Managing personal and organizational energy

Dennis Sparks

Successful school leadership is as much about managing energy – both personal and organizational energy – as it is about managing tasks and people.

Without an even flow of energy throughout the day, even routine responsibilities can feel overwhelming and create stress for leaders and for those with whom they interact.

In a popular 2012 blog post, Tony Schwartz offers a number of valuable tips related to energy management of which two, in my experience, seem particularly noteworthy: (1) “Do the most important thing first in the morning, preferably without interruption, for 60 to 90 minutes, with a clear start and stop time,” and (2) “Establish regular, scheduled times to think more long term, creatively, or strategically.”

Regarding the first suggestion, he writes, “If possible, work in a private space during this period, or with sound-reducing earphones. Finally, resist every impulse to distraction, knowing that you have a designated stopping point.”

About the value of regularly-scheduled time to think, he says, “If you don’t, you’ll constantly succumb to the tyranny of the urgent. Also, find a different environment in which to do this activity — preferably one that’s relaxed and conducive to open-ended thinking.”

Both suggestions promote leaders’ focus and clarity regarding purpose and priorities, and either one of them, implemented daily, could make a substantial difference in both the quantity and quality of leaders’ work.

I also appreciate another of Schwartz’s recommendations, one that flows from the first two and affects both personal and organizational energy – “maintain meeting discipline.” Disciplined meetings, he says, would not exceed 45 minutes in length and would begin and end precisely on time. To maintain focus, digital devices would be turned off throughout the meeting.

Taken together, these recommendations and others Schwartz makes would enable school leaders to attend to important responsibilities with a sense of energy and enthusiasm that would flow outward to fuel continuous improvement in the quality of teaching, learning, and relationships within the school community.

6 Responses to “Managing personal and organizational energy”

  1. 1 G. Michael Abbott January 3, 2013 at 9:00 am

    Good advice for administrators.

    In my experience, few administrators know how to run effective meetings.

    Faculty meetings certainly can be improved by a 45 minute “disciplined meeting,” and by turning off digital devices. Also, coaching duties, dental appointments, and other demands that sap a meeting of participants should be eliminated. Maybe paying teachers for attendance can help, but knowing how to engage teachers in purposeful, focused, collegial dialog and follow-up is most important.


  2. 2 Deb January 3, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    Over the years, I’ve learned to run meetings more effectively by setting norms (for collaboration) and using protocols (National School Reform Faculty) to structure conversations so more ideas are heard and time is used more effectively.

    • 3 Dennis Sparks January 3, 2013 at 2:17 pm

      Thanks for reminding us about the importance of norms and protocols, Deb. In my experience, it’s not uncommon for one or more well-intended participants in meetings to violate the agreements that they have made. I’m curious about how you and/or other readers address such breakdowns.

  3. 4 Kent Peterson January 7, 2013 at 11:29 am

    Finding time for Creative Thinking! What a great idea. But so many of the principals I have met–thoughtful, effective, concerned–feel they can’t take time to look at the big picture in a new way because there is so much to do. Yes, educators can work 24/7 on their regular tasks, but without taking time to think outside the box, they are missing a chance at real change. Find a place to “hide out”–some sit in the back of a great teacher’s classroom or in a little used art area to do some creative thinking. It is OK to do it; it is “real work.”

    Kent Peterson
    Author of “Shaping School Culture” (with Terrence Deal).

    • 5 Dennis Sparks January 7, 2013 at 12:13 pm

      I appreciate you reminding all of us, Kent, that thinking is real work – without it, principals and teacher leaders will spend almost all of their time putting out fires rather than preventing them.

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