A little over a year ago, I published a blog post on ASCD Edge about what I termed the “Administrative Tightrope”. The post focused on the need for balance, and how it is very easy to get swept up in the work as a school administrator. That being said, I also love my work, so working a lot is not an issue, however, from time to time, I feel as though I may be a bit out of balance and then need to “realign” myself. I do this so that I stay healthy for myself and I also do it so that I keep a healthy perspective about my work.
After writing the blog piece, I did have a handful of people that wanted to know my thoughts about keeping that balance. I’ve thought about it for some time now and this seems a most appropriate time to address it. Since the start of November, my assistant principal and leadership partner has been out on leave, which has left me to oversee a school of 500 students and 120 staff members without him. While I’ve kept up with everything, I have also been busier than I’ve been in a very long time. This period of time has given me the opportunity to identify some things I feel help a school administrator keep a sense of balance.
Here are my thoughts:
No E-mail on your Smartphone!
This is my 15th year as an administrator. In a previous position, I had my E-mail come to my smartphone so I could keep track of them. In retrospect, I should have either deleted the application or not used it. I was continually looking at my phone, it rang or buzzed all the time, and there was never an opportunity to “disconnect” from my work life. I currently have the E-mail app on my phone for school email, however, I rarely use it. I’ve resolved myself to the fact that if school or district staff really need to contact me, they have my number and will call me. If someone has E-mailed you about something, most often, it can wait.
Managing E-mail: They keep on coming…
And speaking of E-mail, does it seem sometimes that the amount of messages you get has quadrupled over the past several years? It is not uncommon for me to walk away from my computer with about a dozen or so E-mails unread and then when I come back several hours later, I have 70-80. My strategy for managing E-mail messages is to answer them in short bursts of time when possible (a number of them before school, maybe a “chunk” in the middle of the day and then several afterwards). IF I have had a very hectic day and I know I have some I haven’t answered, I MAY try to attend to them in the evening. What I don’t do is feel guilty about not reading E-mails every night and every weekend. Protect your time. E-mails, as I mentioned before, can wait.
Messenger Bag as Paper Transporter
My guess is that like me, you may often take work home. I also suspect that like me, you probably transport the same papers home with you and don’t touch them several times over. I have some days where I work until 6pm (in my office) and then I travel home, stop to grab dinner, and by the time I cook, eat, and clean up, it is 8:30 or 9:00 at night. If you are leaving work late and you know you have to manage other priorities, leave the work at school unless it is something you absolutely have to get done for the next day. Why make yourself feel guilty for eat, maybe spending time with family or even resting when you get home. After this school year started, I went into my bag and emptied half of what I had been transporting home each day. You won’t feel guilty if you don’t take it home.
Hobbies and Personal Interests: Yes, they exist!
For the past 30 years, I’ve been working on researching my family history. It’s addictive, I have to say, and sometimes, it is hard to put away. That being said, it can also be hard to pick up when I have tons of school work to do. Sometimes, I will purposely work on the genealogy research even when I know I have some other things to do. I know that if I don’t make time to take a break, it could be months before I would get to it again. The time I reallocate to working on it may only be 30 minutes to an hour, but it is enough time to keep me grounded in something I have a great interest in and that I enjoy. Make sure that you take time to do those things you enjoy, and again, do not feel guilty that you’ve diverted what you consider to be work time to something you really like.
Family and Friends: Don’t Make Them Wait
Whether your family consists of a spouse and children, a partner, significant other, four legged “children”, extended family members, or your close circle of friends, just remember that you can never recapture the time that you can spend with them. Work is important. It is a means to provide a living for your family and to support you, but at the end of the day, if all of your hard work means that you’ve missed the opportunity to see a child’s performance, spend time with a beloved pet, visit with an ailing relative, then you’ve missed out on opportunities you won’t be able to relive. It is ok (give yourself permission) to leave your work in your office, not take something out of your bag, and to not respond immediately to some E-mails. Your school will still be standing and you can always get back to the work you set aside for a short period of time.
These are just a few thoughts and ideas I have about how to keep a healthy work-life balance as a school administrator. The time I take and the time you take to keep connected to family and interests not only keeps us balanced, it ensures that when we do return to work, we can return as a “whole” person. It also means that we need to set appropriate boundaries for work and personal lives, so that when we are in that personal life “zone”, we can enjoy it to its fullest and again, be more present when we return to our schools.