Time Management: The Principal’s Challenge

One of my greatest privileges is to lead groups of principals and assistant principals in professional development.  Part of that experience is the opportunity for our leaders to be together and to share concerns with others who understand where they’re coming from.  When we gather, I often toss out the query, “what is it you’re struggling with?”  At least one– and usually more– of the principals immediately say time management.  What causes you struggle as a principal or assistant principal?  Time management.

In respect to that recurring theme, here’s a list of Five Truths About the Principal and Time Management.

1.  You will never be “caught up.”  If you’re an experienced principal, you already know this.  If you’re new or newer, you’re learning it.  If you are obsessed with having a clean desk, being completely caught up, and getting all of the items on your ‘to-do’ list checked off, being a principal can be a tough ride.

2.  It’s Actually About Priorities, Not Time.  While we talk about time management, it’s really about  priority setting.  You can say anything is your priority, but you define what matters most in deciding where you spend your money and your time.  If item number one is true (and it is, it’s on the list of truths!) then the effective principal will focus here, on priorities.  Your effectiveness if about the choices you make with your time more than it is the efficiency of your time, or the quantity of minutes/hours you work each week.

3.  Spend Your Time Doing The Principal’s Work  One of the common challenges that I often see with new principals is in their choice of what they do at work.  Some new (and even some veteran) principals continue to do the work of the AP and don’t get to the heart of the work of the principal.  There are things that need to be done that ONLY the principal can do.  Determine what those things are and make them a priority.  No one else will ever get to them.

4.  If you don’t spend time in quadrant two, who will?  Covey’s quadrants of time (crossing the axes of importance an urgency) give us a framework in which we can measure the value of our choices with our time.  Covey suggested that leaders spend much time in quadrant two– items that are defined as important but not urgent.  When I meet up with principals and ask them what they’ve been doing, I’m often saddened when I hear one say “you know… just putting out fires!”  Admittedly, there is some of that must be done, but if you’re doing it most of the time, you’re not doing it right.  In the absence of work done in that quadrant (planning, developing strategies, reflecting) then all that is left is urgency.  You have to get here.  Don’t make excuses; get here or you’ll be on the urgency carousel forever.

5.  Quality Time is More Important Quantity Time.  Slow down and do things well.  If you try to do too much-too fast, you’ll begin to feel like you’re not doing anything well.  Also, this isn’t a game that declares that the winner is the person who spends the most time at work.  Actually, that’s not the trophy you want to win.  It’s much better to be the leader who gets the most done in the shortest amount of time.  Be effective.  Everyone is working hard, but the principals who are most effective are the ones who are working hard at the right work. 


This is a part of an ongoing series of Eight Reasons Why Principals are Successful…or Struggle.  Our first entries were:  1. Preparation; 2. Communication; 3. Leadership; 4. Judgment; 5. Confidence. Please look at earlier blog entries to see the series in entirety.  Thank you!

#Leadership365   /39

One thought on “Time Management: The Principal’s Challenge

  1. This is a great list of strategies for time management. I remember in my first year as a principal and the time grabbers were overwhelming.

    One thing that helped me was the rule of one-touch. If I’m going to touch email, paper, or some task, I’m only going to touch it once. So if I don’t have time to fully respond to an email – I will not open the email until later. One touch and done.

    There’s another list of time management strategies like you list at Principals’ Seminar: https://principalsseminar.com/time-management-for-principals/

    Also, your third tip was a valuable lesson to learn. Stay in my lane. Do my job. Help others understand and do their’s. Leaders get to their position because we’re good at taking on tasks, but as a principal, that same behavior will swamp you fast.

    Thanks for a great read!

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