Guest blog post by Travis Heavin, Principal of Angola High School.
A school leader has many assigned and unassigned duties that they perform every day. These duties include observation, discipline, supervision, and various meetings with staff, students, and parents. From the time a school leader walks in the door until it is time to leave, it can feel like you were in a tornado, and much like a tornado, when you look back on the day you may feel like you accomplished very little and left more to clean up the next day. The feeling of working so hard and feeling like very little was accomplished is a common feeling for all school leaders. When you look at Stephen Covey’s 4 Quadrants, it is easy to see how a school leader lives each day at school in quadrant 1 feeling that everything is important and urgent. However, our goal is to move into quadrant 2, where we can plan the important items in our life without always feeling constant urgency. But how do we do this?
For many of us, we create a “to-do-list.” We take some time during the day and write down all the things we need to do. Creating this list helps us to organize and plan out what we need to do each day or week. Historians can trace these lists all the way back to Benjamin Franklin, the godfather of “the to-do list”. According to the blog The Surprising History of the To-Do List and How to Design One That Actually Works by Belle Beth Cooper, (2015) “Benjamin also set himself a strict daily routine, which included time for sleeping, meals and working, all set for specific times of the day.” Most importantly, Benjamin used the idea of the to-do list for self-improvement. Making a to-do-list helped keep Franklin organized and focused on what is important.
A couple of years ago I reread material I had on Steven Covey and various other articles published by leaders. I also watched a video in which Covey demonstrated the power of putting your “big rocks” first. (Stephen Covey Put First Things First Big Rocks Coach Doh Motivation ) It was a simple demonstration in which there is a container with many smaller rocks in it. A woman is asked to put a few big rocks in the container with the smaller rocks. She finds that she can’t fit all the rocks in the container. Then Covey empties the container and has the woman put the big rocks in first. She then pours all the smaller rocks that were in the container back in the container. All the rocks fit. The obvious point is that we need to decide what our big rocks are and focus on that. For me, I limit my to-do list to just six items. I used to make to-do-lists of twenty or more items that I needed to do at home and at work. Even if I accomplished half the items on my list, I felt like a failure. So, I shortened my list and prioritized what was important to me both at home and at work for the week. I put the most important item at the top and the least important further down. The struggle that I had was sticking to what was at the top of the list and working down, but I had to make the top of the list my priority. At the end of the day, whatever items I accomplished, I moved off my list, but then I moved the next items up so they became my priority. I would then add the next item that I needed to complete to the bottom of the list. On Mondays, I look ahead to the upcoming week and re-adjust my list for the week. Always starting with the item at the top of the list as my priority, working down the list, and adjusting and adding to my list at the end of each day allows me to focus on important tasks and feel a sense of accomplishment.