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Treat your treadmill addiction

Overworked heads must have a sound action plan for leisure as well as work, writes Margaret Adams

Like most professional people, heads have a professional solution to excessive workload: they struggle to fit more into each day and work longer and longer in the evenings and at weekends to stay on top of their jobs.

But heads may be their own worst enemies. What if working longer is actually making things worse?

Few in education would dispute that leadership roles have grown over the past 20 years. In some cases, roles are now too big for any one person.

However hard heads work, the job always seems to get on top of them.

Long working days, lost evenings and weekends and vanishing work-life balance are the result of the decision consistently to prioritise work over other activities. Sooner or later, heads become dissatisfied with the price they pay for the choices they make about the way they organise their lives.

Working every weekend damages relationships, health, social lives and so on. Doing so without any hope of ever finishing everything on the "to do" list, of being in control of the job and of having time to relax, can be soul-destroying. If, as a head, you find you have reached a situation where your commitment to your work does not deliver either the work benefits or the personal satisfaction you seek, then it is time to consider another workload management strategy. After all, continuing to do things that do not deliver the results you want does not make sense.

First, find a way to reclaim your weekends. Achieving this will give you a breather between each working week, time to re-charge your batteries and, crucially, time to unwind.

To succeed with this task, you need to think about the ways in which you allocate time to all activities rather differently.

First, accept that time is a finite resource. If you allocate time to one thing, then you cannot allocate that same portion of time to anything else.

Thereis no bank of "extra time" in life. Everyone has the same amount: 168 hours a week. While careful time management and multi-tasking can help you to use time to good effect, no one can create more time. So, when you choose to spend Saturday working on that report, your choice means you have lost the opportunity to use Saturday for anything else.

If, on Sunday, you find yourself exhausted as a result of your efforts the previous day, then you have also limited your options for how you can allocate your time during the rest of the weekend.

When allocating time at the weekends, forget the idea of trying to get all the jobs done - because the chances are, even if you give up the whole weekend, you won't.

Instead, think in terms of what's important to you in all areas of your life. Allocate your time at the weekend with reference to everything that is important and not just with regard to work deadlines. This will almost certainly lead to a re-allocation of your time.

An interest that has been squeezed out of your life may suddenly justify the allocation of a couple of hours. Partners who have been asked to stay in the background while you worked may gain more of your time - because they really matter to you.

But can you justify this change in approach to yourself? What about the guilt you will feel when you go into school on Monday with that report half-finished?

Instead of thinking about what you haven't done, think about the investment you have made in your ability to do your job every day of the working week by relaxing and taking a break at the weekend. And think about how you are going to draw on that investment to help you to achieve more from Monday to Friday.

Think also about the other heads you know who work all hours and neglect their interest in anything other than school - and still don't get everything done. How do they feel when they arrive at school on a Monday?

Accepting that you can't fit everything into your schedule is the first step towards making realistic decisions about what you can achieve in your work.

Regaining control over your weekends will help you to put you - and not your work - in charge of your life. It can be done - if only you allow yourself time off the treadmill.

Margaret Adams is the author of Work-Life Balance: a practical guide for teachers (2006), published by David Fulton

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