Many principals need to change their approach to work
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
In “principal” school when you are working on your certification, they teach you a lot about running a school, but they don’t teach you about running your day.
And that’s a BIG mistake.
Because many principals have a haphazard approach to their workdays.
By haphazard I mean that instead of having a plan of action for each day, the day ends up running them.
And it runs them into the ground.
If you’ve ever left school feeling completely spent, but when you wonder what you accomplished, you can’t account for anything important or significant, this is what I’m talking about.
So what’s missing? A system.
As the James Clear quote mentions at the beginning of this section, it’s not what we intend to accomplish in a day that makes a day successful.
Aspirational goals are one thing and they do motivate …
But they don’t get the job done.
Without a system for each day, principals lack an opportunity to make each day effective. The goal of this post is to show you how to develop the bones of an effective system so you can supercharge your leadership for the next school year.
Constraints at work will help you be more productive.
“Schedule shutdown, complete.”
Everyone will tell you to start with the end in mind, so next, I’d like you to consider how you want to end your day and what you want to feel like when you step into your home.
The old way of working has you coming home feeling:
- Stressed out
- Your brain is still “on” trying to figure out anything left undone
- Still connected to work
- Disconnected from your family (and worse, yourself)
- Starving (did you even eat today?)
- Disappointed (is this the life you chose?)
- And so on …
The new way of working has you coming home feeling:
- Satisfied with a good day’s work
- Thankful for what you accomplished
- Aware of what worked, what didn’t work, and what needs to change tomorrow
- Connected to your family
- Margin so that you can even do something for yourself
Which way would you rather experience this year? The answer is clear, the new way!
And with a system, you can do that!
In his book, Deep Work, Cal Newport discusses his end-of-day routine. He admits that it even seems silly. He even wrote he was embarrassed to share this aspect of his system publicly.
At the end of each day, Cal Newport makes a clean break from his work life before he enters his family life.
The first step is to review the day and preview tomorrow.
Next, he notes anything that was left undone and writes that down. This acts as a container. David Allen, who writes about productivity in Getting Things Done, calls this closing open loops.
With all the loose ends addressed at the end of the workday, this allows you to disconnect from work and leave work at work so you can be fully present at home.
As I mentioned earlier in this section, at the end of the day Cal Newport literally says to himself out loud, “Schedule shutdown, complete.” This tells Cal that his workday is over.
Maybe you use the same phrase. Maybe you invent something else that will work for you.
Work only at work. Allow that constraint to make you more productive at work and more present at home.
By reviewing your day, closing open loops, and literally completing a workday shutdown routine, you are now ready to engage in home life.
Power of reflection
Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.
-Margaret J Wheatley
It’s a fact that leaders with the most emotional intelligence are also the most effective.
They also end up earning the highest salaries too.
In other words, it pays to develop your emotional intelligence and the best way to develop this skill is through developing a journaling habit.
Journaling slows down the day and allows you to process what is going on internally and externally and to learn from both the successes and failures.
I have used a beginning-of-the-day journaling habit that has kickstarted each day with momentum for years. My productivity jumped and my focus sharpened once I adopted an end-of-day routine.
What I’m about to teach you are the exact end-of-day questions designed by an internal executive coach at Google. If it works there, it will work for you.
I adopted these questions and have experienced great success with them. These five journal questions allow me to reflect and learn from my actions, to understand what I can and cannot control, as well as focus on growth and pushing myself.
Each day I ask myself these five questions:
- What did I learn today? (Always be learning).
- What new thing did I try today? (New things stretch us and open up a world of possibility).
- What worked? (Keep doing the good stuff).
- What didn’t work? (Avoid this. Look for patterns and self-sabotage).
- What will I do differently tomorrow? (You have so much power. If you want different results, do something different).
These five questions have impacted my life in incredible ways:
- Helped me identify an idea that generated $24,300 in revenue for my business in less than two months
- Reduced eye strain
- Identified negative habits impacting my performance I wasn’t aware of before
- Pushed me to invest in myself even more
- Uncovered the 20% of tasks that generate 80% of my results and vice versa.
These five questions will also change your life as well, but I have one more aspect of this end-of-day system I’d like to share.
This last part of the system has given me the gift of clarity, has helped me disconnect from work, and has helped me wake up each day feeling excited and ready to accomplish big things.
Every task is not created equal
“Find the lead domino and whack away at it until it falls.”
Life has taught me this unpleasant truth over the years: not all tasks are created equal.
One thing I see leaders confuse all the time: activity is not the same as accomplishment.
I should know. I suffered from this sickness earlier in my career.
You see, the thing is — it feels really good to cross things off a to-do list.
It’s not as interesting to wrestle with the most important and challenging work of the day. It doesn’t feel good to write 1000–2000 words of a new book. It feels good to do lower level tasks and complete them that day.
Worse yet, it feels even better to scroll through social media and clear an inbox to zero emails. But neither of those activities adds any real value to your life.
In 2018, I read The One Thing. There, Gary Keller writes about finding the lead domino — the one thing that by doing it, makes everything else easier or unnecessary.
This concept applied is magic for your leadership.
For many years I used to work from a never-ending to-do list of items. Not only did it feel overwhelming, it was also hard to focus on what was most important.
This list never truly went away, but it’s now a secondary list I don’t pay attention to very much until after the most important work of the day.
How do I know what is the most important work of my day with 100% clarity every morning?
Dr. Benjamin Hardy taught me to identify the “Big 3” at the end of each day. I now do that at the end of answering the five journal questions I discussed in the previous section.
Each quarter I have 3–5 massive goals I am working toward.
Each Sunday I identify a number of things I’d like to accomplish that week aligned to my major goals.
Each night I choose three tasks that I will commit to working on.
This system is gold. I go to bed feeling confident and I hand over to my subconscious these tasks. While I sleep my brain begins to process the work before I even wake up.
And then I wake up with 100% clarity, excitement, and momentum for the day.
If it works for me, I guarantee it will work for you.
The system is simple:
- Carve out 10-minutes at the end of the day.
- Ask yourself the five journal questions I shared.
- As you reflect on this day, preview tomorrow and write down anything that was left undone.
- Identify your three most important tasks for tomorrow.
- Leave work at work. Complete the shutdown.
Ready to level up?
Avoid the chaos of a typical workday, and learn how to plan your week with intention, and immediately create more value for your organization.