Matt Foster


Time Management for Principals

Time management for principals is the same as time management for any leader…except mismanagement of the priorities can have an entirely different impact in a school.

So, we’ll start this article there – the time management priorities. But first, here’s a quick overview of the time management tips and approaches you’ll find in this article:

Everyone knows that principals, heck all educators, have to work long hours throughout the week and sometimes into the weekend.

School activities, managing emails, handling paperwork, meeting with parents, planning for meetings…the overwhelming number and variety of tasks can take a toll on you and your time. 

It is very important to manage your time effectively for stronger school leadership and to be the principal you were meant to be!

Facts About Principals and Time Management

According to a recent study, 84 percent of new principals say they’ve had a high-stress school year (Download the Easy-to-Read Summary of the Study below).

Additionally, of the new principals surveyed, 59% said time management was their most significant challenge! That means time management for principals was the biggest challenge faced in the first year as principal. 

If that’s not enough, another survey showed that the average person has to deal with 1 interruption every 8 minutes!

To complicate the issue more, on average, people have 13 methods for managing time. 

The average person is interrupted 1 time every 8 minutes.

What does your time management toolkit look like? Are you happy with the results? Would you like to simplify your time management strategies? 

Keep reading to discover concrete ways for principals to manage time effectively!

Survey results from new principals, source: NAESP.

What Are the Time Management Priorities for a Principal?

Better yet, what are your priorities as a principal? Being in tune with what exactly your school needs is the first step for enhanced time management.

Let’s start with a fundamental concept.

Touch people before paper.

Stephen Covey’s seminal text laid the groundwork for this concept when he stated, First Things First. 

Touch People Before Paper

A school is a human service institution, so it makes sense that every decision about managing our time focuses on relating to people, connecting with people, and listening to people before jump into the transactional tasks of the principal’s office.

What does this concept look like in action? Here’s a quick list:

  • Walk the halls to say good morning to all staff members and teachers.
  • Meet teachers at the door prior to meetings and engage in small talk.
  • Lead with questions instead of solutions when listening to complaints.
  • Use power meetings, or 2-Minute checkups, to meet with teams and ask power questions related to progress and support.
  • Keep the main thing, the main thing.
  • Plan time to be visible in your school throughout the day.

Let’s dig into two of these school leadership actions a little deeper: Time for Power Meetings and Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

Make Time for Power Meetings

A power meeting, also known as stand-up meetings or 2-minute meetings, is a quick and efficient way of listening to teacher teams and communicating frequently about priority topics.

What is a power meeting?

  • Short enough to do standing
  • Often personalized for the team that is meeting
  • Focused on key topics
  • Energetic and valuable
  • Helpful to a principal who is mindful of time management

Let’s say your November progress checks are coming up. Instead of holding a 45-minute faculty meeting in the library, you can use a power meeting or a series of power meetings.

A power meeting is a quick and efficient way of listening to teacher teams and communicating frequently about priority topics.

Why a Power Meeting?

A power meeting uses less time and allows for less off-topic conversations than a typical faculty meeting. It also is a more relatable approach to communicating with your school teams.

A power meeting has clear benefits for the culture and climate of your school because it’s focused, energetic, and face-to-face.

Again, it uses your time to “touch people before paper”.

Priorities for Principals

Knowing your time management priorities is just as important as knowing priorities for the role of principal.

There’s a distinction between time management priorities, and simply, priorities for principals. Being aware of this distinction can help you order your time in order of importance and urgency.

The Wallace Foundation provides these 5 priorities:

  1. Shaping the school’s vision for academic success.
  2. Creating a safe and orderly climate.
  3. Cultivating leadership in others.
  4. Managing people, data, and learning processes.
  5. Improving school leadership.

This list could undoubtedly go on and on.

However, let’s talk about using priorities to prioritize time.

Keep The Main Thing The Main Thing

If your school is focused on improving literacy scores this year, then ensure your time invested in meetings, time for communication, and time in planning is focused around this overarching, thematic goal.

It’s okay to say no to certain tasks. It’s okay to say no to certain demands on your time.

It’s okay to say no.

Using a system like our Team Bring Forward System, can help you say “not right now” without saying “no, never.”

There’s a big difference between a temporary no and a permanent no.

Thinking in Time Blocks

At its core, the challenge that principals have with time management is finding time for what is important. 

We’ve designed an entire webinar to help you start using time blocks to clear the clutter and open your calendar to effective time management.

Free Webinar Time Blocking

You can sign up for the full webinar, and here are a few pointers to get you started with time blocking.

Principals need to make sure that other issues do not interfere – you know and plan to keep the main thing, the main thing, but it’s easy to get swamped under any multitude of other things.

Time blocks can help you think weeks, months, and years in advance.

Use time blocks to organize your days, weeks, and months.

Here’s how:

  1. 3-6 Months in Advance: Block out your priorities using large time blocks.
  2. 1-24 Months in Advance: Empower your administrative assistant to use the Team Bring Forward System to fill the time gaps months in advance.
  3. 1-3 Weeks in Advance: Fill in the minor time blocks with your important, but nonurgent tasks.
  4. 1 Week in Advance: Clear small time blocks each day to manage the urgent tasks that fly at you unexpectedly.

Team Bring Forward System

Principals can use time management tools (paper-based and technology-based) to some degree of effectiveness, but every tool has its limits.

In addition to time management tools and techniques, principals need a system to automate and run the ongoing time drains as well as the “one-off” events that can completely disrupt the flow of time.

That’s what the Team Bring Forward System does. Again, we’ve provided a full free webinar to help you start using this system.

Here’s the link to the Team Bring Forward System webinar. It’s free and only requires an email to register!

The Principal’s Office, Meeting With Myself

Here’s a simple time management tip for principals: schedule a weekly meeting with yourself.


It doesn’t have to be lengthy, but it can be as long as you need it.

Place the meeting with yourself on your calendar each week, and use it for something meaningful. Here are a few ideas for what you could do in a 15-minute meeting with yourself in the principal’s office:

  • Review and adjust next week’s time blocks.
  • Listen to an audiobook or podcast that refocuses you on your mission.
  • Review your school’s OKRs.
  • Write a few thank you notes to staff and teachers.
  • Prioritize the tasks that are currently on your mind and schedule them in your calendar in order of importance.

Proactive Time Management for Principals

The key concept or theme behind each time management concept mentioned so far is proactivity.

Proactive time management for principals means more time with people, more time in classrooms, and more time addressing the priorities of your school instead of the brushfires and urgent interruptions.

Covey’s Concepts of Circle of Influence vs Circle of Concern

Steven Covey’s seminal work on highly effective people reminds us that we have a circle of influence and a circle of concern.

The circle of concern are the things we care about, but can do nothing about.

Focusing energy in your circle of concern is a waste of time.

As a principal, it’s easy to get caught in a reactive focus.

With a reactive focus on the circle of concern, principals with find that their circle of influence shrinks.

But by devoting time to proactive planning and priorities, school leaders can increase their circle of influence.

Here’s a quick video that highlights this important thought process.

Focus your energy and attention where it counts, on the things over which you have influence. As you focus on things within your Circle of Influence, it will expand.

Time Management for Principals is about increasing your circle of influence.
Time Management for Principals is about increasing your circle of influence.

Questions About Time Management for Principals

Here are some of the commonly asked questions about time management tips.

What are some quick time management tips?

Here are five basic time management tips for leaders:
1. Learn to delegate.
2. It’s okay to close your door.
3. Prioritize your important tasks, then your urgent tasks.
4. Learn to say no.
5. Leverage technology tools.

When should I delegate?

Remember the three Ds: Delegate, Dump, Do. Delegate tasks when someone can do it at least 80% as good as you could. Dump tasks that decrease your circle of influence. Do tasks directly related to your school priorities.

What are the top priorities for principals’ time?

Principals should spend the majority of their time being where the learning is happening and face-to-face time with teams.

Your Turn

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  • Great job Matt. I have been wearing the school administrators’ hat for 18 years. You summed up time management quite well. Trust me when I say, I wished I had these tips when I started in 2002. I would love to share these with my new Assistant Principals if that’s okay with you?

    • Hi Elvis. I’m sure Matt will chime in, but he’s away a for a few days. We are thrilled if you share with your AP’s and anyone else. In the Principals’ Seminar, we are really focused on helping all admin, but in particular new and aspiring admin, to manage hard so that they can lead easier, increase impact, and enjoy their roles a lot more. I’m just redoing a few time management “shortened version” free webinars and they will be ready mid-July. Feel free to email me in a few weeks and you are welcome to them if you think they can help your AP’s …

  • It’s like you read my mind! You’ve shared so much about this like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with a few pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is excellent blog. A great read. I will definitely be back.

  • I am a new principal to a school that was 39 years in existence. Thank you very much for the timely topic and quick read article. I want to read more about my new role and responsibility in the school. More power.

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