Help! I’m Working All the Time And Not Getting Anywhere!

If you’re working long hours every day, taking work home every night, spending lots of your weekend doing emails and paperwork, and always feeling like you’re running behind, rest assured you’re not the only one.

Just because others are doing it doesn’t make it any less damaging to you as a leader.  At this time of the year you may be feeling the strains of all of those hours that you’ve been logging since July coming home to roost.  Continuous overwork leads to fatigue, poor executive functions, inability to solve complex problems, issues with interpersonal communication and relationships, and shaky judgments.

In other words, overworking leads to less-effective performance in pretty much everything that your job is all about.

First, if you’re working all the time and feeling out of balance, here are three reasons why you may have arrived at this destination:

1.   You’re Doing Too Much One of the biggest reasons principals and assistant principals get overwhelmed is this one:  they try to do too much.

When you have more to do than you can possibly do, and you aren’t sure what ONE thing to do first, principals often try to do EVERYthing.  They end up not doing ANYthing particularly well, but they continue to try to have their fingers in everything.

Newly-arrived principals often do too much.  Sometimes it’s strategic so they can learn how things work;  other times it’s from not knowing who can be trusted to do things, and to do things well.  This can be a transitional practice, but can’t be sustainable.

Finally, there are some leaders who struggle with “doing too much” because… they choose to do too much!  They operate from the  idea that “the only way to make sure that it gets done right is to do it yourself.”  This wears the principal out and also develops a faculty who isn’t prepared to think on their own.
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2.  You’re TOO Accessible. 

The modern-day leader has been told by everyone that you need to be accessible.  That’s true, but you can take it to an extreme and when you do, you make it difficult for you to be efficient and effective.

If you are available all day every day, and then again at night whenever people want to text, call or message you, you are too accessible.

The most efficient and effective leaders find the balance between being (and seeming to be) inaccessible and being overly-accessible to the point of harm.  How is it harmful?  If you’re not careful, your folks develop a co-dependent relationship with you.  If you’re willing to do most of the thinking, lots of the problem solving and ALL of the decision making, people will let you.  That’s REALLY dangerous, because the more you operate that way, the less capable your team is to do those things (think, problem-solve, make decisions) and the MORE they will rely on you to do those things.

Don’t go to the other extreme in an attempt to find balance; the answer lies in between.  The answer does NOT lie in you doing all of the brain work.

3.  You’ve Developed Habits of Inefficiency.

Often, BECAUSE you’re doing too much, and BECAUSE you’re too accessible, you inadvertently and often unknowingly develop some really inefficient habits.  One of your challenges is this:  you’re at the top of the food chain at your school.  Unless you have a coach, an attentive supervisor, or a really good mentor, it’s EASY to fall prey to inefficient habits and have no one to prompt you to reflect and evaluate what you’re doing.

The isolation of leadership can leave you ill-prepared to examine or alter your habits, and if they go unchecked for a while, they become your routines and eventually your beliefs.  Beliefs are harder to change.

For example, I was visiting a principal who was so intent on listening in on what was happening in the adjacent front office that we could barely have a coaching conversation.  Every person who came into the office and every interaction that the secretary was having stole the principal’s attention.  Over and again, people came into the office while we were meeting (some with a knock, some with an knock while they were opening the door).  None of them were arriving with things that should have been tagged as “urgent.”

What had happened there was this: EVERYTHING became urgent, and everything had to run through the principal, and it had gone on long enough that it had become normal.

During our coaching session we talked about…. you guessed it.  How the principal was struggling to get it all done.

FULL DISCLOSURE:  Regarding the struggle of workload for the current-day principal or assistant principal, despite the aforementioned you are NOT the problem.  We have continued to add on responsibilities to these positions without additional support or people to assist in completing them.  Even if you’re doing it all most efficiently and effectively, it’s STILL a lot.

The suggestion here is this:  can you make your job more reasonable?  Can you be more efficient?  Can you examine your habits and do things better?

© 2018.  Dr. Mark D. Wilson.   All Rights Reserved.

Stress Is Real. You Can Do Something About It.

What a great group we had today at the GAEL Summer Conference.  Over 60 people crammed into a breakout session room to talk about … stress.

The interest in stress management (particularly at the least-stressful spot on the calendar) speaks volumes, but so do the results of our audience poll.

As you see above, 88% of the group reported having chronic stress as a school leader.  The participants, assistant principals, principals, district office leaders and more, answered the question, “How often is work stressful?”  

Eighteen percent reported always.  That alone calls for attention to the well-being of our leaders.  Another 70% reported that work was often stressful.  Not even one said that work was ‘hardly ever’ or ‘never’ stressful.

The Science of Stress: Click Here for Great, Short Video

So, what do we do about it?  In our session today (the ppt of which you can access at this link:   http://tinyurl.com/GAELSC18 ) we discussed what to do to reduce workplace stress and how to make those efforts work.

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The short version is this:  you already know what you ought to do to reduce stress:  be healthy; don’t stay in the middle of stress non-stop; focus on intellectual activities; and introspection.  Again, this isn’t groundbreaking;  we all know to do these things.

So why don’t we?  That’s the second set of things to consider.  How do we become more healthy, focus on the right things, and develop meditative practices to reset?  Here are four ways that might work:  1)  Acceptance (recognize that stress is real and you should have a committed strategy for its management; 2) Consistency (developing and maintaining healthy habits regularly are better than all of the good intentions we might stack up); 3)  Accountability: perhaps this is the key.  It’s hard to do right without some level of accountability and that’s one of the reasons leaders are so suspect in being stressed. There’s always safety in numbers.  Having a partner (or 2) to hold you accountable might keep you on the right side of the stress line; and, 4)  Reflection;  journaling about your experience will have a positive impact on your progress.  If you know what you’re supposed to do (and you do) and you have to write about your experience weekly, what might that do to your choices?

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We need great leaders to have great schools, but we need our leaders to be healthy.  Chronic stress leads to short-term and long-term health issues, as well as a lessening of your effectiveness as a leader.

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To review:

  1.  Stress is real;
  2.  Stress is bad;
  3. You CAN do something about it (but it’s not going to take care of itself: you’ll need strategy, commitment, and most likely someone to hold you accountable.

Good luck!

MW

 

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Lessons for Principals: What Two Weeks Away From Social Media Taught Me

Well, I failed.

I set out 2017 with a goal of #Leadership365, my aspirational quest to write something of value for school leaders every single day of the year.

“They” say that if you can make something a habit, it becomes a part of your life and you’re able to more readily do it.  Many research studies have reached that conclusion with varying numbers of days necessary to be able to make a goal into a habit.

Through this vehicle, I made 114 consecutive days before I didn’t.  From January 1 until April 24, I was able to write a column intended to support principals, assistant principals, aspiring leaders, and others interested in leadership musings with a decided school-level leadership spin.

And then, I didn’t make it on April 25.  Or April 26.  It was much easier to develop this new habit, the one where I didn’t write a column for school leaders.

Failure-is-simply-the-opportunity-to-begin-again-this-time-more-intelligently.-Henry-Ford

Now it’s May 7, and I am rejoining the online world and reconnecting with the many offline friends that read this column.  To reenter this universe, this column is dedicated to sharing with you lessons learned from two weeks away and how they relate to the work of school leaders. Said a different way, these are the things that I learned from failing; failing to meet my goal, failing to create and deliver content to those who had been used to it being there, and failing to maintain the discipline from 114 days for the entire 365.  As always, these failures will be reported through the lens of school leadership.  Here goes!

1.  It’s More Difficult To Accomplish Goals On Your Own Than When Working With Others  As the leader of the school, you have lots of goals.  Just as was my experience, sometimes you aren’t able to keep them going.  Why?  What I found to be true is what I’ve read numerous times from leadership books and research.  Self-discipline is expendable.  (The work of Dan and Chip Heath in their book Made to Stick comes to mind.)  We are so much more likely to stick to a task when our work is connected to someone else.  That’s worth considering in your work with your faculty and staff;  not only are we better together, we’re more likely to get things done together than alone, especially over time (which is what every school year is, an extended period of time).  If I’d been paired up with someone to do this blog, we’d not have missed a day, I’m convinced of it.  

2.  Getting Away is Essential for Effectiveness and Excellence.   There hasn’t been a time that I was just “mailing it in” this year in the 114 columns that have preceded this one, but I am feeling better about the next two weeks and the things that I have to share than I do a couple of weeks ago.  You don’t really have the luxury to take two weeks off during the school year while serving a principal, but as has been mentioned here many times, balance really is the key.  A big part of that balance is finding space; space to breathe, space to regain momentum, space to be inspired from unexpected sources.  The last two weeks have given me space that has made me come back to you renewed and ready again.  Don’t lose sight of that not only for yourself but for your faculty and staff.  Some of the most powerful notes in songs are “rests.”  Same for us in leading.

3.  Failure is an important part of success.  You know this as well as I do.  There is much to learn through our failures.  I’ve learned that if I want to get a column out every day no matter rain, sleet, snow or hail, I better develop another plan because this one isn’t sustainable.  What are you trying to do on your own that meets that same description? As the school leader, we often take on things that are less a function of our own discipline and more related to the design.  Now that I look at how this has played out here, I realize that I should have planned breaks throughout the year and asked for help.  Just like you, I have a bounty of friends and colleagues that I know would be willing to write a column for this blog.  I just need to ask them.  Thinking back on my fifteen years as school administrator, there are a lot of things that I can say that about.  We really are better together, and I believe this column and this effort to support school leaders will actually be stronger if I solicit other’s voices to join.  Plus, I can take the time off to get recharged and come back with more meaningful words to support your work.

So, I’m glad that I failed at #Leadership365.  It has been a valuable lesson to me, and hopefully through your lens can be insightful for your work.  I’m not going to change the name of this year’s effort, and you can look for me to be taking a few days off from time to time with some experts preparing columns in advance to share on those occasions.  Please let me know if you’d like to be a part of this effort!

Thanks for your patience during this learnable moment.  I’ll see you back here tomorrow.

#Leadership365

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But Seriously, Are You Enjoying Being The Principal?

Just finished watching Ron Howard’s documentary on the touring history of The Beatles, titled “Eight Days A Week:  The Touring Years.”  (If you like music, documentaries or if you’ve ever heard of the Beatles you might enjoy watching).  It takes you from the beginning of their playing days in Liverpool and features the iconic arrival to the United States on February 7, 1964.  You get to watch great clips from their travels and get a real glimpse of the unprecedented nature of Beatlemania.

When you see the scenes of the band’s initial arrival in New York, you see pure joy.  Each of the members were ecstatic to be in the US.  The reception was overwhelming and without precedent.  Pictured of them during this time showed their enthusiasm and enjoyment.

You also get to see scenes from the “Last Concert” at Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966. (although they played together unannounced on the rooftop of their offices in London on January 30, 1969).  The picture below shows their exit from the event via an armored truck.

Candlestick Goodbye 10 Things to Know

What does this have to do with you and being a principal?!?

Everything.

The Beatles quit doing concerts at the height of popularity and with millions of dollars (or pounds) on the table because they no longer found joy in what they were doing.  They went from boundless enthusiasm about their work to dread and unhappiness.

So, seriously, are you enjoying being a principal?  If you’ve been doing for a while, do you still have the same joy in the work?

In watching The Beatles documentary, it was interesting to hear band members talk about how much they loved playing concerts in the beginning.  It was because they were doing what they loved doing.  Little by little, the craziness of it all crept in.  They couldn’t perform in arenas or coliseums because of the demand for tickets (and the huge numbers of people who remained outside of those arenas without tickets).  That forced them to go to ball parks and stadia where, in the 60s, we didn’t have the science of sound quite developed to today’s standards.  Basically, they were playing in front of huge crowds who actually couldn’t hear them.  They hated it.  No joy, no more concerts.

Today’s principal doesn’t have those identical issues as the Fab Four did, but it is easy to face similar concerns.

Often, I talk to principals who tell me that what they’re doing isn’t what they thought they’d be doing.  They wanted to help kids, make a difference, but there are a lot of distractions.

That’s why I hope that you’ll make a real priority on joy.  If you aren’t finding joy, purpose, and fulfillment in your job, you may be lip-synching before you know it.

work and enjoyDespite all of the challenges of being a modern-era principal, there are reasons to love it. There are very few things that you could be doing with your time that have the potential to do good that this job has.  You can challenge people to greatness.  You can keep a student from dropping out of school and basically do a re-direct in their life trajectory.  You can bring hope to your community.  You can restore joy and purpose to a teacher in her final years of her career.  You can do so much!

What did you get into this job to do?  What brings you joy in this work?  Don’t lose sight of what you got into this for in the first place.  Be careful of getting so busy that you miss the fulfillment and joy of this job.

 


This is the final installment of our Sunday series about balance.  Getting balance right as the school leader is one of your most critical challenges.  Please take a look at the whole series under the category of “Balance” here at Principal Matters!

Examining balance and getting it right means that you look not just what you do at work, but who you are as the whole leader.  That examination means that you look at yourself and your performance in several areas, including the following:

  1. How you relate to others in your school “universe”;
  2. How you perform and accomplish the tasks necessary in your job;
  3. How you relate to those important to you in your life away from school;
  4. How you interact with the world separate from your school and your home;
  5. How you are developing habits that promote short-term and long-term health and energy;
  6. How you are growing professionally and personally; and
  7. How happy, joyful, and fulfilled you are.

It’s important that you learn to balance within each of these areas, as well as balance all seven together.

You Are Either in Growth or Decline: Which?

Out of all of the things that require your attention as a school leader, the one that usually gets what’s leftover is ‘you.’  That’s something, unfortunately that you really can’t afford to ignore.  You are either in growth or decline.  If you lack commitment and intentionality in your personal and professional growth, you will get stuck where you are as a leader, or worse, regress.

In our weekly journey into the concept of balance and the school leader, we find ourselves today examining the need to balance the work that you do in leading your school with the work you should do to grow individually, both professionally and personally.

Here are a few questions that you can reflect on to examine the concept:

  1. Do you believe that professional growth is important for you to be an effective leader?   It’s unlikely that you will say ‘no’ to this one, but it’s important to begin with it.  Do you really believe that you need to grow or do you think you’ve gotten far enough along to “do your job” well?  Here’s an observation:  when I host leadership sessions, attendees most often fall into one of three groupings:  a)  new leaders; b) leaders who are struggling; and c) the most effective leaders (who make professional growth a priority).  I don’t always get (at least in those settings) the sedentary principals.  They are able to stay busy enough at school to stay away from advanced learning.  The profile of these individuals is that they’ll only go to PL that’s mandated and when there they’ll only engage minimally.  Those are the people who would answer ‘no’ to this question if answering honestly.  
  2. In what areas do you need professional growth?  Personal growth?   The unexamined life is not worth living.  Of course, when Socrates allegedly said this, they sentenced him to death… that notwithstanding, the leader stops being the leader when the leader stops growing.  One really can’t get to growth without reflection.  What does your data (all of your data, not just some of it) tell you about what your school needs?  How does that connect with you and your work?  The most effective leaders are able to listen, learn, design, and grow.  Be honest.  Get honest feedback.  Design your growth plan (or get help from a coach/mentor in designing your growth plan).   Not just professionally, though.  You’re not only what you do; you’re who you are as well.  In what areas do you need to grow as an individual?  Would a focus on those areas help you in your work as a leader as well?
  3. growth chartWhat day will be your “high water mark?”    Even though we don’t think about like this, each of us have a high water mark in our work as the school leader.  If you could chart your effectiveness as a school leader over time, what would the graph look like?  You would expect that your first day as principal would be on the low end, but would it also be true that your last day would be near the top?  If that isn’t true, when would your best day be?  This is a thought to consider: what’s your current trajectory?  Are you on the rise or on the decline?  Have you peaked already?  If so, you still have a chance to change that.  In the totality of your career, it can be a plateau from which you rise up, as long as you dedicate yourself to continued growth.  If you can consider this question honestly and objectively, it can change you as a leader for the remainder of your career.  It may make you reconsider your answers to the first two questions.

Your job.  Your growth.  It’s not either or… it’s both.  If you can get them balanced, you’ll be stronger in both.

 


This is an installment of our Sunday series about balance.  Getting balance right as the school leader is one of your most critical challenges.  Please take a look at the whole series under the category of “Balance” here at Principal Matters!

Examining balance and getting it right means that you look not just what you do at work, but who you are as the whole leader.  That examination means that you look at yourself and your performance in several areas, including the following:

  1. How you relate to others in your school “universe”;
  2. How you perform and accomplish the tasks necessary in your job;
  3. How you relate to those important to you in your life away from school;
  4. How you interact with the world separate from your school and your home;
  5. How you are developing habits that promote short-term and long-term health and energy;
  6. How you are growing professionally and personally; and
  7. How happy, joyful, and fulfilled you are.

It’s important that you learn to balance within each of these areas, as well as balance all seven together.

‘Habits’ Open The Secret Door to Balance

You want to be do well as a principal, so you expend a lot of your energy to do so.  You fret about burning up all of your time and energy before you make it home to spend time with the ones who love you most.

Balance is often on your mind if you’re a principal, and most of the time the questions I get from our colleagues on the subject are asked in great hopes that I can share the secret to getting in balance.

This is as close as you’ll get to a “secret” on balance, so, listen up, please.

To get yourself closer to balanced, you need to not only be full of enthusiasm and energy at school.  You also need to bring it at home.  That’s a problem since we do school for most of the day and inevitably are more tired by the time we return home than when we arrive at school.

So, you need more energy!  The secret there?  Being more healthy.  There are traps all around you for that!  How do you get to there?

Habits.

Habits are either working for you or against you.  If you want to be more balanced, you have to have more energy, which is more likely if you’re healthier.  To be healthier is all about habits.

Habits have often been a struggle for me, so I have learned a lot to share with you, not necessarily by getting this right but by learning from experience.

Healthy habits are about sleep, exercise, and what we eat.  As a principal, you basically live in a minefield of bad habits all around you.  It’s easy to get into negative habits that will eat away at your energy in the short run and at your overall health and wellness in the long run.

It seemed like it was all good for me while I was principal.  Went to bed late, got to school early, went at my job with lots of energy and enthusiasm every morning!  Around 10:00 AM, it was time for my treat for having gotten off to a good start.  It’s number:  63.  It’s name:  The Big Texas Cinnamon Roll.  The recipe:  Seven seconds in the microwave, washed down with a Diet Coke.  It was like Christmas morning every day, only a few steps from the main office.

habit keeps you going

The bad part of that story isn’t even the cinnamon roll; it’s the every day part.  It’s SO easy to get into habits that lead to negative results.  After fighting through a period of tiredness around 4:00 PM, I’d have a little time to work before going to a school activity.  There was always food to purchase at the ball games.  The convenience was addictive.  It was also taking away my energy by the end of the work day.

It’s really because of the busy-ness of the job that many of our decisions turn into negative habits.  You make poor food choices because its convenient.  You stay up too late because you want to get work done, but also because you’re tired and it takes longer.  You really really really are going to walk/run/go to the gym tomorrow.  Really.

Despite all of the challenges about poor habits and principals, there is hope.  Lots of it!

It’s called today.  The best, healthiest, most energy-producing habit you’ll ever have began by doing it once.  As they say on the Lottery commercials, today could be the day!  Unlike the lottery, your chances of success are much greater.  It’s a decision, and you are good with those.

Balance is more likely with more energy, and energy is directly related to healthy habits. Don’t worry about how you’ll get it right six weeks from now.  Don’t regret about how you didn’t get it right yesterday.  Today.  Habits.  Success.  You can do it!

 


This is an installment of our Sunday series about balance.  Getting balance right as the school leader is one of your most critical challenges.  Please take a look at the whole series under the category of “Balance” here at Principal Matters!

Examining balance and getting it right means that you look not just what you do at work, but who you are as the whole leader.  That examination means that you look at yourself and your performance in several areas, including the following:

  1. How you relate to others in your school “universe”;
  2. How you perform and accomplish the tasks necessary in your job;
  3. How you relate to those important to you in your life away from school;
  4. How you interact with the world separate from your school and your home;
  5. How you are developing habits that promote short-term and long-term health and energy;
  6. How you are growing professionally and personally; and
  7. How happy, joyful, and fulfilled you are.

It’s important that you learn to balance within each of these areas, as well as balance all seven together.

Are You Stuck In Your School Bubble?

We’ve been focusing on balance each Sunday and have examined how you balance your relationships within your school community, with those who await you at home, and in carrying out the tasks you do in your job.  This week, we take a look at how you interact with the rest of the world (that’s neither at your school or at your home).

When I became the principal at Morgan County High School my family and I moved to the wonderful small town of Madison, GA where the school is located.  In moving, we found a neighborhood that is really close to the school.  Like “you can’t hear an entire song on your ride to work” close.  Only a ten-twelve minute walk from front door to office close.

Like most things, there’s an upside and a downside.  The upside is obvious– it was great for time management.  Not losing time a lot of time in the car!  The downside was a little unexpected for me.

There were times that I would be either walking or riding home and ponder, “how long has it been since I’ve left the compound?  Three days?  All week?  Longer?”

The job of high school principal is so involved that you can really get wrapped up in it, and when I lived in our own version of faculty housing, it was even more pronounced.  I was working hard at the work, but I wasn’t getting outside of the school-home bubble.

You don’t have to live right next to the school for this to slowly become your reality.  You get so wrapped up into school and everything about school that you don’t really connect with the world outside of your school-home quadrant.  That can become a problem.

Do something

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are few reasons why:

  1.  Relatability:  If you are so far inside that you can hardly see outside and that you barely ever get outside, you won’t be as effective in relating to others as you need to be in your position.
  2. Credibility:  One of your jobs is to prepare young people for the world they will be a part of  away from school.  If you only interact with school, how will you know what to prepare them for?
  3. Viability  You need to get out of the school structure (physically and mentally) not only to improve your perspective to help the people at school, but to improve you for the work you’re doing.  Principals and APs need to have meaningful experiences away from school and away from school people.  Hobbies.  Not just friends who are teachers but others as well.

Balance isn’t just one thing, but many, and balancing your immersion into your work with your participation in the world away from school can help you be better as school leader and more well-balanced as a human being.

So, put the computer away.   Text some friends.  Go do something.  It’ll help you in all you do!

#Leadership365

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This is an installment of our Sunday series about balance.  Getting balance right as the school leader is one of your most critical challenges.  Please take a look at the whole series under the category of “Balance” here at Principal Matters!

Examining balance and getting it right means that you look not just what you do at work, but who you are as the whole leader.  That examination means that you look at yourself and your performance in several areas, including the following:

  1. How you relate to others in your school “universe”;
  2. How you perform and accomplish the tasks necessary in your job;
  3. How you relate to those important to you in your life away from school;
  4. How you interact with the world separate from your school and your home;
  5. How you are developing habits that promote short-term and long-term health and energy;
  6. How you are growing professionally and personally; and
  7. How happy, joyful, and fulfilled you are.

It’s important that you learn to balance within each of these areas, as well as balance all seven together.

Notes On A Better Life/Work Balance

work life balance

As the school leader, you are the person who is counted on to bring the universe around you into balance.  You can’t have favorites so you need to balance your work with faculty and staff.  You need to balance the tasks that you have in your job. Both of these balance points are critical.

There isn’t a balance point that is more important for you to get right as a leader and a person than the one we examine this week.

How well do you balance your time between school and home?  Are you meeting a healthy balance between the time and energy you give to your job and the time and energy you give to those who love you at home?

This is a conundrum.  You aren’t going to be successful as a principal without working hard, giving of yourself to your school and spending long hours in doing so.  That’s just the truth.

The question is, “at what cost?”  You need to do those things at school to succeed, but if you get your school/home relationship out of balance it will negatively impact all parts of your life.

All of us who work in these positions face this puzzle.  How do we have it all?  How do we take the limited resources of time and energy and distribute them between our work and our home in a manner that leads to success, fulfillment, good results and great relationships?

worklifebalance_zpscff3a565

I’ve said it before and will admit it again here:  I don’t think I was either the best or the worst at this, but I have learned some things I gladly share, not necessarily as an expert but as an experienced learner.  Here are some things I’ve learned, some gleaned from personal experience, others from observation and also some from conversations with colleagues.  These ideas may help you figure out how to get your life/work balance more balanced.

Notes On A Better Life/Work Balance

  1.  Schedule Time and Make Your Appointments:  Save time for the people who love you at home and honor it just like you would an appointment with someone else.  Do it regularly; do it weekly.  Unless extreme emergencies occur, keep your “appointments” with loved ones and family.
  2. Balance Is Daily and Weekly, Not Just Annually:  We all can fall into the notion that we can make up for not being around a lot by spending a lot of time together when school is out on vacations.  Those times can be great and make lifelong memories, but life is in the little moments that come along unexpectedly and in the flow of things.  It’s easy when we’re working hard to lead a school to want to “make up” for lost time, but it really doesn’t work that way.  Balance is an ongoing endeavor.
  3. Make Your Work A Family Affair:  When your family is a “team” and you connect and collide on things at school together, you are able to create experiences and memories there too.  Being together in your work is great and can make it all matter more.  Sharing the importance of the work can make a difference too.  If everyone in the family knows the importance of the work that you’re doing, and also how important they are to you, the life/work balance has a different angle.  If your family gets to celebrate the successes of the school with you, it makes for a better dynamic.
  4. Don’t Miss The Individual Time and Attention:  If you have a houseful of people who love and support you, congratulations!  That’s a good thing.  It will, however, require you to plan out your time.  You want to spend time as a unit, but you also want to spend time individually with the people in your family.  Make sure you are making memories, sharing time, and getting to everyone.
  5. Never Forget What’s Really Most Important:  When you leave your position as principal, they will get another one.  With the exception of those individuals in charge when a school has been closed, everyone else who has left the position has had a replacement. Your job matters, but someone else will do it eventually.  Your role as friend, spouse, parent, relative:  that isn’t something that is so easily replaced.  Now, don’t forget:  your work is also a way to love and support your family.  It allows you to support them financially.  It also gives your family a good space to grow up in.  Your job isn’t an enemy unless you let it take you over.  Remember who matters the most.  You have pictures of your family in your office, not pics of your office at home.  Make sure they know they are most important.  They know that your job is going to require more time than most people who have “normal” jobs, but what they don’t want to feel is unimportant.  This is one of the most important actions you can take to balance life/work.  Tell them how you feel about them.  Take time with them and make sure they know how important they are to you.

There’s no playbook to getting your life/work balance to be balanced, but the first step is to give it your attention.  It’s one of the most important challenges you’l take on.

 

 


This is an installment of our Sunday series about balance.  Getting balance right as the school leader is one of your most critical challenges.  Please take a look at the whole series under the category of “Balance” here at Principal Matters!

Examining balance and getting it right means that you look not just what you do at work, but who you are as the whole leader.  That examination means that you look at yourself and your performance in several areas, including the following:

  1. How you relate to others in your school “universe”;
  2. How you perform and accomplish the tasks necessary in your job;
  3. How you relate to those important to you in your life away from school;
  4. How you interact with the world separate from your school and your home;
  5. How you are developing habits that promote short-term and long-term health and energy;
  6. How you are growing professionally and personally; and
  7. How happy, joyful, and fulfilled you are.

It’s important that you learn to balance within each of these areas, as well as balance all seven together.

Strategic Habits and Attitudes To More Effectively Get Your Tasks Accomplished

It’s the weekend, and you need to be enjoying yourself.  Spending time with people you love doing things you love to do.  Getting refreshed, refocused, and ready for another week of leading your school.

Are you instead spending some, most, or all of your weekend doing work?

Get out of that routine by better balancing your tasks during the week.  Take your weekends back by being more effective during the week.  Balance your time to effectively complete the tasks you need to accomplish so there won’t be so many left to do when the weekend arrives.

screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-10-13-51-amEasier said than done?  Perhaps, but there are some strategic habits and attitudes you can adopt that will help you to get your days more balanced.

  1.  Seize the Morning to Seize the Day.  If you want your day as the principal to run well, the beginning is the most critical.  If you can make a habit to greet your teachers as they are arriving; then see your students as they get to school as well.  (drop-off line, bus lane, parking lot)   Be a part of morning announcements:  help establish the tone of the day.  Then, depending on the size of your school, make a sweep of as many classrooms as you can.  If you’re able to get to some of them, that’s great; if your school is small enough where you can get to all of them, that’s even better.  Getting around to your students and teachers, just to check in and just to set tone can be the prevention that’s worth a pound of care.  The mornings are golden hours and if you can get everyone off to a good start doing what they ought to be doing you’ll be amazed at how you can recapture control of your days.
  2. One Thing At A Time   After you establish the foundation of the day by being visible, it’s time to work on the tasks at hand.  Observations?  Meetings with teachers? Planning? You have lots to do, but work to get things done before spreading yourself out to the next thing. If you can develop the habit of working on things to their completion, you’ll be giving yourself time that you don’t even know you’ve been giving away.  The constant starts and re-starts are a big part of the time loss that happens to you as the leader.  When you do a classroom observation, don’t take notes and go back later and complete the writeup on the platform; spend five more minutes at that time to get it completed.  (And those who say you can’t do that should at least give it a try!)  The people who get tasks completed are the ones that are able to focus long enough on a particular thing to get it accomplished.  You can do it; it’s an attitude, and then it becomes a habit.
  3. Your Emergency Is Not Necessarily My Emergency   When principals and assistant principals tell me they spend all day every day putting out fires, I often mention that you might want to spend some more time in the fire prevention business then!   Part of this is established in number one, above, by framing the day every day for the students and teachers at your school.  Another is by strategically training your faculty and staff in how to resolve many (most) of their issues without the need to bring them to the administration.  There are some schools that have established the norm that everything is a crisis and the principal’s job is to solve everyone’s problems.  Those schools are consistently distracted from their real work (learning) and the principal and assistant principal are indeed always putting out fires.  To get out of that business, you need to clarify what your job as principal really is.  If the central office thinks you’re an instructional leader (they do) and your faculty thinks you’re a firefighter, you have a problem.  Clarify what you do, help prepare your faculty and staff to solve many of their problems and you’ll all of a sudden have time you didn’t know existed.  This really works. You have to get it established in a way that makes it look like you aren’t insensitive to their needs .  (Being transparent is critical.  Tell them WHY you are wanting to teach them new ways to handle classroom events.  Metacognition.  It really will work with time and commitment).

 

There are other things that you can do to help balance your daily work that we will discuss in future posts, but these are three to begin with that are high-impact strategies that will literally get you operating more effectively during the week so you can have your weekend back.

 

 


This is an installment of a series of getting balance right as the school leader.  Please take a t at the whole series under the category of “Balance” here at Principal Matters!

Examining balance and getting it right means that you look not just what you do at work, but who you are as the whole leader.  That examination means that you look at yourself and your performance in several areas, including the following:

  1. How you relate to others in your school “universe”;
  2. How you perform and accomplish the tasks necessary in your job;
  3. How you relate to those important to you in your life away from school;
  4. How you interact with the world separate from your school and your home;
  5. How you are developing habits that promote short-term and long-term health and energy;
  6. How you are growing professionally and personally; and
  7. How happy, joyful, and fulfilled you are.

It’s important that you learn to balance within each of these areas, as well as balance all seven together.

The ‘Balance’ Series: Do You Play Well With Others?

We continue with our weekly examination of balance and the school leader, and this week we focus on your relationship with others who work at your school. 

Your job is more than just getting things accomplished.  It’s also about the manner in which you do so.  As the leader,  you set the tone for the others who work at the school.  While it may not always seem that they hear what you say, you can rest assured that they always see what you do.  Your actions can define your expectations for others at your school even more profoundly than your words.

That’s reason enough to be intentional in the types of relationships you have with the others at school.  How do you relate to your faculty?  Your staff?  To the students and their parents?  Have you ever considered how much influence you have on others?  When you interact with them, it’s not lost in a vacuum, but it stands as your position paper on how you believe others ought to interact.  The same holds true of your teachers with their students.  Ever had a teacher yelling at a student because the student isn’t being respectful?  Yep.  That’s it.  We often have no better place to begin making progress in our schools than within ourselves.  I’ve mentioned to principal and AP groups frequently through the years, the best way you can work on your school is to work on yourself first. 

dale-carnegie

Which of the following describes your model of interaction with others?

  1. Confrontational   Your interactions are based on power.  Your greatest tool in getting others to do what you want them to do is in making them do so.
  2. Collaborative   Your interactions are based on an agreed set of circumstances or goal. Your greatest tool in getting others to do what you want them to do is in leading them to a common goal.
  3. Co-existent    Your interactions are limited.  Your actions may or may not link towards a common goal, but you exert little power or influence. There is little drama or glory in these relationships.
  4. Competitive   Your interactions are based on a desire for achievement (being right, being better, being first, for example).  While you may have similar goals, you have competing efforts to obtain goals.
  5. Conjoined   Your results, your goals, your actions are linked together.  You are united with others in your pursuits.  While there is ebb and flow to this type of relationship, the difficult times result in a deeper bond rather than a separating.

So, as a leader, how do you relate to the others in your school universe?  Do you have differing types of relationships with different people?  Why is that so?  What type of relationships would be most beneficial for you to have as the leader of your school?  What keeps you from having those kind of relationships?  Do you see the relationship between how you are relating to your teachers and how they relate to the students?  What is your plan of action to become a relationship leader in your school?

OK, that’s a lot to think about in one paragraph.  But, we all talk about how relationships are always the key.  If that’s true, you as the school’s leader should be intentional in how you relate to others.   Before you can be intentional, you have to first be aware, and that will take some reflection and some conversations.

If this seems hard, and deep, well, it is.  If you want to be the most effective leader you can be, it’s not enough to tell people what to do and how to do it; you need to share with them why they should do it.  Even that only goes so far.  To truly transform an organization, you have to be a leader who helps people not only change what they do, but change who they are.   To get there requires relationships operating with a deeper level of commitment.

Time to examine yourself and how you relate to others.

#Leadership365

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This is an installment of a series of getting balance right as the school leader.  Please take a look at the whole series under the category of “Balance” here at Principal Matters!

Examining balance and getting it right means that you look not just what you do at work, but who you are as the whole leader.  That examination means that you look at yourself and your performance in several areas, including the following:

  1. How you relate to others in your school “universe”;
  2. How you perform and accomplish the tasks necessary in your job;
  3. How you relate to those important to you in your life away from school;
  4. How you interact with the world separate from your school and your home;
  5. How you are developing habits that promote short-term and long-term health and energy;
  6. How you are growing professionally and personally; and
  7. How happy, joyful, and fulfilled you are.

Leadership: Working On Balance

Our most effective principals are able to bring balance to the school community while maintaining balance themselves.  Sounds easy?  Not so much.

As we continue to seek ways for principals, assistant principals, and teachers to be successful in their important work, its critical that, just as we look at the “whole student,” that we also examine the whole leader. 

This is a concept with which you’re familiar:  we can’t really expect to help a student be successful in school without a thorough and accurate examination of the student as a whole.  We know that the student doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  We can work (and we should) to help students focus on what’s happening at school, but all of us know that there is more to a student than just what you see in front of you at school.

So it is with school leaders as well.  I’ve shared this idea with Ps and APs hundreds of times:  the most important thing we have going for us in schools is who you are.  Here’s why:  who you are precedes what you think.  What you think in turn drives what you do.  What you do has a great influence on what the others at your school will do.

img_4675

 

As a leadership coach, I can help you organize your actions and focus on the what you do portion of your work as a leader.  The challenge is this:  if someone has to help you with what you do, you’ll need them to be around a lot.  It’s only when they can begin to influence who you are that you’re able to become self-sustaining.  Same logic applies to your work with your people (teachers, staff, even students and their parents).  This has always been more about your work as a leader to help others be the best version of themselves than getting others merely to follow a set of instructions or directions.

Who You Are is the key to your success as a leader, and that’s why balance is so critical.  It’s easy to get out of balance when you’re a principal or assistant principal.  The truth is, these jobs have evolved into time-consumptive, all-encompassing pursuits where the default mode is work all day with the people who are present at school and work all evening on the associated required paperwork.  It’s that format that is leaving us with the turnover we’re experiencing in school leadership nationally.  It’s a faulty design; you can’t take your most effective, capable and competent people, put them in leadership, and churn through them in five years.  It’s a bad design for schools and systems and even worse for the leaders themselves.

There is hope, however, and that hope comes in really learning about balance and seeking to make it work on a daily basis.  Everyone talks about balance, knows that it’s important, and knows what it is.  It’s having the discipline to seek balance for yourself, for your school, and in your work that will lead you to prolonged growth and success, good health, and a greater quality of life.

Examining balance and getting it right means that you look not just what you do at work, but who you are as the whole leader.  That examination means that you look at yourself and your performance in several areas, including the following:

  1. How you relate to others in your school “universe”;
  2. How you perform and accomplish the tasks necessary in your job;
  3. How you relate to those important to you in your life away from school;
  4. How you interact with the world separate from your school and your home;
  5. How you are developing habits that promote short-term and long-term health and energy;
  6. How you are growing professionally and personally; and
  7. How happy, joyful, and fulfilled you are.

That’s too much to cover in one post, so we’ll be examining each of the seven areas of the whole leader individually in a series of weekly posts beginning next Sunday.

#Leadership365

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Stop Looking At Your Phone All The Time!

Imagine that you’re a principal and you’ve joined your colleagues for the leadership meeting with the superintendent and staff at central office.  The year is 2002.  It’s five years before the birth of the first iPhone (June 29, 2007) and another year before the Blackberry RIM 850 and 857 debut.

mail-with-rubberbandNow, for a moment, imagine that you have brought with you to the meeting your mail.  I’m not talking about your laptop or tablet (we don’t even have tablets); there’s not much in the way of wifi so that’s not it.  Imagine instead that you have brought your U.S. Postal Service-delivered, sealed in envelopes, stamped and processed, actual mail.  Maybe for fun you have a really big rubber band around it to keep it together.  See the picture?

There you are at the meeting: you, your fellow principals, the superintendent’s staff, the superintendent, and… your stack of mail.  With the big red (or green) rubber band.

The meeting begins well enough, but as time goes on, you sort of get a little disinterested.  The topics aren’t items that are really specific to you and your school and, well, you have this stack of mail to look at.  So, you pull out your letter opener, make an incision, and open up a piece of mail.  You read it over, glancing back up at the meeting and its attendees every so often.  Just for effect, you even nod occasionally at something that someone else says even though you really aren’t sure what they said, but you do look like you’re paying attention anyway.

Can you imagine that scene?  Well of course not!  You would have been stared down by your colleagues first, then by the directors, and if you didn’t stop looking at your mail soon enough, the superintendent would have most likely addressed your behavior. This would not have been acceptable.

Why then, do so many principals, assistant principals, and other school leaders look at their phones when they’re around other people?  Have our jobs become that hypersensitive?  Are things in that  tenuous of a state that we have to be at that level of alert at all times?  Most likely not.

Do we even intend to look at our phones all the time?  I don’t think so, and neither does Larry Rosen, author and psychologist who suggests that our incessant viewing of our phones is potentially:  addiction; obsession, a social shield.

For the leader, any of those root causes of this behavior can be detrimental to our ability to lead our schools and the people in them.  There will be more about phones, technology and  our ability to conquer our use of it in future blogspots here.  For now, here’s a challenge for the school leader for this week:  let’s get a baseline.  How often do you check your phone between the time you get to work and when the school day proper concludes?  (buses, students and teachers have departed)  Count your glances; record them (where else? in the notes section of your phone), and then begin to see where you are.

If you are looking at your phone more frequently than you are seeking out others to have face-to-face engagement, you may have an issue that will need addressing.


#Leadership365

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The Truth About Stress and Managing It Effectively

In an article printed in  Harvard Business Review,  James Bailey writes about stress and how the leader can “combat its corrosive effects.”

School leaders are under tremendous stress.  As Bailey suggests, all stress isn’t bad; stress can make you refocus, get tasks completed, and energize you for performance.  That sort of “good stress” is only helpful if it’s coming in small doses.  That’s why the effective leader learns how to manage stress.

You won’t learn how to get rid of stress; that’s impossible given the demands of school leadership.  You also don’t help yourself by pretending that stress doesn’t exist or that you are immune to its effects.  The effects are real, whether you acknowledge them or attempt to ignore them.

Here’s the real story of stress:  stress produces cortisol and epinephrine into your body. The neurochemicals can be toxic to your system and lead to high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, cognitive disorders, and a litany of other physical ailments if exposed for long periods of times.  When you have been under intense stress for an extended period of time?  There’s a reason you feel that way.  When you work without ceasing and are preoccupied with work?  That feeling you have is the chemistry inside of you.  The effects of stress are real and often require treatment to address the damages done.

Bailey suggests that the steps towards renewal that counter stress can be sorted into  four categories :

  1. Health:    You’ve heard it before and it’s always true:  diet, sleep, exercise.
  2. Removal:   Anything that gets you out of the struggle of work.  Going to the movies, watching television, spending time with family, for example.  Getting your body and your mind away.
  3. Intellectual Activity:  Puzzles, games, reading, studying history.  When you study the world’s greatest thinkers they often led such pursuits away from their main occupation.  Lots of them were meticulous in their gardening.
  4. Introspection:  Meditation, prayer, breathing techniques, reflection.

The research suggests that it doesn’t even take much time for renewal to begin, even 20-30 minutes can be helpful in renewing your body from the effects of stress.  The difficult part for leaders?  It needs to be daily.

So, develop habits that keep the real, physical, neurochemical effects of stress from hijacking the awesome person, leader, and individual that you are and that you can be.


#Leadership365

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Source:  Harvard Business Review “Why Leaders Don’t Brag About Successfully Managing Stress” by James Bailey:

https://hbr.org/2014/10/why-leaders-dont-brag-about-successfully-managing-stress

When You’re Out of Balance, Leadership is a Struggle

Steady.  Calm, cool, and collected.  Doesn’t get flustered.  Grace under pressure.  Ice water in the veins.  Keeps it together.

There are a lot of things that people expect from their principal, but among the top things on the list is the ability to exhibit steady leadership even when things are stressful. 

The principal has an enormous influence on the mood of others at the school!  You can change the climate with your attitude on a daily basis.  If you are bringing excitement, enthusiasm, and joy to your work it is contagious.  On the other hand, if you’re bringing an uptightness, nervousness, and uncertainty it too will spread to others.

The people at your school are counting on you to bring things into balance.  To be a calm leader that brings confidence to others by being a consistently positive and steadying influence on the school’s environment.

Here’s the issue:  that’s a hard thing to do if you are out of balance yourself.  It’s not easy to steady the ship with wobbly legs!

It’s like they tell you on the airplane… in the unlikely event of a loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will descend from the compartment above you…please put on your oxygen mask before you attempt to help others.   This is something that as principals we don’t always do so well with. Please remember, bringing balance to situations, people, and the operation of your school is an important part of the principalship; it’s just hard to do if you are out of balance yourself.

Balance for the principal is about:

  1. Spending time away from work with friends and family;
  2. Spending time for your own relaxation, recreation, and renewal;
  3. Focusing on healthy habits (sleep, diet, exercise)
  4. Avoiding a preoccupation with school;
  5. Developing strategies to manage stress.

When I work with principals, particularly new or newer ones, balance isn’t always the first thing they focus on.  Most of them believe they need to reach some level of efficiency before they can really get to that.  The PROBLEM with that line of thinking is that when you’re the leader who is out of balance, you don’t perform at the same high levels of effectiveness as the leader who IS in balance.  So, if you’re waiting to “get caught up” before you get in balance, well… that is like the idea of “someday. “

Get balanced now.  When you’re out of balance, you are more likely to struggle.  When you’re not in a healthy place, you’re more likely to be aggravated by small things.  You are much more susceptible to illness (colds, etc..)   Your decision-making suffers.  Your interpersonal skills are diminished.

Don’t wait for someday to get balanced, and don’t fall into regret that you didn’t do it yesterday.  Today will be fine.  Actually, today is the perfect day to reach towards the balance that can make you whole, and make you the awesome leader you were meant to be.


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; 6. Time Management.  Please look at earlier blog entries to see the series in entirety.  Thank you!

#Leadership365   /40

Resources:

http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-12832/6-signs-your-life-is-total-chaos-how-to-restore-balance.html

 

Principals, What Is Your Hobby?

What’s your hobby?

Please don’t say “I don’t have time for a hobby,” because that’s going to lead to a lecture. Here’s why the lecture:  if you are going to effectively lead your school, you need to practice some life-work balance and part of that is some time for you.  Hence, a hobby.

Joyce E.A. Russell, the vice-dean and the Director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland says that “finding time for ourselves is key to our own sanity.”  Russell shares that “having a hobby may be even more important to people who lead busy lives.” That qualifies everyone who serves as principal and assistant principal for certain.

My brother Allen was a principal for the Sarasota County Schools in Florida for many years.  As a role model for me as a school leader, I was always interested in what he was doing and how he grew as a principal.  As a principal, he was known for many of the traits that effective principals exhibit –cool under pressure, unflappable, consistently bringing a stable environment for everyone on campus.  One thing I always noted about his work as a principal was his attention to balance.  He consistently spent time with his family, his church, but he also always maintained a hobby.  Every Saturday morning he had a regular group of friends with whom he played a round of golf.  That Saturday morning ritual was was important as anything else he did in making him an effective school leader.

So, what is a hobby anyway?  It’s defined as a “pursuit outside of one’s occupation,” or something that you don’t have to do, but something you want to do.  This definition will disqualify some of the things that principals and assistant principals like to call hobbies.  You may enjoy attending your school’s athletic and extracurricular events (I know that I did as well) but that doesn’t qualify as a hobby.  Spending time with your family? It depends.  If you’re referring to driving kids to practices or lessons, that’s not the same as having a picnic or going bowling together.  If you’re having to rationalize that something you do is your hobby, chances are you really aren’t getting the full benefit from doing it.

What does a hobby do for you?  Researchers say that it lowers your risk for depression and dementia while contributing to an increase in your life expectance.  That’s all. 🙂

In the short-term, hobbies for school leaders give us a chance for social interaction with people outside of our school bubble, improving our perspective on things.  Beyond that, and probably most importantly, a hobby is a great way to reduce stress, get your mind off your work, and renew yourself.

 


Thank you for visiting  Slow-Down Sunday where Principal Matters! encourages school leaders everywhere to be their most effective and efficient by using research-based, time-proven strategies to… slow it down.  

Notes:

Career Coach:  The Value of Hobbies https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/capitalbusiness/career-coach-the-value-of-hobbies/2013/05/03/ffa53f2c-b294-11e2-bbf2-a6f9e9d79e19_story.html?utm_term=.728b423b1ab2

#Leadership365  /36

Stop Thinking About School All The Time

WELCOME BACK TO SLOW-DOWN SUNDAY, WHERE PRINCIPAL-MATTERS! ENCOURAGES SCHOOL LEADERS EVERYWHERE TO BE THEIR MOST EFFECTIVE AND EFFICIENT BY USING RESEARCH-BASED, TIME-PROVEN STRATEGIES TO SLOW IT DOWN.  HERE’S THIS WEEK’S INSTALLMENT!

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Dear School Leader,

I was like you before.  For fifteen years as a principal and assistant principal, I was just like you. I was committed to doing a good job and was going to make sure that if things weren’t great, it wasn’t because I didn’t give it my all.  I was willing to be up early and go to bed late as need be.

As technology evolved, just as you have done, I became more and more able to keep up with everything, all the time, from anywhere. (note; I love technology so please don’t think I’m headed on an anti-technology rant) That allowed me to physically be away from school and still be in touch with anyone who needed me to solve their problems, answer their questions, or dispense permission, wisdom, or knowledge.  I thought that would be great; I could be connected all of the time and still be with my family, friends, or away from school.

Here’s what I didn’t know, or if I did I failed to recognize or understand:  just because you are physically away from school doesn’t mean that you are mentally and emotionally away.

When you are preoccupied with the school that you are leading (or any job you are doing for that matter) you aren’t leaving space for anything else.  We know from cognitive and neuroscience research that you need time and space so your brain can process.  If you are preoccupied, you aren’t providing that time and space.  No matter how rockin’ you think you are (and may actually be!), it will eventually catch up with you.  If you practice moderation, you can manage it on your own.  If you don’t, someone else will have to do it for you.

If you’re a school leader, I know you’d rather just have it straight, so that’s about as straight as it comes.  Check yourself before your wreck yourself.

img_3718In short, you can’t think about school all the time.  It’s not just for your health (that should be enough) but it’s also about your performance.  The quickest way to get blind spots is to lose your perspective.  You do so when you go in too deep.  Yes, you need to do a good job and this is going to take a LOT of your time; if it takes all of your energy, thoughts, and time it’ll catch up to you at some point.  Your performance will falter, your perspective will dim, and if severe enough, it’ll affect your health.

It’s not too late to fix it though!  You need a hobby; you need time away; you need to put your phone/tablet/computer down for blocks of time.  Practice the 7-1-1 that I preach to folks like you (7 hours of sleep a night, 1 day each week go home when normal people do, maybe 4-4:30, and 1 weekend day when you shut. it. down.

Take care of yourself.  We need you.  Your school needs you.  Your family and friends need you.   Give your mind the rest it needs to be the leader and person you were meant to be.

Signed,

A Friend.

#Leadership365  /29

 

You Really Aren’t Multitasking and If You Were It Would Slow You Down

Welcome back to slow-down Sunday, where Principal-Matters! encourages school leaders everywhere to be their most effective and efficient by using research-based, time-proven strategies to slow it down.  Here’s this week’s installment!


Multitasking.

If you’re a principal or assistant principal, you’ve heard this one before.  Maybe you’ve even said it.  It’s part of the false archetype of the superhero school leader.  You actually are human, you need rest, recovery, and renewal and you’re not a machine.

Machines are where the term originated.  In 1965, an IBM report referred to capacities of IBM/System360 and used the term “multitask” to refer to the computers capacity to do multiple operations at once.  It would appear that this is the first reference to the term, and it didn’t take long for it to be used to describe humans.

Humans, according to thorough, long-term, exhaustive research, are not as disposed to success in doing more than one thing at a time as the IBM/System360 or the fifty-years of advanced computing to follow that model.  What study after study has continually found to be the truth is this:  computers are built to multitask; humans haven’t made any advancement during the same fifty year period.

Neuroscience research shows that our brains just don’t do tasks simultaneously.  When we switch from one thing to another, our brains actually go through a start/stop process that slows the progress we were making. The time lost can be seconds or even microseconds, but over a larger period time its cumulative effect for the busy school leader is lost time.  Additionally, the potential for making mistakes grows when attention is diverted from one task to another.  When one seeks to complete a number of tasks at once, the likelihood of errors grows, as does the loss of time.

Those disciples of multitasking who would argue differently might consider taking this test, found in Psychology Today and shared by Dr. Nancy Napier.  What follows is an excerpt from the article, including the multitasking test.

  1. Draw two horizontal lines on a piece of paper
  2. Now, have someone time you as you carry out the two tasks that follow:
  • On the first line, write: 
    • I am a great multitasker
  • On the second line: write out the numbers 1-20 sequentially, like those below:
    • 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

How much time did it take to do the two tasks? Usually it’s about 20 seconds.

Now, let’s multitask. 

Draw two more horizontal lines. This time, and again have someone time you, write a letter on one line, and then a number on the line below, then the next letter in the sentence on the upper line, and then the next number in the sequence, changing from line to line. In other words, you write the letter “I” and then the number “1” and then the letter “a” and then the number “2” and so on, until you complete both lines.

I a…..

1 2…..

I’ll bet you your time is double or more what it was on the first round. You also may have made some errors and you were probably frustrated since you had to “rethink” what the next letter would be and then the next number.  Multi tasking is switchtasking and it takes time.

That’s switch-tasking on something very simple, but that’s exactly what happens when we attempt to do many things (often more complex) at the same time. 

 

So next time you think you’re multi-tasking, stop and be aware that you are really switch-tasking.  Then give yourself a time limit (10 minutes, 45 minutes?) and focus on just one task and see if you can’t complete it better, faster, and with less energy.

So, while today is Slow Down Sunday, you can accomplish more all week long and complete tasks more effectively is you slow down a bit each day and focus on the task at hand.  If another task is really more important, do it first and then come back.

ADDITIONAL READING ON MULTITASKING

The Myth of Multitasking                              https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/creativity-without-borders/201405/the-myth-multitasking      (The source of the excerpt above)

Twelve Reasons Multitasking Doesn’t Work http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20707868,00.html

Multitasking Is Killing Your Brain                                                               http://www.inc.com/larry-kim/why-multi-tasking-is-killing-your-brain.html

The Autumn of the Multitaskers    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/11/the-autumn-of-the-multitaskers/306342/

Think You’re Multitasking?  Think Again     http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=95256794

Your Brain Needs Downtime. Less Is Really More

In an article in Scientific American (see link below), Ferris Jabr reported on research on rest that you should reflect on as a school leader.

The research shows that working your brain at full-blast all day and all night is counterproductive and leads to a lower level of performance than individuals who more appropriately weave their work into how their brain actually works.

We have been cultured, particularly in school leadership, to believe that we have to be doing work or thinking about work all the time. That preoccupation with our work, not just in school leadership, but in other vocations in our nation, leads to the notion that you are either working/thinking about work all the time or you are a slacker.

What is actually the truth, long considered to be so by many practical people and now empirically proven, is that many important brain processes require sleep, downtime, and meditation to occur. Our brains are processing the world in which we’ve interacted when we’re at rest; when we don’t permit that rest to occur, much of the processing fails to connect.  It’s not just a quantity either (forgetting things, not being mindful to important things) that slips when we miss out on rest.  It’s also quality.

K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University, a researcher for over thirty years in high performance has found that people can engage in deliberate practice of their work for only an hour without the need for rest.  Further, the most extremely talented people across many fields (athletics, music, writing) rarely practice more than four hours in a day, and accomplish their greatest work in the mornings.  In the absence of the equilibrium of nighttime sleep and daytime rest and meditation, performance wanes and if it goes unchecked long enough leads to burnout.

My career in education is over thirty years of which over twenty have been as an administrator or in support of administrators, and I can say that the research on the critical function of rest is one that you should give great consideration.  We have created an archetype for the Wonder Woman/Superman school principal that is just not sustainable nor based on research.   You will be do better as a leader if you seek balance, prioritize rest, and embrace the processing that your brain needs as a function of both.


To read the article from Scientific American, please follow this link:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mental-downtime/#

#Leadership365   /15

You Can’t Maintain Performance Without the 3Rs- Rest, Recovery, Renewal

Halfway through my fifth year as a leadership coach, consultant, trainer and speaker, it’s been my pleasure to spend time with literally thousands of school leaders.  During that time we’ve shared lots of great learning, good stories and I’ve fielded lots of questions.  The question that I’ve fielded more than any other?  How do you balance it all?  How do you manage your time?  

We’ll talk more specifically about time, priorities, and task management throughout the year in our Leadership365 initiative.  For today, let’s focus on the 3 Rs of Performance:  Rest, Recovery, Renewal.

Let’s put a few things on the table as we look at supporting your performance as a school leader.  First, we have mistakenly created an archetype of the Superhero Principal that works 24/7, never sleeps and is always on duty.  The problem with that framework is that it’s only sustainable for a brief time:  sooner (NOT later!) you’ll burn out.  Even the people who think it can never happen to them will burn out.

Secondly, you can’t perform at 100%, 100% of the time.  In any endeavor– athletics, entertainment, medicine, research, leadership– the top performers perform at capacity for a brief period of time, not all the time.  School leaders would be well-served to embrace this notion.

Finally, you won’t like yourself when your performance wanes.  If you truly want to be an effective leader for your school and the people there, you need to schedule meaningful times for rest, recovery and renewal.  Most principals don’t know when their performance is slipping until it’s already slipped.  We know from productivity research that people who are tired have a more difficult time with interpersonal relationships and decision-making.  (Basically… your job!)

Today is Sunday, and we will publish Leadership365 each Sunday (the 365 part, you understand), but we will use that time to feature articles about balance, priorities, wellness, health, and other topics that are a little different and more focused on you.

You will be better the rest of the week if you take time during the weekend to get yourself together. (it could be Saturday as well as Sunday, of course) Embrace the role that rest has in your performance.  The top performers in every endeavor do!  You should too.

Rest, recover, and renew.  Get your head out of school for a little bit.  Recover physically and mentally, and then renew your efforts for the coming week.  You’re the leader and you set the beat.  You can’t do it if you’re beaten down yourself.  More to come on 3Rs, but for now, you should rest.

 

#leadership365

8/365

The Precarious Life-Work Balance of the Principal

In working with principals, regardless of where it may be, one topic is always sure to stop the conversation and leave a pall over the room.

Balance.

We can pull off some amazing things as school leaders:  juggle student requests, teacher preferences, and bus pickup/drop off times into an elegant, workable schedule.  Teachers are marveled at how we can remember hundreds of student’s names, favorite lunch spots, and cumulative tardies in our head with efficiency IBM’s Watson would turn from blue to green with envy over.

Principals can make it to a tennis match, Spring band concert, retirement reception, and an FFA Banquet all between 5 and 7 PM (and get a haircut during intermission of the band concert).

We have conditioned ourselves to schedule ourselves at a clip that seems like we are at more than one place at time.  However, do we sacrifice being where we most ought to be to do so?

Chantal Panozzo posted a story today entitled “Living in Switzerland ruined me for America and its lousy work culture.”  You can read it here.  In it, she gets to the root of our work/life balance issues: our cultural expectations of work.   Principals and APs are products of those expectations, as well as unsuspecting promoters of this lifestyle to others around us.

At some point, your vision of what a principal must do was shaped by those who modeled it for you.  You are doing the same now, for your assistant principal and others who are watching you.

“… if you don’t find a balance between your job and the rest of your life, you are doomed to burn out.”

Please know this isn’t a suggestion that you slack off in your work.  It is, instead, a reminder that one of the puzzles you should always be seeking to solve is that of balance.  And, it’s not just a self-serving quest.  Simply put, if you don’t find a balance between your job and the rest of your life, you are doomed to burn out.  On the road to that, you’ll become decreasingly effective, increasingly grumpy, and you won’t be as good at your work as you have been.  That’s right, if you can’t be convinced to seek balance for your own good, consider your work;  it’ll suffer if you don’t take care of yourself.

At this time of year, principals and assistant principals (and teachers as well) face MORE to do rather than less.  How do you get back in balance at such a critical time?  This is actually the BEST time to do so.  In future columns, we’ll explore specifics on how to get yourself into balance, but for now, focus on a first step and move forward from there.  One day this week, go home 15 minutes earlier than usual (which is still much later than normal people do!); turn texts and email off at 9:00 PM and keep them off until the morning so you can not only sleep but you can rest; and spend time with the people you enjoy, doing something that makes you happy that isn’t school related.

Remember, someone is watching you now to see what principals do.  Give them something to see that will help them be excellent in their work, but in their life away from work as well.  They’ll be the better for it and so will you!

 

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