I’m in the midst of my fifth year as a building principal. I remember my first year, very well. My eyes were opened to the jobs of the building principal. The time demands, the management, the instructional leadership, the .., the ... (Many, many tasks and jobs I needed to do). I felt that I was a very organized person. I had experience as a teacher and coach with a wife and two children, I felt I knew how to manage my time. I didn’t forget things, I stayed on top of things...
I remember one day very well that first year as a principal. It was a Monday and I was out in the building, visiting with students, stopping in classrooms to see how things were. During this hour or so of time, I was asked a question by one teacher. She needed a student’s schedule to be changed. There was a conflict with another student in her class and it would be better for all parties involved for the students to be separated in classes. An easy fix in our student management system. Then another teacher needed to use the school credit card for supplies for the class turtle, then another teacher needed to take a half day leave for a doctors appointment the next day. I came back to my office, took a phone call from a concerned parent, made another call to central office and then it was lunch time.
Three days later, I received an email from one of my teachers asking what had been done about the students’ schedules. I had said I would take care of it on Monday, however I had totally forgotten about it. With all the decisions I had made during those conversations on Monday, I had spaced it off. I was embarrassed. I let my teacher down...
I learned a lesson, I had to stay better organized. I reflected on the situation and tried to figure out how to resolve the issue. The next day, while I was out in the building, I was approached by a special education teacher who was having some concerns about how accomidations were being made in the general education classroom for a student. We visited about a way to resolve the concern. I then asked the teacher to email me about this to ensure I remembered. Problem solved... I went about this way of staying organized, remembering decisions during the busy times for quite a while. It worked for me.
Last spring, I read a Shifting the Monkey by Todd Whitaker. This book resounded with me. I knew there were many tasks, decisions, things... that I had on my plate that could be handled by someone else, the person who owned it. As I reflected on my own practices, I soon saw that by having someone else email me to remind me of our discussion, decisions, or things for me to follow through on, I was shifting the monkey. I owned the decision. It was my responsibility to follow through. What I needed was a way to organize myself, so in the impromptu conversations, when a decision was made I would remember and follow through.
I consider myself tech savvy. I have a smart phone, an iPad, and a MacBook. There had to be a way for me to stay on top of myself using one of these devices. I tried multiple ways to do this. Google Tasks, Wunderlist, Remember the Milk, and other task management tools. What I found out was none of them totally met my needs. I tried to always have my iPad with me, however I would set it down in a classroom and then leave without picking it up. Each app I tried just didn’t meet all my needs. I use multiple devices, a Moto X phone, an iPad mini, and a Macbook. Universality of use is very important. I don’t like how Google Tasks work on the web and couldn’t find a good app that was easy to use on iPad. Wunderlist was as close as I came to something that worked. However, I have this habit of wanting an inbox of zero, or as small as I can. This carried over to Wunderlist. When I finished with a task, I deleted it. I then didn’t have that good feeling of what I had accomplished. So, what else could I do?
I bought a Moleskin, the 3.5 x 5.5 size. It fits in my back pocket and is durable. I now carry a pen in my pocket all the time. What I found out was the task of writing out what I needed to do has helped me remember. To actually draw a line through the task when it has been completed has been a rewarding experience. I feel that I have accomplished what I needed to do.
So, how do you organize yourself? For me, as a building principal, I needed to come up with a system. My productivity has increased and I have time for the things that are truly important.