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.
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.

How to Tell Your Teachers What You Want Them to Know (In Record Time)

Not enough time.

The problem for every principal, particularly at this time of year.  During this season, it’s reasonable for you to be saying that you don’t have enough time for all of the things you want to share with your teachers before school begins.  The truth is, you don’t.  So, what’s next?

Many leaders do what they’ve seen in the past and forsake good teaching to their teachers for making sure that they “cover” everything that has to be covered before the year begins.  A reasonable question to ask is this:

What that you share during pre-planning is actually being heard by your teachers?  Of that, what is being understood?  And of that subset, what will they be able to effectively incorporate in their practice? 

Not to make you feel bad, but if you say everything that’s on your list, but they either don’t hear or understand, or if they aren’t able to transfer the information, what have you really accomplished? 

Adult learners need to process their thoughts out loud with colleagues in order to enhance the likelihood of understanding.  Standing up increases brain activity by five percent. (Walking gives you a fifteen percent boost).  Consider pausing to let your learners “mindshare” at least every ten minutes. 

What’s the solution?  Here are some practical, real-life things you can do as your teachers return and you get them ready for the year to make this time well-spent.

  1.  During your time with your faculty, check for understanding frequently.   If you are giving your faculty a series of things you want them to know, consider:
    1. pausing after each item, or at least after each set of items, ask them to share their understanding with the person sitting next to them; asking them to stand up is a good thing during this as well;
    2. ask some of them to share with the whole group; (consider asking three of your team to share; always have a person to serve as the timer other than you so answers will be as brief as you want them)
    3. acknowledge your team’s processing of the learning and reteach as needed to get to understanding.
  2. Plan your pre-planning work with your teachers just like they say to pack for a big trip:  lay it all out and then only take half of it with you.  Think about it like this:  if you could only share one thing, what would it be?  How about two?  What is the maximum number of items that you can share that you can be confident your teachers will be able to operationalize or act on?  You really don’t have to tell them everything at once and if you did they wouldn’t remember it.  What do you do with the rest of what you want to tell them?  (See number three below!)
  3. OK, here’s the situation.  Your bookkeeper comes to the faculty meeting before the year begins and tells everyone how to take up money for a fundraiser.  She talks about not leaving checks overnight in a desk; she tells them to write receipts; she asks them to not bring a bunch of change from the penny drive in at 4:15 on a Friday.  Fast forward to February.  Someone has a fundraiser.  It’s been six months since they were told how to do it.  They do it all wrong.  What is a better way to get this info to others?  Videos.  Technology.  What if you built a library of short (3-4 minute) videos to show your teachers “How To…” do the things you’d like them to do?  What if they went to that shared Google Drive when they needed to know things and it was there, waiting for them?  There’s really no end to the good you can do by building your “How To” video library for your teachers.  You can ask some of your all-star teachers to make brief videos on how to effectively call parents, working with struggling students, or even how to effectively utilize group learning.  You can make a 3-4 minute video about… whatever you want your teachers to know throughout the year.  In-Time learning is better than in-case learning every day of the week.  (NOTE:  these videos don’t have to be produced– they can be made with phones.  AND, you don’t have to be the star of all of them (some of them you will want to be).  Collect and curate the collective knowledge of “How To” do things at your school and you will have effectively given yourself time.
You can easily use a number of platforms to curate videos “made by your school, just for your school” that can save EVERYONE tons of time.  How to “do grades”?  Use a screencast to show them how.  

Good luck in your work with your teachers!


© 2018.  Dr. Mark D. Wilson.



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What If… You Had More Time? The School Administrator’s Dream

When you are a principal or an assistant principal, you are always facing the challenge of time.  Sometimes the day runs you instead of you running the day.  You can work like crazy all day long, never sit down, only go to the restroom once, eat lunch at 2:00 PM and wonder at the end of the day what you actually did all day!  Your days can be busy but it still can seem like you have much left to do.

Then, you make the terrible decision to take it home with you, which is now cutting into your family time, your decompression time, your “me” time, and other things that research shows us are valuable for you as the leader.

If you do this often enough for long enough, you become what we like to call in the business “burned out.”

Because of the busyness, we often wish we had more time.  OK.  Let’s imagine.  Visualize.  More time.  What would you actually do with it if you had more time?

Let’s get specific.  Please look below and determine what you would differently if you had the time listed below on a typical basis.  (For most every day, some emergency days not withstanding)

What would you do with:  15 extra minutes each day?  30 extra minutes each day?  45 extra minutes each day?  60 extra minutes each day?

Please think about what you would do if you had each of those allotments of time on a daily (regular) basis.  Now write them down somewhere:  in a journal, in the notes section of your iPhoned, anywhere you can find them readily at another time.

What did you decide to do with this extra time?  Would you spend it with other people?  Would you get caught up on paper work?  Did it change much as you moved from one time segment to another?  Can you use a full extra 60 minutes each day or is that too much?  (Laughter)

Ultimately, could you get a lot more done if you had 60 additional minutes each day?  I’ll bet you can quickly say ‘yes’ to that !


So, here’s the truth:  you can pull a rabbit out of your hat.  You can create up to 60 extra minutes each day and you can accomplish more by working smarter instead of longer.  Interested?  Here’s how it works.  There are a few steps.  Please check them out below:

  1.  You already HAVE 60 minutes waiting for you every day if you’ll only be the leader you can be and make it happen.   Case in point:  if the superintendents asked (!) you to meet for an hour every day, would you do it?  Of course you would!  You would figure out a way to make it work and you’d be there every day as assigned.  If that is true (it is) then that means that you could make 60 minutes for something else if you wanted to (and you should).
  2. School leaders lose time in transition just like everyone else.  It’s when you leave your time unprotected and stop and start as often as a rainy day at NASCAR.  When you do this, your production goes down and you literally are wasting time.  Time lost to transition during the day is much more than you consider.  Which leads to number three…
  3. If you want 60 extra minutes, plan for 60 extra minutes.  That’s about as simple as it can get, but it really is that simple.  While I was principal, I taught a class every day.  That one class was great fun for me, but it also was an example that if I make something into a priority, I’m much more likely to do it and do it long-term.
  4. Plan some time each day to think.  They do pay you to think. You should take 15-20 minutes (of your 60 extra minutes a day) and devote it to… thinking.  Ever wonder why so many good ideas are said to come while taking a shower?  The magic isn’t in the water; the magic is taking time to think.  Mornings are best to do this, also.  Just some reserved time to contemplate, review, strategize and plan will end up creating minutes for you on the other end by being more efficient.
  5. Take time each day to lighten your load through the art of delegation.  If you aren’t effectively utilizing your clerical staff, shame on you.  That’s what they’re there for!  Train them to do more and they’ll take it and run with it.  Delegation is the key for the school leader to be able to create time.

In short, if you want to have more time, take more time.  It’s really that simple and can be a part of a more effective, efficient, and happier you!

More on time on another blog post later.



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

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!


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.


The Myth of Multitasking                          (The source of the excerpt above)

Twelve Reasons Multitasking Doesn’t Work,,20707868,00.html

Multitasking Is Killing Your Brain                                                     

The Autumn of the Multitaskers

Think You’re Multitasking?  Think Again

What Successful People Do Before Breakfast

For years, my wife has gotten up around 5 or 5:30 AM even though she doesn’t leave for work until 7:30 each day. I’ve always wondered why she was getting up so early every day until Laura Vanderkam cleared it up in the recent release, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast.
This work, by the author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, will inspire those of you who are self-avowed night owls to change your ways, while validating the habits of all of the early birds. What is her compelling evidence? She cites, as the title describes, the dedication that very successful people have to their morning habits. Vanderkam suggests that the time in the early morning hours is more valuable than other times of the day (and night).

If you are getting up early just to check your email, get ready for Vanderkam to give you pause to reflect on that practice, as she not only suggests being up early, but in engaging in the right sorts of activities in the morning. The book is available on Kindle as an audio book (everyone who has a phone, computer, or iPad has access to a free Kindle app) and takes about an hour for a listen in its entirety. It’s practical, easy to read (and listen to), and if you’re someone who takes good advice to heart, you’ll most certainly find value in this book.


Author: Laura Vanderkam

Release Date: June, 2012

Cost: $2.99 on Kindle; $2.95 Audible Audio Version


Relevance to School Principals: Time Management


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