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“Let me be honest, these strategies around time and personal effectiveness management have a lot of relevance for me right now. So, if it helps, consider me your own personal lab rat…or maybe guinea pig…much nicer!”


Welcome to another exploration of how we can move ourselves from exhaustion to higher performance, from stress burnout to a sense of purpose and mission and energy.

I wanted to start this article by sharing that if I am learning one lesson this year it is that change is hard! I run seminars for tens of thousands of people per year and most of the time I am trying to move people, in one way or another toward changing some important aspect of their behaviour. Only this morning I was thinking about how, as we get older, we can get very used to acting, choosing and responding in some very repetitive ways. As such, making a big change is not always easy. In the 12 Steps style programs made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous ( I am not a member…yet!) They talk about rock bottom and sometimes about pre-contemplation, which is the place you get to when you start to become vaguely aware that something is not working and that we might need to make some changes.

So let’s agree that all of us could probably use a little help when it comes to the area of time and personal effectiveness management as educators, clergy or leaders. We can also agree that our lives are becoming increasingly complex and not less so. I recently bought and IPAD 2 to accompany my IPHONE 4 and Macbook. Such dreams I had back then! Dreams of endless portability, productivity and all that extra leisure time we were promised so long ago. Of course, all the people that promised us that leisure time went bust in Silicon Valley in the 90’s and are now shift managers at MacDonalds. No offence to Macdonald’s shift managers! Fact is, more technology does not often mean less complexity.

Coupled with the growth of complexity via technology are the increased demands for teachers in the area of accountability, reporting and expectations in general. I am not aware of too many principals walking into a staff common room on a Monday morning ready to tell their staffs that there will be a 25% cut in reporting admin work and that every person will be required to teach one less class while keeping the same amount of pay.

So if this is what things are looking like, more work not less, more complexity, not less, more accountability not less then we are faced with a pretty simple choice. We can quit or we can adapt in ways that are workable. The good news is that of all the millions of life forms on this planet you got born into the one that has a rather snazzy little piece of kit called a pre-frontal cortex. It’s the part of your brain that allows you to do advanced and highly complex thinking. It is the cerebral equivalent of an opposable thumb.

There are a lot of benefits here. For example, my spaniel spent the night outside on a blanket and I spent the night inside under a blanket. I found him this morning drinking out of the fishpond. He found me drinking a double shot latte from an expensive Italian espresso machine. Enough said, when it comes to thinking, planning and adaptability…we do ok, there is reason to be optimistic.

What I am getting at here is that we can actually come up with some very strategic ways to manage our workloads. This is possible and the good news for you is that I am also right in the middle of it myself. I have three very young children, about 150 plane flights per year, a bunch of staff and a speaking schedule that involves about 40,000 people per year. Let me be honest, these strategies around time and personal effectiveness management have a lot of relevance for me right now. So, if it helps, consider me your own personal lab rat…or maybe guinea pig…much nicer!

Getting Things Done

Getting Things Done

I thought this week we would take a gentle step into one of the two main methodologies that I mentioned last time. If you remember I looked at David Allen’s Getting Things Done or GTD process and also Tony Schwartz’s theories around managing energy instead of time.

Daivd Allen pioneered what is known as the GTD methodology which argues that we basically get very stressed at a deep level because we have a huge amount of uncollected things in our head and that if we ever do get around to recording them in some meaningful way then we lack efficient systems for actually doing them.

I finished the article last week by asking you to take a moment to write down all the junk in your head that keeps you awake at 2am. Every shopping item, phone call, DIY project, TV show to record, dinner to organise etc. Step one is create a ritual or process that ensures that you have everything out of your head where you can actually get at it and then begin to process it. For this week I think we will hold off the processing steps and just begin by trying to ensure that we develop the single ritualistic habit of writing things down or recoding them in some meaningful way.

Immediately, some of you are thinking that this is just another TO DO list. Wrong. The GTD methodology will go well beyond the TO DO mentality but to be honest if we can get you into the habit of having one place where you can quickly and easily record whatever just flashed into your mind that you haven’t done, or that needs to get done, then we are on our way.

When I was a first year teacher I always had a notepad on the edge of my desk and everything was written down on there all the time. I enjoyed that tiny shot of dopamine each time I crossed something off. It gave me a tiny sense of control. Nowadays I use dedicated software that syncs across my Iphone and Macbook. I can be in the car or in a meeting and suddenly I remember a call or a task I had forgotten. Instantly it is in the system to be managed in some other rituals that we will explore in more detail in the coming weeks.

So for now can I encourage you to get yourself a copy of David Allen’s lifesaving book, Getting Things Done by clicking here. Next edition we will begin step one of the processing system that will see you sipping daiquiris long before the staff Christmas party.

PS. Have your say in the forum below – “What do you think is the single biggest time waster for teachers?”