People are increasingly talking about a home/work instead of a work/life balance. Work is part of my life but has too often intruded into the home part. I struggle to leave the worry at work and can be slightly obsessed with answering emails. Twitter isn’t really part of my work but is another distraction that means my phone is never far from my side. I’m my own worst enemy.
The good news about being your own worst enemy is that you have it within your gift to do something about it. If you are a leader it is within your gift and it is also your responsibility to ensure you carefully manage the workload of others. Reducing workload – getting rid of the unnecessary and unproductive; focussing on what works and what matters – is an on-going challenge.
Stuart Lock tweeted about a book by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (2018) It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy at Work. One click on Amazon and a few hours reading later, I’m now writing a blog combining bits of the book with my own reflections and attempts to slay the workload monster that is in each of us and in all our organisations.
Work out Your 9 & 10/10; What Works and What Matters?
If you want to have more hours to spend on your home life you will simply have to start doing fewer things. The up side about doing fewer things is that you can really focus on them doing them much better. The list of debunked educational ideas is growing by the day; school leaders and teachers need to act collectively to remove them from daily practice. For example, this year we will be consulting on removing the pay bar we have between M3 & M4 and between the points on the Upper Pay Spine. We’ve never done annual performance related pay; this will see the end of any performance pay across the Trust. It’s a waste of time and energy. At a classroom level many teachers are over marking and under planning; many due to daft school marking requirements. Collecting copious amounts of unreliable data about teachers and pupils – the cursed six weekly data drop – has become a national obsession. We’ve dropped the lot and I don’t miss them at all.
Doing Nothing is an Option (Don’t be Told Otherwise)
“No is easier to do, yes is easier to say”; one of my favourite quotes from the book. It’s similar to my, “More noes equals better yeses”. It can feel rather unfriendly and potentially isolating to say no to new ideas and initiatives. However, saying “yes” to everything is the first step towards personal burnout and organisational chaos. Not everything is equally important; separate the educational wheat from the chaff. Reject more than you commit to; there is only so much time has to become a mantra and way of life.
Equally sometimes things are important but you just don’t currently have the time; kick them down the line to next year. It’s a “wait” or “later” rather than an absolute no. Don’t operate from fear of missing out. There is a difference between busyness and effectiveness; being a late adopter has its benefits.
Recognise Your Stress Behaviours
When I’m stressed and chasing my tail I always just pile more and more meetings into my diary or tasks on each day’s to do list. For a long time, I never realised that I did this; now I can spot myself starting to work this way and control my impulsive behaviours.
My response now is threefold; firstly, what is not really a 9 or 10/10? These just get deleted. Second is to look for what is urgent and what can be delayed to next week or next month. Thirdly, what meetings are unnecessary for me to attend (including ones I may have organised) and delete them from my diary. One year, when I was particularly fed up with the meetings organised by the local authority, I sent my apologies to every single one. I eventually got rumbled but had one of the best years as a leader in my career. Read the minutes of meetings and you’ll catch up with the important bits and realise you didn’t miss a lot.
Be Ruthless & Organised
You need a systematic way to stay on top of things; mine is an electronic diary and to do list with the corresponding Apps. I wish Google would actually integrate their calendar and tasks into one app; bit like they’ve done with the desktop version. My Gmail strategy is delete most e-mails without opening them; you can usually spot the rubbish early. I unsubscribe from as many marketing ones as possible. I open and respond immediately to some and close as “unread” if I need a bit more time to action or thinking time. Everything in one place is key for me.
Immediate Responses are Not Required
The downside of my strategy is I tend to have my Gmail, Calendar and Task lists open all the time on my desktop. There is a tendency to check and respond frequently including regularly checking my phone when I’m away from work. Whilst the speed of my response can be impressive to some it leads to me to then get more emails and the downward spiral continues. Some people have set times they respond to email giving themselves long stretches of uninterrupted time to focus on the big stuff.
The blog was getting a bit long so the next five changes to workload, making 10 suggestions in all, is here: 10 Ways to Put the Home Back into Your Home/Work Balance