People think I’m crazy when I say it’s possible to have:
- A clean desk before you leave
- An empty inbox once a day
- A to-do list that holds ALL of your tasks
It sounds crazy because the norm, for most of us, is very different.
Clutter is the norm.
I’m definitely not one of those people who is neat for neat’s sake. I’m a pragmatist when it comes to organization.
I want to get 80% of the benefits with only 20% of the work, which is why I use tools like the “chronological file” (a box that I throw paper in instead of filing it…trust me, it works because it’s automatically sorted newest to oldest as you dig down).
I like being organized enough, but I don’t organize for the sheer pleasure of it. I can’t afford to.
And neither can you, unless it’s your only hobby.
The Work Is Never Done
For most people, our tools—the email inbox, the desk, the to-do list—are a mess because the work is never done. But does it have to be that way?
You will never run out of work to do. As a school leader, you’ll never get fully “caught up” on everything that needs to be done, except maybe when school is over for the year.
But having work to do and having clutter aren’t the same thing. It’s not essential that you have a messy desk or an overflowing inbox just because you have a lot going on.
In fact, it’s pretty counterproductive.
Clutter vs. Clarity for Decision-Making
Clutter is counterproductive because it gets in your way. Just as a physically messy desk doesn’t give you the physical space you need to work, cluttered digital tools interfere with the decision-making you do throughout the day.
As a school leader, making decisions is what you do most and what you do best.
And what do you need to make good decisions?
Accurate information. Perspective. The big picture. The details. Focus. Time.
If you’re working with messy, incomplete information, and it’s competing with other information for your attention, your decisions will be slower. You’ll be nagged by self-doubt. And both the decision and the follow-through won’t be as good as they could be.
If, on the other hand, you can make decisions with the right information in front of you, you’ll make faster, better, more confident decisions.
And it all starts with having clarity, which means we need to banish clutter, permanently.
Don’t Overdo It
Like I said, I’m a pragmatist about being organized. I don’t line up my markers just to have them lined up.
If you’re a neat freak, more power to you, but I don’t recommend it as a way to increase your productivity.
If you’re too obsessive about your email inbox, you’ll spend too much time on email. If your desk must be pristine at all times, you’ll spend too much time keeping it that way.
The point of being organized is to get real, high-leverage work done. You don’t have time to fritter away the day being fastidious.
So there’s a sweet spot, where the time invested in being organized is minimized and the time saved is maximized.
Tolerate too much clutter and you’ll get bogged down. Go overboard with organization, and you’ll be taking time away from the real work.
How can you find that sweet spot?
I believe there are 5 key benchmarks that every school leader should strive to hit in order have the greatest impact.
These benchmarks give you enough organization, but not too much.
I call them “benchmarks” because I believe we need goals for keeping up with the unending onslaught of work that comes our way. A benchmark is a standard by which work is judged, and too often, we feel unsuccessful if we still have unfinished work at the end of the day.
Working without benchmarks is a recipe for burnout. We’re never going to be done, and we’re never going to stay caught up…but we can get our work under control.
And we can know what “under control” looks like by operationalizing it in the form of these five benchmarks.
Not every benchmark needs to be hit every day, and you might come up with benchmarks that are more specific to the type of work you’re focused on right now, but when you install the habit of hitting these benchmarks into your professional practice, everything else will get easier.
To learn about the 5 benchmarks, join me for a free webinar this Friday, July 31: