Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Time Management for Principals

When I was a principal I started every school year with unlimited energy and a commitment to make a difference in the life of every student in my school. As the year progressed I found that my time was consumed by a multitude of tasks, individually important, but collectively distracting. They often kept me from my primary responsibility for assuring a quality instructional program.

In order to protect time for classroom visits, working with teachers on improved instruction or collaborating on school improvement, I developed a set of processes that helped me manage these multiple priorities. There is no one perfect strategy---except the one that works for you. But, here are four of my personal favorites.

Create a “Tickler File” - Many tasks and responsibilities occur annually. A tickler file is a way of creating a reminder about the tasks so they can be anticipated, planned for and accomplished. Some friends had a set of file folders labeled by month. Others used an electronic file. Even others had a daily tickler file rather than a monthly file.

Use a Journal - I’ve found that using a journal as a “running” record of notes from meetings helps me create a “to do” list. This ensures that everything is in one place rather than on multiple pieces of paper or sticky notes. The journal also makes it easy to look back and find ideas and tasks that emerged at earlier meetings. While I keep a paper journal, others are electronic.

Take Control of E-Mail - Check e-mail at set times, not continuously. If you can, respond when you first read a message. Handle them as a group---start with the first and move through them until complete. I like to use descriptive subject lines to identify the substance of a message. I also try to keep messages short and am real clear about what response may be needed. I also turn off the automatic notification of e-mail. When it beeps, it distracts me from my work. I recently read a book that suggested not checking e-mail before 10 am so that the first few hours of the day are focused on your most important work, rather than responding to the most recent request.

Establish Norms Around Access - Everyone wants an “open door,” but a literal open door can lead to fragmentation. Identify a quiet time each day to respond to e-mail and to work on important tasks. Don’t reinforce the idea that you respond the moment you receive a message. Establish norms around interruptions. Work with you administrative assistant to protect time. I scheduled time every week to visit classrooms, talk with students and work with teachers. When I was involved in these activities, everything else waited.

Chapter J in The Principalship from A to Z describes even more ideas. I hope you find my tips helpful and would enjoy hearing from you about ways you juggle the multiple priorities faced by every principal.

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