Hi there. I hope you’re doing well.
Time management has come up a lot in the last week or so. So here are some thoughts on that. First, I would like to acknowledge that the most useful thing I did as a school leader was to attend Breakthrough Coach training—which is nothing to do with coaching and everything about working more efficiently. BC helped me particularly with two things—working with my assistant and making me think about organization as a leadership skill rather than a personality trait. You are not born organized, you become organized, and organization is a very powerful means to stronger leadership.
- Schedule everything. I’m always amused when people who lived by a schedule when they were teachers, and create schedules for others to work from, don’t see their work in the same way. I’m not just talking about meetings. I’m talking about classroom visits, and most importantly, time to work on other tasks, like reports, replying to emails and returning phone calls. This is easier when you:
- Empower your assistant to run your schedule. I don’t mean just accepting appointments and scheduling meetings, but telling you where you are supposed to be and making sure you get there. Don’t do this unless you are going to take it seriously. The first time your assistant knocks on your door to tell you that you’re supposed to be observing in a 1st grade classroom and you blow him off, what do you think the chances are that he’ll try bossing his boss again?
- Are in the habit of making sure you end a conversation by clarifying what is expected of you and asking for associated deadlines.
- Schedule time to take care of yourself, including regenerative weekends and going to the gym. Don’t fall into the trap of working all the time because you don’t have anything else planned.
- Make public commitments. It’s so much harder to not do something when you have told someone that you will get it to them by a certain time.
- Don’t over-commit. Don’t fool yourself that you are too busy like it’s something you have no control over. I worked for a superintendent who, if I complained of having too much to do, looked at me with a puzzled expression and said, “Who is in charge of your calendar?”
- Plan backwards. And this is one place where I would say that the way you organize your work has serious implications for the chances of meeting your goals. Everyone has a plan that they are working under. If you work with me you will, almost inevitably, create a strategy map that will include your actions, and what you need to learn to perform those actions. When is all that going to happen? Calendar it—sometimes you create a 30-60-90 plan as an intermediate step. And if you come to the realization that it won’t all fit, don’t feel bad. Better to know now and do something about it than be surprised at the end of the year that you didn’t get done what you hoped to. Hope, as they say, is not a strategy.
- Forget about an open door policy. Does your doctor have an open door policy? The inefficiency of this is enormous. Of course, if you’re not going to be available to everyone who stops by, you have to have procedures in place that will persuade your constituents that you are more rather than less responsive.
- This probably means that they know that you are going to stop by regularly to ask them if they need anything. I had a notebook that I carried with me everywhere, and one of the things I used it for was to track every interaction I had with teachers, and I wrote down any requests people had of me. Other people have half sheets of paper that they ask people to fill out so that nothing is missed. There are to do apps that allow you to assign tasks to others, but I have not been successful in persuading people to assign me tasks—honestly, I think it’s because the app doesn’t say please.
- In the name of all that is precious, follow through with these requests. A reputation for a lack of follow through is harder to shake than a debt collector (I dare you to ask me how I know this), so you need a procedure for going through this at the end of the day and making sure that the requests are honored. Mine was to sit down with my assistant every day and go through them as part of our daily meeting protocol. This could result in delegation to my assistant, to someone else, or a task on my calendar.
- And here is another place where your organization can have benefits for your leadership. I often coach leaders to stop thinking of themselves as feedback givers and start thinking of themselves as feedback receivers (more on that another time). Part of your protocol for checking in with people and for ending meetings should be to ask, “What feedback do you have for me?” This is part of a broader practice for feedback-seeking—more on that in another coaching letter.
- If procrastination is your issue, I would just like to offer some words of comfort. Jonathan Franzen, who is apparently a famous procrastinator, is quoted as saying in response to a question about procrastination, “You call it procrastination, I call it thinking.” My own technique is to schedule work that I don’t want to do up against the deadline, so that I don’t waste time putting it off, which I know I’m going to do anyway. Here’s a useful HBR article on the topic: https://hbr.org/2017/10/5-research-based-strategies-for-overcoming-procrastination I particularly endorse the idea of not going it alone. I am very grateful that I have a core group of colleagues to whom I can turn and say, I am having trouble getting this done, can you help me?
- Finally, I recommend this podcast: http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/401734785/getting-organized It may not be practical, but it is interesting.
And finally, I would like to thank my son for feedback on this letter.
Isobel Stevenson PhD PCC
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106