3 Ways to Organise Your Leadership Time

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There just aren’t enough hours in the day. 

How often do you feel like, no matter how hard you try or how long you work, the tasks on your to-do list will never fit in the time you have available to do them? In my experience, it feels like this a lot. Teaching can be an all-consuming profession and school leadership, when bundled on top of a teaching commitment, can feel next to impossible. I wouldn’t be surprised if, somewhere in the annals of Ancient Greece, the God of subject leadership was doomed by Zeus to glare at Sisyphus with envy for all eternity, thanks to some small slight.  

The short version of this piece is quite straightforward. There will never be enough time for all the wonderful things we want to do. As teachers and leaders, our to-do lists roll from year to year and, sometimes, things will be dropped entirely as they slip further and further down our list of good intentions. This is the way of the world and we should make our peace with it. 

Some things, however, are simply too important to let slip and we must consider how we can maximise the time available to our advantage and give us the best chance of realising our dreams for our pupils, our teachers, our subjects and our schools. 

Stock Check

Any sensible reflection of how we might spend our time must begin with an accurate assessment of how much time we actually have available. 

A typical school day should probably run from 8am to 5pm, giving us 9 hours to execute the duties of our respective roles. I know this is quite often not the case (for a long time I would work 7am to 6pm) but a 45-hour working week should be the target if we’re serious about maintaining our physical and mental wellbeing. 

9 hours gives us plenty to work with…but we have to remove teaching time…

…and we will want to allocate some time for preparing for lessons, getting into the right headspace, and preparing for the day ahead. In the past, I have pushed this to the very end of the day so I can come in ready the next morning but wherever you place it, we’re probably going to assign an hour per day for general preparation based tasks and thinking.

So, when we take out our 7 hours for teaching-related tasks, we are left with roughly 2 hours per day for leadership and other tasks. 

On days when there are no meetings. 

Meaning we have roughly 6 to 8 hours a week to work with.

There are a lot of assumptions in this model but I feel it is probably a reasonable generalisation without taking special cases into consideration. Some teachers will have dedicated leadership time and a net gain, others will have more meetings to attend and a net loss. Generally speaking, however, we are working with a comparable amount of time within each working week. Also known as our precious leadership time.

Hack the Incidental Moments

Now, we can, and should, make the most of incidental moments – conversations over coffee in the staffroom, a quick follow-up 5 mins before or after school. We can utilise every second to keep our plates spinning but we should, in the main, be focused on maximising those two hours each day. Leadership cannot be and should not be a case of finding more hours in our time out of school. I know it is usually the case but it does not have to be so and never should be so. The education system cannot, in perpetuity, function on the goodwill of teachers and hope to create the conditions in which children can truly thrive. We should be streamlining our workload down to the very essential and using the time we have effectively – otherwise we will burn out and, like so many, leave the profession entirely. 

3 Ways 

With the scene well and truly set, I promised three ways to organise your leadership time. While they may not be revolutionary, they are borne out of experience, and reflection on countless mistakes across a school leadership career, and cost nothing to implement. 

Strategy 1: Windows

One option is to group tasks based on a common theme, such as the objective or element of school life that they contribute to, and break your time into windows during which you will attend only to the things in the assigned groups. 

In this example a fictitious teacher has three main leadership responsibilities: Contributing to improving the quality of teaching, coaching other members of staff and overseeing the work building towards the times tables check in Year 4. 

They have broken down the available time into windows, based on their interpretation of the work needed for each. When it comes time to work within each, they will draw tasks from their to-do list pertinent to the theme/objective at hand. When the time is up, they take a short break and shift attention to tasks grouped for the next window.

This model is less effective when working to a deficit. If there are tasks that simply must be done, then they need to be done. However, when implemented early on, this model allows us to build up a bank of completed tasks which we might otherwise have left until much closer to their respective deadlines. 

It takes discipline to stop mid-task, particularly when we are on a roll, but it can help stave off the build-up of tasks and relieve deadline pressure when implemented effectively. As with each of these strategies, it is very rare that anyone will ever stick rigidly to the timings set and sometimes things run over but the general principle of getting ahead of our workload and taking on tasks that we might otherwise leave to one side is what is really important. 

Strategy 2: Pockets

The second option at our disposal isn’t for everyone but there are times when it is my personal favourite. At its most basic it involves frontloading the planning of our time to the beginning of the week and itemising every task we hope to complete into a pocket of time we think is sufficient. 

Colleagues of mine have called it the “Uber List” but it amounts to little more than a reframing of how we map out our time. 

In this example, the fictitious teacher has opted to clearly define the time and duration of each item of work so that they know exactly what needs to be done and how long it needs to be done for. If tasks overrun their pocket of time, recalibration will be necessary but, depending on the deadline for the task, perhaps not until the following week. 

If tasks take less time than originally thought, then they have the option to either draw in a new task to fill the remaining time or move everything along. My preference is to keep the times stable but it is very much a case of finding the strategy that works best for you and sticking to it. 

Strategy 3: Tomatoes

The third and final strategy is the least regimented of the three available options but still requires a certain level of discipline. The Pomodoro technique, as it is known, is favoured by language learners around the world and can be put to good use in the workplace as well. It all boils down to condensing our time into chunks of 25 minutes, separated by breaks of varying lengths. (If you decided to use this approach across an entire day, every third break could become a 15-minute break, but as we are working within a restricted amount of time we never get past the 5-minute break window). For example, we could split our time as follows:

15:30 Work 1

15:55 Break 1

16:00 Work 2 

16:25 Break 2 

16:30 Work 3

16:55 Finish

We are limited in our ability to focus for much longer than 20 minutes, and by interspersing periods of focus with well-timed breaks, we can maximise our attention and get the most from the time we have available. It might be that you wish to combine one of the two previous strategies with the Pomodoro technique to further refine the focus of each work period but, whatever you choose to do, just thinking about how you spend your time is likely to increase your productivity compared with not doing so. 

Alternatives?

Do you have a preferred alternative? Let us know in the comments how you organise your leadership time and, if you test out any of these strategies, let us know how you get on and whether it was of any use to you.

Until next time,

Thanks for reading.



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2 responses to “3 Ways to Organise Your Leadership Time”
  1. Nicola Leonard avatar
    Nicola Leonard

    I enjoyed reading this. Relevant for me as a leader and for anyone trying to get more out of their day. We actually have less time than we think! I unconsciously have been using a Pomodoro/Pocket hybrid of sorts but knowing about this now will help me organise it more purposefully. Thanks

  2. Stephanie Taylor avatar
    Stephanie Taylor

    My main strategy is number 2, pockets. I find it gives me peace of mind not to worry that I might be forgetting something because I know I have carefully mapped out tasks into pockets of time. My main struggle is that I often hugely underestimate the amount of time something will take and am then constantly recalibrating. The Pomodoro technique is one I use sometimes, but not often enough and need to use more. I work well with a bit of time pressure, so should use that to try and address my issue with underestimating how long something will take. I also probably need to be better at recognising when to say no to adding more to my workload and also managing my expectations around how much perfection/tweaking time some tasks really need. Thanks for this article, lots to think about here.