by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
I am pretty obsessed with my daily to-do list.
It has to be written down in blue ink with my fine-point Sharpie pen. I am serious—it doesn’t feel right if I write in ballpoint.
I use Post-its and other pieces of notepaper to do callouts from my list, but the main daily list itself has to be written down with the date at the top in my unlined black Moleskine notebook.
I have tried using Scholastic red and my-favorite-color-purple Moleskines, but I always abandon those alternate options and go back to my comfortable black version.
No matter how late it is—and how much I want to read my book before bed—I have to take at least 15 minutes and prepare my to-do list for the next day.
My list usually runs the gamut from “Buy blueberries and winter boots” to…
• “Draft Story Monsters Ink column for January”
• “Figure out a way to celebrate my friend and colleague Amy Berman’s incredible career at Scholastic even though she doesn’t want a retirement party”
• “Rewatch video of fabulous Scholastic Book Clubs/James Patterson NCTE author panel on diversity in children’s books”
• “Work with David Vozar on a fun plan to share the joy of Dav Pilkey’s Cat Kid Comic Club and new Dog Man book, Mothering Heights (coming March 23, 2021), with Scholastic Book Clubs teachers and families this spring”
If I am feeling super busy, I integrate my to-do list with my Outlook and Google calendars and use a date/time approach to stay on schedule. For example, today’s schedule:
• 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.—work on blog post.
• 9 a.m. to 9:10 a.m.—make coffee.
• 9:10 a.m. to 10 a.m.—read customer service report while having blueberries and coffee.
• 10 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.—take a quick break to research “Whole 30” diet/send in new gym membership application.
• 10:15 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.—drive to my remote Scholastic office.
• 11 a.m. to noon—attend Scholastic Book Clubs strategy meeting to discuss the impact of shipping book orders to families’ and teachers’ homes.
You get the idea.
Unfortunately, as of this writing, it is 10:37 a.m. and I have already blown through the two hours I allocated for writing this blog post, getting ready for work, having a healthy breakfast, and catching up on customer service mail.
If I leave right this minute, I will be on time to our strategy meeting.
In my own defense to myself (and I know anyone who writes anything will agree!), it’s very difficult to schedule a time or to really plan how productive I can be when I am writing an article, a post, a book, or a memo.
Sometimes it flows, and sometimes I can’t find anything compelling to say during the time I’ve allotted for writing. I end up, like last night, awake until 2 a.m. and, like this morning, very late on delivering this post to Alana and Traci and Hisami and Godwin and Marisa and Alexie and Tatiana and Clo and Liz and Patrick and the incredible team who, in addition to their other work, craft this blog each week.
I see it as a sign of my to-do-list maturity that I no longer write down things I have already accomplished just to be able to cross something off the list. Or maybe it means I am feeling too busy to go backward and waste time congratulating myself for accomplishing stuff I have already done.
Being “busy” has been on my mind a lot lately.
One of the items that is always on my to-do list is: Get new bookcase and reorganize picture books in my office.
I plan to work on this over the upcoming weekend, and I have scheduled time to do this on Saturday. But yesterday evening, as I was measuring for the new bookcase, I came across my original copy of What Do People Do All Day? by Richard Scarry, published in 1968.
Now, if I really wanted to stay on track and focus on the deliverables written down on my to-do list (and emulate the diligent spider who is the subject of this week’s Book of the Week, The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle), I would have stuck to the plan, not gotten distracted, and not done what I did, which is sit down and start looking through the pages of What Do People Do All Day?, which sent me right down a very interesting and fun—but to-do-list busting—rabbit hole:
The opening spread of What Do People Do All Day? welcomes readers to Busytown with the following:
“We all live in Busytown and
we are all workers.
We work hard so that there
will be enough food and houses
and clothing for our families.”
After a few minutes of this, I realized I could really get dragged in and end up spending a lot time I didn’t have right then with this book—so I flipped through looking for the teachers in Busytown. But there aren’t any. That was curious.
So then I went online and found Richard Scarry’s Great Big Schoolhouse, which I assume is where the beloved author celebrates the hard work of teachers. I looked through my bookshelves and didn’t find a copy, so I had to order one. You get the idea.
All this deep diving into Busytown brought me back to today’s reality and my ongoing concern and questions about what everyone—my own friends and family, the teachers we work with, their students and families, essential workers I know personally and those I’ve never met, and so many others—is actually doing during the pandemic.
I know firsthand—because we meet with teachers every week—that the professionals who are educating our children are working harder than ever.
“Busy” doesn’t even begin to describe teachers’ jobs, trying to master the challenges of in-person/remote-hybrid learning, and balancing that with all the demands on their lives and the new realities facing their students and families.
And then there are so many other people who, stricken by the pandemic, are busy just trying to survive and make ends meet, which is devastating.
By now, you’ve probably figured out that I have a very different personality type than Eric Carle’s beloved and beautiful arachnid star of The Very Busy Spider.
“Visually and verbally, this is a winner.” —Booklist (starred review)
She is single-minded and undistractible. If I were in her eight shoes, I would absolutely be tempted to put my project aside to join the goat for some rock jumping, eat grass with the cow, nap with the cat, or swim with the duck.
Of course, I would keep my own web spinning on my to-do list, but it would not get done in such an efficient and linear way.
While she was spinning her web, I was scheduling and pushing through writer’s block and getting distracted by my old books and planning a secret retirement party for my cherished colleague.
Most importantly, I was thinking of new ways to make sure that everyone we connect with through Scholastic Book Clubs can have access to wonderful, affordable books to read. All of these priorities seem to deserve my (immediate) attention.
And, of course, at the end of the day, I don’t have a fly to eat. So there’s that.
David Vozar and I think alike in so many ways. We finish each other’s sentences, and we are truly compatible. But he is definitely more like The Very Busy Spider in his approach to his work.
David, also incredibly busy, is very focused and undistractible and sticks to his to-do list. He is the most reliable and productive person I know (I mean…he has already completed his weekly comic for—spoiler alert!—Ruby Finds a Worry by Tom Percival, which will be our first Book of the Week of 2021).
After reading The Very Busy Spider, David couldn’t help but reflect on his contrasting opinions on literary spiders versus real-life spiders.
By the time you read this, our incredible team at Scholastic Book Clubs will have figured out how to overcome their own incredible busyness and bring together all these inspired resources and videos to help you introduce your students—and all the kids in your life—to this beloved book and the magnificent world of Eric Carle.
• Join the Book Boys as they share their favorite parts of The Very Busy Spider—and find out what secret project Allister is so busy working on!
• Discover interesting facts about the life and work of Eric Carle in Behind the Scenes.
• Watch a Scholastic Book Clubs–exclusive teacher review video to discover how one first grade teacher and homeschool mom uses art projects to help young readers connect with The Very Busy Spider in Book Talks.
• Encourage students to practice reading-comprehension skills with a fun, free activity prompt inspired by The Very Busy Spider in Cooked Up from a Book.
I know that you and your students are so busy teaching and learning—and coping with life in general—but I hope you still find some time to enjoy The Very Busy Spider.
If you have an extra moment, please share your to-do lists with us. We’d love to hear from you. DM me on Instagram @JudyNewmanAtScholastic or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sending my very best wishes for a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season and a New Year filled with joy, a manageable schedule, and time for books and reading!