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Paul Young's Young @ Heart

Give Yourself the Best Gift:
The Gift of Time

Time. Busy principals always seem to need more of it. So why do they give so much of it away so freely? By gaining control of the time they do have, principals can save precious minutes every day and create more hours in a week for more important things.

If all practicing principals could be granted one wish, most of us would beg for more time. Beginning principals, in particular, get a sense very quickly of how unrelenting and overpowering the workload can be. The anxiety of meeting deadlines never diminishes. Stress builds as more and more people want the principal's time -- to solve student conflicts, attend IEP meetings, write grants, or supervise lunchrooms. In addition, there are questions, reports, walk-in visits, phone calls, and emails that require the principal's thoughtful consideration and response. It becomes a challenge to stay focused on any single task. At every level of experience, principals question how they can get more done, often with less support. When they go home -- often late at night after preparing a long to-do list for the next day -- many feel exhausted, scattered, and frustrated with what seems an unmanageable situation.

For principals, time is, indeed, a precious resource. And most principals give it away too freely. We need to learn to regain control of our daily schedules. We need to learn how to create time for ourselves.

Do you want to save precious minutes every day? Or create more hours in a week? Some of these practical ideas might help you accomplish that.


Know what you want to accomplish before you start. Always have a clear vision of what you hope to achieve. Keep notes about important commitments and goals on your calendar and anyplace else where you will be reminded of them often.

Keep a to-do list. Refer to it often. Organize and prioritize tasks before you begin your day. Reflect on what you finish before you go home. You won't get it all done, but if you keep x-ing items off the list, you'll see progress and create time.

Get organized, and know where things are. Create an accurate filing system, and clean out the files several times a year. Organize folders on your computer and be sure to label documents with accessible titles. If you or your secretary must frequently spend time searching for items, you both need to take time to better organize the office.

Eliminate clutter. Arrange the office so that essential things are in close proximity to where they are needed.


Get your office staff on the same page as you are. Invest time by setting expectations with your office personnel about how they should use their time -- and yours. Be sure timelines for work completion are clear. Teach your secretary how you want your schedule managed and how you want preparations made for meetings, conferences, and key events.

Structure time for routine tasks. Help your secretary increase efficiency by establishing times each day when you'll be in your office for calls and visits. Likewise, schedule time to visit classrooms, hallways, the lunchroom, the playground, and other strategic locations. Structuring your time creates a daily agenda. Don't allow others to derail your schedule. Share it with others so they can sync their schedules to yours.

Never handle mail or memos more than once. Don't open your mail until you have adequate time to read it, sort it, delegate it, file it, deal with it, return it, or throw it away. Don't read mail or memos and then place them in a pile for later reference. That pile will consume your desk. Reading the same mail or email a second time is a waste of time.

Turn off the bells on your email. Check email periodically, but you don't have to react immediately or take action as each email arrives.

Don't schedule a meeting unless there is a purpose. Envision the desired outcome of meetings while creating the agenda. Start each meeting by stating the purpose and desired goals.

Meet smarter. If it makes sense, assign important tasks -- facilitator, recorder, timekeeper, peacekeeper, and process observer, for example -- to individuals participating in the meeting. Doing so will help you conduct business in less time, and get better results. Be sure minutes are distributed to all those who attended, preferably by email because that saves time at the copier -- and paper.

Shut your door. Many principals hope to score points by adopting open-door policies. As a result, frequent interruptions prevent them from focusing. Build in quiet time so work can get done. Then shut your door and do it. Only the secretary can interrupt.

Take breaks and eat. The body needs nourishment, fresh air, and exercise. Schedule breaks for all those things. A short amount of time invested in those things will result in renewed energy, better focus, and increased productivity.


Make decisions. Procrastinating creates gridlock. Whenever possible, keep things moving by delegating.

Spend less time talking about problems. It's easy to spend time describing a problem. But doing that wastes time. Redirect those who focus on detailing problems to instead identify causes and brainstorm solutions.

Skip consensus sometimes. Even though it is desirable to get input from everyone affected by decisions, consensus takes time. You can't always afford to wait for everyone to agree.

When you delegate... Learn to describe what you want others to do, how, why, where, and when. Most people will perform adequately when they have the principal's confidence, permission, and reassurance -- and when they understand the timeline for completing tasks. When you delegate, build in a schedule for progress reports.


Learn to shake off problems, criticisms, and disappointments. Principals must have broad shoulders and thick skin. Change is unlikely when everyone likes and agrees with the principal. Change requires a rub to occur. Be prepared to accept the fallout from that. Reflect with your mentor (or a peer) when you get stung by a remark, make changes when it is necessary, but maintain your self-confidence and shake off the disappointment. Don't hold a grudge.

Know when youre stuck. Don't worry or allow stress and anxiety to build over problems, new tasks, or unpleasant human interactions. Know when you're stuck or need to vent. Have your mentor on speed dial. A short conversation can help redirect your attention, calm your nerves, or brainstorm ideas. Investing time with your mentor is always better than stressing over brewing issues -- and it saves time.

Don't let negative people dominate your time. Don't allow yourself to get sucked into the abyss of the whiners, complainers, and attention-seekers on your staff. Ignore their idiosyncratic behaviors. Don't allow their problems to become yours.


Hire good people. It is better to hire people who are best-suited for a job than having to help them improve after they are employed. Spend time recruiting the best, put them to the test, and empower them to do the rest.

Teach people how to get to the point. How many times are you approached with the line Do you have a couple minutes? Use role-playing to teach people how to prepare conversations, get to the point, and deliver the bottom line. When the entire staff learns to get to the point, productivity increases.

Conduct walk-with-me meetings. Don't allow a teacher or parent to make you late for a scheduled appointment. Inform them of your time constraint, then ask them to meet while you walk to the meeting.

Practice the Golden Rule. If you treat others the way you want them to treat you, you won't waste precious time righting wrongs or patching-up soured relationships.

Cut the crap. Don't beat around the bush for fear you might offend someone. You don't have the time to waste. Without being aggressive or arrogant, make your point in a direct manner. Being indirect creates confusion and wastes time. People will learn to respect your forthrightness if you are sincere.

Article by Paul Young
Copyright © 2007 Education World®