You have probably heard the saying that time is money? Our belief is that time is more precious than money. It is the one resource you can’t create or retrieve when it is lost. You can lose money in the stock market one day and make it back the next. You lose 10 minutes on social media; you never get it back. So what if time is really the most critical variable in being a highly effective and productive leader or not?

A primary purpose of your job as a school leader is to be able to slow down, empty your mind, and think about what is actually going on in your school and how you can move it forward. Without this time, though, we fall into patterns that may not be serving us as well as they could.

So have you thought about time as an even more critical resource than money: a resource that should be managed like money to maximize its benefits? Think about all the ways that you manage money in your life. You create a savings account for emergencies. You invest a portion of your monthly paycheck into a 401K program to have extra money when you retire. You purchase health and life insurance just in case. 

In essence, you treat money as a precious commodity that requires deliberate planning and attention to maximize value. You have created efficient and effective systems around money management. 

Ask yourself, though, do you spend as much time thinking about your other essential resource: time and attention? Probably not. If we view time and attention as just something that is there or fail to think about it as a precious resource, we can squander it away making us less effective and productive than we could be

Having worked as an educational leader and in the productivity space for many years, most leaders do not treat time and attention as a resource. We squander time, or we often push ourselves onto the edge of burnout until something breaks. It’s like continually overspending your monthly paycheck and dipping into your savings to get everything paid. You may be able to do this a few times, but over time, you may go bankrupt. The same goes for our productivity. Without having an explicit system for what you are managing and how you can manage it, you are left to rely on habits.

To help busy school leaders understand and treat time and attention as a resource, at the Leading Learners Institute, we have started to create a productivity system specially designed for the nature of leading schools. Our framework is in a beta stage and has three major elements: productivity footings, areas, and processes. These elements are briefly described below.

Productivity Footings

The LLI Productivity Framework has a series of footings or foundations to consider. These footings are fundamental mindset shifts that leaders must make to enhance time and productivity.

  1. Time is our most precious resource: to be your most productive self, you need to invest this resource around what you value most.
  2. Energy management: to be your most productive self, you must understand how to manage your energy. Just like saving money, some methods give you a higher return.
  3. You control your time: to be your most productive self- you must realize that you manage your time through the systems you use. With no systems in place, time controls you.
  4. Distribution: to be your most productive self, you must learn how to distribute the tasks of leadership to others and coach them toward success.
  5. Influence around relational positivity: to be your most productive self, you have to realize that ultimately, leadership is about influence through relationships and culture, meaning most of your effectiveness happens in this area. 

Productivity Areas

The second major element in the LLI Productivity Framework is to understand and simplify the functional areas you undertake as a school leader. In a sense, these areas define your job. As the definition of school leaders constantly fluxes, the following areas allow you greater flexibility in how you allocate your time. All tasks you do on a day to day basis can fit into one of these four areas we call PIRK

  1. Projects: most change efforts today are designed as projects, so moving into an SEL focus or adding a new personalized learning model could be a project. Managing big projects like this for a leader requires focus and attention.
  2. Issues: schools are rich with interactions among people, which leads to conflict. Upset parents, student conflicts, and dealing with performance issues are all the types of issues that takes lots of nuance and time. Without planning time for these issues, time can easily slip away.
  3. Roles: these are the functions that you think about when it comes to being a principal. At LLI, we believe that the primary roles you have as a principal include leading culture, leading the instructional program, and leading the operations of a school. We would also include the critical role of team developer since most learning and improvement work is being done in teams today. 
  4. Knowledge management: last, because schools exist in a knowledge-intensive environment, a newly emerging role for school leaders is one of knowledge management. This area includes ways that ideas are captured and shared between teachers and how you can capture and manage this knowledge along with your own. This area leads to ongoing learning essential in schools today.

Productivity Processes

Once clarity of areas develops, the real work can happen through the methods you use to manage the work. All work gets done through workflows or processes that determine your productivity levels. While there may be numerous processes you develop over time, we think some of the fundamental processes to build include:

  1. ADAR or Analyze-Decide-Act-Review: this is a fundamental decision process that can be used for any of the roles and managing your time. For instance, if you are deciding what to focus on next week, you can use the ADAR process as an overarching planning process. Or, if you are dealing with any issue, you can also use this simple process to guide your thinking.
  2. Distribution: this process allows you to divide leadership tasks. For instance, if you are working on a school improvement project, you could use a distribution system to divvy up the work using the simple steps of analyzing the tasks, assigning them, setting follow-up dates, and reviewing.
  3. Meetings: as leaders, we spend most of our lives it seems in meetings. We, therefore, need a streamlined process for managing them. Most of this process can be automated using shared calendars or drives. For instance, you may have an overall leadership team that meets weekly. Using a shared calendar, you can schedule the meetings and set reminders for adding items to an agenda that go out to all team members. By having a shared folder, meeting details can easily be shared and linked to the agenda. 
  4. Team development: if teams are an essential learning and work structure in schools these days, how much time do we spend developing the teams in our schools? One crucial process linked to the role of team developer is analyzing the culture, learning, and productivity of teams in your school. For instance, once a month, you could spend the day attending team meetings and use a simple process of observing, analyzing, giving feedback, and setting development goals with your teams.


To better use your time and energy toward being more effective and productive as school leaders, you must invest it in high leverage ways around high leverage areas. While there may be hundreds of time management systems out there today, we believe that only by putting all the pieces together in a productivity system can you focus your time to do high-value work. 

Our productivity system design is in its infancy and demands a lot more thinking and exploration, so if you have any thoughts or feedback, please let me know.

Until next time.