Preparing for tomorrow’s work day

Years ago, when I was in my first year of teaching, I was in constant fear of getting sick. Kids would cough near me in the hallway, and I would rush to my desk to apply hand sanitizer. I wasn’t afraid of germs, instead I was afraid of missing work.

Missing a day of school for a teacher is actually a lot of work. If you’re a decent teacher, you prepare lesson plans so that teaching and learning can still take place in your absence. Getting ready for a substitute teacher can take a good chunk of time, and doing this while running a 101 degree fever isn’t fun.

I poured out my fears of getting sick one afternoon to a veteran teacher and she offered me advice that has proven to be valuable even in my professional life since teaching.

She suggested that at the end of the work day I do two things. First, I should clear my desk. Papers should be filed, my stapler stored in a drawer, coffee cup cleaned and returned to the kitchen, etc. Then, for my second task, I should make a stack of all of my photocopied handouts, materials, and lessons for the next day and put them where no one could miss them. By doing these two simple things, which usually took me no more than five minutes, I only had to call in my absence and then fall back to sleep.

Even though I’ve been out of the classroom for years, I continue to follow this procedure. At the end of the work day, I clean off my desk and then I organize everything that I need for the next day. For example, if I were to have a morning meeting, I’d have my agendas photocopied and in a labeled folder at the center of my desk. This way, if I were to be stuck in traffic or sick and attend the meeting over the phone, it’s easy for someone else in the office to grab the agendas and pass them out in my absence.

A clean desk and organized materials also are worthwhile if you do make it to work on time and healthy. This preparation allows you to hit the ground running when you arrive at work. Five to 10 minutes of organization at the end of the work day will have you on your best footing tomorrow morning.


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

19 Comments for “Preparing for tomorrow’s work day”

  1. posted by Janine Adams on

    I made a commitment to clearing off my desk at the end of the work day starting in 2008. It took me until January 5 to actually get my cluttered desk uncluttered, but every day since then it’s been clean at the end of the day. It has so helped my productivity in the morning. Now I’m going to try adding your suggestion of organizing any papers I need for the next day.

    I used to help me create the habit of clearing off my desk at night. It worked like a charm!

  2. posted by Liza Lee Miller on

    I should do this. I really should. (I’m a new teacher and KNOW this would not only make my life easier but also take care of those mornings when you do wake up sick.) Thanks for the reminder.

  3. posted by Shawn Moore on

    I recently started something that has really helped me when I have to be absent from teaching. I shoot a short movie of me explaining what I want the students to do. I post this movie on and I have a link (titled- substitue click here) to it from my class homepage (which I built for free using Google page creator). Now I feel confident that I am the one presenting and explaining the information instead of a substitute! Any paper that I need to give the students I just share with them via Google Docs. So far, the system works well and others in the school are interested in emulating it.

  4. posted by Stuart on

    I am a music teacher and I do this every day. However, I keep my office locked because the Subs at our school are unreliable (loosing papers, not taking attendance, letting students cheat, etc.).

    It is nice to use my prep hour to catch up on grading and not having to worry about preparing for class that day.

    Thanks for the tip!

  5. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Stuart — Your suggestion is a good one IF there are computers in the classroom/office/conference room. I’ve never worked in a classroom or office that had a computer in every room. Plus, you still have to take the time to make the video … something I loathe to do with a fever.

  6. posted by StarXLR8 from Midwest Neurotica on

    This is valuable, practical advice – thanks! A coworker and I have started a “30 in 30” routine at the end of our day. We try to file or recycle at least 30 pieces of paper in the last 30 minutes of the day. Add this quick step of truly prepping for the next day will take our practice up a notch!

  7. posted by Julie on

    From a substitute, thank you! It makes my life so much easier when I come in to sub and a teacher like you were has an obvious stack of papers. Often I’ll get a note saying “hand out stack of papers for class to work on” and there will be 10 stacks. A quick prep for the next day doubles as an easy prep for a last-minute sub.

  8. posted by Nora Rocket on

    Clearing the desk and prepping the lists for the next day are *invaluable* to my work routine, and I’m but a lowly assistant (at the moment…). I don’t always manage to do the former, but doing the latter, just in the last five minutes of the day, carries my productivity from the afternoon into the next morning–a boost I absolutely have to have, as a non-morning person. More great techniques from Unclutterer–that’s why I come here!

  9. posted by Sarah on

    Thank you for your wonderful advice! I am a first year teacher and I constantly worry about not being there the next day! I appreciate this!

  10. posted by michelle on

    Now, I teach kindergarten, so this may be simpler for me that other ages of kids . . . But, I am out of my classroom twice a month as well as whenever my infant daughter gets sick (often!). This year, I got really organized and created a sub folder for each day of the week (our schedule changes slightly each day). In each was a master class list, bus routes and pick up info, list of small groups, and a general classroom routines sheet (how we line up, dismiss, where basic things are, etc.). Each folder had a lesson plan for that day that was either review activities and basic favorite activities that the kids could always use practice on or a lesson plan for a “theme” day that could work at any time of the year. Each folder had all the handouts, books, etc. necessary for that plan. I asked my Ed Assistant to show the sub where it was if I was sick. So easy!! And all the subs I have had have appreciated the plans.
    The best part is that my prep time for the next sick day/absence came AFTER I returned to work, when I was feeling better. I just have to restock the folder with fresh activities and books or find/gather supplies for a new theme day.

  11. posted by Tracey on

    I started doing this when I began following Inbox Zero ( I can come into work each morning with a clean desk, a clean inbox except for what is new, and know that I wasn’t starting my day looking at the remnants of yesterday.

  12. posted by Marie on

    At 4:45 each work day, an Outlook reminder yells at me: “STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING. Organize and prep for tomorrow!” I drop whatever I’m doing (or finish up within a couple minutes) and make my to do list for the next day. In that 15 minutes I also wash my dishes, clear my desk, and clean out my e-mail inbox. It’s so nice coming in to a clear desk and immediately seeing my priorities for the day. I’ve just started doing this in 2008 and love the new system.

  13. posted by jordan fowler on

    At the end of the day, I write on a notecard the three most important things I must complete tomorrow. The next morning I look at it and slip it in my pocket. During the day as random meetings happen (some I have to be at, some are “if you want input on this” be at X or Y), I pull out the card and make sure I have schedule time for the BIG THREE so the tyranny of the urgent doesn’t overtake the most important things. I also organize my online GTD application to reprioritize for tomorrow.

  14. posted by twosandalz on

    I’ve been clearing my desk in preparation for the next day for many years. After I started doing it, I was surprised by how many people commented on it. It elicited many “what a good doobie” kinds of comments. Which bugged me because its simply a system that works for me. There isn’t anything inherently better about a tidy desk if your cluttered desk doesn’t distract you or you don’t loose anything in it.

  15. posted by Rue on

    I have pretty much subscribed to this the whole time I’ve had a job. I hate coming into work and having stuff everywhere! So at the end of the day I put all my supplies away and file away that day’s work. I also empty my trash (which is in a small can on my desk).

    If I’m not finished with something, I stack it in a neat pile in my inbox so that it’s ready to go in the morning.

    It’s so nice to come in to a clean desk. It’s a fresh start every day. 🙂

  16. posted by Taylor at Household Management 101 on

    What great practical advice. When I follow this advice at work I generally get so much more accomplished the next day.

    I think this advice is not just applicable to work though, but can also be extended to your home life. Preparing the night before for the next day makes such a difference, and can transform your morning mad rush to something more calm and less chaotic. This can include such things as laying out your clothes, packing your lunch, getting your papers gathered back together in your briefcase, etc.

    Great thoughts, and a good reminder for me to clean off my desk today!

  17. posted by WilliamB on

    I used to be the company rep to my company’s Board Meetings. In addition to the substantive presentations the rep is responsible for the adminstrative prep, which took me about half an hour. I always did this the day before, whatever the circumstances. My response, when my boss asked why, was “Just in case I’m not available.” He and I went through this routine for years.

    Then one such evening my car broke down on the way home and stayed broken. I had to hitch a ride with one of the Board members. But since all the Board prep was done, the company looked good instead of disorganized.

    Afer that, my boss stopped asking me why.

  18. posted by Audrey Johnson on

    This works wonderfully for businesses as well. I leave everything for the next day on my desk so if anything happens I can call in knowing someone else can find what they need. It relieves the pressure.

  19. posted by SkiptheBS on

    I sympathize thoroughly. If I get sick, my invalid boss may become ill and end up hospitalized. Disinfectant wipes are essential and I’ll wipe paper and smear ink if necessary.

    You cannot rely on school cleaners who may be spending their shifts smoking cigs and playing Candy Crush on the smartphone. Wipe down horizontal surfaces and doorknobs. This is surprisingly effective.

    Second, do as healthcare workers do: wash hands before and after using the bathroom, after handling papers others have handled, and after handling money. Contagious people spend cash.

    You might want to use labeled plastic boxes with lids for paperwork.

    Hope this helps.

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