Organizing and Prioritizing Tasks

Organizing and Prioritizing Tasks
To avoid becoming overwhelmed by life's many tasks, prioritize them on your to-do list. (Fei Ming)
Jeff Minick

On a recent getaway with my children and grandkids, I asked my oldest son what was on his mind these days. “Fall,” he said. “Summer’s over, and school is cranking up.”

For many of us, the arrival of autumn signals little more than a change in season. The temperature cools, the days grow crisper, and the leaves change color. Break out the sweaters, and it’s no big deal.

For others, however, fall holds different connotations. Schools reopen their doors, and teachers and students head back to the classroom. Some high school seniors scramble to fill out college applications. Parents find themselves ferrying children to school, soccer, and ballet while helping their fifth grader in the evenings with her math lessons, or reading yet another email from the principal’s office regarding schedules.

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy,” goes the old show tune, but the arrival of September means the vacation is over. Time for lots of folks, young and old, to buckle down into a more rigorous routine.

Whether you’re a teacher, parent, or student, here are some tips I’ve gleaned from different sources that should make this shift easier.

Prioritize. My son and his wife have seven children, six of them adopted. With the exception of a daughter who attends public school, they are educating their children through a blend of homeschooling and various co-ops, which means lots of scheduling and drive times. “This year,” my daughter-in-law tells me, “I’m making education my No. 1 priority. I’ll still do the other stuff—take care of the house, cook, get the kids to medical appointments, and so on—but first on the list is their education.”
Beat the deadlines. Is that essay on “To Kill a Mockingbird” due on Thursday? Don’t wait until Wednesday night to begin. Does the fourth grader face a multiplication test on Monday? Spend the previous week reciting the times tables with him several times a day.

A special note to high school seniors: Submit your college applications well before the deadline. When you get them out only a few days before they are due, often in January, you’re convicting yourself of sloth or indicating a disinterest in that particular school.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. That’s the title of a book by Richard Carlson, and there’s a reason why it has remained in print and popular for 25 years. Keep those words handy, and you can reduce stress while attaining greater peace of mind. In the back-to-school hustle, it’s easy to let simple mistakes and obligations—my daughter forgot her lunch, my son lost his lit book, I need to get Carly to the dentist after school, but I have to pick up Daniel at day care by 4 o'clock—snowball into discouragement.

Most of the glitches in life are small stuff. Acknowledge that, brush them away, and keep moving forward.

Take frequent breaks. The leisurely pace of summer may be over, but you still need time to catch your breath and recharge your batteries. If you arrive at soccer practice a few minutes before pickup, put your phone aside, close your eyes, and take a quick snooze or meditate on the good things in your life.
Be a long-distance runner. Sometimes the race seems like a sprint, but that’s mostly an illusion. Live in the moment, but never forget that the real finish line isn’t flopping into bed exhausted at the end of the day. It’s what you accomplish over weeks, months, and years.

“Keep calm and carry on” is a hackneyed bit of advice these days.

But it’s still true.

Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. He is the author of two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust On Their Wings,” and two works of nonfiction, “Learning As I Go” and “Movies Make The Man.” Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va.
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