Manage Your Time or It Will Manage You

These tips will help you get better at work-life balance.

In my first months as an administrator, I came home every night and crashed. But being home wasn’t a respite from school because technology dissolved my boundaries between home and work. We are always on, and this is especially true for principals. Time management for principals is no laughing matter. The truth is that completely unplugging after the school day is unrealistic. So here are some smart tricks and easy shortcuts for managing your time.

Prioritize student needs.

This is the advice that has served me best in my career as a teacher and an administrator. If I’m struggling to prioritize or if I’m faced with a challenging conversation, this simple rule pulls me out of the weeds every time. Ask yourself: Where is the student on this to-do list?

Use the 1-3-5 rule.

The 1-3-5 rule is a game-changer for anyone who manages a monster to-do list. It’s simple. Complete one hard task (like a hard conversation with a colleague), three medium tasks (like writing a meeting agenda), and five small things (like sending thank-you emails), and you’ve won the day. Before you go to bed, set up your next 1-3-5, and you’ll wake up with a clear idea of what you need to do the next day.

Manage your reading list with Pocket.  

It’s a luxury to go to a conference these days. My daily professional development comes from Twitter. When I see a great article that I can’t read at the moment, I save it with Pocket. Pocket has a handy button that you can add to any browser. When I have an extra moment, I’ll pull up the app on my phone and have a whole list of great articles ready to read.

Communicate selectively.

I set up my own boundaries around communication. This means that I respond to teachers first because school community is a priority. That said, I don’t want teachers to think they need to communicate after hours, so I model good boundaries by emailing them back one hour before or after the school day only. I also try not to email during the day since I want my teachers focused on their most important job. I will email parents throughout the school day only. If I write something to a parent outside of those hours, I use my handy email scheduling feature. I make it a point never to reply to emails from parents in the heat of the moment. I save those for mornings when I am clear-headed and rested.

Do the hard things first.


If I am faced with tasks after work beyond email communication, I will always opt to do the most taxing work first. For example, I review and manage our school budget regularly. Putting budgeting off adds stress to an already difficult task. It needs to be thoughtfully planned, and I have to attend to it carefully. Whatever requires the most brainpower takes priority.

Maximize your calendar.

Many of us are using Google calendar to keep track of appointments and meetings. But how many of us are using it to block off time to work on projects that need to be completed? Liz Garden, an elementary principal in Holden, MA, uses her calendar to stake a claim on her own time. “I will block off time to write and time to meet and give people feedback. If it’s in my calendar, then chances are it gets done,” she says. “I also love using the task feature in Gmail. Helps me quickly go through emails, and I can add them to my task list as well as additional action steps that I need to do.”

Make your notifications work for you.

Your day can easily be eaten up by answering emails and putting out fires. The Stand Up! app is a great tool that can be set to remind you to stand up and move your body if you’ve been sitting for too long. Additionally, I use Google Calendar alerts to remind me to walk around the building. Getting out of my office helps me see the good work happening all around.

Minimize the easy decisions.

If I pick an outfit in the morning, chances are I will change clothes at least twice before I get out of the door. On Sunday nights, I put five outfits at the front of my closet and then choose according to the weather. At the end of the day, this is one of my least important decisions, and it helps to give myself shortcuts. Along with clothes, it can be helpful to make lunches and plan dinners for the week on Sunday. Block out your time and involve the whole family.

Get the best tools.

If you are not using Google Calendar, chances are you have a great paper planner you love. We’re lucky to live in a time where we have access to creative organizational tools like the Passion Planner, Plum Paper journals, and bullet journals.

Ditch distractions.

There are many distractions during the day, but the most appealing ones are on the phone. The Forest app, the Freedom app, and the Self-Control app lock down internet distractions on your laptop or phone so you can do your job without distractions.

Decision-free dining.

Finally, there’s one day a week where I don’t have to make a decision about dinner. It’s called Wednesday night take-out. I love to cook, and at first, it was hard to give up control of making dinner … until I just slid all the containers from the first meal I didn’t have to make into the trash can. With no prep and no dishes, I gain at least an hour every Wednesday night, and it’s worth it. Don’t like take-out food? Give yourself time back in other ways with house cleaners, a laundry service, or grocery delivery.

Don’t let all the ways you can simplify your time overwhelm you. Pick one and try it out for a week. Once you’re used to doing that one thing, choose another until it becomes second nature. You’ve got this!

What are your best time management tips? Come share in our Principal Life Facebook group.

Manage Your Time or It Will Manage You