I am a member of a lot of different leadership groups, and over and over again I see a theme of principals and school leaders who are asking questions such as: when do we get to collapse, when do we get to say enough, when do we get to cry? Just so many leaders who are not really taking care of themselves, and emptying their cup until there's nothing left.
So, as you know, I've been at this game for quite some time. I don't have it all figured out but I want to tell you a little bit about what does work for me, I want to start by telling you a story. In 2012 I started planning Renaissance Academy Charter School the Arts, at that time my children were 10 months old and 3 years old. My husband was supportive of me starting the school especially because I was going to have a co- leader and wasn't going to be working five days a week. As they say man makes plans and God laughs. All the things that I thought were going to happen didn't. My partner who was supposed to run all of the operations of the school resigned in July, approximately 6 week before “go time.”
Long story short, I wound up being the very fortunate leader of this organization for the past eight years. Early on there was so much to do, especially during the first year. I'd literally work all day at school, I would get home, and then I would have my face in the computer. One afternoon my husband said to me “I need you to do something for me. I need you to be more present.” I said, “Okay, well what are you talking about.” He said, “Well you come home after being gone all day and then you've got your face in the computer and the kids and I are not interacting with you." So I thought, okay, I can do that. He does so much for our family I can definitely do that for him. So when I came home from work, I didn't even open my computer.
Until .... the kids went to bed. Then when the kids went to bed, out came the computer computer and I'm in my bed doing work. Guess what happened next, then my husband said “Well, you made some progress, and I'm very happy that you're there for our children, but now you're not there for me. When will we have time together?” That statement really made me think that I was not respecting my boundaries.
Prior to this when I was a principal I wasn't a mother nor was I a wife. I could work late at school. I could get home at eight o'clock at night if I wanted to stay late to finish a project. When your lifestyle, or your position in life, changes then how you work and even how you lead has to change.
I wanted to write a bit about how to set boundaries and how to check in with yourself to make sure that you're taking care of yourself. As a leader you have lots of things pulling on you. I wanted to share with you a couple things that I do to help with that balance.
Shut Off When you Are Not at Work
First I really try to shut off when I'm not at work, which is not always easy for me to do. I won't actually do projects anymore at night, I might check my email but I'm not really working anymore at night like I used to. I know that's been a big difference because if I say to my husband now on a Saturday or at night. "You know, babe, if I could just have one hour to do some work it would be really helpful." It's absolutely no problem and he really respects that I'm keeping what's at work, at work and what's at home, at home. It's not always easy to do and sometimes I fall off the wagon. Most of the time I do keep things separate and it has really helped make sure my family gets the best of me.
Schedule What is Important to You
The second thing that I think everyone needs to do is to schedule important tasks. Your days will get filled up with all sorts of tasks. The thing that you need to do first is schedule tasks that you want or need to get completed. Each day on my calendar I have from 2:00-3:00 scheduled as “DMC Work Time.” By putting it in my calendar no one else can schedule something for me at that time. I know that for at least that hour I can focus on tasks that I deem important.
Do you eat lunch every day? No, well you need to make sure that you eat lunch every day, make sure there is time in your schedule to check your email and return messages, even schedule your exercise. My husband and I were talking one day about exercise and I said, “I feel like I don’t have time.” He wisely said, “Schedule a work-out appointment for yourself. You wouldn’t miss a doctor’s appointment, would you? Well, then don’t skip your workout appointment either.” So find the time to schedule things in your day so you can complete your tasks and even have some downtime.
Check-In With Yourself
The next thing is really checking in with yourself, determine how you are feeling. Yesterday I was not as productive as I was today. Again, I was working from home yesterday and I just couldn't get into the groove. I checked in with myself and realized that I was just feeling really tired and off. So I got a little physical activity and then I was better, but today I was much more productive. I think it's just because I woke up in a better place and I got started right away.
If your energy or attitude is off you need to do something about it. You can go for a walk, get a change of scenery, take some deep breaths, listen to some upbeat music or do whatever will help you get your energy right. When I am in the school building and I feel my energy is off I go into classrooms or go out to the playground. No matter how I am feeling these two places always bring me joy. If ever you feel down, just go be with the children!
Routines are Essential
The next thing that helps is to develop some daily routines. What are some routines that you have? When I'm working in the building once the students get in, that's when I will go to my office, sit down, open my computer, look at my emails, and respond to voicemails. If I need to make calls to parents or connect with families that I liaison with, I might do that in the morning. So thinking about when and how you want to do certain things really helps you to maintain boundaries.
I also try and do as many meetings as I can in the morning because as the day moves on it gets more ane more busy. In my experience if I say to somebody I'll meet with you at 2:30, by 2:30 the day has already gone in a totally different direction often.
The concern that I have for many leaders, is that you're giving so much of yourselves that you're just getting completely depleted. I've been there and it is not a great place to be! So make sure that you check in with how you're feeling, put some routines in place for yourself, make sure you have some downtime during the day, whether it's you need lunch and you listen to music at lunch. Go outside and eat lunch with a friend. Try to find some time.
This is the truth: there's always plenty of work and there's never enough time to get it all done. For people like you who are striving to be really effective leaders and want to change the world one student at a time, you need to protect yourself. If you're letting yourself just get depleted you’re like a car that has run out of gas, and it's very hard to get all of those things back up and running.
You should never get to the point, at the end of the day, or the end of the week where you feel like you're just about to collapse, or feel like you’ve got absolutely nothing left. What about your family when you get home? You need to make sure that the people you love get the best of you and not the rest of you. That was a big wake up call for me when my husband said to me, “You're home but you're not present for us."
Work life balance is essential and with a little bit of planning you can protect yourself, maintain your boundaries, and go home with energy for those you love.
In Friendship, Love and Leadership,