A Balancing Act of Demands and Needs

By assuming greater control of one’s time, superintendents can attend to their personal well-being and the priorities of their work by MICHAEL R. WEBER


When I became the Glenwood City superintendent nine years ago, the common means of communication were the telephone and the mail. By the early ‘90s, most school districts in Wisconsin had brought in fax machines. That modern wonder has added 10 to 20 daily requests to my office, many of them anticipating an immediate reply.

Today most of us have electronic mail at our disposal. People who send us an e-mail expect a rapid response because they figure we should check our e-mail constantly throughout the day. In the midst of all this, the telephone in our office seems to ring more than it ever did, and my meetings have become longer and more complex.

Increasingly, many of us who work as superintendents are thinking about escaping this rat race by retiring at 55--a prospect we seriously begin planning and talking about when we are in our 40s. In 1996, 10 current and former superintendents in Wisconsin died of serious heart problems. All were under the age of 68.

The American Cancer Society and the National Heart Association estimate that a large percentage of cancer and heart-related problems are the result of an inability to manage time properly. They suggest that many medical problems could be eliminated if we learned and practiced some simple time control techniques to reduce stress. The Japanese even have a word for this called "karoshi", which means death from overwork. A significant number of middle and top management people in their 40s and 50s have died as a result of karoshi. We are killing ourselves, short-changing our families and sabotaging our potential.

Assuming Control
This does not have to be the norm. We have the power to set our own schedule, provide support for one another and get our life priorities in order. We are the community leaders and the role models for our students and staff. What are we teaching them if we work ourselves to death? Perhaps we can be a different type of role model. We are the only ones with the power to change the situation.

One of the most important starting points, is the manner in which we plan and control our time. We can reduce stress, increase our longevity and be more effective leaders by practicing daily time management skills. I have spent several years researching time-planning and control, which I discuss in seminars I run educators and corporate managers on stress management and nondefensive communication.

Probably all of us have attended a time management seminar, read books on controlling and planning time and even invested in a structured time management planning system. Yet in spite of all this, we are still looking for ways to fit just one more meeting or one more phone call into an already overloaded schedule, stealing time away from family, friends and things we enjoy.

I cannot tell you how to fit one more thing into your schedule. In fact, I will suggest just the opposite. We must force ourselves to take items out of our schedule. If we do, we will be amazed at how much more we actually accomplish. We will enjoy life more and live healthier. But how can we do this and still meet the demands of the job, family, community and our own needs?

Realities of Time
First, we must be aware of a few realities related to planning and controlling time. Most of these realities exist independent of our control.

Each day consists of 1,440 minutes, no more and no less. We cannot create more time. We can rearrange time, set priorities and change our attitude toward time, but we cannot create more minutes in a single day.

As Einstein postulated, time is relative. For example, how long is a minute when you are standing in line to use the bathroom or listening to someone criticize your school district during a school board meeting? How long is a minute when you are enjoying a cup of coffee with a friend or colleague?

Because death will eventually come to all us, will we look back and wish that we had spent more time at the office or more time with family and friends?

There are limits to how much we can delegate to others in order to be more efficient with our time. The individuals to whom we delegate some of our work have the same 1,440 minutes in one day.

Each day and every minute of the day, we establish priorities within our mind as to what we will do next. These priorities are usually subconscious decisions and can result in a rather "willy nilly" unplanned, pressure-ridden, unhealthy style of existence. Establishing formal written priorities helps us determine what is important in our lives and assists us in planning each day and each moment of our lives in a positive, effective and stress-controlled manner.

No matter how you schedule your time, you cannot make everyone happy. Someone always will believe you should have been at the basketball game instead of the Lions Club meeting or spent more time on curriculum and less time on the budget. If you choose to spend more time next year working with the elementary programs, the secondary staff members and parents will wonder why you are ignoring them. Everyone needs and wants a piece of your time.

Because it is impossible to give everyone all of the time they believe they need and deserve, establishing priorities becomes even more important.

Time is a mindset. If we believe we are constantly under pressure and have no time for ourselves, we won't. If we believe we are in control of how we plan our time, have established our life priorities and believe we are good time managers, then we are in control of time.

Reviewing these realities on a regular basis can be effective in helping us keep time in perspective.

Suggested Strategies
The following suggestions build on these realities and can help reduce stress and control time.

  • Create a pleasure list. Make a list of everything you enjoy doing and use it to establish your life priorities. As you develop a schedule for each day, make certain you include some items from your pleasure list.

  • Determine what's important to you. If you found out you were going to die six months from now, would your life priorities be different? If they would be, you might be moving in the wrong direction. Why wait until you are about ready to die before doing what is important to you?

  • Communicate politely yet firmly. Everyone around you wants your attention. You cannot possibly satisfy that demand. Therefore, develop ways to respectfully communicate to others how you are going to manage your time. Consider this: "I'm sorry, I cannot add that into my schedule at this time. However, I can give it the attention it deserves if you can meet with me in two weeks from Friday at 10 a.m."

  • Learn to say no. Sometimes the best solution is to say no at the onset. Used promptly and with courtesy, it can save a great deal of time.

  • Do not permit interference. You should not allow other people to fritter away your time, especially if it is interfering with your life priorities and effective service to others.

  • Exercise regularly. Build into your schedule regular, enjoyable physical exercise to release stress. Also, do some activities to cleanse and rejuvenate your mind, such as wellness reading, meditation, quiet time or listening to music.

  • Ensure you and the board are on the same wavelength. You and your board members must be clear on the priorities and the vision for the district. Schedule your work day around these priorities and interweave your own life priorities into your schedule. Once you have done this, discuss your schedule with the board, staff members or family.

  • Build quiet time into your daily schedule. It is during quiet time that your best ideas occur. This can significantly reduce stress and save time.

  • Recognize the limits to efficiency. Trying to be more efficient with your time when you are already at your maximum efficiency level creates tremendous stress, results in significant health problems and decreases your effectiveness as a leader and a family member. Efficiency has its limits; reconsider your life priorities.

  • Pay attention to the present. You cannot live in the past, and you cannot live in the future. You can only live in the now. Cherish your moments and make certain you are doing what is important for you and your family. This will leave your past filled with pleasant memories and your future desires will come true.

  • Consider time as a tool. Looking at time as a tool for school leadership is analogous to what an artist uses paints and paint brushes for--to create a masterpiece. View time as a way to structure your vision for the children in your district and to pursue your overall mission and priorities in life.

  • Grabbing your calendar is the last step. First ask; "Why do I want to do this in the first place and is it in line with my life priorities and/or the board's priorities? If I take the time to do this, what will I need to drop out of my schedule?" Once you have asked these hard questions, then attend to your calendar, knowing you are in control.

    Michael Weber is superintendent of the School District of Glenwood, P.O. Box 339, Glenwood City, WI 54013. E-mail: mweber@win.bright.net. He is the author of Who Else Wants to Increase Their Happiness and Improve Their Outlook on Life?
  • Make a list of everything you enjoy doing and use it to establish your life priorities. As you develop a schedule for each day, make certain you include some items from your pleasure list. If you found out you were going to die six months from now, would your life priorities be different? If they would be, you might be moving in the wrong direction. Why wait until you are about ready to die before doing what is important to you? Everyone around you wants your attention. You cannot possibly satisfy that demand. Therefore, develop ways to respectfully communicate to others how you are going to manage your time. Consider this: "I'm sorry, I cannot add that into my schedule at this time. However, I can give it the attention it deserves if you can meet with me in two weeks from Friday at 10 a.m." Sometimes the best solution is to say no at the onset. Used promptly and with courtesy, it can save a great deal of time. You should not allow other people to fritter away your time, especially if it is interfering with your life priorities and effective service to others. Build into your schedule regular, enjoyable physical exercise to release stress. Also, do some activities to cleanse and rejuvenate your mind, such as wellness reading, meditation, quiet time or listening to music.. You and your board members must be clear on the priorities and the vision for the district. Schedule your work day around these priorities and interweave your own life priorities into your schedule. Once you have done this, discuss your schedule with the board, staff members or family. It is during quiet time that your best ideas occur. This can significantly reduce stress and save time. Trying to be more efficient with your time when you are already at your maximum efficiency level creates tremendous stress, results in significant health problems and decreases your effectiveness as a leader and a family member. Efficiency has its limits; reconsider your life priorities. You cannot live in the past, and you cannot live in the future. You can only live in the now. Cherish your moments and make certain you are doing what is important for you and your family. This will leave your past filled with pleasant memories and your future desires will come true. Looking at time as a tool for school leadership is analogous to what an artist uses paints and paint brushes for--to create a masterpiece. View time as a way to structure your vision for the children in your district and to pursue your overall mission and priorities in life. First ask; "Why do I want to do this in the first place and is it in line with my life priorities and/or the board's priorities? If I take the time to do this, what will I need to drop out of my schedule?" Once you have asked these hard questions, then attend to your calendar, knowing you are in control.