Effective time management can basically be boiled down to two principles: 1) Take care of what’s important, ignore things that aren’t; 2) urgent things are only important things that were not taken care of when they should have been.
Generally speaking, this is true. And while it sounds good on paper, it’s not likely to get you any closer to negotiating that endless to-do list you’ve got on your hands.
There are countless ways principals can make better use of their time, but we’d like to share five of our favorite tips from Jane Sigford, author of The Effective School Leader's Guide to Management.
Carve out quiet time
One way to do this is to come in an hour before most teachers arrive or stay for an hour after school. One of the quietest hours is the second hour after teachers have gone home. While you have no guarantee that parents and teachers won’t stop by, it’s certainly less likely.
A note for early-risers: Should you decide to come in an hour before school, you may find that other early-rising teachers are also there and may stop by your office for a casual conversation or to talk about school-related issues. If it is uncommon for your office door to be closed during the day, people will quickly learn that a closed office door means that you need privacy.
Be visible and get work done at the same time
Not everyone understands what principals do—and they’re never going to if you hole up in an office all day. One way to make yourself visible and get work done is by taking your office with you. If you need access to email, bring along a laptop and set up shop in the library. Is there a study hall going on somewhere in the school? Grab a seat in the back of the room and get some work done there. Try rotating your “satellite office” every day. Doing this not only gets you out of the office, it also gives you the opportunity to speak with faculty and students.
Don’t drown in a sea of mail
We get mail from a variety of sources, but I’m going to talk about the three that can really eat up your time.
- Snail mail: Have your secretary sort postal mail into three categories: important (mail that needs to be read right away), this week’s mail (which needs to be read within the week), and whenever mail (which can be read whenever). Once your secretary knows you and your system, you’ll be able to trust him or her to dump everything else—the catalogues, the magazine solicitations—into the recycling bin without you even looking at it.
- Email can also eat up an incredible amount of time. Keep your communications to-the-point. Your teachers are busy, too. They don’t have the time or inclination to read wordy, philosophical passages, no matter how eloquent they are.
You should also take advantages of your email tools: highlight emails that need your immediate attention as opposed to those that can sit in the inbox for a little while. Here’s another idea: Log out of your email, disable instant notifications, and only check your account at specific times throughout the day.
- Voice mail: Rather than listening to your voice messages as they come in, set aside specific times throughout the day—in the morning, at lunch, after school—to check them. The world moves quickly, people are impatient and used to getting instant responses, but resist that false sense of urgency telling you to drop everything and pick up the phone every time you get a message.
Use your Friday afternoons wisely
Friday afternoons are a good time to take care of “dreaded deeds” and those odds and ends you’ve neglected over the last four days. Tackle them after lunch and while you do it, think about how good you’re going to feel wiping the slate clean before you close up shop for the weekend. You thinking, “Yeah, right. I can’t get everything done before I leave on Friday.” That’s probably true. You’ll never, ever get everything done. Most principals don’t. Just do enough so that you can go into Monday and the next week with a clear head.
If you don’t know what it is, you probably don’t need it
This is my mantra every spring when I go down into the basement and see all of the clutter I’ve accumulated since last April. If I don’t know what it is, it goes in the trash. The same goes for my office. I have a habit of accumulating stacks of old magazine clippings, articles and random printouts, but I can’t even tell you what’s in the pile without rifling through it. Here’s my rule: If I don’t know what’s in the stack, it goes in the recycling bin.