6 Strategies for Using a Zero-based Calendar for School Leaders
Every day we come to work as leaders, we have the opportunity to advance our schoolwide or district goals…or stay in the same place. It’s a daily choice that is often complicated by the realities of leading a school or district office. You never know what will happen on any given day and this often means working on your goals can fall by the wayside due to the tyranny of the urgent.
Over the years, one thing has become clear to me. If we don’t utilize our calendars effectively, then there’s a really great chance that we’re going to not allocate the time needed to actually achieve our goals. This is why I operate from a zero-based calendar every single day. I even do this on weekends despite my partner’s misgivings.
The philosophy behind a zero-based calendar is that you schedule EVERYTHING. You schedule your morning routine. This might include exercise, breakfast, mediation or whatever is important to you. You schedule appointments/classroom visits, time to connect with your staff, time to work on projects, time to work towards inbox zero, and so forth.
If a task or goal is not planned and on my calendar, then there is an EXCELLENT chance that it won’t get done. Just ask my partner 🙂 On the other hand, if you plan for your time, then you will see visible progress on your important goals and projects.
Below are some best practices with a zero-based calendar that I have discovered over time.
First, you should start small and pick just one or two days a week where you operate from a zero-based calendar. By doing this, you can find a rhythm and identify which times work best for varying tasks. I have also found that starting small avoids feeling “overscheduled” and instead gives you an opportunity to dip your toes in the water. I suggest trying this for the first week and then keep adding on days.
Second, for tasks that require creativity or deep thinking, you should overestimate how long something will take when just getting started. Reality dictates that you probably won’t be very good with time estimates in the beginning. For example, I initially blocked out an hour to write this blog post. And by the time this gets published, I will have spent 2-3 hours through various edits and modifications. My aspiration was to write this in an hour, but I know that I will probably spend upwards of three hours writing a great blog post. At least, I hope you’ll think this is a great post 🙂
Third, with a zero-based calendar you will often find small pockets of time in your day that need to be filled. I suggest using those times for tasks or steps toward a goal that don’t require deep thinking. Examples might include reflecting on your goal progression, organizing and responding to email, returning phone calls, taking a break to walk your campus, check in with staff, or even listening to a podcast. The key is to mix up the activities based on what works best for your day and when you work best.
My fourth strategy is to actually schedule time for social media check-ins. It’s really easy to go down the rabbit hole of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn and lose track of time. I find that by scheduling the time I will spend on a platform, I am more intentional and seek out better content and interactions.
A fifth strategy is that you have to be willing to be flexible if an emergency, real or otherwise, comes up. The ‘emergency’ could take the form of a phone call with an upset parent, a student meeting, or a sick spouse or child. Those are things that you would and should deal with in the moment. If your blocked out time is taken up by something like this, then you should take the opportunity at the end of the day to schedule it for your next available time that week.
Finally, one of the daily activities that I recommend completing with a zero-based calendar is to:
- spend a few minutes at the end of the day reviewing what you were able to accomplish and identify if anything wasn’t handled that is a priority and part of your goals.
- look ahead to the next few days on your calendar and identify any available time slots
- reschedule anything you weren’t able to complete during the day
I hope you find these strategies useful in your day to day work as a school leader. If they are helping, I’d love to hear how these strategies are enabling you to reach your goals. Tag me on Twitter or LinkedIn and use the #leaderhacks hashtag and join the conversation!
P.S. If you’re looking for more productivity hacks, then I suggest checking out my colleague Dr. Mark Wagner’s digital workshop that’s all about getting the most out of your time.