Each year I look forward to the first day of spring – longer daylight, peepers, tree frogs and, yes, spring cleaning!
Part of my spring cleaning ritual has always included reflecting on my work, and taking stock. Spring is my time for tossing out what doesn’t fit or work anymore, and thinking about what I might add instead. Reassessing my career goals, my long-range purpose in life, always gives me the big-picture view. From that vantage point, I can then add the details that will take me there.
As directors and leaders of early childhood programs, we entered our field with a profound sense of purpose – to craft an exemplary program; to make a difference in the lives of children; and to build a successful business. Often, as the years go by, we can begin to lose sight of our original goal. We can become consumed with the day-to-day hassles, the minutiae, so much so that survival seems our only course. We are, as they say, “in the weeds.” The big-picture has been lost to micro-management.
That’s why it is helpful to periodically step back and reassess where we are heading. Spring is my time for reflection.
If my earlier goals no longer seem realistic or important, what should I do with the rest of my life? Where do I picture myself in the next five years? What do I need to do to get there? Can I do this in my current position?
Make yourself unique. Work to acquire a set of skills and talents that no one else has – things that interest and excite you, and might become your next “work.” The more we can reinvent ourselves in our lifetime, the more options we will have – and the more successes we will enjoy.
Sometimes, reflection will reveal to us that we want to stay on as the leaders of our programs. But, we need to make some changes in how we do our work. We need to do some spring cleaning in order to get ourselves back to our original sense of purpose.
Here are some thoughts for you to consider:
Overhaul your workday. Take a close look at how your time is allocated. How often are you called upon to use your strongest professional skills? How much of your time is spent handling mundane clerical or administrative tasks that could easily be handled by a lesser-trained person? How much of your time is devoted to evaluation, development, or innovation? How much of it is consumed by maintenance activities and putting out fires? How much of your time is deliberately planned by you, as opposed to being controlled by others through phone calls and drop-in visits?
What would your ideal workday look like? How much time would you spend on professional reading and writing? How much time would you allocate to talking with your staff? When would you arrive and leave each day? How would you put your peak performance times to their best use? Sometimes it helps to keep a log for a few days to get the true picture of how your day is spent. Reading the log is usually eye opening. It generally provides some “aha” moments. And, it is a good first step in making thoughtful changes.
Focus on one of the big tasks on your To Do List – the one that has been on your list forever and keeps getting pushed to “next week.” Every time you see it you feel a bit guilty. So, start right now. Close your door; don’t answer the phone; and spend one uninterrupted hour working hard at accomplishing the first steps to completing the task. Once you begin, you’ll find it much easier to continue towards completion in the next day or two. Trading guilt for accomplishment can go a long way. “Just do it” became a mantra for me. It helped me to move through my analysis paralysis!
Give some work away. A true professional accomplishes results through others. If you try to do everything yourself, there is a definite limit to what you can accomplish. If you delegate work to others on your staff who can do a particular task nearly as well as you (if not better), you are then freed up to spend your time on tasks that best use your special skills. And, there is no limit to what you can make happen working in this way.
Work at work. There are unavoidable times when you must devote an evening or weekend to handling a crisis, to prepare, or to attend meetings. But, try very hard to resist falling into the habit of routinely giving up your leisure time to work. Working after hours will eventually have a negative impact on your health, your family, your friends, your energy, and your effectiveness during the real work hours. The other downside is that you feel less pressure to complete your work during the day by telling yourself you can get it done later at home. As a consequence, you begin to waste precious time during the day.
Avoid frustrations. If certain aspects of your job are constantly frustrating you (for example, bookkeeping or fundraising), find ways to delegate these jobs to more appropriately skilled people, or hire someone part-time to accomplish them. Save yourself for the parts of your job that require your leadership and management expertise.
Seek professional outlets. If you find that your skills and interests are not being fully challenged, explore other sources of professional inspiration. Reading in depth the topics that interest you, writing for publication, consulting, offering local workshops, or teaching at the college level, are all options and opportunities open to you
Cultivate new relationships. Look beyond your childcare center director colleagues and establish rapport with licensing workers, college professors, and others in our early childhood field. By getting to know a larger variety of people who work, in some capacity, with young children, you increase your chances of being inspired, challenged, and supported.
Develop a group of advisors. Another way to increase your professional growth is to improve your access to professional advisors by establishing an informal advisory group and inviting people to participate whose technical input and expertise you could benefit from (for example, lawyers, pediatricians, social workers, computer experts, or marketing specialists). Ask that they be available for consultation a few times a year when you need specific advice in their area of expertise.
Mix physical and mental work. Peter Drucker, management guru, often said, “Working is best organized with a considerable degree of diversity. Working requires latitude to change speed, rhythm, and attention span fairly often.” You can accomplish more, and do a better job, if you take a break every now and then to relieve a teacher, take a parent on a tour around the center, or take a short walk to clear your head.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Become involved in non-job activities. If your entire life is consumed by your job, you will be overwhelmed when that job is going poorly. On the other hand, if you have many gratifying activities in your life, your frustrations on the job are more likely to be balanced by the satisfaction in these other areas.
Indulge yourself. Being an early childhood director should not make you a martyr. Treat yourself to an afternoon at the art museum. Plan an exciting vacation. Go to the conference at Disney World. All work and no play make directors no fun to be around.
Remember that you set the tone for your early childhood program. You are the role model for every teacher, parent, and child at your center. Give thought to what you are projecting and what others are observing, hearing, and absorbing.
Start today; clear out the cobwebs; do some spring cleaning! Take one step at a time, and breathe new life into your work. And, then, share your experience with others!
For a more in-depth conversation about any or all of this particular topic, just contact me. Let’s talk.