In a survey administered to the National Panel of New Principals, 59% cited time management as the most challenging aspect of the job.
If you’re a school leader—whether new to the job or a seasoned professional—you can certainly relate.
Running a school consists of many tasks, and each of them takes time.
How can you get it all done without camping out at the office?
What are some practical ways to manage your time and maximize your productivity?
11 Essential Time Management Tips
Put the eleven essential tips below into practice, and you’ll feel much more productive and much less stressed.
1. Be reasonable
The first step is to be reasonable about what can be accomplished in a day. Starting the day with an impossibly huge task list will only lead to stress, frustration, and lack of focus.
One suggestion is the 1-3-5 rule. Each day, narrow your to-do list down to one big task, three medium tasks, and five small tasks.
Of course, your average day brings many unexpected duties. Leave a medium task and 1-2 small tasks blank to account for the unpredictability of life as a school leader.
If you find that you can handle more tasks a day, feel free to adapt the rule. Simply be realistic in the expectations you set for yourself.
2. Set priorities
When you’re staring at a huge task list for the week, month, or even semester, prioritization is key.
Start by writing it all down. Then, list deadlines. If a task doesn’t have a deadline, set one for yourself. Otherwise, it’s easy to lose sight of a project or let it fall off your radar.
Reorganize your checklist according to deadline and importance. As you accomplish a task, however small, check it off and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment.
Before you go to bed each night, set your most important priorities for the following day.
3. Break it into chunks
That feeling of accomplishment is vital to keep you motivated. When you have a giant task, break it into smaller chunks.
Each “chunk” should take no more than 2-3 hours to accomplish. This keeps you focused in your goal and moving in the right direction.
You’ll also experience an encouraging sense of accomplishment and productivity throughout the project, instead of only at the end.
4. Start with the most challenging task
We all tend to procrastinate on our most dreaded tasks. But when you have a task looming over you, you become unproductive in other areas.
“Slay your dragons.” Tackle your most difficult task first. The satisfaction and relief of checking a monster off your to-do list will carry you through the rest of the day.
5. Take breaks
This may seem counterintuitive, but taking breaks actually increases your productivity. Without breaks, mental and/or physical fatigue will start to impair your effectiveness.
Schedule small breaks (10-15 minutes) throughout your day. Go talk to some colleagues, walk around the block, or stretch. Avoid looking at your phone when you should be working by limiting unnecessary usage to your scheduled breaks.
After these breaks, you’ll return to work feeling refreshed and ready to go.
Don’t be afraid to delegate work to others. Assign the biggest priorities and most essential tasks to yourself, then delegate the rest accordingly.
Hiring effective faculty and staff makes delegating an easier and less stressful process.
When possible, you can also delegate some tasks to technology. Set calendar reminders, automate e-mails, and use task management software and apps.
TUIO helps you simplify billing and payments, freeing up your time for the rest.
7. Listen to podcasts
Maximize your commute to and from work by listening to informative and inspirational podcasts.
Don’t know what podcasts to tune into?
Start with our list of five must-listen podcasts for administrators.
8. Don’t get lost in the emails
E-mails can be a major drain on your time. Try strategies like the following:
- Set aside specific times each day to check e-mail.
- Use tools like Inbox Pause to slow the flow of e-mails until you’re ready for them.
- If an e-mail will take three minutes or less to answer, do it now. If it will take longer, set it aside for one of your scheduled e-mail times.
- Find yourself sending the same message over and over? Save some of your most frequently sent e-mails, then just copy and paste to respond to similar queries.
- Set up automatic filters to sort your e-mails into easy-to-manage folders.
- When possible, answer with statements instead of questions to avoid a lengthy back-and-forth
9. Make a plan to fight distraction
What tends to get you the most distracted during the day? Identify you’re biggest time-wasters, then come up with a plan to deal with them.
Use the formula “If ________, then __________.” For instance, “If I get distracted by my phone, I will turn off all alerts and/or put it in a desk drawer until I take a break.”
Being prepared with an effective strategy will help you avoid the distraction trap.
10. Know your productive times
Are you most productive in the morning? Just after lunch? Tackle your most challenging tasks at your most productive time of the day.
Schedule quick, simple tasks for the part of your day that drags, like the last hour or so before heading home.
11. Practice self-care
Taking good care of yourself makes it easier to stay focused, productive, and positive.
Get plenty of rest, eat healthy and balanced meals, and make time to exercise. Don’t get so caught up in school that you neglect people or hobbies you enjoy.
The more you create time for activities that leave you rejuvenated and refreshed, the better you can serve your faculty, students, and families.
Final Thoughts: Time Management Tips for School Leaders
By following these time management tips, you’ll have more energy and focus, less stress, and your most productive days yet.