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Time Management for Principals

By Kim Marshall, TIE Columnist

The article: “How to Beat the Clock: Tips on Time Management” by Ray Cross in The National Elementary Principal, March 1980;
In this 1980 article in The National Elementary Principal, Ray Cross, then a professor at Corpus Christi State University, shares his wisdom on managing priorities in the principalship. The remarkable thing about this piece is that it was written before e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and the rest of the Internet and is still right on target.
Principals are always looking for ways to “save time,” says Mr. Cross, but saving time is a misleading concept. “Each second that passes is beyond recall. When we say we want to ‘save time,’ we are really saying we wish we could do more things in a short space of time, so we can spend more time on other things… The truth is, we cannot manage time; we can only manage ourselves… To gain time, we must perform that most difficult of feats: changing our habits.”
Mr. Cross says there are three basic principles of time management: clustering similar activities; doing one thing at a time; and buffering ourselves from activities that are not a good use of our time now–or ever. Here are some ways these principles play out in a school:
• That ringing phone: Have your assistant handle calls, answer questions, refer callers to someone who might be able to help them, and if they persist in wanting to talk to you, offer to take their name and number and have you call back later. If they are still insistent, your assistant should ask whether they want to interrupt you, “neatly placing responsibility for that decision with the caller,” says Mr. Cross.
• The call-back system: Call people when it is convenient for you, with the information you need at your fingertips, and end the call when it is done–all good time-savers. When people are rudely keeping you on the phone past their time, tell them you have to attend to an emergency or hang up in the middle of one of your own sentences (they rarely call back).
• Minimizing telephone socializing: Mr. Cross says “it is indeed possible to have a
courteous, businesslike conversation without reviewing the weather report or replaying last Saturday’s big game.”
• Minimizing drop-ins: “How do you receive visitors who have legitimate business while fending off those who are excessively sociable, and do it all with courtesy?” asks Mr. Cross. He suggests positioning your desk out view of passersby, using your assistant as a buffer, coming out of your office to talk to people in neutral territory where you can terminate the conversation more easily, and being available for informal conversations at other times–dropping into the faculty lounge or eating lunch in the cafeteria. This has several advantages, says Mr. Cross: “It reduces the number of drop-in visitors; it observes the principle of clustering similar activities; and it makes you less vulnerable to being thought antisocial on those occasions when your behavior is strictly businesslike.”
• Mail: Again, the administrative assistant should be dealing with a lot of this, and what you do yourself should be handled once.
• Meetings: Never call one unless it is necessary, says Mr. Cross; start and end on time, share an agenda in advance (“Open-ended meetings invite open-ended, pointless discussions”), and consider stand-up meetings (“too much physical comfort encourages irrelevant discussion”).
• Your partner in time management: You should be able to trust your assistant to keep the important in front of you, keep the trivial away from you, help you deal with your tendency to procrastinate, serve as a sounding board for ideas, represent you effectively to others, help you keep on top of your reading, and handle work efficiently, confidentially, and without being reminded. Mr. Cross suggests checking in on these items with your assistant and working toward a collegial, mutually supportive relationship that lightens your load, keeps you focused on the school’s broader purpose, and makes the assistant's job more interesting and important.
• Taking stock: Mr. Cross suggests keeping a log over a week’s time to identify major time-wasters and unproductive patterns (“It may seem ironic that, in order to save time, you must first spend time,” he says), and then adopt a new time-saving technique each week. “Evolutionary changes of style are more profitable than revolutionary changes,” he says. “Reassessments will be necessary from time to time, of course. We all have a tendency to lapse into old habits and relax our self-discipline.”
Summary reprinted from Marshall Memo 495, 22 July 2013.
Mr. Marshall is the author of The Marshall Memo, a weekly online newsletter summarizing the best ideas and research from 44 education publications.

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