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Standing Desks for Students in K-12: Great For Health and Learning

As an administrator, you probably spend a lot of your day on your feet—walking to classrooms, supervising in hallways, circulating within classrooms—and not very much extended time sitting at your desk.

But what about your students?

In the past few years, the research has started to become very clear: sitting for extended periods of time is terrible for our health.

To be clear, this isn't just about exercise. Even if you get tons of exercise, as many kids do, sitting for long periods of time is bad for you.

My friend Mike St. Pierre recently built a standing desk for himself. And we're getting into the trend, too. At The Principal Center, we produce a lot of audio and video content, and that means our team spends a lot of time working at computers.

We decided to take the research seriously. We now all have standing desks to break up the long blocks of sitting, and they make a big difference.


But what can you do for your students?

I asked researcher and PhD candidate Daphne Fecheyr-Lippens of Jaswig to share her insights about using standing desks with students.

Standing Desks in K-12: Q&A with PhD Candidate Daphne Fecheyr-Lippens

Justin Baeder: Why are standing desks catching on so quickly?

Daphne Fecheyr-Lippens:

Standing desks are being adopted in more and more offices. They not only improve employees’ posture, but also make them more productive, creative and overall healthier and happier. Plus, they can save companies many dollars otherwise lost on healthcare costs, unproductive time, and absenteeism.

Justin: How is that translating into schools? We don't pay for students' healthcare costs, and kids don't typically have back problems the way adults do.


If standing desks are being introduced in offices to relieve problems associated with prolonged sitting, than why should we ask our students to sit down all day in the classroom? Students, especially younger ones, naturally like to stand up regularly.

That’s not surprising. Standing up makes their blood flow better, which increases oxygen transport to the brain, making them feel more awake and focused.

Standing also allows them to fidget more easily, which makes them spend excessive energy. Have you ever thought “Why can’t this student not sit still?” or “Does this kid never get tired?”

But there are more benefits of letting your students stand up. As a teacher it’s easier to interact with your students if they are on your level.


Justin: Do you see standing as long-term benefits for students, too?


To take it a step further into the future: our bodies aren’t made to sit down so much. Leading a sedentary lifestyle results in a bad posture, and greatly increases risks to develop diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and other health-related issues.

This makes schools perfectly positioned to change the status quo and not let students develop the bad habit of sitting down too much. There have been several schools around the world implementing standing desks into their classrooms, all with very positive results.

Justin: One of the challenges schools face with furniture is that learning involves a lot of different modes of interaction. A science classroom might already have desks plus a lab area with countertops. An elementary classroom might already have desks, small group tables, and other areas. How did this reality factor into your design decisions for your standing desk?


The ideal classroom is a dynamic one with different environments (e.g. bean bags, mats, desks) that provide the best learning environment for students with different behaviors and needs.

However, in many cases there are not many (or even no) options for standing, though many studies shows standing increases learning engagement. For us it was important that our standing desk could serve more than one purpose—that's why the ease of adjusting the desk from sitting to standing was essential.

Additionally, when standing up, it is very important to have to correct ergonomic positioning, so the height should be easily adjustable by any student, in very little time, and with complete safety.

Justin: In offices, you'll find motorized adjustable desks. At The Principal Center, we ruled these out because of their size and expense—they can cost thousands of dollars, and since neither Aaron or I is getting any taller, fixed standing desks were fine. What approach have you taken to helping schools provide standing desks for their students?

That was exactly the reason why we decided to make our own standing desk: we wanted a desk that is easily height adjustable, affordable, and doesn’t look like a transformer.

We sat down together and came up with a patent-pending height-adjustment mechanism that can be used by even the youngest child.

We critically looked at the design to take away pinch points and make it even more child-friendly.

We are continuously researching new materials so we can make our desks with materials that don’t harm the children by off-gassing; this is still a challenge today as the most durable and scratch-free options are typically the most harmful.

Justin: How does the desk operate?


The height of the desk can be adjusted by placing both hands on the desktop, pulling the surface towards you and sliding it up or down.

At the desired height you push it a little bit backward, which brings the desktop in place. There is a locking mechanism that prevents undesired height adjustments.

Here's a video of a 5-year-old adjusting the desk:

Lila loves her new Jaswig standup desk! @jaswighq #homeschooling #standup

A video posted by Nic Miller (@img2doc) on

Justin: How can people learn more about Jaswig standing desks?


You can visit the website at or on social media: Twitter @jaswighq, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.

You can also subscribe for their monthly newsletter about recent articles, tips and updates for increased education, health and sustainability.


Amazon: Jaswig desk for kids & Jaswig desk for adults.

Should You Use A To-Do List?

Time to settle an argument: Kevin Kruse doesn't like to-do lists. Sir Richard Branson does. Who's right—the billionaire or the productivity expert?

My friend Kevin Kruse, who was kind enough to include a bit of my advice in his book 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management, argues that to-do lists are a waste of time:

To-do lists should be called nagging wish-lists. A series of tasks you hope to accomplish, without a specific plan as to when you'll get them all done. How many items on your current to-do list have been on there for several days? For weeks? Months? (p. 30)

In response, mega-entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson writes on his blog:

The crucial part of a to-do list is in the name – you need to actually DO the things on your list. The act of writing your tasks and thoughts down is useful in and of itself, as it helps to organise your thoughts and give you focus. However, if you then ignore your own advice and don’t follow up, the lists will lose most of their power. Quite often you will only do 50 per cent of things on to-do lists because, on reflection, only 50 per cent are worth doing. But by putting things on lists it will help clarify what’s worth doing and what’s worth dropping.

They're both right, but to understand why, we need to look at the larger picture of how we manage our work and our time.

Capture Everything

Branson, Kruse, and productivity guru David Allen all agree that writing things down is enormously important. When you get the ideas and obligations that are floating around in your head down on paper, you're more focused, less distracted, and less likely to lose track of something important.

When you put tasks and plans down on paper (or digitize them), you can also make better decisions about what matters most, how to organize your work, and how to allocate your time.

What if you don't write things down? When everything is jumbled together in your head, it's far more difficult to make decisions based on the criteria you care about.

Instead, you're more likely to choose the most most urgent, simplest, or most interesting tasks, rather than those that will have the greatest impact.

Picking this “low-hanging fruit” from a long to-do list can give your brain a dopamine hit, but the long-term consequences for your leadership are disastrous.

Spend all day doing whatever pops into your head, and you'll feel busy, overwhelmed, stressed, and less than optimally productive.

Is there a better way?

Live In Your Calendar

One of the best pieces of advice I've gleaned from Kevin's book and podcast is to “live in your calendar, not your to-do list.”

If something is going to get done, it needs to go on the calendar at a specific time.

Kruse writes:

The first problem with recording tasks on a to-do list is that it doesn't distinguish between items that take only a few minutes and items that require an hour or more. So when you randomly look at your list and ask “Hmm, what should I tackle next?” You are very likely going to pick the quick tasks, the easy items, not necessarily the thing that is most important. (pp. 30-31)

If your list is short, and you have time to do everything on the list today, this isn't a huge problem. Do your list in whatever order suits you, whenever you feel like it throughout the day.

But that's not the reality—if you have time to do everything on your list, you haven't listed everything, and you're keeping work in your head. And honestly, you'll never feel like doing some of what's on your list.

Turning tasks into appointments with yourself is powerful, but it's an approach I've resisted for a long time because it conflicts directly with the “Getting Things Done” system.

Why GTD Doesn't Work for Me

Productivity guru David Allen, in his best-selling book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, says it's essential to “capture” everything into a “trusted system” that you can work from.

Allen doesn't recommend scheduling specific tasks, and instead encourages a flexible, “dynamic” approach to deciding what to work on moment by moment—in other words, the opposite of what Kruse recommends.

For years, I've seen my digital task app (ToDoist at the moment) as this “trusted system” where I should record and organize all of my ideas, then check throughout the day to see what I need to do next.

The only problem? I've always hated looking at my to-do list. I've always tended to avoid it as much as possible.

I know it contains important obligations and plans, but I just hate looking at it. It's stressful.

Kruse explains this stress:

Third, to-do lists cause unnecessary stress. Indeed, when we carry around a long list of undone items it's one way to remember them. But it's also a constant reminder, a constant nagging, that there are many things we still need to deal with. No wonder we feel overwhelmed. (p. 31)

For me, that's precisely the problem. I don't like constantly looking through all the things I could and should be doing, and I don't pick wisely because of the stress it creates.

So, at most, I look through my to-do list once a day.

But you know what? Maybe that's the smartest approach of all. Maybe my failure to implement GTD properly reflects an underlying truth about how we make decisions about our work.

Decision Fatigue and The Trouble with To-Do Lists

The “decision fatigue” phenomenon, discovered by psychologist Roy Baumeister and his team, explains why large to-do lists are exhausting to manage.

Every time you make a decision, you're drawing on a finite store of mental energy (or what Baumeister calls “willpower”).

This is true for major decisions like hiring and firing staff, but it's equally true for tiny decisions like “Which email should I deal with next?” The more decisions you make, the more mentally exhausted or “ego-depleted” you become.

Make too many decisions too early in the day, and you'll waste valuable brain bandwidth that you could be using for more important work.

So throughout the day, looking at your to-do list over and over again and asking yourself “What should I work on now?” is actually counterproductive. That's a decision you should make in advance.

When you plan your schedule‐and thus, what specific tasks you'll work on—in advance, you'll still suffer decision fatigue, but if it's the end of the day, so what? You've already been productive, and now you're set up for an ultra-productive tomorrow.

Does this mean you don't need an electronic to-do list? Not at all, and this is where my advice diverges from Kevin's.

Kruse says to put all of your tasks on your calendar. But Branson raises a good point:

The crucial part of a to-do list is in the name – you need to actually DO the things on your list. The act of writing your tasks and thoughts down is useful in and of itself, as it helps to organise your thoughts and give you focus. However, if you then ignore your own advice and don’t follow up, the lists will lose most of their power. Quite often you will only do 50 per cent of things on to-do lists because, on reflection, only 50 per cent are worth doing. But by putting things on lists it will help clarify what’s worth doing and what’s worth dropping.

I'd go a step further than Sir Richard.

Instead of treating your to-do list as a set of things you must do as soon as possible, but only if they're important enough—surely a recipe for perpetual decision fatigue if every I've seen one‐ see it as an inbox.

That's right—your to-do list is merely an inbox. Everything you could do, should do, or need to do should initially go into this inbox so you can process it, the same way you process email.

Triage and Filtering

Kruse and Branson are both right that not everything we write down is important enough to actually do. Allen is right that we need to be the ones to decide what to work on, and that this requires some flexibility.

But I believe we can be more disciplined and intentional in our approach, and it begins with clear priorities.

The first act of leadership is to decide what matters.

In my courses, I teach instructional leaders to develop a written leadership agenda (Branson probably has something similar in his notebooks).

Your leadership agenda should contain a clear list of:

  • Issues and projects that are your top priorities
  • Issues and projects that you actively reject as priorities—these may pop up, but you'll resist them
  • Emerging issues that you need to monitor

This agenda is your mental filter as you review your vast to-do list.

As you triage your task “inbox” and organize all of the tasks you could be working on, keep your agenda in mind. If something doesn't fit with your agenda, it's easy to handle: organize it into your system for future consideration, but don't schedule it.

Let's say you have an idea for how to improve your school newsletter. You could easily accomplish it in an hour or two, and it would be a real improvement, but it's just an idea. It's not a good fit with your leadership agenda.

Write it down, sure. Put it in your task inbox. Consider it as you triage your inbox. Put it on an “ideas” list in your task app so you don't keep thinking about it. But don't schedule it.

Then, as you go throughout the day, don't even look back at your massive to-do list. It's full of things you may or may not actually need to do.

Instead, look at your calendar. No, do more than look at it—obey your calendar, because it's the keeper of all of your priorities and the decisions you've made about how to spend your most precious resource: your time.

Special thanks to David Allen and Sir Richard Branson for serving as major inspirations and virtual mentors through their books and other media. And thanks to Kevin Kruse for inviting me to contribute to his book and participate in the ongoing discussion about how we can do more of the work that matters most.

If you're a school leader who wants to have a greater impact with less stress, join my High Performance Habits online professional development program here »

Why Instructional Leaders Belong In Classrooms

Where do leaders belong?

We're often needed in the office, but we like to be “visible.” We like to be in hallways, in dropoff and pickup zones, in lunchrooms and at recess.

How do we stack up to leaders in other industries in this regard?

At Toyota, there's a concept called Genchi Genbutsu, which conveys the idea of going to the gemba, or the place where the actual work is done, and seeing that work firsthand.

Leaders who don't spend time in the gemba won't have the information they need to make decisions, solve problems, and support employees effectively.

As leaders, we need to spend our time where the work is done. We need to understand that work deeply, so we can provide the kind of leadership the organization needs.

Leadership involves making decisions—not the decisions of a distant executive concerned only with numbers, but the decisions of a supportive, on-the-ground manager who understands what's happening on the front lines, and is concerned first and foremost with the success of the people there in the gemba.

As instructional leaders, that means we need to be in classrooms. Is there any doubt or debate about this?

I know I'm not alone in this belief, because more than 3,200 people in 50 countries have joined the 21-Day Instructional Leadership Challenge, which is all about making a habit of being in classrooms.

Documenting What Happens in the Gemba

Being in classrooms has a number of benefits, one of which is the chance to notes and provide written feedback to teachers.

Where should you keep those notes? If you use a comprehensive instructional leadership platform like TeachBoost, that's a good place.

If not, you'll probably want to save your notes in Evernote.

Get Started with Evernote for Free

If you don't have an Evernote account, click here to get started. You can get a free month of Premium (normally $5.99) when you use this link to join, and additional months when you invite a colleague.

Video Enhanced Professional Development—Is It Worth The Risk?

By David Wakefield, Co-Founder, The Formative Assessment Challenge

I had three years of public school teaching under my belt when I learned the importance of professional development.

For me, the lesson came in the form of a shared classroom with a master teacher. Thanks to the pedagogical skills she demonstrated and the feedback she gave on my teaching, I learned as much as her students that year.

Personalized PD: Powerful But Rare

Experience has taught me that this kind of personalized professional development is both the most valuable and the most highly sought-out among educators.

Unfortunately, most teachers have never gotten the chance for such one-on-one professional development, much less to share a room with a master teacher.

Instead, professional development has traditionally come in the form of campus-wide seminars and teaching conferences that, by necessity, are one-size-fits-all.

According to a 2002 study by Bruce Joyce and Beverley Showers, only about 10 percent of in-service participants actually use their new learning when they return to their classrooms. I’m not a financial genius, but this type of return on investment doesn’t seem like a great use of scarce resources in K-12 education.

Educators preach the importance of differentiating instruction for students. Why are we not doing the same when it comes to professional learning?

The good news: Things are changing. Aided by new technology and a committed group of educators and innovators, professional development is becoming more accessible and more valuable.

For those who wrote off professional development as too expensive or ineffective, it’s time to take another look.

The Emerging Role of Technology in Professional Development

One game-changer has been mobile technology, which has allowed us to leverage the potential of a focused professional network through platforms like Twitter.

Educators can now participate and develop their own professional learning network both locally and nationally through daily and weekly chats on an education topic or subject of their choosing by following hashtags such as #edchat, #educoach, and many others.

Edcamps, a form of “unconference” designed specifically for teachers and their needs, are another professional learning trend that have picked up steam the past couple of years and are popping up all around the country.

Edcamps are nothing like traditional education conferences, where the organizers have set the topic sessions and schedule. Instead, participants at the beginning of the event create the agenda.

Instead of one or two presenters talking for hours, educators are encouraged to collaborate around educational topics that impact their own daily practice through discussion and hands-on learning, according to

Choice, Time, and Feedback

Most teachers I know want to get better, and when we empower teachers to make choices when it comes to their own professional learning, results will follow.

“Effective professional development honors the autonomy of teachers but recognizes the importance of a form of accountability grounded in that autonomy,” says Dr. Jim Knight, a leader in the professional development field. Teachers recognize that being part of a profession requires continuous improvement, a learning process that never ends.

One of the most effective ways to become a better teacher is to watch others and have others watch you, whether that means a professional instructional coach or colleagues from your department or grade-level.

“Teachers do not learn best from outside experts or by attending conferences or implementing programs installed by outsiders,” wrote Dr. Mike Schmoker in 2005. “Teachers learn best from other teachers, in settings where they literally teach each other the art of teaching.”

When consulting with other teachers, the usual response is that there just isn’t enough time in the day to focus on professional learning. This is why leveraging technology is the only way to make professional learning become a part of a teacher’s workflow.

How Professional Athletes Improve

Within the last few years, video-enhanced professional development has advanced to new heights, allowing more teachers to get personalized support and coaching anytime and anywhere.

Just like professional coaches and athletes, teachers and instructional leaders should use video consistently to reflect, assess and provide feedback on their performance.

So Why Am I Such A Big Believer In Video-Based Professional Learning?

  1. It’s easy. Video as a teacher development tool isn’t a new idea. But convenience is.The technology is finally coming around so you can forget about lugging bulky camcorders or trying to figure out whether your DVD is compatible with your video player.Advances in cloud computing and mobile technology such as smartphones and tablets, which have cameras, make it possible for schools and districts to adopt and implement video-enhanced professional development into the workflow of a teacher’s workday.
  2. It’s effective. In short, video does not lie. Video is by no means a panacea for solving all problems in schools, but when used appropriately, it’s a powerful tool that can enlighten and inform a teacher’s practice.If a teacher wants to improve his or her craft, it is essential to see what our practice looks like in action and how students are responding to and processing the lesson.Educators can’t be everywhere at once, but video stops time, allowing teachers and instructional leaders to pause, rewind, and review their practice to ensure their professional learning goals are being met.
  3. It won’t break the bank. With tightening federal, state, and municipal budgets, K-12 public schools have been under intense scrutiny to find new ways to raise student achievement.Given the limited resources that schools and districts have for professional learning, leveraging video technology is a cost-effective way to provide consistent support to teachers in a more authentic and targeted manner.
  4. It makes classroom observation more useful. While in-person classroom observations are ideal for supporting new and developing teachers, they tend to be resource intensive.More often than not, classroom observations are done infrequently and arbitrarily, or even worse, out of administrative compliance, which is hardly a recipe for improving teacher efficacy.By recording the lesson during an in-person observation, the observer can now focus on watching and processing a lesson rather than frantically scripting notes.

    After the observation is finished, the observer can review the video and provide time-stamp feedback or comments at exact moments during the lesson.

    This way the observed teacher can remotely reflect and respond to the feedback and comments at their earliest convenience, or the teacher and observer can watch and discuss specific moments of the lesson during a traditional in-person post observation.

    The teacher can also share the video lesson with other trusted colleagues for further discussion and analysis.

  5. It Enhances PLCs. Video gives colleagues working together the ability to have targeted and robust conversations around the craft of teaching, turning what was once an isolated practice of reflection into a team exercise.Lesson study has been found to be a very effective way to improve teaching practice within PLCs and video can further enhance this process.While the lesson plan is a blueprint for the lesson cycle, recording the actual execution of the lesson plan can lead to a more fruitful conversation about how to most effectively teach different content and skills.

Adapting, modifying, and differentiating instruction is an important skill for all teachers to work towards, and video can help inform teachers how to do so.

Video pulls back the curtain on the classroom and gives us the ability to focus on elements of instruction to improve teaching practices on a daily or weekly basis.

Video captures our instructional footprint without bias and allows us to leverage instructional leaders whenever and wherever they are.

When educators embrace video-enhanced professional development on a consistent basis, we will join other performance based industries in gaining a competitive advantage through informed practice, an advantage that too many of us are currently leaving on the table.

David Wakefield is CEO of Sibme.



Why We Require You To Click Our Emails

If you're seeing this page, you're probably wondering why we're sending you emails asking you to click a link for apparently no reason.

It's not personal, and it's not to annoy you. The short explanation is that we assume you don't want to hear from us if you aren't clicking on anything we send.

This is serious for us, because if you don't open our emails, but we keep sending them to you, they won't reach anyone, and that puts us out of business.

That may be surprising, so here's a full explanation.

A $25,000 Problem

Most people on our email list want to hear from us. But occasionally people forget that their district signed them up for something, or forget that they signed up personally. And a few of these people mark our messages as “spam” (ouch!), instead of just unsubscribing.

This is a vanishingly small number of people, but it still hurts.

One of our clients, who purchased membership for all administrators in their district, must have had several people mark our messages as spam instead of just unsubscribing.

As a result, the entire district—with whom we had a $25,000 contract—was unable to receive our emails, and unable to participate in our courses that they'd paid for.

After resolving that issue manually, we set up a much more proactive system to prevent this from happening again.

You've already experienced this system: if we show no clicks for 60 days, we start emailing you daily (for about two weeks) asking you to click something.

It may be annoying, but it's incredibly effective, and it stops as soon as you click something.

If you don't click anything, we have to stop emailing you, or else we'll get flagged as spammers (even if you don't mark our messages as spam).

To date, we've dropped more than 5,000 people who never unsubscribed or marked us as spam, but completely stopped opening and clicking our emails. It hurts, but it's the only way we can reach the people who want to hear from us.

How Modern Spam Filters Work

In recent years, email providers like Gmail and Outlook have started to monitor user behavior to decide whether certain emails should be considered spam.

If you continue to receive emails from someone, but don't open or click them, Gmail and other services consider those messages to be unimportant to you.

(Yes, really—Gmail knows whether you're opening messages or not, and takes this into consideration when deciding whether something is spam.)

If even a handful of other people mark that same sender's messages as spam, Gmail believes them, and is much more likely to block of all of our messages.

So it's essential that the people we're sending messages to actually open and click them.

Since the click takes you to our server, our system can tell if you've clicked something, and can mark you as an active subscriber.

If we see no activity for a long time, we have no choice but to drop you as a subscriber. Nothing personal—we just don't want to end up in spam.

But that's not the only problem.

Spam Trap Addresses

Another issue we face is that some districts intentionally keep old email addresses active as “spam traps” after the employees they were once assigned to have resigned.

Let's say we email [email protected] for two years because he's interested in our content, but then Steve retires. If his district uses spam traps, they may keep his email account active to see who keeps emailing him.

Now, the nice thing to do would be to send an auto-reply saying “Steve has retired, so please don't email him any more” so we can remove him from our system manually.

But some districts don't do that; they just block us if we keep emailing Steve.

At this writing, there are around 14,000 districts in the US, and we have far more than 14,000 subscribers on our email list, so even one spam trap address per district could put us completely out of business.

So, thanks for clicking the link that brought you here to let us know your email account isn't a spam trap.

If you do want to unsubscribe from our mailing list, just look at the very bottom of any email we've sent you, and you'll find the unsubscribe link. Select “Unsubscribe from ALL mailings” and you'll be all set.

Thanks for understanding!

Justin Baeder, PhD
Director, The Principal Center

P.S. If you've read this far, you definitely deserve a #500Classrooms sticker! Request yours here—it's free.

0 Emails: How to Empty Your Inbox Every Day

Do you empty your inbox every day? If not, congratulations! You're normal. And you know how much of a headache “normal” can be.

“Inbox Zero” been the single best habit I've mastered this year. As you can see on my results page, I've emptied my inbox every single day this year so far:

CoachMe Inbox Zero

You can do it too—read how below—and I want to encourage you to both believe that it's possible, and prompt you to take action.

When you have a backlog of emails clogging your inbox, inefficiencies and problems start to creep into your work:

  • People track you down in person to get a response
  • You're out of the loop on key discussions
  • You have work waiting for you that you don't even know about, so you can't plan realistically
  • You experience more stress than you would if your inbox was empty daily

No one particularly wants to have hundreds of unresolved emails sitting around, but they're hard to get rid of. Here are three specific problems that plague most school leaders when it comes to email—and how you can resolve them.

Unfinished Work That Needs To Be Organized And Scheduled

Email is a communication medium, and at work, people use email to communicate about work.

It's essential to keep this core purpose in mind, so I'll repeat it: Email isn't for managing the work itself; it's for communicating about work.

Of course, you'll never be completely done with all of your work. But remember: clearing your inbox isn't the same as doing all of the work that you're communicating about.

As a professional with an information-intensive job, you need a better system to track and organize your work. I highly recommend using an electronic task management app like ToDoist.

When you get an email that represents work, if it'll take substantial offline or non-email work—in other words, if it's an involved task, and one that requires more than a quick reply—forward it to your to-do list.

ToDoist (and a few other good apps) can receive email at special addresses and add them to your to-do list (or even a specific project list) so your work can be more organized, and your inbox can be empty.

And if it's a time-sensitive task, you can take advantage of ToDoist's integration with Google Calendar to actually mark off time on your calendar to work on it.

For example, if I get an email about something we'll need to discuss at an upcoming staff meeting, I have two choices:

  1. I can keep it in my inbox until I'm ready to create the final agenda for the meeting (at which point I probably won't remember to look for the email), OR
  2. I can forward it to [email protected] (or whatever) and it'll appear on my “Staff Meeting Agenda” project in the ToDoist app

Which option do you think will help me get an empty inbox? If you're not using ToDoist or another app that can receive email, give it a try.

Issues That Can't Be Handled Today

Sometimes you don't need to turn an email into a task, lest you merely shift the problem of overload from one app to another. Sometimes an email is all you need.

Let's say someone has a question for you, but you won't be able to answer it until new information arrives tomorrow. Where should that original email hang out in the meantime?

If you let it remain in your inbox, more messages like it will continue to pile up, and getting caught up will become more and more difficult.

The solution? Snooze it. If you've seen my Future File Guide for paper, you know the drill: decide when you want to see a document again, put it in a certain folder, and simply check today's folder every day. You can do the same for email.

With a service like FollowUpThen, you can “snooze” emails to a certain time or date in the future.

Sign up, then you can simply forward messages to special addresses like “[email protected]” and you'll get the message sent back to you tomorrow. “[email protected]” will get it back to you on July 30, “[email protected]” will get it back to you next time 1pm rolls around, and so on.


Let's face it: some of what's in your inbox is there because you can't bear to get rid of it, even though you're not really sure what to do with it.

If you use Gmail, you can archive it and not worry that it'll be lost, but even so, you may want to have a record that's not part of your email account.

What can you do? Forward it to Evernote. Now used by more than 100 million people, Evernote is a searchable database for notes, emails, file attachments, and images that will let you save critical documentation easily, and find it again later just as easily.

Like the other services I've recommended above, Evernote can receive email, so getting data into it is as simple as hitting “forward.”

Outlook Vs. The Cloud

You might have noticed that some of these features, like turning an email into a task or appointment, or saving it outside of your inbox, are things that old-fashioned Microsoft Outlook can do.

That's true, but today's tools are vastly better—enough better that it's worth using multiple tools to achieve the same ends.

More importantly, though, these tools, unlike Outlook, work perfectly whether you're handling email on your phone, your tablet, your school desktop computer, a laptop—any device, with any apps on it, can let you process email this way.

Always Hit Zero

The tools are helpful, but what really matters is behavior: the commitment to clearing every email from in your inbox every day.

It's OK if messages pile up throughout the day; it's inevitable, and you have much better things to do than monitor your inbox all day. But once per day, make sure you get totally caught up: documentation saved, tasks noted in ToDoist, and other messages snoozed until a better time.

The astute reader will note that we've hit all three points of the High-Performance Triangle:

  • Strategy (for effectiveness): Empty your inbox daily so you stay current and well-organized
  • Tools (for efficiency): The apps I've described above
  • Habits (for consistency): Making it a daily commitment so you can trust your systems

Learn More: Free Email Guide PDF + Email Processing Flowchart

How to Write a Crushing Cover Letter

If you're looking for a new ed leadership job for the upcoming school year, now is the time to put together a cover letter that crushes it.

What do I mean by “it”? The competition. I hate to say it, but it's the truth.

Too many cover letters are milquetoast, run-of-the-mill statements of fact that do nothing—nothing—to get the applicant in the “yes” pile.

If you want to land your next admin job, you've got to ace the cover letter. (Read on for a free downloadable template)

The Cover Letter's Job

The cover letter's job is to get you into the “definitely interview” pile.

If your cover letter fails to do its job, the whole process stops. You're out of the running.

You can only write a solid cover letter if you understand its purpose. Your cover letter is NOT:

  • An explanation of the simple fact that you exist and are interested in the position
  • A narrative restatement of your résumé
  • A note to the reader that you possess the minimum legal requirements for the position

No, no, and no! Cover letters that only cover the basics don't give the reviewer any useful information. They fail to do their job…so you fail to get your job.

Don't Be Perfunctory—Sell Yourself

This is hard for us to do as educators, but in your cover letter, you've got to sell yourself as hard as you ever will.

This doesn't mean that you:

  • Brag or boast
  • Make unsupported claims
  • Explicitly say that you're the best person for the job

…but you need to make the reader come to the inevitable conclusion that you're the best person for the job.

I've read tons of cover letters that waste space with perfunctory, vague, and ultimately worthless niceties that fill the page, but don't help the reader fill the job.

Understand that you're actually doing the reader a favor by making a clear, strong case about yourself. Most of the time, reading cover letters is a total waste of time for the person reviewing applications, because they don't actually say anything enlightening about the applicant—and as a result, they all sound the same.

This is a mistake to avoid, but it's also a huge opportunity for you. Write a strong cover letter that sells your candidacy, and you'll stand out above the rest.

Don't Duplicate Your Résumé—Bring It To Life

The place to list your certifications, degrees, and years of experience is in the résumé. Your cover letter has a different job.

When it comes to qualifications, your cover letter should:

  • Connect the dots for the reader—always explain how the qualifications you're highlighting actually make a difference. For example, “My extensive experience working with teachers as an instructional coach has allowed me to develop both the expertise and the relationship-building skills that it takes to be a principal who is truly an instructional leader.”
  • NEVER mention minimum qualifications, e.g. “I have a beginning principal's certificate from XYZ university”. Nothing screams “rookie!” like a cover letter that brags about meeting the job's minimum requirements.
  • Frame your qualifications in terms of benefits for the organization, and especially for its students, e.g. “My passion for restorative justice compelled me to lead the development of a behavior intervention program that reduced out-of-school suspensions by 63%.”

In other words, don't just share facts that are in your résumé (and certainly don't share facts that don't make you stand out).

Tell a story. Put the picture together for the reader, so they see how qualified you really are, and what a good fit you'd be.

For another take on your cover letter, check out this episode of Principal Center TV:

Download My Ultimate Cover Letter Template

I've created a simple, one-page template for you to follow as you craft your competition-crushing cover letter.

It's not a fill-in-the-blank deal—in fact, you won't be using any of my words. But you'll have a paragraph-by-paragraph guide to what your letter should accomplish.

Download »

5 The 48-Hour Brevity Challenge

I got this reply from a Principal Center Professional Member this week

"Just a question: Do you answer all of your emails personally? If so, I am very impressed!"

I do, but there's no need to be impressed.

It's just a straightforward application of the High Performance Triangle:

  • Strategy: Keep replies short, use stock phrases, and know when not to use email
  • Tools: TextExpander (more on this below); the phone
  • Habits: Inbox Zero; saving stock phrases

You probably answer most of your own email too, but chances are good that it takes more time than you'd like.

So I want to present you with a mini-challenge, to help you use email more effectively as a communication tool, while fitting it into less of your day.

To "sign up" for this challenge, just read on and leave a comment below. We're keeping it very simple.

An Email Response Mini-Challenge​

  • Try to go a day without sending any emails longer than 5 sentences 
  • Try to use no more than 20 different sentences, total (like Dr. Seuss did in writing Green Eggs and Ham with only 50 different words)
  • Save all of these sentences that you use for the day in a document

Too often, we try to use email for purposes it's not great for. There are some conversations that simply need to take place over the phone or face-to-face. No amount of wordsmithing an email can substitute for a real person-to-person voice conversation. 

And even when email is a great communication medium for the job, one message can't do everything. We aren't being considerate of the reader when we send messages that:​

  • Are far too long to be comprehended easily
  • Contain multiple action items or questions
  • Contain unfinished thinking...and the expectation that the reader will do the rest for us​

If you're writing in your diary, ramble on all you want, but if you're communicating, clarity is key. Clarity facilitates brevity, and vice-versa.

So if you want to ensure that you're being clear, hold yourself accountable for being brief.

If you want to go all-in on this idea, you can do what my friend Larry Fliegelman does and add a footer below your email signature:

Q: Why is this email five sentences or less?

A: Because brevity is the soul of wit.

If you need more space, send a separate email—it'll make replying easier for your recipient. Even better—talk in person if you can't cover the issue in five sentences.

Now, how can you crank out those five sentences even faster, without sacrificing clarity?​

Stock Phrases

Have you ever noticed that the older we get, the more we tend to use the same words and phrases over and over again? I realized I was doing this, at the ripe old age of 27, when I heard 5th graders repeating things I said on the playground—in a good-natured mocking tone, of course:

"OK, everybody, time to line up. All right, here we go, har har har..."

I'm pretty sure I didn't actually say "har har har," but even as a first-year principal, I had already established enough of a pattern that kids could joke about it.

We might think we're going around spouting unique gems of wisdom, but 90% of the time, we're saying the same things we always say—because they're relevant to the situation.

Of course, we can craft new phrases whenever we'd like.

But it's much easier, cognitively, to recognize a situation and retrieve the relevant response.

Here are some stock phrases I use frequently—not because I don't mean them or because I'm insincere, but because I've already decided how I want to express these ideas, and there's no reason to start from scratch:

Thanks for writing.

Let me know if I can be of assistance at any time.

Could we set up a quick phone call to talk about this?

Let's talk about this in personstop by when you get a chance.

Sounds good!

Let's put that on the agenda for our next meeting.

See you then!

Talk to you soon.

Let me know how it goes, and let me know if you need anything.

Thanks for letting me know about this situation.

I share your concern about this, and am committed to addressing it

Feel free to borrow from my list, but you'll no doubt come up with your own list very quickly.

A quick word on objections: many people resist this strategy because it seems insincere to re-use whole sentences.

I disagree: you're already doing this—just not on purpose.

See if you can answer all of your email for two days with just 20 phrases. As you write, save these phrases to a document, or copy and paste if you're re-using a phrase.

Your Challenge Starts Now

In the comment box below this article, share a stock phrase or two.

Then, strive to answer all of your email for the next 48 hours by:

  • Limiting all outgoing messages to 5 sentences or less 
  • Using no more than 20 different sentences, total, in all of your messages
  • Saving all of these sentences in a document

Give it a try, then come back and leave a 2nd comment and share how it went. If you leave an initial comment, I'll reply personally (remember how I'm good at that? :)) so you remember to report back. 

Going Further​

I've been building this habit for a long time, and I personally don't save my stock phrases in a document; I save them in an app called TextExpander, which speeds up my typing dramatically.

TextExpander can be a bit intimidating to set up, which is why the challenge above suggests just keeping a document open on your computer as you write.

But when you're ready, TextExpander is amazing. According to my stats, it's saving more several hours a month—time I'd otherwise just be typing, instead of thinking and getting other work done. It has helped me so much that we have a full course on it in our Members' Dashboard.

 You can sign up any time to get full access to my best strategies, detailed video tutorials on the tools I use, and (of course) how to develop habits for high performance in the work of school leadership.

How Habits Work

Show Transcript
Hi, I'm Justin Baeder. In this video, we're going to explore precisely how habits work. This is a critical area for increasing our performance in just about anything we want to get better at.
Throughout the day, about 40 to 50 percent of what we do is governed by habits. Think about the moment you wake up in the morning. You probably go into the bathroom and brush your teeth without even thinking about it.

You probably get in your car and drive to work without even thinking about your route. It's that fact that you don't really think about how to execute a habit that makes habits so powerful. Now, that's also what makes habits a little bit dangerous, because it's very easy to get into unhealthy habits, work counter-productive habits.

The power of habits can work for us, as well, because we can purposefully develop high-performance habits. I want to show you, now, how habits actually work. Habits start with a cue. We're going to draw this first as a loop.

If I have a cue, that can be anything in the environment. That can be a feeling like hunger. It can be the time of day. It can be an alert that you receive from your Smartphone. Just about anything can serve as a cue for what's called the habit loop.

I'm drawing on some research that's represented in Charles Duhigg's excellent book, “The Power of Habit” for this part of the presentation. The cue triggers, what we would call, a reaction or what Duhigg calls a sequence.

This is, basically, a sequence of behaviors that you carry out in response to the cue. Now, that can happen very rapidly, and it happens without a lot of thinking. Again, that's key to this actually being a habit. You don't have to think. You don't have to put forth conscious effort to carry out that sequence.

It just happens, because it's encoded in your brain. It may be encoded in your muscle memory, like driving to work. You just know where to turn. Once the sequence has been ingrained in your brain and in your muscle memory, it can be fairly difficult to change.

One of the reasons it's so difficult to change a habit, once you've learned it, is the third factor which drives the whole process, and that is the reward. Now, the reward shouldn't be confused with an effect or a consequence.

The reward is something that's almost always a feeling. It's almost always something that you experience internally after taking the actions in the sequences. If you're hungry, if hunger is the cue, and the sequence is having a snack or eating a meal, the reward is that you're no longer hungry.

That reward could be a new feeling, like the feeling of being full or the removal of some negative feeling. Some negative cue like hunger. In the classic, habit loop, this is drawn as a cycle. So cue leads to sequence leads to reward, and then we're back at cue.

That's how Duhigg describes it in the diagrams in his book. It's not actually so simple a cycle. There's another step that's omitted from a lot of the diagrams that I've seen about this, and that is anticipation.

Anticipation is what allows the reward to trigger the behavior in the future. When you experience the reward that reloads the anticipation for next time. Next time you experience the cue, you'll then experience anticipation. Then, you'll carry out the sequence which leads to the reward.

We can erase this arrow between reward and cue, because the reward doesn't cause the cue. We can erase the arrow between cue and sequence, because it's actually the anticipation that's triggered by the cue, and that triggers the sequence.

Let's go ahead and modify our diagram here a little bit. We can erase the arrow between reward and cue and between cue and sequence. What we have now, is no longer a loop. It is a better model of how habits actually work.

Once you understand how habits actually work, you have a lot of different leverage points for breaking bad habits, changing existing habits, and creating new habits for high performance.

Let's talk about how we can influence each element of the habit model. Now, a lot of the cues that you experience on a day-to-day basis are going to happen. They're outside of your control, because they're outside influences.

They're the time of day. They're things that other people do. We can't always prevent or control the cues, but what we can do is we can sometimes preempt them. We can say, “OK, at a certain time of day, I know I'm going to get hungry, so before that time of day, I'm going to have a healthy snack so I'm not tempted to just have some candy.”

The second thing we can do is we can seek to modify the anticipation. If you're anticipating something that's going to trigger a destructive sequence of behavior, then what you can do, is set up a negative consequence for yourself.

I have some examples in the habit guide that you'll find, also on this page that you can download, to go through some exercises on this. The sequence is where we usually focus when we're trying to modify a habit.

The golden rule of habit formation is to take an existing cue, an existing reward. Say, the cue is hunger and the reward is feeling full. Change the sequence. Maybe the sequence that I've been using is, “I'm eating a bag of chips to make myself feel full.”

It's pretty easy for me to substitute in a different behavior, a different sequence, and eat a salad, if that will trigger the same reward. Now, the problem with that is often that change of sequence, changes the reward that we experience.

It doesn't trigger the same kind of habit that we were trying to change. Then finally, let's look at the reward. If we're trying to develop a new habit, we may need to pick out a meaningful reward that we're going to be able to look forward to.

If we're going to install a new sequence, if we're going to commit to a new behavior, it's helpful to pick out a reward that we can anticipate so that we can reliably carry out that habit and make it a part of our daily practice.

Now that you have a model for how habits actually work, I want to challenge you to think about a habit that you want to develop, a habit that you want to eliminate, and a habit that you want to modify, and think to yourself, “What's the cue? What's the anticipation? What's the sequence, and what's the reward?”

What's the best point of leverage for modifying each of those habits so that you can get the results you want and perform at the level that you want to as an instructional leader?

I'm Justin Baeder. Thanks so much for joining me for this video.

Download the “How Habits Work” PDF Guide

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