Getting Ahead Of Yourself

As the winter term kicks off, School Leaders will be starting the year with new hope, a fresh sense of invigoration and, almost certainly a shiny new notebook and a brand new To-Do list, empty of everything bar expectation and promise.

Of course, the old to-do list is still there, full of all the things we didn’t quite get done in the summer holidays, but nevertheless, it’s a new academic year, which means we now have an excuse to start a new 2019-20 To-Do list, and chuck the old one in the bin. Result. OK, so not completely in the bin, but we can copy the old tasks to the new list, with our new pens, and with the added determination that this term, these particular tasks, the ones that lurked at the bottom of the list throughout 2018/19, festering with the damp smell of mildew and a biofilm of despair, will be the ones we crack, before the end of September. For certain, this time. 

But as we all know, To-Do lists grow faster than japanese knotweed, and can be just as deadly to our time and wellbeing, so here are some top tips to keeping on top of your time this term:


  1. Get electronic. Using a smart To-Do list that links into your calendar and schedule mean you can estimate how long a task will take you, prioritise it and get reminders that the task is due. There a loads of apps to try, but the best ones will be those that integrate with the email and calendar apps you already use. You can also share or allocated parts of the task to others, with due dates, so the task becomes a project, made up of smaller, manageable parts, rather than a hulking iceberg of unknown depth.

  1. We are usually very good at project management and directing the work of others, but less good at valuing our own time, so it’s important to ensure that you give yourself the same importance you give to your team. Book time in your own diary to work on important tasks, and make yourself unavailable in those time. Your diary is for you, don’t let it be dictated by the needs of others to suck your time.

  1. I use colour coding to keep on top of different aspects of my job and religiously assign colour tags and categories to them, both by using various coloured folders, filing trays and notebooks, but also by using colour categories in my electronic files and diary entries. Finance is light blue, premises is green, HR is orange, admin is yellow, leadership is red etc. That way I can  keep track of the various parts of my role (I’m a visual learner) and plan my day with a specific focus. Plus it gives me an opportunity to buy more stationery in matching colours. Hurrah.

  1. Every week, grab one of those big chunky tasks you’ve been putting off and do something with it. The longer you leave them the bigger they become, and the more you dislike them, the longer you’ll put them off. So every Monday, decide which of the monsters you’re going to tackle and get on and do it. You don’t have to complete it, but you can complete a chunk of it. Put it in your diary, tell your boss your going to be doing and report back on how far you’ve got. No excuses. Commit and complete.

  1. Consider if there might be options to work from home for some part of your week. Open-door policies are great, but continual interruptions over minor issues are time-suckers, and mean we can’t focus on really complex and in-depth tasks. Having some time out of the busy office environment will allow you to really immerse yourself in those high level pieces of work that need our full attention. If home working isn’t an option then ensure you find some time in your week where you can work undisturbed for a set amount of time. Close your door, turn off your emails and divert your phone. Your teams should be able to cope without you for a few hours. If they can’t, you need to work out why.

  1. Book out an hour a week to meet with yourself. I know, it sounds bonkers, but try it. Have a line management meeting with yourself to reflect on how things are going, what are the big issues you’re tackling, what do you need to resolve them and to record how far you’ve got. Also take the time to celebrate how awesome you’ve been by reflecting on all the things you’ve achieved this week, and the successes of the team that you’ve supported.

  2. Value your own worth by working out your hourly rate and assign notional costs to how your time is allocated. It doesn’t have to be an exact science, but keeping a tally of how much that hour spent in reception fixing the photocopier has actually cost you might keep you focused on your worth. You’re a valuable asset and a costly resource, so make sure you’re using your time is spent on leadership, not operational tasks. After all, you wouldn’t wear your best shoes to mow the lawn now, would you?


Written by Hilary Goldsmith - @sbl365

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