Photo by Kelly Sikkema

It’s audit time in New Zealand schools. A state appointed auditor has a close look at the financial performance of your school (with a few random ‘add-on’ questions included).

This can be a process akin to dental surgery or it can go quietly in a low-key type of way. What I’ve learnt over time is that the amount of stress involved is directly proportional to your understanding of the MVP – minimum viable product. And, if you like acronyms, you are the other MVP in this process (most valuable player).

MVP in the sense we’re using it here is straight from the land of product marketing. It describes the least developed product/thing/widget that can be put into the market for consumers to consider – in effect, you get your biggest amount of bang for the least amount of bucks.

As your personal stash of ‘bucks’ is both important and finite, it makes sense not to over use them on tricky audit questions. Recognising this happy balance improves with experience, but there is a simple hack that anyone can use which will get you 90% of the way to a sign-off – it’s leveraging the infallible power of “yes” or “no”.

“Do you have a policy for disposal of assets under the value of $50?”

Yes or no.

“Do your cash handling policies, procedures, and practices ensure the risk of fraud is properly managed?”

Yes or no.

Sure, sometimes an explanation is required, and in these cases the concept of MVP is again the best way forward. This bit could be called the MVWs (minimum viable words). Less is always more for these queries and any degree of overthinking should be squashed at inception.

I always find it helpful to remember that some hard-working junior auditor is responsible for getting all the required answers and in most cases, they simply want to get the job done. It’s a kindness to make it easy.

It obviously goes without saying that every answer should be completely honest and factual, and occasionally that will mean you must admit a deficiency. Again, this is not a problem to worry about, even if it leads to a “note” on the final accounts. Unless a note involves fraud or serious mismanagement, neither your mum nor Presiding Member should care.

I once received a note for getting 2 FlyBy points on my personal credit card related to a school purchase. I still remember it because it annoyed me greatly. The school had ordered a piece of computer equipment from a well-known national retailer. No one had time to collect it during the week, so on a Saturday morning I hopped in my car and drove down to the shop. As I waited at the checkout for the helpful person to process the order, they said, “FlyBys card?” Without thinking I handed them my own one.

So, on a Saturday morning, in my personal time, using my own car and with no malicious intent, I earned our school a “note” . . .

I rest my case.

It’s possible that by the time you read this post your audit will be complete – congratulations, you can go back to leading learning. But if you’re still in the process, keep it simple, keep it brief and this too will pass.


Photo by Brett Jordan

Some tech experts are predicting that the AI revolution will effectively end email as we know it. Not because it will bring newer, better alternatives, but because AI written spam will overwhelm the system. Maybe.

While we wait to see if this dire prophecy becomes true, the good old email reigns supreme in most principals’ daily communication systems. Used well, it saves time, shares information easily and keeps 90% of scheduling up to date. Used badly, it takes time, frustrates everyone, and turns you into a distracted wreck. Here’s a few thoughts to consider –

. . .

Going full Genghis Khan on your inbox

I don’t know how many messages you get daily, but I’m guessing it’s similar to me. I counted last week’s total and my @principal account received 172. The spam filter got plenty more as well but however you cut the numbers, it’s a lot. Some thoughts on how to manage this:

  1. Archive – use the archive function to tidily store any emails older than 6 months. Set up the auto function so it keeps doing that. (You can still find them in you have to!)
  2. Set up folders for the various topics you regularly get mail on. E.g., ‘Iona’, ‘Payroll’, ‘Compliments’. Now either shift mail into the appropriate folder manually as they arrive or set up an automatic rule to do this for you.
  3. Unread emails – open and action them or delete them. No excuses, no procrastination.
  4. Unsubscribe – click the unsubscribe link at the bottom of every regular email that is not mission critical. Do this and watch your volume of mail decrease by 50%.
  5. Be ruthless.

A tidy inbox is a peaceful inbox and you deserve both.

Reply All – sometimes essential / sometimes so annoying

Used to share group responses and thoughts, it makes sense. In a group discussion, ‘reply all’ keeps the process upfront and transparent, and if you want to thank someone it’s more powerful if everyone sees the acknowledgement. In all other cases, don’t do it – we each have people in our address books that reply all to every single message– don’t be that person.

Delay send

I love this option! By using it, I can neatly overcome the dilemma of not wanting to send emails at unreasonable times, and yet still getting that message sent so I don’t have to remember to do it later. My email programme even pops up the option to delay send automatically if I compose a message outside of ‘work’ hours. (I wonder if anyone has noticed I send a lot of messages at 7:30am? 😊 ) 

When is unreasonable?

In the 40 Hour Project we are all about balance in life and ‘switching off’ work regularly, but when is it Ok to send or receive a message? After 5pm? Before 8am? If I receive an email at 2am I’m pretty clear that’s outside what’s reasonable, but what about 6pm? This links into the topics below .   .   .

Checking their inbox – your team

This is a delicate but essential thing to get right amongst your team. What is the clear expectation around the frequency they will check their inbox? Given the majority are actually teaching a class, when/how often is it reasonable that they will have had a look?

Checking your inbox – you

Here is an A grade, super important self-management topic – when/how often do you check your inbox? There are literally hundreds of studies over years on this topic and the bottom-line is that you will lose productivity (and possibly your mind), if you check too often.

What’s too often? Let’s start with the extreme – running ‘live’. With a dual screen set-up, or sound notifications on, you can easily see/hear each new message as it arrives.

A live inbox means that every time someone sends you a message, you see it. Every. Single. Time.

Assuming checking mail is not your only task, from a productivity point of view, each time you are interrupted in what you are doing, it can take up to 20 minutes to get fully back to that task. Badly managed, you could potentially spend hours floating through the sea of stuff lobbed casually into your day. Don’t do it.

Turn all alerts off  

Alerts kill productivity surer than a cold gin kills motivation to mow your lawn. Related to this are smart watches. These are possibly the very worst inventions ever for increasing anxiety and decreasing productivity. If you’ve connected yours to your phone, which is connected to your email, you are now effectively a walking alert. Find the online instructions and turn the message/email alerts off. You’ll thank me later.

Receiving messages

Regarding your community, we all know some of them don’t sleep, and surprisingly, they might not consider the work/life balance of you or your team as important . . . some clear, friendly communication about this topic is essential.

Choosing times to check

With alerts turned firmly off, schedule no more than 3 times in the day when you will deal with your mail. What works for me is around 9:30am (people send lots of mail early so I catch these messages after I’ve got the day launched and connected with people onsite), straight after lunch time (lunch is always busy with people related work), and around 5pm (in an attempt to minimise stuff rolling into the evening). I do often check mail quickly in the evening but following this plan, the volume is usually small.

The bottom line

Either you manage your email or it manages you – a small investment in time sorting this out will continue to pay back forever.

And just for fun, if you have a moment, answer this two question survey and I’ll share the results next time I post –



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Photo by Lukas Blazek 

Time, the most precious gift and the one thing that we can’t replenish – when it’s gone, it’s gone. Each of us gets 168 hours every week. You, me, and Elon Musk got exactly the same amount last week, and each of us used it differently.

I don’t know about you or Elon, but in my allocated time I didn’t get to some stuff that I wish I had. If you’d asked me why, I might well have said because I was too ‘busy’.

But I don’t actually think this is true, what I think is that we make time for things that are important.

Here’s a personal example.

I had a full day of work-related activity lined up including meeting with some parents, a Board report to finish, an important conversation with a team member, and my promise to cover someone’s morning duty. And our office manager was sick. That morning when I turned on the shower, mentally lining up all my ducks for the day, I realised it wasn’t getting warmer. Plenty of cold but no hot.

I grabbed a towel, stepped out of the shower and started down the passageway. Three steps later my bare foot went “squelch” on the carpet and I realised where the hot water was going.

My priorities for the day shifted exactly at that moment.

The point is, that when something important (fixing the leak) and urgent (it’s getting worse by the second) came up, I could find plenty of time to resolve the situation. I messaged people, rearranged plans and started phoning plumbers. It took all morning.

Before the leak started, if you’d asked me to spend two hours that morning on something else, I’d have said, “sorry I can’t today”.

As it turned out, I had plenty of time to do what needed to be done – I wasn’t short of time, I just started the day with different priorities.

This example is due to a crisis (first world crisis!) forcing my shift in priorities, but most of the important stuff that we struggle to find time for is longer term – things like exercising or creating that new strategic plan. They sit there, hovering in the background adding mental load, but still undone.

I’d like to suggest that how and what you prioritise are the real issues when you say, “I’m too busy”. No matter what you decide to do with your 168 hours you still have exactly the same amount – and the choice is always yours. 

There are two simple strategies that I’d like to suggest to help you allocate time for important things.

Firstly, to find your top priority items, think in the longer term – maybe a year ahead. Tim Ferriss uses a technique called “fear setting” to do this. He considers what harm or loss continuing with a particular habit will have in the longer term. An example is gaining a kilogram in weight every couple of months. A couple of extra kilos probably isn’t a problem but if we look at the outcome after a year or two, the harm is bigger. Tim uses this ‘over time’ technique to amplify problems so they become priorities.

I have used this negative consequence idea as a motivator but have also flipped the viewpoint and looked for some positives. An example would be to imagine what it would be like to have an extra $500 cash to spend on a hobby or fun event next Christmas. That’s only $10 per week – skipping 2 bought coffees or not buying a Lotto ticket gets me there easily. Imagining that happy outcome gives me motivation to change a habit.

The key thing to use as leverage is the effect of your immediate choices over time.

The second strategy that I find super helpful is really about making sure I stick to my priority plan and to do this I use my calendar (diary) system.

I’ve written about this before and in essence it reflects the fact that we put the important things on our calendars –

“When you have a meeting with your leadership team, it’s on the calendar. When you want to see what is happening next week, you check the calendar. Meeting your appraiser? Yes, it’s on the calendar.”

The truth is, that when we make a commitment to do something/be somewhere, we add it to our diary or calendar. All the important work stuff is there, but what about all the important other stuff?

So, a 2-step action plan to ensure your 168 hours each week are properly prioritised, starts with applying a longer-term lenses to what matters most (which will include both work and human needs) and then adding the necessary smaller steps to your year calendar/diary.

If you work backwards from the desired outcome, it’s pretty easy to identify and add the small steps needed. Once they’re locked in your calendar, you’re likely to do them.

None of us are really short of time, we just need to be clear about what matters most.



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Photo by Vitolda Klein

Luckily, I’m a teacher not a builder. I say this because while I’d love a new Ford Ranger (with EV stickers on it), I’d be so slow in my job that I couldn’t afford to run it. Why? Because I’ve realised I’ve got a problem – I like projects to be just right. To be fair, I’ve suspected this for a while, but over the last holiday break I found myself pulling apart a small deck I’d built and redoing it just because one corner was slightly (15mm to be precise) too high. That deck was, objectively, finished last Christmas, but instead of accepting it was done, I just had to adjust it.

I think school leaders are very prone to doing this. Tweaking that pandemic plan, leading yet another curriculum meeting about maths, trying to build the perfect Professional Growth Cycle . . . the list is long indeed.

And we’re surrounded by people who do the same thing, and are part of a system that encourages this over thinking. It’s hard not to do the same.

The people closest to us as leaders are the teachers we work with. Typically, they like things to be right (fairly so) and can be passionate about their specialty, which leads to searching for the best. On the face of it, this is an admirable quest. Better is better and obviously the students in our care deserve this.

But there’s a cost to seeking perfection.

For example, how many times have you arrived at another reporting cycle and found that what was agreed to be fine last time now needs to be amended? I’m pretty sure most of us have been part of that dance! The “big picture” people in the team will talk lovingly about biting the bullet and adopting a whole new system, those with eyes for detail will want the font sizes changed . . .

The cost comes in the discussion, the thinking, the re-creating, the energy – all of these are finite resources and if not carefully allocated, either stop us from doing other important work or simply add to an already heavy load for everyone.

.   .   .

The education system that we are based in explicitly and implicitly encourages the same behaviour.

New curriculum initiatives are usually broadly described. They come with school-by-school autonomy where each school interprets how to implement them. In a quest to avoid prescription, very little specific guidance is given and so every school starts inventing their own version. This can be a daunting process and principals I know are always eager to see what others have done, not only to get some guidance on what to do themselves, but to compare and see if what they already have is “good enough”.

(As a brief aside, NZ is currently going through a curriculum “refresh” and my fervent hope is that the new model breaks the cycle of school-by-school reinvention. My breath is held.)

The implicit push is more subtle. There’s an unwritten expectation that things can always be improved.

At times this has been obvious with terms like “a culture of continuous improvement” driving Review Office expectations, but at other times it’s deeper, buried in conversations or contained in media releases. When a system wide problem emerges, an almost default next step is to start talking about what schools can do better. In our NZ context, the current angst about school attendance is a classic example.

The fact that all can see the main drivers of the problem are societal, with an overlay of 2 years of international pandemic, does not stop the conversation quickly turning to what schools can improve on. (I’m not suggesting that schools can’t be more welcoming, more relevant, or more attractive – simply that yet again we are seen as an easier answer to a complex problem.)

So the dance will start again and teams across the country will need to use their finite resources to respond.

.   .   .

Which brings us full loop to a term that I believe has been wrongly maligned in our game – “good enough”.

“Good enough” – satisfactory, fine, acceptable, decent, respectable – are all synonyms for this term.

When deciding at what point to stop working on something, to leave it alone, we are making a decision about where the project sits on a continuum. That line starts somewhere around ‘crap’ and stretches all the way to ‘perfect’.

Perhaps if our only job was to create a single beautiful thing, like a designer watch or a set of song lyrics, it would make sense to push the definition of good enough closer to the perfection end of the scale, but we have a myriad of things to create, maintain and support.

Recognising “good enough” and acting on it, is not a natural behaviour for many of us, but to ignore it, is to self-impose unnecessary workload and comes at a high cost to other important work.

‘Good’ is good and ‘enough’ is enough – believe it.



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Last Friday when David published his awesomely simple “The Positivity Button” blog, I found myself with something that hasn’t happened in months. An empty calendar.

It was hard to believe. 

An empty calendar.

Don’t get me wrong, there was still plenty to do, but an empty calendar is pretty rare these days. Unheard of even.

It came at a particularly tricky and difficult time – full of plans that really had to fall like dominoes in the right direction for it all to come to fruition. And it had been like this for a long time. You’ll know those types of times well I suspect.

But it did highlight something to me though that I should have reminded myself at the time.

Nothing is forever. There are ebbs and flows in this job, and every now and again you’ll get through it all and have time to breathe.

The difficulty is knowing when this is about to happen. My empty calendar on Friday could quite as easily have filled itself with all sorts of school led maladies. But on Friday the stars aligned and there was nothing but space.


It was a good reminder too that when those spaces afford themselves, don’t go packing them full of things that need to happen. Instead, use the time to do something in your school that you want to do. If you want to do some of the needs – all good! Jump right in! But don’t put the pressure on yourself to believe that this is the time for you to get ahead. You well might, but you might also be better off taking that breather. 

This is classic Be Slacker Better stuff. Remember, this is quite different to being a Better Slacker. It’s about giving yourself the permission to give yourself some slack. To give yourself some time.

So as I was spending the time tidying up the piles on my desk and shredding months of plan workings that all led to the master plan that I had just landed, I got to thinking more about David’s post and his Positivity Button.

Brian Eno is better known as a musician/producer who has worked with the likes of U2, David Bowie, Roxy Music and Coldplay to name a few. In 1975 he teamed up with an artist called Peter Schmidtt to design a box of cards called oblique strategies. It’s a little bit more complex than David’s Positivity button, and not quite as deep as all the stuff philosophized over by the Stoics – but essentially it’s all the same; A way of looking at the current situation and trying to make some sense of it.

Eno’s Oblique Strategies are a set of provocations and ideas that can help you look at your situation from a different view point. These days you can go straight to and click a button that will give you a random oblique thought provoking one liner.

Originally the sayings came in a set of 55 separate cards that wikipedia tells me “offered a challenging constraint intended to help artists (particularly musicians) break creative blocks by encouraging lateral thinking.

I’ve taken them a step forward and replaced “artists” with principals. Well, it’s not too much of a step forward – we are after all “artists”!

Here goes a sample of what they have to offer:

Don’t be afraid of things because they are easy to do

Once the search is in progress, something will be found

Honour thy error as a hidden intention

And a personal favourite: 

Take a break

On Friday when I found my calendar to be free I took a break from thinking and tidied my desk. No shame in that.

For someone who has had a year of own goals and fair share of errors, the “Honour thy error as a hidden intention” one sounds sweet. It immediately gives you a release from that anxious terror that you’ve done something wrong. And it helps you look at the situation from a different angle. Maybe this principal gig isn’t so bad after all.

Of course this is all just another way of helping you get through your situations. It’s as relevant and as correct as David’s ‘Positivity Button’ (“I’m going to have a really really good day”) or the Stoics “Have we found anything better?

…than being brave

…than moderation and sobriety

…than doing what’s right

…than truth and understanding?”

And maybe, just maybe it’ll help you get to that next time when you have a clear calendar in one piece.



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Time is finite, choice is not . . .


“If you agree that some of your important leadership work is done outside of 9:00AM to 3:00PM, Monday to Friday, why can’t some of your important non-work  activities happen inside of those times?”

That’s what I added to the bottom of a post a few weeks ago – it caused some comment.


.   .   .


 As school leaders, common sense suggests a lot of our work time will occur when the students are on site. I agree.

But a lot of it also occurs when they are not, so how then do you make the distinction?

In a salaried job without fixed hours, how do you decide when it is “work time” and when it is “your time”?

I would like to suggest that you shouldn’t have to.


.   .   .


Given that we all have a set 24 hours in a day, and given that we all have a mixture of both work and personal needs to meet in that time, why would we decide to compartmentalise chunks of the day arbitrarily to one or the other? I’ll give an example to illustrate what I mean:

I was talking with a colleague recently and they commented how great it had been to be able to run each day during lockdown, how when they felt their focus slipping or needed to think clearly, they pulled on their shoes and went for a run, returning refreshed and ready to work again. They sighed and said, “I miss this.”  

I sympathised but added, “why does this have to stop? Why don’t you go for a short run at lunchtime at least a couple of times each week?”

There was a long silence, but eventually they said, “perhaps I will.”

Now, I don’t know whether they have made that choice, but the interesting thing for me was that their first reaction was almost … shock – I was clearly suggesting they used “work” time for a “personal” time activity!

My point is that every day/week/Term is all just time. By arbitrarily assigning set blocks to one or the other, we remove choice, flexibility, and possibility.

How about a little reorganisation?

Rather than going to the gym or forcing yourself out for a walk at 5:30 AM on a bitter winter morning, you could still get up early (in your warm home), and complete an important work task before 7:00 AM, then head to school as usual. Later, at around 10:00AM when your energy levels need a boost, you could go to the gym or head out for a walk.

Why not?

I think Seth Godin sums the situation up nicely –

“You don’t need more time … you just need to decide.”




Postscript – if you make a change to the status quo, you are going to upset a few people. Don’t be scared of this, if nobody cared, you probably haven’t changed much!

A colleague shared a recent experience which illustrates this nicely –

“We were locked down in Level 3 (in NZ) and I was obviously working from home. Around 10am on this particular day I headed out for a run. It was good … until I got a message from my Board Chairperson saying he thought it would be a good look if I was seen at school! I’d been working on school stuff since 7am … was a bit fried, and so went for a run. Turned out his wife saw me.”

Clearly, neither the Board Chair nor his wife understood what they were seeing. They had a picture of what they thought a school leader should be doing. They were wrong.

This principal was making a smart, rational – professional – choice. I really hope they keep doing this – their school needs them to be effective and sustainable. They need to be well.

In the end, whether you personally will make a change like this probably comes down to a mixture of courage and trust, but that’s a topic for another post.

(For more on this change idea you can read – Be Unreasonable) .


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“I hadn’t been at my school for very long. It was a country school with a straight road of about 6 km separating it from the edge of town. Perfect running distance to unwind after a hectic day of principalship. I left my car in the carpark and took off down the road. The run went so well that I did it again the next day, and the next, leaving school each day about 4pm. Each evening I’d get a lift out to school to pick up my car. The pick-up times would vary from 5:30pm through until after 9:00pm.


Overtime, I began to get compliments about how hard I was working from the community. “Wow, you’re putting in some long hours at school at the moment” and, “awesome work, you’ve been busy”. I didn’t read too much into it. It was true I had put some hours in, but I began to wonder how members of the community who had nothing to do with the school, knew so much about how busy I was and the amount of time I was spending working.


The compliments kept coming, and so did my running home habit.

My fitness improved and at the same time so did my standing in the community.


One day it dawned on me why my community seemed to know so much about the hours that I worked. When they drove home in the afternoon, they always saw my car parked in the carpark. They had no reason to believe that I wasn’t at school, especially when the lights were always on in the school at the same time (thanks cleaners!).


I hadn’t done this to be deceitful, or to skive off early each day, but it did underlie to me some suspicions that I had about how people see the role of a principal, and what we see the characteristics of a great principal as being.”

.  .  .

Many people put value in the hours you work, especially if they don’t know exactly what you are doing. And let’s face it, as a principal, there are often things that we do in our role that go unseen. This perception of the “hours you work” reflecting your value, is often worth more than the actual work you do.  Perception is king.


If you are working long hours, then by association, you must be working hard and achieving a lot! I’ve never heard someone say, “wow you’ve only worked 6 hours today, you must have been super-efficient and on the ball!”.  I wonder why this is? Sooner or later you’ve got to consider; is it our role to be the busiest person at school, or is it actually to make the most impact?


This begs the question, what would our roles look like if we were forty hour principals? I asked several of  my colleagues, all who work a variety of hours, (but always well over forty in any given week – sometimes double that), “imagine if  you could work a forty hour week, I wonder what that would look like?” 


They all said it couldn’t be done. They implied that a forty hour a week principal simply wouldn’t being doing their job, and (just gently) that maybe I was out of mind suggesting such a thing.


The maths didn’t quite stack up either. If you start at 7:30am in the morning then you’d have to be walking out the gate by 3:30pm, five days a week. Even if you began at 8:00am, you’d be in your car by 4:00pm. None of this accounted for Board meetings, staff meetings, PD sessions, evening PTA meetings, or school community events which were important that you attended.


However, I think most of these principals missed the point.


Forty is just a number. A number that we all grew up with, that we were promised – the mythical forty hour work week. I could have suggested thirty-five or fifty for the same reason. Here we are in a principal world where many of us are overworked, stressed to the max, and struggling to create a work/life balance that has some semblance of joy. We clock up some insanely big work hours. The New Zealand Primary School Leaders’ Occupational Health and Wellbeing Survey (2018)  indicates anywhere between 55 and 80 hours a week. 


The most important number of course, is not the number of hours that you spend chained to your desk. No, the most important numbers are found on the flipside. How many hours do you spend with your loved ones? How many quality sleeping hours do you get each night? How many hours do you spend exercising? How do your blood pressure numbers look? How many hours of stress do you pass on to those around you; to your colleagues and to your loved ones? These numbers add up to your wellness and hence effectiveness both as a person and a principal.


The “Forty Hour  Principal” is therefore aspirational. There are countless things that you as a principal might have to do, and let’s face it the day will only ever be 24 hours long. However, there are some things that we do each day that can happen tomorrow or at another time. The things that you do that make an impact, or a difference, are the only things that really have to happen today.


The “Forty Hour Principal” isn’t about adding work onto those around you either. You are responsible for a lot in your schools and that is never going to change. This is about you being directly accountable to your own well-being.


So, what steps can you take?


Throughout this book we make several suggestions, but a good place to start is to take a look at your current hours per week. You’ll notice that they fluctuate a lot week to week, depending on what’s happening in the school. Try to timetable in at least two forty hour principal weeks during those potentially quieter times per term.  Remember, forty is just a number. It’s aspirational. The aim here is to dramatically decrease your hours when the rhythm of the term makes this possible.


During these weeks, don’t feel guilty when you walk out at 4:00pm. Some of the biggest thinkers in the world routinely take time to do exactly – nothing. Bill Gates, Tim Ferriss, Mark Zuckerberg to name a few, have taken on the habit of regularly stepping away from their usual routines. This isn’t a vacation, it’s a “nothing time” where they spend periods reflecting, reading, thinking and living outside the all-encapsulating world that is running a business. They do this without being contactable or connected to their businesses. And they do it because it works – it makes them healthier and more effective.


Look at the 4pm walk to your car as the beginning of your nothingness time. Nothingness brings to it the flexibility of doing whatever you want as long as it is not more work.


On those days, switch off your email notifications from the moment you leave school. (You should try this every day, not just during your Forty Hour Principal weeks!) Switch them on again when you come to school the next day. You’ll be amazed at how many hours you can save per week just by limiting when you can be contacted. Consider not checking emails during the weekends either. If you are going to check them, then make sure you do it on your own terms, when you are ready to engage. Surprises can wait. They will be equally surprising when you read them tomorrow or on Monday.


By taking on the aspiration of being a Forty Hour Principal, you actively and positively show that being busy isn’t what you value in your school. Impact is the goal, not the number of hours you log up. We’re not talking about Facebook likes here after all!


By looking after yourself you can do your job more effectively. Don’t give in to the perceptions of others who may see this in a negative light. Instead you’re showing some powerful traits; flexibility, a non-judgemental mindset, positive coping strategies, appreciation of self, and the ability to look after yourself and your school.


Throughout the Forty Hour Principal book and in our weekly blog posts, we look at other provocations that will get you thinking about your role. As a whole, they signpost ways that you can use to make being a principal or school leader more manageable, more sustainable, and more fun.




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A couple of weeks ago I suggested that unless something was on your calendar it wasn’t very important, and crucially, probably wouldn’t happen.

So . . . what is on your calendar? I know you have your next Board meeting, the Monday catch-up with your office team, staff meetings, assemblies, teaching commitments . . . is there anything else?

I will start by confessing that mine used to be all work (with maybe the occasional birthday reminder tagged on). When I needed to check, to see whether I was available, I was essentially checking whether the new thing clashed with work already scheduled. 

A gap was an opportunity to say “yes” and add more work. The problem was that way of thinking left days, weeks, terms, full of  . . . work.

Yet work is only one part of life. Sure, it is important. Work provides income, contributes to the lives of others and gives purpose. It is super important. But there’s a lot more to being human than that. There’s family, health, hobbies, pets, homes, friends  . . . a whole plethora of stuff that matters at least as much as work.

So what to do?

I suggest you can start by having another look at your calendar (or diary).

Just for a moment, let’s pretend it’s completely blank. No meetings, appointments, webinars, class visits – just blank. It’s pretty obvious looking at that blankness that you can fill it up, what might not be so obvious is that you can choose with what.

This is where many of us stumble. We arbitrarily pick a “start” time each day  then fill the space from that point forward with work. Periodically, someone else suggests another meeting or appointment and we juggle things around to fit it in. Most school leaders are good at this – we prioritise pieces of our work and fit the slightly less important work streams around them. The problem is, that very quickly, all the time is used up.

I believe there is an alternative.

.   .   .

There’s a well know analogy involving a bucket, some rocks, some smaller stones and some sand. The rocks represent important things, the smaller stones less important stuff, and the grains of sand a huge number of not very important things. The bucket represents your life.

If you fill the bucket with sand, none of the stones or rocks will fit. You’ve used up your finite time with a whole heap of not very important things.

But what say you reversed the order and put the rocks in first? This ensures the most important things are fitted in. Only after they are in do you add the smaller, less important stuff, and finally, you can fill up the remaining gaps with the smallest things because they can filter into little spaces and if they don’t fit, who cares.

Now lets apply this analogy to your calendar – it’s time to make choices.

Because you are a person first and a school leader second, some of the big rocks will have nothing to do with school.

I’m neither a doctor nor a psychologist but I’m pretty sure we should all have “rocks” for exercise, family, friends, passion hobbies, etc. These are at least as important as team meetings, teaching, strategic plans and review team visits! If they’re not on your calendar, why not?

.   .   .

Let’s go back to your newly blank calendar and place your personal rocks on it (this includes both work and non-work things). Because they go on first, they will all fit. (Read the postscript below for a suggestion how.) Once they are placed, and only then, you can put in the second tier stuff. Most of that will fit too. Finally, you could trickle a few of the small “sand” things in, but I’m guessing you won’t bother  because they are often not even important enough to warrant a mark on your calendar. If you forget them, it doesn’t matter.

But here is the tough reality – most of us are used to ignoring some (many?) of the big, non-work rocks. Sadly, it often takes a crisis for people to realise this.

I’ll end this post with a thought that I’ve used before – if you are capable of organising scheduled meetings that are not interrupted by other people or competing work, you already have the skills needed to fit in your important “rocks”.

So get them on your calendar, because then they’re real and are going to happen.



And as a postscript in the spirit of new thinking; if you agree that some of your important leadership work is done outside of 9am to 3pm, Monday to Friday, why can’t some of your important non-work  activities happen inside of those times?


As usual, your thoughts and comments are welcome below or over on the Forty Hour Principal Facebook page.


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