Finding Harmony as a School Leader with Limited Time

School administrators have busy schedules and often feel overwhelmed. Even with years of experience, principals are leaving their positions at higher rates than before. One factor contributing to this issue is the lack of time. To address this problem, I propose two time management strategies for school leaders: focusing on the return on their time and actively seeking balance in their lives. These approaches complement each other and can support the success of administrators.

1. Maximizing Your Time

According to Taj Jensen, there is no definitive end point to being a school leader. To make the most of the time invested in their daily work, administrators should concentrate on three key areas: setting priorities, understanding their locus of control, and effectively delegating tasks.

By incorporating these ideas into their daily routines, principals can accomplish more tasks in a single day while also ensuring they have time for personal relaxation.

Define priorities: Successful administrators understand which tasks are most important and why. The Wallace Foundation’s research highlights four areas that greatly impact students’ success:

  1. Engaging in instructionally focused interactions with teachers
  2. Building a productive school climate
  3. Facilitating collaboration among teachers and professional learning communities
  4. Strategic management of personnel and resources

Once priorities are established, efficiency in achieving them is vital. Two recommended resources for boosting productivity are Ben Meer’s 75 Smart Productivity Hacks and the book Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt.

Exercise control over what you can: Taking weekends off is an excellent way to recharge, but it can also be beneficial to spend a few minutes reviewing the upcoming week’s schedule. Identifying non-negotiable commitments outside of school and planning the rest of the week accordingly can help maintain a healthy work-life balance. Additionally, determining what tasks can be declined is important, even though it may be challenging to do so.

When principals schedule their tasks, they should keep in mind that unexpected events, such as parent meetings or administrative duties, may disrupt their plans. Considering these possibilities during weekends can help them stay focused on their priorities.

Empower others and delegate: Creating intentional systems to empower others can ensure that principals can concentrate on high-impact areas of their work. A “first responder system” is an example of such a system that helps determine the primary person responsible for addressing a specific issue, reducing the reliance on the principal to resolve every problem.

To ensure everyone is informed, it is recommended to discuss the first responder system during all-staff meetings and prominently display it in areas where school resources are accessible, such as a digital hub or staff room.

2. Striving for Work-Life Balance

Striving for balance is essential for increasing productivity throughout the day. When administrators take care of themselves and their families, they are better equipped to support their teachers and students. However, the concept of self-care often feels abstract and cliché. Leaders must go beyond simply advocating for self-care and serve as examples for their employees. Here are three ways to accomplish this:

Align your actions with your values: When leaders understand their core values, they can easily align their goals and passions with them. For instance, if family is a core value, leaving work at a specific time each day to prioritize family commitments becomes easier. Being an example to others is another way to demonstrate alignment. Leaders who align their actions with their values set the tone for the entire school.

Practice presence: When at work, leaders should focus solely on the task at hand. Conversely, when at home, they should fully engage with their families. Trying to be in multiple places at once only leads to divided attention. Some leaders may feel guilty for being at home with their children while an event takes place at school. In such situations, delegation can provide support by trusting capable teachers to handle responsibilities, allowing the principal time for rest.

Prioritize exercise, nutrition, and sleep: When stretched too thin between work and personal obligations, both areas tend to suffer. As professionals, administrators must prioritize sleep, exercise, and nutrition to perform at their best. Researchers suggest three strategies for improving sleep quality:

  1. Adopting good sleep hygiene, which includes maintaining a healthy diet, engaging in exercise, and avoiding late-night snacking and alcohol
  2. Practicing phone hygiene by limiting screen time at night due to the negative effects of blue light exposure
  3. Cultivating positive thoughts before falling asleep

By following these habits, administrators can improve their overall well-being and boost productivity during the workday.

I am currently on my own journey to transition from a time-starved school leader to a balanced leader who thrives. This profession is important and meaningful, and we must find ways to make it more sustainable. Implementing the individual strategies mentioned above can inspire others to do the same, leading to a positive ripple effect of change.

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