A Daily Dose of Focus

Daily prioritization can greatly impact leader effectiveness, build teacher capacity and increase student achievement.

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Jeanette is a first-year administrator and begins most days focused and ready to conquer the world.  Twelve hours later…she looks back and feels as though she accomplished nothing.  Can you relate to her feelings?

One of my first mentors in education stopped me in mid-September of one school year and said, “Justine, you are trying to do so many things at one time that you are highly ineffective with completion of any of the tasks.”  At first, this stung a little.  I felt like I was a machine every day, putting on a Wonder Woman cape and tackling my to-do list!  But after some serious reflection, I knew she was completely right.  Had she not provided me with this feedback, my productivity would have continued to suffer.  Moreover, I would not have been able to serve anyone well.

So how does an educator build skills with prioritization?  I believe by making a few minor changes each day, you will see dramatic improvement in your ability to serve others.  Sometimes we want quick wins within our schools, and this is one high-leverage area that can maximize your productivity and capacity, while providing numerous quick wins within multiple facets of school leadership.  Here is some guidance for taking steps towards focusing your time:

  1. Keep first things FIRST.   Every day, educators must ensure that they are spending time on what matters most for students to succeed.  Remember your “why” (your students and teachers!) and if you are contemplating focusing on an initiative, project or small task that will not support goals for increasing student achievement and building teacher capacity- rethink your decision.
  2. Maintain an accurate and realistic calendar.  It is really easy to justify giving yourself no time between observations, parent meetings, district meetings, etc.  If you are running on empty – how can you give to others?  Be sure that your calendar allows 5 minutes between scheduled items to prepare for the next meeting or observation.  The return on investment is greater than the time you think you are losing with the 5-minute cushion. 
  3. Determine your daily three.  Each morning, use three post-its to write the three items you must accomplish that day.  These are sometimes deadline driven but give you a clear focus.  Any other tasks you accomplish – awesome!  By starting the day this way, you will create daily focus and can throw them away when they are finished.  Sometimes, looking at your ongoing to-do list can mentally cause you to feel overwhelmed. 
  4. Be willing to say “no.”  No matter your role in education, it can be easy to be a yes-man or yes-woman, wanting to please everyone.  Sometimes, we can place urgency on tasks or meetings that are actually detours. Identify the importance of urgent action with meetings and tasks and then determine if you should say yes or no. 
  5. Build in time for reflection.  Each Friday, take a moment to look back at what you accomplished within the week.  Chart out your bigger goals for the following week, as well as any other tasks that you may need to follow-up on.  By building in purposeful reflection, you are assessing your ability to prioritize and holding yourself accountable to your focus areas. 

If you find yourself caught up in the endless minutiae of tasks and to-do lists, booking meeting after meeting and walking away from a 12-hour day with a spinning head – start with simple goals for yourself.  Know when to make a commitment and why you are making that commitment.  Remember, a good rule of thumb is this: if it will not directly benefit the growth of your teachers or students, think twice.

How will you dive into prioritization?


Justine González is a former elementary and high school turnaround administrator and teacher.  She is the Founder and President of Educator Aide, a company specializing in school transformation through cultural mastery.  Educator Aide is an exclusive partner company to The 6 Stages Group.


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