Monday, March 17, 2008

Four Steps to More Time

Time is always at a premium. How we spend our day often indicates the level of success we will experience as a building principal. How many of us frequently experience the following?

Realizing it's four in the afternoon and we've yet to accomplish one item on the to do list.
Spending large amounts of time looking for a folder or file that we need to use for five minutes.
Enduring a pointless conversation that awkwardly takes longer that in needs to.
Being victimized by drop-in employees who want to unload their problems on to you at the worst possible time.
Answering the phone only to be unloaded upon by an upset constituent who needs hours of your time.

These time sucks make it hard to be productive. We are hired to be instructional leaders who shape the culture of the school to increase student learning. Do you ever get to the end of the week and wonder how much time you spent on the mission?

Most principals experience these feelings from time to time but hopefully not all the time. Below are four easy steps to help free your day and give you the time to do what you were hired to do: being an instructional leader.

Step One: 43 Folders and Eliminating Clutter
In the March issue of Principal Leadership Chris Hitch shares the secret of 43 folders in an article titled "Ten Ways to Find More Time". Organize your prime file drawer with 43 folders. 31 are for each day of the month and 12 for each month of the year. As paper and to do items come across your desk sort them into the day you plan to do them. If it's March and something doesn't need to be done till June throw it in the June folder. At the end of May as you begin sorting the contents of the June folder into the thirty one daily folders you'll be set. This avoids the important items being lost somewhere in a miscellaneous stack of garbage that you will avoid. This keeps your desk clutter free giving the appearance of competence. You might as well look like you know what you are doing. Simply grab the folder each morning that you need to use. As tasks come to mind jot them on index cards and throw them into the daily folders.

Step Two: Using Email and Voicemail effectively
Email and voicemail are great tools but they can often sidetrack us from other important work. Email is the most prevalent method of communication. Some estimate the average principal receives between 40-80 emails a day. Some emails can be answered in a minute or two others need more time. Plan to answer email at certain time like 30 minutes before lunch or the end of the day. Answer short ones quickly or forward to who can assist people with what they need. For the in depth 2000 word tirades send a return message that states you will give their email a good read and get back to them within a day or two. Jot the e-mail reminder down on a card and throw it it one of your thirty one folders. Use voicemail. Everyone has a different philosophy on this but why answer the phone if you don't know who it is. We have secretaries and receptionist to help screen. You need to call people back within 24 hours but why be derailed by a call that is neither urgent nor important. You can even set your voicemail message to say something like this, "You've reached the desk of ______________ principal of ________________. I am not at my desk at the moment but your call is important to me. I plan to call you back as soon as I can over the next twenty four hours." This keeps people from waiting by their phone for a call back and griping to friends that you haven't called them back. The other added benefit is that most irate callers have a chance to calm down. A few hours later the injustice against their child is probably not as severe as first thought. Many of these issues will resolve themselves as the constituent receives more information about their issue.

Step Three: Ending Conversations with the Unplanned Drop - Ins
Ever walk into your office ready to begin tackling some exciting task like planning AdvancedEd goals and find a drop by visitor waiting for you. Most of us will meet with anyone about anything as long as it is scheduled. People should have realistic expectations about your time. Most of us just don't show up at our doctor or lawyer's office and expect them to make immediate time to see us. We call and make an appointment first. If you find it to harsh to ask the front office staff to make appointments with visitors or teachers that drop bye then try the following:

Greet them while standing and speak to them in the doorway or hallway. This gives them the immediate impression that it will be a short conversation and that you have other duties to attend to.

Greet them with the line, "It's great to see you I wish we had more time right now but what can I do for you?" They'll get the point.

Drop byes from teachers can be pleasant but too often they take up time you just don't have at the moment. Using the strategies above help cut to the core of the issue. If it is something serious ask them to schedule some time so we can give the issue the attention it deserves. These strategies all help prevent the door closing strategy from being implemented.

Step Four: Use Technology to Make Your Life Easier
Staying current with technology is a difficult task but using it well can make you much more efficient. Here are some useful tools. Learn to use group email and google docs. Say its that time of the year again to collect votes for the communal teacher of the year award. You send a paper ballot and teachers respond and then someone has to go through the paper and tally the votes. Use Google Docs to do it for you or other free online survey tools like survey monkey. These sites tally and record votes for you. Using google forms can greatly reduce stress and paper clutter.

Jott is a tremendous time saver. Imagine being able to make one brief phone message and having that message automatically converted into an email and sent to who needs it. It's late at night and you get word from a sick relative that demands you travel tomorrow. You had a meeting with the curriculum committee for 9:00 AM the next day. One simple call to Jott will send an email, voice message, and text message to any group you designate. Jott is free!

Ever face the homework cycle dilemma? You know the story. Billy's parents will help Billy do his homework but that pesky teacher just won't let us know what the assignments are. Billy's teacher is technological nightmare and can't remember to update her website or board blah blah blah. All a teacher need do is load her students email addresses into Jott and make one call a day. No more excuses from parents and students.

The above tools are just some of many to help ease the workload we face. We owe it to ourselves to give our families and friends the attention they deserve. Don't let the organizational and time needs of the job suck the joy out of what we do. Next week's post will feature three more steps to save time: Appointments with Mr. Doe, the joys of color coded note cards, and the wonders of delegation.

Share your thoughts or time saving strategies you've developed below. The more we share the more effective we become.


Bill said...

One tool I find helpful is to visit my administrative team members individually every monday morning by going to visit them. I like to check in with what they are working on that week. It seems to work.

Dr. Jan said...

I strongly recommend that you check into Frank Buck's new book published by Eye on Education: Get Organized! Time Management for School Leaders. It's changed my life... really.

This book provides tools and techniques to bring order and control to your personal and professional life. This book is very practical and easy to implement. You will be able to put this material into practice immediately.

Topics include—
• Clear Your Desk
• Organizing with Paper
• Organizing Digitally
• Handling Repeating Tasks
• Handling Multiple Projects
• Organizing Your Computer
• E-Mail and Other Electronic Timesavers

Charlie A. Roy said...

Dr. Jan thanks for recommending the book. I'll be ordering it tomorrow. Thanks for posting.

catherine said...


I am a teacher at a Catholic school and I want to say that I highly endorse the use of Step 3 - even for teachers. I have found that if I need to talk to my principal about something serious, but that can be put off for a few days, scheduling an appointment with her is the way to go. That way I have her full attention and know that she is focusing on what I have to say rather than worrting about all of the things I am keeping her from.

My principal also has an "open door / closed door" policy. If we go by the outer dorr and see that her office is closed, we know that it is not a good time to stop and chat. Conversely, we know that when the door is open, it is okay for us to stop and say hello.

Even though I am not an administrator, I am finding your blog to be interesting.

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