In Education, we have fallen into a trap of busyness and overwork. We have mistaken all this activity to be something meaningful. The underlying thought seems to be, “Look how busy I am? If I’m doing all this work, I must be really productive and important.”
As school leaders we are bombarded daily by a torrent of information and we need to understand that our brains are only capable of storing between 5 and 9 bits of information at any given time. If we try to jumble around more, we are going to get lost somewhere along the way. We are much better off focusing our attention on one or two bits of related information, this means doing things differently.
Multitasking leads to as much as a 40% drop in productivity, increased stress, and a 10% drop in IQ (Bergman, 2010).
When we are interrupted by a task such as checking our email, a phone call, or someone stopping by to talk, not only are we multi-tasking but also it can take us up to fifteen whole minutes to get our minds refocused on our original task. This can be not only annoying, but also costly if we are depending on our ability to focus and get the job done.
We need to find time.
“You can’t win a game you haven’t defined,” says David Allen, a productivity expert.
We need to carve out focused time. We can do this when we step back and look at how we use our time. Is there a time in your day or week where you can ensure that you are not interrupted to complete key tasks? Could you inform your office staff no phone calls and no interruptions, work from home or put less in your diary? If we want to get things done we need to reduce our distractions and protect some quality work time.
Email distractions are one of the worst time zappers. One study, published in the International Journal of Information Management in 2003, found that the typical person checks email once every five minutes and that, on average, it takes 64 seconds to resume the previous task after checking your email. In other words, because of email alone, we typically waste one out of every six minutes. We can easily turn off the sound that announces the arrival of an email on our phones and computers. We can also easily find time to check our emails once or twice a day to reduce the distractions and create quality work time. It just requires us to become more aware and set aside quality time.
As leaders we often are responsible for filling our time without realising it. In dealing with so much information, we often look for solutions to help us manage and organise them. This often means we are the generators of many documents, papers and policies. Again we need to hit the pause button before we get too busy creating more. A poignant moment when I left my headship role was clearing out my office. The amount of paperwork was horrendous, but much more concerning was the amount I had created… and the amount that had been used briefly and then updated with another format. We need to ask ourselves; do we need to create something new? Is there another way? Could the information be on one single page? What is the purpose of what we are creating? Can the document suit all stakeholders to alleviate the need to alter it many times to suit different people?
The same goes for emails. How many emails do we generate? The problem is the more you send the more you receive. Hit that pause button. Is the email the best method of communication? Ensure that if you do send the email, it is specific, this saves the email tennis that occurs – when a 5 minute telephone call face to face meeting would be much more efficient.
Sometimes we berate ourselves for not getting things done. As a Headteacher I reflected on how many days it would take for me to be on top of all the things I wanted and needed to do, I worked out it would take around a term of work- without any interruptions – no staff, no children, no parents. Of course, this is impossible, and with that reflection came a sense of relief. I can only do what I can do, so it’s OK. We need to understand that it’s all right if we don’t get everything done – things crop up regularly in school and sometimes more important things take over. So it is important we don’t give ourselves a hard time – it is time to be a little kinder to ourselves. Creating a negative mindset will actually make you less productive, start saying ‘It’s OK that I didn’t get that done, I had a busy day and other priorities – I’ll set aside some focus time to get on top of it tomorrow.’
FOCUS OUR ACTION
Our to do lists can run into pages and then we feel as if we have failed before we have even started. Do less; plan to do just one or two actions per day. Look at them objectively as the ones that will make the biggest difference in your school, and are a key focus for school improvement. Its important to remember that doing more things does not drive faster or better results. Doing better things drives better results. Even more accurately, doing one thing as best you can drives better results.
I haven’t yet managed to master all of these ideas. One of the major improvements I’ve seen recently is only checking my emails twice a day – I have already found that I have more time. The most important element of all of these ideas is to pause, reflect and see how you can do less and achieve much, much more. Let me know what works successfully for you.
‘If you commit to nothing you’ll be distracted by everything’ – James Clear
If you need to make time to pause and reflect, a one to one coaching session with The Thinking Academy will help you gain a better perspective on how you can improve your performance. Contact us here for a free initial consultation.