Dr. John Murray is an assistant professor in Colorado Christian’s Master of Education in Educational Leadership program, offered through the College of Adult and Graduate Studies. Read his bio below.
The complexity and variety of competing responsibilities associated with being a school principal are rivaled by few other occupations. Managing everything can seem overwhelming, with principals citing time management as one of the top three challenges of their jobs (Grissom, Loeb, & Mitani, 2015). Last month I offered several strategies principals can use to make the most of their time and keep their focus on what is truly most important rather than just what is most urgent. Here are some additional effective ways to help you take control of your time to lead your school more efficiently and effectively.
How to manage your time as a school leader:
Create a disciplined planning and organizing system
Effective principals establish a procedure for organizing priorities by the year, month, week, and day to make sure they don’t get distracted from their “big rocks.” They schedule the most important things first and put the most essential items at the top of their to-do lists. I used to set aside several hours every weekend to plan for the week ahead to make sure I was scheduling time connected to my priorities. I would also take 30 minutes at the beginning of every day to reflect on the previous day and prioritize my activities for the day. All of this may seem like overkill, but with the multitude of people and situations pulling on your time, it’s all necessary to keep your focus on your priorities.
An additional essential organizational aspect of time management involves how you respond to emails. It’s a significant distraction and a drain of valuable time if you try to stay on top of your emails throughout the day. Focus on priorities and people during the school day, not emails. Schedule several 30-40 minute blocks (one early morning and the other late afternoon) when you can respond to email messages in focused, efficient streams.
Learn to Delegate
Once the day starts, it’s important to be disciplined in recording, acting on, and following up on the myriad things that occur. An important mental adjustment is to recognize that you can’t do everything. Identify the things that you must do, delegate some tasks to others, and specify those that are a waste of time in order to let them go.
Delegation is essential to effective time management and effective school leadership, but it’s hard for many principals who want everything done a specific way. I was one of these principals. For years I had trouble trusting others to do things, and my effectiveness as a school leader suffered. One of the keys to effective time management and effective school leadership is to delegate tasks and distribute leadership to others. Doing this develops the talents and capacities of others and allows you to devote more of your time and energy to your priorities.
Reflect, Assess, and Adjust
It’s important to regularly reflect on your time management, on the extent to which you are spending your time on priorities or minutiae. One way to do this is to select a week and carry a journal with you. Record how you spend every minute, and this will help you identify exactly when and where you are productively focused on priorities as well as how and where time is less productive.
Being a principal is hard work, and it’s easy to feel you are pulled away from important tasks in order to address the urgent. Through specifying your priorities; developing a disciplined system for planning and organizing; delegating tasks to others; and learning when and how to say “no,” you can take control of your time and “keep the main thing the main thing” (Covey, 1996, p. 82).
Are you a teacher or studying to become one? Find more blogs for teachers.
Dr. John Murray is an assistant professor in Colorado Christian’s Master of Education in Educational Leadership program. A former high school principal, Dr. Murray has written two books: Effective Teacher Learning Practices in U.S. Independent Schools and Designing and Implementing Effective Professional Learning. He has also published more than a dozen articles on schools and teaching. Dr. Murray and his wife Kristen have been married for twenty-three years. They have two daughters, and they live in Nashville, Tennessee.
Covey, S. (1996). First things first. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Grissom, J., Loeb, S., & Mitani, H. (2015). Principal time management skills: explaining patterns in principals’time use, job stress, and perceived effectiveness. Journal of Educational Administration, 53(6), 773-793.
Marshall, K. (2008). Priority management for principals. Principal Leadership, March, 16-22.
McCormack, M. (1984). What they don’t teach you in Harvard Business School. New York: Bantam.