Clutter vs. Clarity: How Organized Is Organized Enough?


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?

5 Benchmarks

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:

5 Key Benchmarks for Productivity in Instructional Leadership

Register or Click here to learn more »

July #ilchal Twitter Chat: Back To School Goals


Our next Instructional Leadership Challenge Twitter chat is Monday, July 27 at 9pm EST.

We’ll be talking about back to school goals.

The new year is a time to start fresh, to look back on what worked and what didn’t, and look forward to new challenges.

Add your voice to the discussion—join the next #ilchal Twitter chat.

Get a Reminder

If you’d like to be reminded via email before each #ilchal Twitter chat, sign up here:


The #ilchal Twitter chat is hosted by Justin Baeder and Jillian Lubow, creators of the Instructional Leadership Challenge

Whether you’re a Twitter chat devotee or you’re just getting started on social media, this is a great chance to connect with your peers and have an honest, engaged discussion about your challenges and triumphs in pursuit of true instructional leadership.

See you there!

Next Chat: Monday, August 31

About the 21-Day Instructional Leadership Challenge

The 21-Day Instructional Leadership Challenge has helped more than 3,500 school administrators in 50 countries become stronger instructional leaders.

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Why Twitter Doesn’t Reach Families

Twitter is great for a lot of things—connecting with your PLN, sharing ideas, participating in the #ILCHAL chat, and more—but there’s one thing it’s not great for: communicating with families.

Sure, you may have some families following your school account, but the stats aren’t encouraging: only a single-digit percentage of your followers will actually see your tweets, because they simply aren’t checking Twitter often enough to see them amidst all the other noise.

(You can check your stats at, replacing username with your Twitter username, of course.)

And that’s only the families that follow you—what about all the others who don’t, and those who don’t even use Twitter?

It’s important to understand a key fact about Twitter: educators use Twitter at vastly higher rates than parents do. This can lead to a false sense of how effective Twitter is for school communication.

The numbers for Facebook are likely a bit better, since more adults are on Facebook, and on it more often. But Facebook doesn’t show everything you post to everyone who has liked your page.

Regardless of which networks you use, your social media posts will only reach a tiny fraction of your community.

Should Schools Bother Publishing On Social Media?

So, if very few parents will see what you post on social media, is it worth the effort?

Yes, but not in the typical ways. The valiantly tweeting principal, sharing announcements, reminders, and good news, probably isn’t having the impact he or she thinks. But it’s still worthwhile.

And with a few key strategy and technology pieces in place, we can do even better. We can effectively communicate good news, share emergency info, and engage families with a mobile-first approach to communication.

Learn more in my free webinar Monday, July 27:


Click here to register

In this webinar, you’ll learn:

  • Why Twitter and other social media aren’t enough for rich, engaging communication
  • How to reach all families—even if they don’t have home internet access—without sending home flyers
  • How to get your entire staff involved in finding and sharing good news to reinforce your school’s vision and mission
  • How to share emergency updates as well as good news, without creating an overwhelming firehose of updates
  • How to craft communications that families will actually read—even if it’s not a snow day

Learn More »