Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sleep on it

Last night as I was watching the Alabama football team go down in defeat, I was going down to defeat at the hands of a spreadsheet I had been so proud of. It was a masterpiece in the art of taking a paperwork nightmare imposed from the State Department of Education and turning it into a simple, paperless procedure.

The fly in the ointment was a formula--one formula. I knew what I wanted to happen but didn't know of an Excel formula which would do it. A Google search revealed other people searching for exactly the same formula, but it seemed what I wanted didn't exist.

As the the 4th quarter was drawing to a close, an idea occurred to me that would work. It wasn't elegant. It wasn't pretty. But, it would work. Two to three hours was a good estimate of the time required to make the needed adjustments--major adjustments. As the ga,e proceeded into overtime, I realized I was looking at a task which would require far more time and energy than was available. As the opposing team scored the winning touchdown, I was making notes about where I would pick up in the morning. Then, I went to bed.

How many times in our lives have we been given the advice to "sleep on it"? While I slept, evidently my brain kept working--and did so at a very creative level. The next morning, I awoke with another idea to solve the "missing formula" problem. This one was elegant, very elegant. Better yet, the modifications took exactly five minutes to make. Best of all, the solution worked!

Tomorrow, I am meeting with one of my favorite people in the education world. Last spring she had described to me how she had papers scattered all over her living room floor in an attempt to tackle this one report. It was not a pretty picture! I can't wait to see her reaction when we go over how this spreadsheet works and I give her a copy of it.

I guess this story has two morals. The first is that when confronted with the paper avalanche, we must train ourselves to look to technology for a solution. So often, it's there. The second message is perhaps there is something to handing over our problems to our creative subconscious. Perhaps it is the force which can take today's insurmountable problems and turn them into tomorrow's solutions.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Student planners

I participate in several time management/personal productivity discussion groups. The exchange of ideas healthy and even when disagreement arises, I think we all come away a little smarter.

One of the things about these groups is that you never know when something you write off the cuff, totally on the spur of the moment, resonates with someone else. Such is the case with a reply on the subject of helping students be more organized. Tonight I found the idea struck a chord and a fellow blogger quoted what I had to say on his blog. The link is here, and the post goes as follows:

Everyone open your planners...
I absolutely love when I find pieces like this where schools at the administrative level down are grasping basic organizational concepts and teaching the kids how to do them. Oh if I had only been taught these skills in school…

— In, “Dr. Frank Buck” wrote:
One of the best things I did as an elementary principal was to purchase student planners for the entire student body. As far securing funding, I was able to get a couple of small grants a couple years. School systems also receive some federal finding earmarked for parental involvement. Our use of the planners qualified for that.

The secret was getting all teachers to use them and use them in much the same way. Teachers had to stop telling students “Now, don’t forget to…” and instead to say, “Everyone open your planner. On tomorrow’s square, write down (whatever).” At the beginning of the week, my morning announcements would include events coming up. My comments would always start with’ “Open your planners.” I would tell them what to write, where to write it, and then tell them that when they saw those few key words what it would remind them to do.

Teachers used the planners to write a quick note to parents, knowing that the planner would be the one thing every parent would look at every night. (We really stressed that to parents, so after a while, the value of the planner as an easy way to keep parents informed just became part of the culture of the school.)

About half of being successful in school is organization. As for the other half, well, most of that is organization as well.

Yes, the planners worked like a charm for us. If I were to accept another principalship (and most certainly if it were a secondary principalship) establishing student planners would be among the first orders of business. Everybody talks about how they need to be more organized and manage their time better. Yet, nobody teaches this. Simple time-management tools can, and should, be part of the culture of schools.

Be quick...but don't hurry

Sometimes, the best thing to do is jump into a task and get it done. Sometimes, the best thing to do is step back, relax, and plan. Yesterday was a prime example for me.

With about an hour and a half left before time to go home, I started a project involving the assimilation of data which had just become available. My goal was to enter the appropriate parts of the data onto our school system's "Balanced Scorecard" and get the updated scorecard to principals as soon as possible.

"No better time than the present to just knock the whole thing out," I thought. For about the next hour, I put shoulder to the wheel watching the clock all along. The clock seemed to be going faster than the progress on the task at hand. In addition, two phone calls which had to be made before leaving weighed heavily on my mind.

With 30 minutes until time to leave the office, it was obvious I had severely underestimated the time required for the task. Furthermore, I was not enjoying what I was doing. At this juncture in my life, I have pretty much come to the conclusion that being happy doing what I am doing in the moment ought to be a primary focus. Furthermore, I felt frazzled. I found myself feverishly looking for a particular flash drive only to find it was in the pocket of the coat I was presently wearing!

I made a decision which may turn out to be the best decision I make all weekend. I put the project in the briefcase. That left me 30 minutes to plan my weekend and my Monday. I left the office with a clear picture of what I wanted to accomplish that evening, Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, Sunday afternoon, first thing in the office Monday, early Monday, late morning Monday, and Monday afternoon. I had also charted pretty clearly what I wanted to tackle Tuesday. Finally, I had blasted into the future quite a few things sitting on the task list that stood no chance of being handled in the next few days.

Saturday morning, I put the flash drive in the computer at home, pulled the printouts from the briefcase, and resumed the data project. Just yesterday, I was watching the clock wondering what I had done to deserve such torture. This morning, I was having fun. I was relaxed and listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, an episode of Mission Organization, and a Jay Leno, all from a VCR tape from earlier in the week playing in the background to keep me company.

During my 23-minute commute to and from work, I have listened to many books on tape and CD. Yesterday's ordeal brings to mind one of them: Be Quick But Don't Hurry. The book was written by a former UCLA basketball player who recounted his days under legendary coach John Wooden. The title refers to a piece of advice Wooden gave his players. At first glance, it seems contradictory. In actuality, it's right on the money.

When we are relaxed and "in our zone," we can be quick. Everything flows. Everything is effortless. The activity is fun. When we hurry, we make mistakes. We stumble and find ourselves having to re-do and re-think.

Yesterday, I was trying to hurry. Today, I was quick. The task was the same. The difference is yesterday was work while today was play.

Sometimes, the best thing to do is jump into a task and get it done. Sometimes, the best thing to do is step back, relax, and plan. I think I just got better at distinguishing the one from the other.

The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he's always doing both.

- James Michener

Thursday, September 20, 2007


I have made the statement more times than I can count that "I learned something every day this summer." That statement holds true in a number of arenas, but especially in the area of technology. One of the neatest things from my summer experiences is discovering "iGoogle."

I shared all of this information in an e-mail with a friend, so to kill two birds with one stone, here is basically and copy/paste of that e-mail for others who might like to have iGoogle as a home page. Here is how to set it up:

  1. Go to Google
  2. In the upper right corner, click on "iGoogle". (If, by chance, in the upper right corner it says "Classic Home," then never mind, you are already at iGoogle.)
  3. Click on "Sign in" in the upper right corner.
  4. Sign in if you have a Google account, or create a Google account (it's free).
Here is what I have on mine:
  1. Google Bookmarks-You can add to or take away as you see fit. I gave you pretty much what I have.
  2. The movies at the local theater or you can click where it says "Movies" and see what's on in other locations.
  3. The weather is particular to our city.
  4. Driving directions starting with my place of work as the default starting point. (You can change the default on any of these by clicking the little down arrow and choosing "Edit settings.")
  5. Same with the Map Search. My work location is right in the center.
  6. I have list of GoogleDocs which I can share with other individuals or with the whole world.
  7. There are other things you can add by clicking on "Add stuff" just above the Inspirational Quotes. (What a handy word "stuff" is!)
  8. You can get rid of any of the "stuff" by clicking on the "x."
  9. You can re-arrange where each window is located by clicking and dragging it somewhere else on the screen.
  10. There are different "themes" for how the top of the page will look. Click on "Select theme" right beside "Add stuff." Some themes will change appearance with the time of day and others change according to the weather in your particular area. How cool is that?
I have this set as my homepage, and...
At home, I have this set as my homepage, and...
My laptop is set with this as my homepage, which means...
...for those sites I go to all the time or the GoogleDocs I have, I don't have to bookmark them on three different computers, and...
...If I am away from home and on a computer in a public library, someone else's school, etc., I can go to Google, click iGoogle, log in, and I am looking at my bookmarks, my GoogleDocs, and the whole nine yeards just the same as if I was sitting in my office.
So..there it is. Have fun!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Say "yes" or say "no," you are always saying both

Education is a "helping" profession, and those who embark on a career in this arena have the natural tendency to say "yes." Whether the request is to provide extra help to a student, serve on a committee, complete whatever paperwork appears, or do all of these at the same time, we are a people who tend to say "yes" first and figure out how we will accomplish it later. After all, doesn't saying "no" make us seem uninterested, uncaring, and selfish?

In today's world, the demands on one's time generally exceed the time available. Choices must be made as to what gets done and what is left undone. When we say "yes" to one request, we are ultimately saying "no" to all else available to us at the moment. Therefore, the question becomes not one of whether we say "yes" or say "no," but which request get which answer.

Why is it that when we are saying "yes," so often we wind up feeling bad. Perhaps the answer is that, at some level, we realize more important responsibilities received a "no."

This past week, a principal related to me a situation where a veteran teacher was approached during instructional time by an agency representative with the request to compose a memo and to do so right then. Saying "yes" to this request meant saying "no" to the instruction which should be happening in that classroom. The teacher wrote the memo yet felt bad about having to choose to between two poor alternatives--saying "no" to the agency representatives or saying "no" to the students.

We need not feel bad about saying "no." In fact, it is a necessary tool in our arsenal of time-management tools. Without the word "no," our time will never be our own. Instead, it will be free for asking by those who scream longest and loudest and present themselves at our doorstep the most often.

As school leaders, we help those around us reach their goals by helping them understand than saying "no" is not only OK, it is an absolute necessity if they are ever to accomplish anything of significance.

Today, you will encounter opportunities to make the day significant. You will also encounter the trivial disguised in royal garb. Will you be able to distinguish the one from the other? Will you be able to say "no" to the one and "yes" to the other. Say "yes" or say "no," you are always saying both.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Preparing for accreditation visit and our first wiki

Our school system is preparing for a District SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) Accreditation visit later this school year. One of the projects at hand is to articulate how our school system meets each of the 7 SACS standards and their indicators. We have formed 7 committees of 4-5 people, each being charged with developing ideas to support one of the standards.

Other than sitting down together in the same room, how can a group share their ideas over time? Our answer will be to use a wiki. This afternoon, the group will be introduced to this concept using this video:

We are going to use a "Peanut Butter Wiki" and devote one page to each of the standards. AS our project unfolds and there is really something to see, I will keep you updated here.

Thanks to Pattie Thomas, my colleague for talking me into the idea, and Dr. Jan Borelli who had posted this same video to her blog, giving me a wonderful way to introduce this concept to our committee members. A special thanks to those at Common Craft who produced this and other outstanding instructional videos.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

New name...same purpose

As of today, this blog has a new title! The driving reason for the change is in preparation for the publication of a new book.

Over a decade ago, I found myself reading practically everything on the subject of time management I could find. The research all fed a dissertation entitled A Study of the Time Management Practices of Alabama Principals. The work that led to that dissertation also spawned the original workshop I started in 1997, a workshop that has evolved over the years as the needs of the participaints have grown and changed.

A little less than a year, Bob Sickles, President of Eye on Education, contacted me. After having read my article in "The 24 Hour Principal" issue of Principal magazine and reading parts of this blog, Bob contacted me about the possibility of writing a book. What followed has been a wonderful journey as I have attempted to harness the verbal message presented for the last 10 years in a face-to-face format and transform it into the written word for an larger audience.

What make this book different from other books on organization or time management already on the market? This book makes a contribution to the literature in two ways:

First, it is written with the school leader in mind. Books typically approach the subject from the standpoint of the business world. We must take and adapt them for our purposes. The scenarios in this book are from education and the problems addressed are the real problems which face us every day.

Secondly, the book provides a comprehensive system for getting organized and managing time. Many books provide a smogasboard of suggestions and stop there. This book goes further and ties it all together. We handle the paper, the ideas, the digital data, and the people aspects of the job.

Making a decision about the title was actually one of the last tasks. The idea on which we finally settled--Get Organized! Time Management for School Leaders was a suggestion for one of the people who reviewed the manuscript.

As of now, the expected date of publication is this Christmas!

Monday, September 03, 2007

One of the real pleasures of my career in education has been the privilege of serving as an "Editorial Adviser" for the National Association of Elementary School Principals. One of the last acts in this role was responding to a request to share something for this "best practices" issue of Principal magazine. For about the last 20 years, technology has played a significant role in making my job easier, whether the role was that of a band director, an aspiring administrator looking for ways to help other people in the building, a middle school assistant principal, a principal, or now as a central office administrator.

You can view the article here. For more along the same line, I invite you to read my article on Saving Time and Paper with Basic Technology which appeared earlier this year in Principal magazine.