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Time Management: Not Business as Usual

To work smarter, administrators need to define their focus and make time management a priority.

Americans are working harder than ever. The latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2006 shows a 3.4 percent increase in productivity over the previous quarter. While this is good news for the bottom line, it also means that we are working ourselves to the bone. This is certainly true for educators who have assumed a greater workload while facing dwindling resources. We are easy prey for time bandits, interruptions and distractions. We dream of empty in boxes, dinner with the family and two-day weekends. How can we turn these dreams into reality?

A critical first step: take time to manage time.

We have to begin to work smarter, not harder. This is the resounding message from recent titles by time management gurus. Busy educators should take the following key points to heart:

-Clarify the key tasks of your position and define your focus

-Make time management a priority and take time to manage your time.

Change Your Behavior

Setting Leadership Priorities: What's Necessary, What's Nice, and What's Got to Go by Suzette Lovely (Corwin Press, 2006) is a handy reference for district and school site administrators who wish to take control of their hectic schedules. Lovely makes it clear that a critical first step for school administrators is to take time to manage time. She contends that you have to recognize it is within your control to change your behavior. It is possible to become more productive while keeping a healthy balance in life.

You can only do this when you clarify your role in accomplishing the mission of your school or organization. When you identify this bottom line, you can weed out distractions. For example, Lovely says principals in high performing schools pay far more attention to learning-based activities. In the chapter, Business as Unusual, the author advocates the 80/20 rule-80 percent of your reward comes from 20 percent of your effort-to devote quality time to those tasks that reap the biggest reward.

Getting Things Done

David Allen is a noted productivity expert. He says our stress comes not from having too much to do, but from not getting things done. He advocates a system, GTD, in two titles, Getting Things Done (Penguin-Putnam, 2005) and Ready for Anything (Penguin, 2003). In order to get things done, you have to get it off your mind, get it organized, and take action. A first step is to take control of your "stuff." This includes work responsibilities and to-do items from regular life. The brain sees no difference between tasks, which is why we plan a conference call while we pick up our dry cleaning, or more likely, think of dry cleaning during a conference call. The mind is great at thinking of things to do but not at holding on to them.

Allen proposes a RAM Dump, or mind sweep, a first step to categorize all of your things to do-your incompletes, and get them into a system outside your head and off your mind. Then you can make decisions, prioritize and move on. He also suggests a weekly review to organize papers and files, check what has been done and what needs to be done, and reappraise short- and medium-term goals.

More Meetings

The most arresting title may be Patrick Lencioni's Death by Meeting (Jossey-Bass, 2004). Lencioni describes the drudgery of meetings that suck up our time and deplete morale. Meetings need drama; that is, a compelling reason to be there. This can come from focused meetings that examine decisions from multiple points of view and involve some kind of conflict resolution. In a counterintuitive move, he suggests more meetings. However, they should be focused on different outcomes and include a daily check-in to move things along and weekly tactical and strategic meetings.

Each title has a variety of resources and appendices with quick-tips, surveys, flow charts and meeting organizers. So, if you feel that your life is a litany of incomplete tasks, stress and interruptions, it's high time you take a time out and impose order and focus to your work life. Help is at hand if you are ready to accept it.

Eamonn O'Donovan is principal of Ladera Ranch Middle School in Ladera Ranch, Calif.