Managing your time

Managing your own time

Planning

Plan your appointment and weekly schedule a week in advance rather than from day to day. Add in time for the unexpected. Keep an eye on the calendar and establish patterns for regular activities, such as board reports.

Take a long-term view. Sometimes strategic tasks like a building project need to be worked on over months. Such tasks need close attention, so plan time in advance for them.

List long-term and short-term priorities and pin them up for easy reference. Make all your time decisions with these in mind.

Anticipate and keep ahead. Note how you handle annual routines and think how you might handle them next time. For example, in dairy farming districts there can be a significant roll change at the beginning of June, while in other places enrolments outside the start of the year or at the start of a term often involve transient students or those with a chequered school history.

Don’t procrastinate. Large jobs are more manageable when they're broken into smaller tasks. Putting off a big task now will only cost you more time later.

Use a to-do list. Most principals swear by these. Writing down tasks and prioritising them will help focus your time. Reprioritise as circumstances change – do this with your long- and short-term priorities in mind. Don't use your inbox as your to-do list.

Set agendas for meetings. Prepare in advance to focus meetings on what you need to achieve. Poorly planned meetings waste time.

Administration

Keep the paper moving. Every time a piece of paper lands on your desk, do something with it. Either file it to deal with at another time, pass it along, bin it, or act on it. Try to handle things only once. Be systematic and use your administration support so that you are not the only one who knows where things are.

Declutter your work area. It will make a big difference to your sense of being on top of things.

Be highly productive in short bursts. This gets paperwork done. Know your own best times for getting things done – use them, and make sure others know this is how you work.

Use your laptop to save time by establishing clear and simple files and folders for storing and retrieving data, ideas, plans, budgets, letters, and so on.

Control interruptions. Try to respond to voicemail and email messages only once or twice a day, if possible. Identify and maintain 'closed door' times like early morning and after 4.30pm. Use these as high-productivity sessions.

Delegation

Delegate. You don’t have to do everything. Many system processes such as finance, property, and support staff management can be delegated. Get someone else to lead a meeting or write a policy. This also helps to build leadership capability in others. For example, make sure you delegate effectively to your teachers and, if you have them, your management team members, and then leave them to it. They are often better than you at some tasks. Know and trust their capabilities, but make sure they report back to you – delegation is not abdication.

Trust your staff. Control the staff flow through your door by building their confidence and independence. Give genuine responsibility and delegated tasks your strong support, even if they are not done exactly the way you would have done them. Try to reduce any over-dependence on your decision making.

Use even the smallest time allowance to empower your administrative staff to keep routines moving by making decisions within their responsibilities. Treat these close supporters with the utmost respect and consideration, and trust them to do their best for the school.

Use a team approach with staff. Setting this expectation makes it easier to share workloads and reduces the likelihood of having to rework something later on. Regularly discuss teaching and learning issues with others so that the daily decisions and actions they make are in accordance with school goals and plans.

Get help. If your budget allows, consider employing additional support staff or rearranging their responsibilities and time to free up your time for working on team development, teaching and learning, and relationship building.

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Fitting in your own learning

Take your learning seriously. As an educational leader, you need to build time in for your own learning. At the start of the year, identify the areas of skill or knowledge that you want to improve or develop over the coming year. Make these priorities, or part of your appraisal process.

Remove yourself. Successful reflection requires time and space. Some suggest that leaving the school altogether enables better reflection. Even spending 10 minutes away from your desk can clear your head and give you thinking time. Go for a walk around the school and see what’s happening. Treat reflection time and mentoring or professional learning group opportunities as time-saving activities that help develop the capacity of your team and reduce time pressures on you in the long term.

Refresh your mind. Regularly allocating time for mental and physical refreshment gives your brain the best chance to be receptive to learning and problem solving. Investment in refreshment helps increase productivity.

Access easy links to learning sources. Save learning time by using systems to record or save useful sources that are relevant to your learning. Learning sources can be other people, online, or written. Aim to have access to these sources within a few clicks of your mouse or a phone call.

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Managing others' time agendas

Managing time pressures created by others deserves special mention. Often priorities need to change and be adjusted to fit the unexpected. Phone calls, unscheduled visitors, mail you did not ask for, and even some meetings fit into this category. Staff and board members passing the buck can also be an issue here.

You’re in charge, so keep things in perspective and don’t rush. Education is not an emergency industry, so remind others of this regularly. Don’t be forced into quick decisions because of someone else’s time agenda. Say, “I’ll get back to you in an hour [or whatever, but do specify a time] about that.” This is particularly true if you are contacted by an organisation like the media who want a response to something. They can wait. You need to think things through.
 
Close the open door sometimes. Parents and visitors do not always need to see YOU. Use newsletters or an email tree, managed by another staff member, to educate the wider school community about who to contact about things. In larger schools, a secretary can direct visitors elsewhere. However, principals in small schools often find much of their release time taken up with scheduled and unscheduled appointments. Try to educate your community that there are times when you are simply not available, except for emergencies.

Listen and focus. Active and critical listening is a crucial part of the job – practise it frequently, as it can save time. Tell the person who has come to talk to you how much time you have available – and give them a time that suits you: “I have set aside 20 minutes [for example] – is that okay with you?” Specifying a length of time means you can focus on what they have to say and, hopefully, they will be able to be concise in their message.

Keep responsibilities where they should be. Always help staff and board members to solve their problems, but stick to the delegation principles above.

A final thought

Accept that you will never have all the time you want. Aim to create as much of your own time scheduling as you can. Maintain reasonable working hours.

Updated April 2018

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