email and so they get pinned to the top of the inbox so that way I see them separate from the other things that are going on. Then it just gets added to the list. Unfortunately, sometimes when you mark something off, something goes right back into its place. But the list is revised throughout the week to match what's going on. But hopefully there's a structure to it that when those pop-up needs happen you just tuck it right in and help prioritize. Sometimes those pop-up needs feel very urgent but then if you look at them you're like I can really put that on my next week list. It does not have to be done right this moment. I have until Tuesday of next week, so that's where I'm going to put on my list.

Speaker 4:

So how do you fight that urge? Because I know for myself, sometimes when something comes into my email, I'm like oh, this is something I can just do right now and be done with it, and it just makes me put off the more important thing. How do you fight that urge to just do that thing? Sometimes I don't. I'm gonna talk a little, okay, good, thank you.

Speaker 3:

Sometimes I don't. Sometimes it's very satisfying to know I can immediately reply to this email and that's gonna be done and it doesn't get added to the list. So if it's something that is just a reply, I go ahead and complete that task, because it'll be more time to add it to the list and then do it later than it would be to just go ahead and respond to that communication. But if it's something that's gonna be multi-step and I realize it's gonna take less than 10 minutes to do, it's gotta go on the list, Especially if I'm in the middle of doing something else and I have days where I am in planning sessions all day with teachers and there isn't a moment because my time and attention is focused on the teachers right in front of me that we're co-creating plans for Everything on that is going. It's just gonna have to wait. So it's okay. If it's something simple that can be just be a response, go ahead and do it. But if it's gonna be time intensive, put it on the list and figure out where it belongs to do.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, I'm thinking about too. You mentioned having some blocked out time on Friday to get yourself set up for Monday and kind of look back at your week. Do people know about that time you have blocked? Like know that that's your precious time so that come Monday Jessica's like tuned into us?

Speaker 3:

I've shared that with my boss. He asked me one day he was looking at my schedule and was trying to figure when to have a meeting. He was like what is work the list me? And I was like I am working my to-do list in my email inbox and all of the things. And he was like, oh, that makes sense, and so I do let people know like I won't meetings during certain times.

Speaker 3:

Now I don't necessarily have to say it has to be exactly this hour or two hours on Friday morning so I can be flexible. If I do need to meet with a school or some teachers on a Friday, I can do it in the afternoon or adjust the time. But it's always there's a chunk of time on Fridays where I try to organize myself. Now there are sometimes there are Fridays where Fridays happen and it just doesn't work the way you want it to and I don't get to the list. And so that means I try to, monday morning, make sure like I get a little bit of time if there's time in the morning to get that set up for that week. But it does always feel like, oh, I'm starting a little bit behind if I have to create that list on Monday morning.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, I appreciate that you don't take your weekend time to look at that either Because you need the detachment from like all of that busyness that you have every week.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, having that boundary is amazing for sure. I'm wondering we can get so caught up in the I have to do this. I have to do that. That's on my list. Somebody's asked me to do this. I need to follow up on that. How does your own goals, your own priorities, help you filter through that list?

Speaker 3:

I think some of that goes back to. We have a team action plan with our specific goals that we wanna achieve by the end of the year, right, and so the things that are that we have check-ins and measurable outcomes for those are the things to make sure that the time is being invested in. Not that other things are important too, but these are the things that we decided as the team that we wanted to see our team grow. And, for me, what I'm contributing to and responsible for making sure that you know what I'm giving time to matches what I said was a priority as far as being contributing to the team goals as well. So I think some of that is hard, especially when everything feels important but.

Speaker 3:

If you don't figure out what's most important, then you kind of get into decision paralysis, so you don't know what it is that you need to do first.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, absolutely. I think having clarified team goals like that, like an action plan, is definitely gonna be helpful there. Do you suffer from the same ailment that I do, where I often keep putting it like do later, and then it gets put to do later again and then do later again. Do you ever suffer from that problem, or is that just me?

Speaker 3:

I do suffer from that problem if something doesn't have like a definitive due date, so it hangs out on like the hope two list at the bottom, and so I sometimes will.

Speaker 3:

If something doesn't have a due date, I will create one for me, simply because I will keep procrastinating until it kind of just goes away if I don't have a due date for something, and then with that I'll often use, I'll put events in my calendar of like, check in on this or check back with this person.

Speaker 3:

Or I'm really big because I do support a large district that when I schedule support I schedule support usually for the entire school year and some of them in May. We schedule for the upcoming school year, just because you know there's a lot of requests and I'm one person for 70 plus schools. So if we're going to do our schedule support, it's best to go ahead and get those all on the calendar as soon as possible. So I'm a big like if it does not exist on my calendar, it is probably not going to happen. So that's why it was important to put work the list, follow up with this person, check on this, have the due date here, just for my own accountability. So it goes on my tier to do list and it's reminded when that deadline is upcoming.

Speaker 4:

And as a person in a district role, I don't know if you get a lot of opportunity to like, say no to things that are coming in your direction, but how do you then? I mean, I know that you filter out your to do list, but is there. How is it that you like, when you have to say yes to all these things, what's your process for, like, trying to make sure things are in the right order, or like that kind of thing?

Speaker 3:

That's a tough one. It's also something I learned the hard way about protecting my yeses and really thinking about if. What am I saying yes to? Does that align with my personal goal, my team goal, professional goal? Because sometimes we don't realize when we say yes to something, it's a no to something else, whether that's personal time or other professional opportunities that we may not know about but they come up later. So, especially when it comes across as an invitation, like when you're invited in to do something, it's really hard to say no for that, for the simple reason like you feel flattered when someone invites you in to do something. So you're kind of like oh, I don't want to say no because they asked me to do this, and so you want to say yes. That's the knee jerk reaction or you're afraid. Well, if I say no, they're never going to ask me again. So I better say yes because who knows if this opportunity is going to come around? And when you do that out of fear, flattery, it doesn't necessarily mean it's a good choice for you. You're doing it for these other reasons emotional reasons, not really the cool reasons. On yes, this is going to move my work forward. Yes, it's going to give me another opportunity to approach student learning in this way.

Speaker 3:

When you're just saying yes, to say yes, it doesn't always turn out to be a good investment of time. I do get a lot of invitations. I'll say as a district level hey, we have this new product, we have this new platform, we have this whatever curriculum. A lot of times I just have to say no, not yet, or that's not something we're currently looking into. Move student work forward.

Speaker 3:

A lot of those are outside the district invitations of coming in, do this, do this, do this or try this. We have this for you. A lot of those are. That's not really what I need to be investigating at this time. It looks really neat and it's probably a great product, but right now that's not where our focus is. As far as district asks, it's not really like you can say yes or no, but it is a question of the immediacy of need. Is this something that is an immediate need for students, teachers, staff? If that's the case, then you have to reprioritize and shift some things. If it's not, then it's a question of how can we get this in place over time. Then give ourselves an opportunity to do it right versus panic, and try to just make it happen instead of making it happen in the best way.

Speaker 4:

You have given us a lot to think about, and just listening to your processes is really helpful, because I'm in a forever tweaking my own processes.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, me too. Me too, so listening to you talk through yours.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, it's so helpful, but we are at the point in the show where we need to wrap up, so can you give us a couple of paredown pointers to send off for our listeners at the end of our episode here?

Speaker 3:

I one would be work your list. Don't let your to-do list work you. So figure out how to schedule time, to make a plan, to tear up your to-do list on what you have to do, want to do and hope to do. Same thing with your inbox have a system for spot checking and figuring out what you have to do right away, what's a quick response, what's going to take more time? And then thinking about your yeses and what you're investing your time in. Is that really something that is aligning to your goals? And that those invitations that come in aren't expectations and I can say that from somebody who invites people in to participate in committees and serve in different ways for the district.

Speaker 3:

When I send that invitation out, I'm expecting yeses and noes. I'm not expecting people to say yes every time I send the invitation out. So I clearly put in my invitations now, an invitation is not an expectation. Does this align with what you want to see for your own personal growth or an opportunity to help grow the students at your school? If not, that's okay. There will be opportunities in the future. So I really want to get in the mindset of make sure your yes means like yes. This is good for you, not just good for me, because I want it to be mutually beneficial. So those invitations, not expectations, no is an acceptable answer.

Speaker 2:

Yes, yeah, so good, great reminder. Thank you so much for joining us today, jessica. We really enjoyed chatting with you.

Speaker 3:

Thank you, I've enjoyed talking about it. Now I'm thinking about yes, I'm ready for tomorrow, my to-do list is ready to go and be ready to tackle another week of work.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely yes, I need some G dates on my calendar. But yes, ready to go. Thanks, Jessica.

Speaker 4:

This episode is sponsored by the Learning Loop. The Learning Loop provides professional learning, design and facilitation services to districts, schools, nonprofit organizations and businesses. Internationally. You can find them at thelearningloopcom.

Speaker 1:

Be sure to join Tammy and Christine and guests for more episodes of the Minimalist Educator Podcast. They would love to hear about your journey with minimalism. Connect with them at planzpls on Twitter or Instagram. The music for the podcast has been written and performed by Gaia Moretti.

Streamlining to-Do Lists for Educators
Managing Priorities and Saying No