What does it mean to be current? Well, it's the opposite of being “behind.” And I can tell you—most instructional leaders feel perpetually behind.
The emails never stop. The paperwork stacks up like a bar graph on your desk. And your to-do list only grows longer…not to mention the human work of being present whenever you're needed:
- The meeting that seems to drag on forever
- The weeknight that has not two, not four, but six basketball games
- The endless parade of human beings, large and small, who require your time and attention
How can we get current in a job like this?
Let's be clear: you'll never finish all of your tasks and projects. An instructional leader's work is never done, because there's always more you could be doing.
But you don't have to feel overwhelmed. You can get current.
And let me tell you this: it's possible. It's hard, but it's worth it. Here's how to do it.
1. Create Benchmarks
Every day, I empty my inbox. I make a decision about every email and either deal with it or snooze it to a specific date in the future. I hit this benchmark every single day—every day in 2015, and every day so far in 2016.
As a result, I'm current on email. I haven't done all of my work—that will never happen, as there's always more to do—but there are no mysteries. I don't have to worry that someone emailed me last week and hasn't heard back from me. I don't have to worry that I'll show up to a meeting without something I was supposed to bring.
The benchmark is powerful because it's unambiguous. My goal isn't to have “not too many” emails left in my inbox. My goal is ZERO.
This has a huge impact on your self-efficacy. Consider how you feel when you've worked hard for two hours and still have dozens of unread emails, versus how you'd feel to work hard for two hours and completely empty your inbox. It's huge.
Ultimately, benchmarks only work if they're strategic. I have a specific plan for handling my email in a reasonable amount of time each day, and when I follow that strategy, it works.
If I just click around my inbox aimlessly at 2pm, it's not going to work. (If I am checking email at 2pm, I'm probably at my standing desk.)
2. Use The Right Tools
Getting current on all of your work—so you have no mysteries and no anxiety about what you could or should be working on—is harder than it used to be.
You have more email, more notifications, more people who need your attention. And that means your tools need to keep pace with the increase in the demands you face.
One tool that helps me deal with email—on any device I may be using—is FollowUpThen.com. If I get an email on Monday and can't deal with it until Thursday, I'll snooze it by forwarding it to [email protected] On Thursday, the service sends it back to me.
I also use an app called ToDoist to turn emails—which are really forms of communication, not task-management devices—into tasks that I can easily manage, revise, organize, and schedule.
With the right tools in place, I can be efficient enough to get current in a reasonable amount of time each day.
3. Develop Consistent Habits
Having good strategies—like clearing my inbox daily—and cool tools like ToDoist and FollowUpThen.com isn't much good if I'm inconsistent.
I know that my behavior matters. If I'm going to be consistent, I have to form and stick to the right habits.
Put it all together, and you have strategy (e.g. get down to zero emails), tools (like FollowUpThen and ToDoist), and habits (every day). That's what I call the High Performance Triangle:
Get your work under control. Get current. You can do it. Let me know how I can help.
Then, on to…
Get Into Classrooms
As an instructional leader, virtually nothing is more valuable than spending time in classrooms. You've got to know what's happening instructionally in your school, so you can make operational, staffing, and professional development decisions that reflect reality.
The premise of the 21-Day Instructional Leadership Challenge is simple: visit 10% of the teachers you supervise, every day. Provide evidence-rich, framework-linked feedback, and have a great discussion afterward.
If I can help guide you on this journey, now is a great time to become a Professional Member of The Principal Center. You'll get:
- The Inbox Overhaul to help you with email
- The Paper(Less) Office Makeover to help with paperwork and office clutter
- Our ToDoist and FollowUpThen tutorials to get you going quickly
- Our complete High Performance Habits program to give you a top-to-bottom review of your productivity sytems
- Our Repertoire app, to help you develop a consistent habit of providing evidence-rich feedback