Mar 06, 2022
13 mins read
So, the other day I read a post on Facebook.
Someone was asking for advice on the best affordable laptop to buy that would be good for a teacher. I’m not going to go into details but half of the people who left a comment said that a 500GB or 1 TB (!) of memory is what a teacher should consider buying because it’s necessary. Necessary.
Well, that reminded me of you know that TV program 'Love it or List it', where one person wants to renovate their house but their partner says ‘this house is not big enough for a family of three!’ so they want to move? And then you see their current house and it’s not that small (at all!), it’s just cramped with stuff. And I can’t help wondering whether moving to a bigger house it’s actually going to solve the problem for them.
COUNTING DIGITAL POSSESSIONS
Now, I’m going to be nosy and see what’s in your hard drive. Even if you’re not teaching online yet/anymore/ever, how much of your digital space is occupied by teaching stuff?
Counting (digital) possessions is not essential but it is eye-opening. How many do you have between
professional development kindle books and notes,
report card copies,
photos of your school’s end-of-year party,
scans (so many scans)…?
And if these things are not all on your hard drive they’re probably on the cloud. Google Drive, Onedrive, iCloud or Dropbox. Or on all four...
And what about your
articles saved on Pinterest,
articles saved on Facebook,
TpT wishlist items,
things you’ve shared on Twitter,
And passwords, oh my,
passwords to access your LMS
your school’s teacher account
XYZ ed-tool website
and to your coursebooks’ website for extra teaching resources.
I don’t know whether you are a tidy person or not. But even if you’re answering ‘I am!’ this article is not (only) about how to label things. It’s about creating space, virtual space but also mental space for things that matter. You won’t have to buy a new laptop, a new external drive, a cloud subscription anymore. You won’t have to spend ages looking for things you need or like. Opening sub-sub-sub-sub folders. Scanning the screen and be like ‘where’s that thing I need?!’
CONTENT OF THIS GUIDE
1. Tools you need
2. Rules to stick to
3. Tidying up by category
4. Labelling files
1. Tools you need
In terms of tools you won’t need many besides:
your device’s native file-management system (whatever lets you create and rearrange files and folders),
a browser (I use Brave because it’s ad-free but it works like Chrome and supports any Chrome extension)
a note-taking app (I used OneNote because I have an outlook email account, now switched to Apple Notes - but Google Notes or Evernote are good too).
DIGRESSION ON CLOUD SERVICES
There might be a reason why you prefer a cloud folder over one on your hard drive. But:
if you use a cloud because it’s convenient to share large files, you might want to consider using the free service WeTransfer instead, which lets you attach large files to your emails without having to sacrifice cloud storage.
if you use a cloud folder to share material with your students and collect assignments, you should really switch to an LMS, I use Edmodo.
But maybe you use a cloud-based service because you like having files on the go or because you’re afraid your laptop will explode one day and you’ll lose everything. That’s ok. Whether you’re using your hard drive or your cloud, the tips below will still apply.
I use the cloud-storage Onedrive associated with my personal outlook email address only for storing memories (photos and paper letter scans). Sure, all the notes and documents in my note-taking app OneNote are automatically saved in the cloud and synchronised across devices. But let’s say, if you had to open my cloud storage page you wouldn’t see a single teaching folder in there. Maybe this approach will work for you too.
2. Rules to stick to
If you really want to tidy up your digital space quickly and effectively, these rules are non-negotiable (I’m serious).
Does it make you happy/satisfied/motivated? Keep it. Are you even a bit hesitant when having to use or open that file again? Let-it-go.
Please remove the expression ‘just in case’ from your vocabulary. If you haven’t used it in the last 90 days, will you use it in the next 90? If not, let it go.
Especially for things you’ve paid for or that have taken so much of your time to prepare, you’ll find it’s going to be difficult to apply these rules but you have to be honest with yourself: ‘Am I keeping this just because I’d feel guilty deleting it? What if I regret it?’
These self-reflection questions (with no easy answer) can also help you start focusing on what counts:
When did I give so much meaning to (digital) possessions?
What is truly important in my job?
Who is the teacher I want to become?
3. Tidying up by category
You might be familiar with the Konmari method. Marie Kondo is a Japanese tidying consultant, famous author of The life-changing magic of tidying up. There’s a Netflix series about her too - never watched it, I don’t have Netflix.
Whatever your opinion about Marie Kondo, I still believe that her tidy-up-by-category technique makes sense and is easy to follow for those like me who find comfort in guidance and precise instructions when having to deal with a task that looks bigger than them. The Konmari method suggests you tidy up your home
starting with clothes
then moving on to books,
to finally deal with sentimental items.
Kondo’s book is about decluttering physical spaces and yes, it completely overlooks our digital closets. So once I was done decluttering and tidying up my apartment, I switched on my pc, unlocked my phone and BAM. Mrs Mess was back.
I didn't like that. It just didn't make sense that I had decluttered my physical space in order to enjoy life more, and there it was, my digital space messing up with my peace of mind.
So, I started following the Konmari method again, tidying up my devices by category. You should have a go too. Please note that if you’ve never decluttered your digital space, it’s going to take a while. Be patient and don’t lose motivation.
Even if you think this category does not apply to you because you’re not the most fashionable teacher out there (I know I am not), you should still start with virtual clothes. Weird right? But not really. If we look at our
apps (Asos, Zalando, Zara…)
clothes are everywhere! Keep the digital fashion that brings you joy, toss the rest.
Tip! I actually deleted and unsubscribed from everything, and then acted more mindfully if/when downloading, saving, pinning, or subscribing again. It's just quicker and more effective.
For today we’re going to talk about your digital teaching books, the ones you use to teach or related to professional development.
If you are like me, you might have a Kindle, a Kindle app on your phone and/or on other devices and a Calibre library installed on your laptop to manage all your digital professional development books or books you read with your students. I even have two Pinterest boards, of books I've read and of those I'd like to read as well as a folder of digital coursebooks’ copies for my EFL classes.
apply the Joy-Factor rule, keeping the books you really enjoyed reading and/or using with your students;
delete the books you hated - I used to have so many digital copies of coursebooks I never ever opened because they just were not as good as others I had, this is especially true for older editions of the same book;
keep those you hated but go back to regularly mainly because you have to;
apply the 90/90 Rule for those you haven't read yet or the ‘just-in-case’ ones. If they’ve served their purpose, delete them.
Once I’ve decided which professional development books are worth saving, I make sure I have them all in my Calibre Library, then send only the ones I access frequently or that I want to read soon to my Kindle, divided into 2 collections: Books I’ve read, Books to read.
My school’s coursebooks instead are all in my Work/Books and Resources folder.
DOCUMENTS AND EMAILS
If you thought getting rid of digital books was painful because you’re a teacher and loving books is part of what you are, sorry but the worst is yet to come.
The Document category includes all your files (not photos you associate with memories though). Today we’ll ‘only’ address your professional documents, which we know for a teacher is no joke. Lesson plans, worksheets, registers, report cards, scans etc. all belong to this category. By the way, this is the time to deal with your emails and note-taking app too.
Marie Kondo wisely says 'discard everything’. Keep only those for which there is a clear purpose:
those you are currently using,
those you will need for a limited period (90/90 rule),
and those that you need to keep indefinitely (e.g. contracts and invoices).
Tip! It’s very important that you delete first, and then start re-arranging and labeling things. Once you’ve wisely selected what to keep, hopefully you’ll have way fewer documents to manage and chances are you can delete some folders and merge others.
I have a total of 3 work-related folders on my laptop:
1. books and resources,
2. weekly material,
3. registers, reports and invoices.
I have one ‘Work’ notebook on my note-taking app too, with a page for reflection and one for my school’s meeting notes so that I can edit those files from whichever device I’m using.
Please remember that accumulating digital files is easy. Clear your bin and Downloads folder regularly (I do it weekly) and remember to mercilessly discard files once they are of no use anymore. My ‘Weekly material’ folder, for example, includes lesson plans and material for that week only, and every Monday I delete everything but the lessons which were great from start to finish, which I save in my Books and Resources folder. In my first two years of teaching, I used to save everything but I later realised that many of the lessons I had created would stay there forgotten or needed lots of editing as my students and my teaching style changed. So, strange enough, but it’s often quicker for me to plan a lesson from scratch. What if for you it’s the same?
Pinterest boards where you collect ideas and articles
saved posts on Facebook and Twitter
Articles you read and those you should have but never get to
Just because all these things are not tangible or sitting in a folder occupying storage space, that doesn’t mean they’re not potentially clutter.
As always, apply the Joy-Factor and 90/90 rules to identify what you really find valuable (you should be a champion by now).
Tip! Save all the articles, material and ideas found on the web on one platform only. I use Pinterest. It makes things easier to save for future reference and to find when it’s time to use them. My browser’s bookmarks are only for websites that I access weekly (mail, LMS, my school’s admin page). I also have my fav list of websites for when I plan lessons, but I either know their name by heart or again, I have them saved on Pinterest on my “Teaching Websites” board.
This is also the time to reconsider your subscription to teaching-related websites (as well as to Facebook groups and pages). Do you need to be subscribed? Do you enjoy receiving their newsletter? Do you still use that service with your students? If not, unsubscribe or - even better - delete your account permanently.
So now, you can also go through your saved passwords and login details and keep only the ones you use. I save those on Apple Notes, in my password-protected ‘Websites’ notebook.
We’re almost there! This is the last category you’ll have to deal with. It includes:
students’ messages and work
anything you keep as mementoes
Keep only what truly brings you joy, storing the files and photos you decide to save in a ‘School Memories’ folder. You might even consider printing the things you save and storing them in a small box.
4. Labeling files
Because I’m an ESL teacher and I work with many age and level groups, it makes sense that I organise my books and files by purpose and CEFR level. For example, I have a folder called ‘Books and resources’ with 3 sub-folders General, Business, Exam-prep, each one divided by level - A1, A2, B1, B2, C1.
Tip! Now, I want to stress that the above level of folder organisation is not necessary. I think it’s more important that you name files properly so that by using your system’s Search function, you’ll have easy access to what you need without going crazy and opening endless sub-folders.
I use this system: “purpose and CEFR level_book name_file type”. For example, the book ‘Exam Booster for First’, will be renamed ‘Exam_B2_Exam booster_First_SB’ and the book’s audio folder ‘Exam B2_Exam booster First_CD’. Typing ‘exam b2 SB’ in the system’s search bar will direct me to the digital version of that coursebook in seconds without the need for me to navigate between folders and/or remember where I saved that file.
This is also the reason why I don’t have anything on my desktop either - so zen, I know - I completely rely on the OS Search tool.
We are teachers and we already have little time for ourselves. Having to navigate through endless folders and files does not make our job or our life easier. Accumulating resources can even lead to confusion and ultimately, to burnout - ‘this is great, this is also great, save this, save that. How can I fit all these resources in my lesson plan now?’
In this article we learned to mindfully select what we find valuable and to discard the rest. If applied systematically, the Joy-Factor and the 90/90 rules will help you to: save tons of storage space, streamline your planning process and alleviate that sense of ‘I should do it all’, for a better work-life balance.
Book ‘The life-changing magic of tidying up' by Marie Kondo
90/90 Rule by the Minimalists
Featured picture from Freepik.com