If pressure from administrators, teachers and parents make you cringe at the word “productivity,” you’re not alone! Staying organized and on task while providing excellent service to your students is a unique challenge that comes with the territory of a school-based occupational therapy job. Good news is it’s also one you can conquer with some advanced planning!
To help you stay on top of session schedules, paperwork and meetings while still being prepared for the unexpected, here are some tips to stay productive (and sane) throughout the school year and beyond.
- Take Advantage of Technology
If you regularly use an iPad or similar device for taking notes, the dictation feature can save you time throughout the day. If this isn’t possible, or speaking aloud isn’t appropriate in your work setting, invest in an attachable keyboard. Using one is much speedier and more accurate than finger typing on a screen keyboard.
It’s also worth trying some of the latest apps specifically designed for taking notes and keeping files organized. We recommend checking out Notability and Dragon Dictate for dictation. And Evernote, Focus Booster and Wunderlist are good bets for time management.
- Adopt the 2-Minute Rule.
If an item on your to-do list takes less than 2 minutes, DO IT NOW! Such tasks may include answering an email, returning a phone call, responding to a colleague, filling out paperwork, etc. Make it a point to pick one of “the 4 Ds” to avoid procrastination and a packed inbox—1) Do something with it, 2) Diarise it (file it for later if it will take more than 2 minutes), 3) Delegate it or 4) Delete it. Doing so helps you cut down on task backup, helping you accomplish more in small increments throughout the day.
Set aside time to put together a master schedule using a system that works for you. Ideally, you should do this at the beginning of the year, but it’s never too late. Because let’s face it, circumstances often force you to make a new one anyway. Here’s a method school-based therapist and blogger, Mama OT, describes works for her. Print out a blank landscape-oriented Monday-to-Friday schedule that has time slots blocked into 30-minute increments for the entire day. For example, the first left-hand column would read “Monday” with several boxes below it that represent 30-minute time slots running from start to finish for the entire day. Next, use a pack of thin sticky note strips to write each student’s name, school, and number of minutes in their session on a sticky strip. Each sticky strip represents one therapy session, so students who receive multiple sessions will have more than one strip dedicated to them. This will give you a tangible look at just how many sessions you’ll need to schedule throughout the week. Next, begin sticking “sessions” onto your blank weekly schedule page. For many reasons, this is much easier than writing a draft schedule in pencil, erasing, writing sessions into different time slots, erasing again, and so on. If you stick a session into one time slot and then find it needs to be moved, simply pick up the sticky strip and place it in the new time slot.
- Work Buffers into Your Schedule
Don’t expect to do your job as a school-based OT effectively if you schedule everything back-to-back all day, every day. Sure, there will be times when you will need to power through six straight sessions without grabbing a drink or taking a bathroom break. But when possible, this should be an exception rather than a rule. Creating natural breaks in your schedule means there’s no need to stress when a quick question from a teacher in the hallway turns into a 15-minute conversation. Buffers give you the flexibility to go over time on a session if needed, observe students at different times, and accommodate last minute meetings…and more. You may even be able to have that much-needed cup of coffee or tea!
- Set Aside Assessment Time
It’s a good idea to schedule a consistent block of time each week to work on OT evaluations, reports and notes. Even if you don’t specifically use the time this way, there is always something you can accomplish. Plan treatment. Prep materials. Tackle consults or make-ups. Contact parents. Observe in the classroom or on the playground. Do your invoicing. However, you use it, the time will be well-spent. And when things do get crazy, you’ll always have time set aside to do screenings, evaluations and write-ups without having to work all hours of the night.
- Make Pairs
When needs and personalities mesh, try grouping kids into pairs for sessions. This can create openings in your schedule and even encourage new friendships among students in occupational therapy.
- Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
Go ahead and borrow tactics, experience, forms, handouts and hacks that likeminded OT colleagues have found to be helpful while working in your school or district. Don’t be afraid to ask around and brainstorm ideas with trusted colleagues.
And last, but not least…
- Eat the Frog
Mark Twain said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” So, if you can accomplish your most important (and/or least favorite) task before anything else, you’re bound to feel like you can take on the world for the rest of the day!
As a school-based OT, your time is precious. The more you can devote to your students while keeping necessary administrative tasks manageable and organized, the better you can do the most important aspect of your job—serving your students.
What tips and tricks do you use to stay productive while working within your school districts? Please share them in the comments below so we can learn – and others in OT jobs can be inspired!
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