The best heads go home early

16th June 2006 at 01:00
Life coach says that exhausted school leaders must learn how to get their work done and leave at a reasonable time. Adi Bloom reports

Leaving work on time is not the sign of a slacker, it is an indication of professionalism. This is the lesson that headteachers need to learn, according to Zara Tippey.

The 47-year-old former assistant head has drawn up a list of tips to convince school managers that they can get all their work done and still go home on time.

Ms Tippey, who now works as a life coach for senior teachers, says: "Heads need to come to terms with the fact that there will always be more to do than they can accomplish in the time given. By accepting that, they take away the pressure." This, she says, is the most important point in her top 10 list (see box).

Productivity can be maximised by planning before starting a project. "Every minute spent planning saves 10 in the execution."

Ms Tippey recommends beginning with the most difficult task first. This will often make the greatest impact when completed, but will weigh heavily on the conscience if left untackled.

"It's much easier to respond to emails than to tackle something big," she says. "Reward yourself for doing that big task. Give yourself some extra time: have lunch with someone you haven't spoken to in a while, or go home at 4pm."

Smaller jobs can be delegated. "Heads can be their own worst enemies. They often feel that if they don't do something, it won't get done," she says.

"Sometimes work only needs to be good enough. People think, I'll just spend another half-hour tweaking, but that eats into their time."

Drastic measures are needed for those tempted to stay at work until their desks are clear. "Sign up for a class one day a week, or have an arrangement with the caretaker, so that he switches off the lights at a certain time."

Jane Sculpher, head of Langley Manor private primary, in Slough, has been following Ms Tippey's advice. Each day she will now close her office door, take the phone off the hook, and just relax for five minutes. "As a headteacher, you're your own worst enemy," the 51-year-old said. "You don't give yourself time or attention. And you often feel you can do things quicker than anyone else. But that's not your job. You need to empower other people."

As well as giving herself five minutes of quiet-time each day, Ms Sculpher now sets realistic deadlines, putting off a job if she feels it can wait.

And she will strike bargains with herself: "Sometimes I know I'll have to work late. But I'll make sure I have lunch outside, or that I visit the bank. I used to think, I have cheques to pay in, but when will I do it?"

On Ms Tippey's advice, she also calculates how much she has earned per hour each working week. "Every time you take work home or stay behind, you're reducing your worth. Some weeks I was a professional; and some weeks I was doing it as a hobby."

She is still the last to leave school, but she is never the first in. And she rarely takes work home.

"How effective can you be after a day's work?" she said. "You need relaxation time, unwinding time, you time."

Instead, she has begun to study towards the National Professional Qualification for Headship. And she has joined a gym.

"I do terrible things, like circuits," she said. "But having a life outside work is just fantastic."

Patrick Nash, chief executive of the Teacher Support Network, believes that prompt departures by senior staff help to improve the school atmosphere.

"Heads have as much right to work-life balance as their colleagues," he said. "They must set a good example by working sensible hours. Good leadership means knowing when to say no, when to prioritise work, and when to delegate."


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Top 10 time-saving tips

1. Accept that there will always be more to do than you can manage in the available time.

2. Don't be an email addict. Check your inbox twice a day, store what's important and delete the rest.

3. Apply the 8020 rule to everything: 80 per cent of your effectiveness will be the result of 20 per cent of your activities. Concentrate on that 20 per cent.

4. Avoid time-consuming activities that have little impact for you or your school.

5. Plan. Write down your aims before you begin a task.

6. Do the most difficult task first. Big issues left untackled can become a worry.

7. Prepare before you begin. Clear your desk. Break large jobs down into smaller chunks.

8. Develop creative delaying tactics. Ask yourself, what will happen if this job doesn't get done?

9. If you have to take work home, decide on a time limit, and only take what you know you can achieve.

10. Set an example as the person who does a great job and goes home on time.

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