How You Spend Your Time

Here’s an exercise/challenge I shared with a leadership team last week.  I think it’s one of the most important things you can do at the start of a new school year.

Perform a time analysis of your schedule last year.  What does your actual schedule say about your priorities (as a leader, as a human being, etc.)?  Are you happy with what your choices say about you?  If so, keep things as they are.  If not, set up some sacred, repeating, weekly or monthly events to help you do more work that you consider meaningful, healthy, and/or deep.  (Invitation: Use my contact form to send me a list of these new commitments, and I’ll ask you about them in a few weeks.) 


I learned about QuestBridge today. The person who explained it to me told me that it has been successful in part because it worked hard to define its problem — not only connecting low income students to funding for college, but also connecting with students at a time and in a way that they could actually engage those students in the necessary application process.  I like the mission and the clever approach.

Hiring 101


I’m at a retreat for leaders and entrepreneurs in Denver, and I’ve learned a lot.  It’s amazing how many common challenges and opportunities leaders in EDU share with leaders outside of EDU.

Chris O’Neil, the fairly new CEO of Evernote, gave the opening keynote.  It was an intimate gathering, more of a back-and-forth than a stand-and-deliver presentation, and at one point he said that he spends about 50% of his time on hiring.  He works hard, in that process, to be very clear about the expressed values of Evernote’s hiring process.  This helps him to avoid hiring mistakes, which can be costly.

His six pillars for hiring success, followed by a brief summary from my notes, are as follows:

  1. Raise the bar. (Each new hire should improve the company and, if possible, be better than the current crop of employees.)
  2. Strength of diversity. (Chis emphasized that, as a Canadian, he knows that his company can only thrive by bringing in new viewpoints, backgrounds, races, ethnicities, interests, etc.)
  3. Managers own hiring. (Hiring should not be outsourced to the HR department)
  4. Patience. (If people aren’t pounding the table in favor of a new hire, wait.  Go to another round.  Don’t rush the process.)
  5. Realize the stakes. (A bad hire costs the company a lot of money and, ultimately, leads to decreased morale.)
  6. Be humane. (Never bring somebody in for an interview unless they are truly competing for a job.  And, knowing that most people who interview will fail, be kind and compassionate.)

A Good Decision

I’ve read that some decisions need to be made only once.  After that, they continue to produce a desired result.

This morning, walking into a conference room to prepare for a meeting, I was the beneficiary of one such decision.

All the chairs were pushed to one side and all the tables were folded up.  This was a conscious and deliberate decision — made once by the person who oversees the space.  In this particular room, whenever anyone leaves, he/she has to break down the room and push everything to one side.

As a result, when the next person enters the room to use it for a meeting, he/she has to set up the room.  More important, he/she has to figure out how to set up the room in order to achieve a certain purpose.

I’ve attended and run a lot of meetings in this room; sometimes the furniture falls into a familiar pattern, and sometimes it looks totally unique.  I never know what I’m walking into, but I know that one decision has made all the leaders in my school more thoughtful and intentional when they use this space.

I made a small table out of 2 tables and pushed the chairs in close.  Intentionally.  I wanted the group that was meeting there — the Department Chairs at my school — to begin the year in close proximity, looking at one another instead of at devices, a tight-knit group ready to share the burden and joy of school leadership.  The room offered a clean slate and I went with it, as someone once decided that I should.

At a Retreat Today

The facilitator of a leadership retreat I attended today started off by adding a wrinkle to a traditional task.

First he asked us to report on what we were planning to work on at the start of the school year; second — and here comes the interesting wrinkle — he asked us to verbalize something that we were worried about or that was keeping us up at night.

He asked us to talk about the latter because he said it would be a good way to get it out on the table so that we wouldn’t have to keep worrying about it while we were supposed to be together and concentrating.

Though this move didn’t completely reduce all of our worries, it did help us to work hard at being together, face-to-face, and doing work that we could only do because we were in a room together.  He gave us permission, in other words, to untether . . . to be present . . . to come close to being the best team we could be.

Every Upgrade Should Be Graded

I’ve been reading lately about automation and social media because I like to write (what some would call “create content”) but I don’t always have the time to share my writing with my readers (what some would call “followers”).

The very astute observers tend to wrap automated solutions in a very important caveat — don’t automate a communication if it’s going to somehow damage a relationship that you worked hard to build.

This has made me think about how much I dislike automated emails, spam messages, or robocalls and how much I truly appreciate communications that feel handmade, solely for me, personal, timely, authentic, real.

So I’m considering an upgrade, but more important, I’m considering that every upgraded should be graded.

Practical Vocabulary

The Zeigarnik Effect, as defined by Cal Newport in the amazing to contemplate and difficult to apply Deep Work, is as follows:

This effect, which is named for the experimental work of the early-twentieth-century psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, describes the ability of incomplete tasks to dominate our attention.  It tells us that if you simply stop whatever you are doing at five p.m. and declare, “I’m done with work until tomorrow,” you’ll likely struggle to keep your mind clear of professional issues, as the many obligations left unresolved in your mind will, as in Bluma Zeigarnik’s experiments, keep battling for your attention throughout the evening (a battle that they’ll often win).  152 – 153

It strikes me that David Allen’s entire Getting Things Done system is an effort to battle this particular effect.  He encourages us to write things down in a trusted system so that they do not linger in our minds.  Cal Newport also presents some nice fortifications against malingering tasks, but I won’t summarize them for you because I recommend you read Deep Work in its entirety.

After reading the Stoic philosophers all summer . . .

I found this quotation by Alan Jacobs (with an assist by the best passer in the game, Austin Kleon):

Remember Pascal’s warning against the error of Stoicism, which is to believe that you can do always what you can really only do sometimes.

It’s important because it’s of the “work-hard-but-forgive-yourself-when-things-don’t-go-as planned-because-after all-you’re-only-human” variety.  Source is Snakes and Ladders, where Alan Jacobs records “stray random thoughts.”