A female school principal is sitting at her desk in her office at school.

Time Management Tips for School Leaders - Part I

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 a 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). Principals often find their time eaten up by necessary but less important tasks and activities.

Fortunately, there are 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 effective ways to help you take control of your time to lead your school more efficiently and effectively.

Part One: Time Management Tips for Principals

Establish clear priorities

Discussions about effective time management begin with an assessment of one’s priorities, the tasks, and responsibilities that are most important in leading a school. Called the “big rocks” by Steven Covey (1996), examples of these priorities include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Culture: creating a safe environment where the focus is on the academic and personal growth of students
  • Mission: uniting faculty, students, and parents with a common sense of purpose and vision
  • Instruction: coaching and supporting excellent teaching in every classroom
  • Collaboration: promoting and nurturing constant sharing of ideas and resources
  • Hiring: using every vacancy to bring in quality teachers
  • Alignment: connecting curriculum and assessments to relevant standards
  • Resources: working to get teachers the tools they need to be successful
  • Parents: building strong connections with families to support student learning

Marshall (2008) emphasizes that these “big rocks” must be taken care of before smaller things or the less important things will clutter your days. It’s essential to “not prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities” (Covey, 1996, p. 161). Once you establish clear priorities and build time focused on these priorities into your schedule, it is easier to avoid and say no to activities that take you away from your “big rocks.”

Minimize distractions and interruptions, and learn to say “no”

Structure your office and your schedule to minimize wasted time and distractions. Needed materials must be organized and easily accessible, and high-priority work should be scheduled early morning, late afternoon, or during a short closed-door period during the day.

Also, principals must develop the ability to say “no.” The best leaders know how to get the most amount of priority work done in a day, and that can’t be done if you take on every request.

McCormack (1984) suggests asking and answering the following four questions to guide you to appropriately say “no” to some requests:

  • Am I qualified and capable to do what is asked?
  • Do I have time for this task or activity?
  • Is this task or activity connected to my priorities?
  • What are the potential negative outcomes of saying “no”?

Read part 2 of Dr. Murray's blog article on Monday, February 5, 2018.


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.

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