My “Not-to-Do” List [first draft]

This post is Part II of The Redefined Principal Project.

And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, “This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!” And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, “No. This is what’s important. — Iain Thomas

They say the first step toward recovery is admitting you have a problem. Well, I am addicted to lists. For me, lists are a double-edged sword. They help me get things out of my head (calming the squirrel that runs around in there), but I can also be a bit obsessive compulsive about their organization. However, lists can serve a practical purpose. In his book, The Checklist Manifesto (yes…I have read it), author and physician Atul Gawande outlines how good checklists can be critical to our efficiency and effectiveness.

Good checklists, on the other hand are precise. They are efficient, to the point, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations. They do not try to spell out everything–a checklist cannot fly a plane. Instead, they provide reminders of only the most critical and important steps–the ones that even the highly skilled professional using them could miss. Good checklists are, above all, practical. – Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto

But, this post isn’t about making a list of things I need to do. As I explore the notion of redefining my role as a school principal, I am intrigued by the notion of a “Not-to-Do” list. As the name would imply, this is a list of things I want to remember NOT to do. You can read a little more about the “Not-to-Do” list in this Life Hacker article (just one of many resources on the idea).

As I reflect on my past seven years as a principal, there are many things I have learned, including things I shouldn’t be doing, but continue to do. These are the things that I want to capture on my “Not-to-Do” list. Below is a list of ten things (along with a brief rationale) that I am proposing I will “not do” during the upcoming school year. I picked ten, because it was a nice number and it fit’s in with my “ten things” writing project. In the end, I may end up with more (or fewer) than ten. So here is the first draft of my “Not-to-Do” list (in no particular order).

I will not…

  1. …say “yes” to requests, projects, and tasks without serious consideration. I am a “people-pleaser” so I tend to take on too much without consideration for how it is going to impact my ability to perform other responsibilities. From now on, I will carefully consider how requests benefit my goals for our school community before making a commitment. Don’t worry — I’ll still be nice.
  2. …skip lunch. I am a bit ashamed to admit that I rarely eat lunch. Sunflower seeds don’t count…right? Or breakfast, for that matter. This “not-to-do” item could be more broadly interpreted as I will not sacrifice my mental and physical health for my job. I will take lunch breaks. I will take breaks to breathe and be at peace. I will do what I need to do to stay relatively healthy — mentally and physically.
  3. …waste time feeling sorry for myself. This is a tough one form me. When I am feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or “put upon,” I tend to wallow in self-pity. I’ve written about this before, and this year I need to follow my own advice (see The Cavalry is Not Coming).
  4. …check email throughout the school day (or expect others to respond immediately). Sometimes I am convinced that email is the bane of my existence. It is like a twenty-four hour shared “to-do” list where anyone is able to add to my workload. As a redefined principal, I refuse to allow email to control my day. I will have set times for checking email, I will triage and respond to what is most critical, and I will leave the rest for another time. In addition, I will not expect others to get back to me right away. Email is something that I believe Goethe would refer to as “things that matter least.” I’m still exploring how to do this effectively, but I like the Yesterbox method developed by Tony Hsieh — the CEO of Zappos.
  5. …do work that isn’t mine to do. Let me be clear that I love helping people out, so this doesn’t mean I won’t be doing things for others. It simply means that I currently do a number of tasks that, as a school leader, I should delegate. Again, there is limited time in the day so I need to be sure I am focused on “things which matter most.”
  6. …miss any of my daughter’s swim meets. I have to make many sacrifices as a school principal. I have early mornings, late evenings, a full calendar, and sometimes work to do at home and on weekends. I love my school community, however, I can no longer sacrifice family events for work. Family will be my top priority and I will not miss swim meets. Go CHS Wolves!
  7. …blame others for problems and challenges. Lately (the past few years) I have experienced increasing amounts of frustration when I feel like things are not going my way, or when I feel like our school community and students are being overlooked or short-changed. I get angry and tend to take it out on others (in most instances it is passive-aggressive action). It’s easy to blame people for problems. It’s much harder to devise a solution with existing resources. I need to stop blaming and start problem-solving.
  8. …compare myself to other school leaders, or compare our school accomplishments to those of other schools. Sometimes I feel jealous about the accolades that other leaders and schools receive. Time to get over that. I am different. WJHS is different. It is certainly okay to be challenged by others to seek improvement, but comparing accomplishments in this situation isn’t helpful.
  9. …place anything above the needs of my students and staff (during the work day). My school community must know that they are my priority — email, paperwork, meetings, and red-tape can be scheduled around my commitment to being visible, building relationships, and visiting classrooms (not the other way around).
  10. …make things more complicated than they need to be. One thing I really want to keep in mind while going through The Redefined Principal Project is that being a principal doesn’t have to be complicated. It really boils down to building quality relationships with the community, making decisions that are in the best interest of students, and supporting those who are directly responsible for meeting the needs of kids. This doesn’t require convoluted systems, detailed organizational systems, or a Ph.D. in Business Management (or education, for that matter). Most of the time it simply requires our purposeful and mindful presence.

So…there it is. The first draft of my “Not-to-Do” list. PLEASE take a few moments to comment and let me know what you would add, remove, or change. I’m also curious about what would be on your “No-to-Do” list (even if you aren’t an educator). All input and suggestions are welcomed.

Now I am going to get busy, NOT doing some things.

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