Five Rules for Getting Things Done as a Principal

One of the more challenging aspects of school administration is undoubtably managing your time and attention. Between the emails, phone calls, texts, memos, agendas, and chats in the hall, demand always seems to be greater than supply. Handling all those inputs requires a great deal of skill — one in which I am definitely still learning and think about a lot.

The following "rules" represent what I've learned it takes to accomplish daily tasks as a high school principal. My thinking has been influenced largely by David Allen's treatise on personal productivity, Getting Things Done.

Rule 1. View yourself and your management of time, tasks and things as a system.

Systems produce the result they produce because they are designed that way; there are no excuses for systems. If you regularly fail to keep commitments that you make – to yourself or others – then your system has a design flaw requiring increased attention. It's not personal and it's certainly not "the nature of the work." It's a flaw that requires intentional thinking and planning to remedy.

Rule 2: Capture your ideas, next actions, and commitments as they come into your system.

Stop relying on your brain to capture what you think and need to do. It will fail you every time. Decide on the specific tools and methods you will employ to capture this information and get dicsiplined about using them everywhere without exception.

Rule 3: Make time daily to process and organize everything you capture.

You must decide what work must be done the next day, week, month, or year. For me, this almost always occurs between the hours of 9pm and 7am, when I'm not at work and have enough time and space away to think about what needs to be done. Without this time, you're efforts to capture what's coming into your system will be fruitless and what you inevitibly do will be absent the type of intentionality that leads to meeting your goals.

Rule 4: Crank through your next actions and commitments each day.

Procrastination is not your friend. Be honest with yourself about what can be done and do the work. If an urgent event demands your attend – because it will – regroup and get back to work on your list of next actions and commitments as soon as you can.

Rule 5: Review open projects, commitments, and goals every week.

Did you forget to do something? Did a commitment go unmet? How do you know? I spend an hour to an hour and a half each weekend reviewing open loops and establishing next actions. Without regularly taking a 35,000-foot overview of your work, you're bound to miss something, which is a flaw in your system.