Tackling Management-Level Time Wasters

Vol. 15 No. 3

head eletter vol15 no3 timemanagement

School leaders never have enough time! Of course, most of you would work incredibly hard irrespective of the contract hours. Still, you’re always seeking ways to get your life into better order, with more control and more balance than you’re experiencing right now. Here are five ways to identify wasted time and turn it into time that works for you.

Count It

We replay the past with “how it should have gone” written into it. We believe that we used time the way we should have used it—rather than the way we actually did.

So, every other month, chart your time use for at least five days, as it is happening. Create a simple two-column sheet with the time, divided into half-hours, down one side and space to write in the action you took across from each time slot. Chart your entire day, not just your regular working hours, so you get a complete picture of how you spend your time.

Once you have your time-usage data, manage it. This means making lists.

  • The good list: What did you do that you should have done?
  • The management list: What should have been delegated?
  • The time-waster list: What should never have been on your desk in the first place?

Then organize your time in the kinds of blocks that will support you in accomplishing the “good list.” You can certainly answer e-mails in spare moments. But putting together a proposal for the Management Team or the Board requires concentrated thinking and writing/ composing. For that task, you need a minimum of 90 minutes.

Rework your calendar around those “good list” tasks. Set it up so that the time you have no control over (75%) does not intrude on the time that you must have control over (25%) to carry out the most important items on your docket.

Know Where You Are Going

As the Cheshire Cat said to Alice, if you don’t know where you are going, any path will do. To use time effectively, a clear picture of where you are headed is essential.

It’s easy to waste substantial amounts of time on unimportant items. Stay focused on results by considering two questions.

  • What is your most important job?
  • What are you doing that, a month from now, won’t have mattered at all?

Don’t look at your job description for the answers! Instead, consult the school’s strategic plan, ask for your supervisor’s own objectives for the coming year, and consider the Annual Administration Agenda.

If you are defaulting to less important objectives rather than focusing on what is going to make a difference to children at your school, you will waste incredible amounts of time. Create new habits—keep the end in mind and, when you’re deviating from that critical direction, correct your course.

Reduce Meetings

Meetings are not the problem per se. The real issue is preparation. When a person calls a meeting, the tendency is to set an agenda and take no other steps until the session starts.

Instead, for every meeting, use the benchmark of one minute of preparation for every two minutes of meeting time. The result should be:

  • a published agenda sent out at least 48 hours (and preferably 96) before the session, accompanied by all necessary background materials;
  • only one or two major topics for discussion in any agenda;
  • a meeting length that suits the agenda;
  • no information on the agenda that could have been sent by email;
  • a process for decision-making determined before discussion begins (e.g., the School Head will decide with input; we will decide by majority vote [50% + 1]; we will decide by consensus);
  • time limits on all discussions, to be extended only by common agreement;
  • no interruptions during meetings (for example, all cell phones must be turned off); and
  • invite everybody, but not everybody must attend. Have the Executive Assistant (never a participant) take the minutes and guarantee distribution to the whole group within 24 hours. Anyone who does not attend is assumed to be in agreement with the decisions made.

Build Capacity

This is the least popular strategy because it imagines a greater timeline than this week. However, it is one of the most powerful because the more you develop the abilities of the adults around you, the less “issues” will end up on your desk. As a manager/leader in your school, your prime task is to support, challenge, and build the capacity of adults.

A faculty member who has gained conflict-resolution skills will be less apt to pass on difficult parents. A member of the Admission Team who has gained technological skills will not need you to finish up tasks he started. The scheduler who has gone to a conference to upgrade scheduling skills will have fewer questions for you to answer.

Building capacity means putting the adults around you in a position to propose solutions rather than present problems. When they can do this at a high level, your time is much more your own.

Make Time for Yourself

Having a powerful personal life is a benefit to your professional life. However you want to determine what that means—hobbies, trips, family time, relationships, TV shows, music, church, fitness activities, social life—all of these can make your life richer and more balanced.

Do you get enough sleep, eat well, avoid poor habits? Your ability to work more productively is connected to how you attend to yourself. Your use of time to create a healthy life benefits the quality and quantity your work.

There is no magic way to stretch time; you still only have 24 hours in every day. However, these five ways of looking at time—counting it, knowing where you are going, reducing meetings, building capacity, and making time for yourself—give you the opportunity to restructure the focus of your management and leadership.

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Business and Operations Vol. 7 No. 10 Laughter Is at the Heart of All Effective Meetings
The Source for School Heads Vol. 13 No. 6 Leading the Leaders

Additional Resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 35 No. 16 The Head’s Role Five Major Priorities
Member Research: ISM Research Report: 16 Characteristics of Head Leadership

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