If you ask child care directors anything about their work, inevitably you will hear, “There isn’t enough time to accomplish everything that needs to be done.” Those of us who have been in this position, know that it is nearly impossible to focus on important issues when we are bombarded by interruptions (telephone calls, drop-in visitors, scheduling glitches, last minute meetings, spontaneous conversations). We quickly abandon our scheduled task at hand when we are confronted with the spontaneous and pressing needs of children, parents, and staff. These “time robbers” are the results of people and expectations outside ourselves, over which we seem to have little control.
But, there is also another group of “time robbers” – our own behaviors, and attitudes within us that inhibit our capacity to plan and act with purpose and direction. These can include: the inability to delegate; not setting priorities; inviting interruptions; lack of organization; setting unrealistic deadlines; open door policy; procrastination.
As director, do you delegate tasks that can be done effectively by others? Are all 20 items on your “to do” list really priorities? Do you interrupt conversations or meetings to answer the phone? Are you focused on the present moment? Do you multi-task and feel scattered? Can you find papers when you need them? Is your desk de-cluttered and organized? Are you on time for meetings? Do you over-promise and under-deliver? Are you “always available” to everyone for anything? Do you procrastinate and put off doing the things you really don’t want to do?
When we begin to take a closer look at how we spend our time, we can begin to control it, and become more productive in the process. This is the essence of effective management.
Peter Drucker, one of the most widely influential thinkers and writers on the subject of management theory and practice, believed that at the heart of all effective management is the art of managing oneself. He emphasized the importance of changing the focus from what you are doing to how you are doing it. Becoming more effective at work means first recognizing and understanding what stands in the way of making productive use of time.
Mark McCormack, author of What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School, had a simple and straightforward four-point strategy – organize yourself, establish written priorities, focus on the important, and set realistic deadlines and stick to them.
Organize yourself by keeping a daily log for several days and recording what you do, and when – to find out how you use your time. If you can’t do this yourself, have someone shadow you and take notes. A little analysis is extremely helpful in revealing the most obvious time robbers. Then you can dig deeper and reflect on those things that might require a change in your expectations, organizational skills, or work habits.
McCormack wrote that, “Written plans are the essential time control tool against which all future commitments are considered.” Write down your goals, methods, and tasks. As you do, you can often recognize problems and the strategies to solve them – before they happen. In addition, revise and review daily and weekly plans at the end of the day. Making a plan for the next day helps us to stay on track, so that we are not pulled off course so easily.
R. Alec Mackenzie, author of The Time Trap, said that, “Trying to do everything requires no judgement. Deciding on what is important and striving to cover those aspects well is what managing is all about.” Understand where significant results lie in your work and focus your energies on the actions that will achieve them. Our job, as leaders, is to think globally – see the big picture – the end result – our vision. Our focus should be ever moving forward to accomplish that overarching goal.
Know your own time clock and plan accordingly. If early morning is your best time for reflection and decision-making, schedule uninterrupted time in the morning. Be conscious of the times of the day when teachers most frequently need to see you. In addition, be conscious of parent schedules, and use arrival, lunch-hour, and dismissal times to their advantage – and, be available then.
Be careful to allocate enough time to each activity being scheduled. Most of us underestimate our time requirements for a given task – and then fall behind for everything else. One recommendation is to build in a contingency factor of 20% unplanned time to allow for time lost during interruptions, emergencies, drop-ins. A safety net! I am a huge advocate of building in safety nets into my workday – because “Life Happens,” and I refuse to be a crisis manager who is flailing and out of control!
There are also some tips that will help protect our physical workspace from “time robbers.”
- File the work as soon as you complete it. Many of us have a tendency to make piles and place everything on the desk, so it is not forgotten. Eliminate copies of, and outdated, information, and retain only the “need to have” paper. Create a filing system that works for you and file everything, except what you are working on.
- Try to handle a piece of routine paper only once; if you are unable to finish the task, make some progress towards its completion.
- Throw out as much as possible.
- Daily sort mail into three categories: immediate, this week, and non-immediate. Then, sort the non-immediate into files that correspond to the week in which this correspondence will be handled. At the beginning of each week, go through the current week’s file and prioritize. Tend only to the current week’s work. Recheck priorities during the week to be sure there hasn’t been a shift in what needs to be done.
- Keep a copy of every written transaction file in order by date. Over time, you will see a pattern of events and tasks which can help generate long-range planning.
- Because unplanned phone calls consume an enormous amount of time, try to have all incoming calls screened by someone who can prioritize them – or let voice mail do its job. Listen, after the message has been recorded, for any emergency or time-sensitive call. Other than that, return routine phone calls during a pre-scheduled block of time. By planning a call-back time, your concentration at the moment is not interrupted, you are prepared, and you can devote your full attention to the concerns.
- Encourage staff to drop in or schedule meetings with you during designated blocks of time. When unscheduled visitors come in while you are absorbed in a task, tell them, and arrange to see them in their classroom at a later time. Follow through!
- Keeping your door closed when you need to concentrate can clue your staff to your need for some uninterrupted time. An open door is always an invitation for drop-in business that might wait if the individual knows the director is absorbed in another task.
- Delays with board and faculty committees can be reduced with the use of the Unless I Hear memo. This type of note sets forth a course of action that will be followed at a given time unless a response is received within the specified timeframe within the memo.
- When you find yourself procrastinating over a difficult task, try setting mini goals, tackling manageable parts of the task a little at a time – until you accomplish your goal. Don’t forget to reward yourself each step of the way – it is motivating!
During my career as the director of several programs, I tried numerous ways to eek out more time during the workday. Some strategies worked, some didn’t. But, in my final years as a director, I created a plan that worked really well for me. I planned a week at a time. I mapped out each week; grouped “like” tasks together; did things at the optimal time of the day (for the children, teachers, or parents); stuck to my plan, and knew that what I had planned would be accomplished by the end of the week. This happened! And, I noted that not only was I really productive, but I was very calm as well. These were great years for me professionally. I was managing effectively and fully enjoying my work!
I would be happy to share that plan with you. It made a huge difference in my days! I was at my best – because I could focus on the present moment and give it all my energy. I knew that I had planned “to do” everything else later – and later would come – and be another present moment. I didn’t worry; I wasn’t overwhelmed; I wasn’t ever in a crisis mode. I was organized, calm, and confident that everything would get done on time. And it did!
I am happy to share that plan with you. Just let me know – send me an email or call me. See my contact page for my contact information.
And finally, if you have any tricks, tips, or strategies that have worked for you, please share. We continue to learn so much from one another…