By Tammy McCormick & Andrea Hannen
Our previous article examined some of the general principles of time management and offered seven tips for putting these principles into action. If you haven't read it yet, you can read it here first: You Can Get More Done & Feel Less Stressed - Part 1
This time around, we’ll look at some of the biggest time-goblins that Ontario’s child care owner/operators, directors and supervisors face and some of the ways they tame them.
It is no real surprise that email has been cited as a time-goblin. Time will be saved if you approach email systematically. Don’t open every email as it comes in. Turn off email notifications and limit the amount of time spent checking and processing email. Set aside two to four time slots of 20-30 minutes each day to check and respond to email. Understand that not everyone needs an immediate response. Respond to emails on a priority basis, set filters to re-route your incoming mail and create folders that you can use to prioritize your email as well. You can make folders named “Urgent Reply Required", “Parents Reply Today”, Friends", “Staff” etc. and when you open your inbox, immediately shift emails to their respective folders. Try and clear your inbox daily within the time you’ve allotted yourself. Otherwise, the snowball effect will undoubtedly occur.
Conversing with staff and others in the facility can be vitally important to build relationships, maintain morale and understand the array of issues that we are confronted with daily. However, lengthy conversations can distract and interrupt ourselves and others. Put a time limit, no more than two minutes, and defer conversations about work to a scheduled time. Alternatively, plan to circulate during staff lunch and break times.
Poor Filing Systems and Follow-up Notes
Searching for files and notes from meetings can certainly impact your effectiveness and waste valuable time. Schedule time immediately following meetings to review and file notes, add action items on your “To Do” list, and note items to delegate. This will reduce your risk of dropping the ball or missing deadlines and reduce time spent fixing costly mistakes because of failing memories and searching for missing files and notes.
Responding to questions from individual staff members can consume a great amount of time. Often if one staff member has a question, the same question is held by others. To save time answering the same question more than once, connect with everyone through email or post a note in your staff room if you’re unable to communicate face-to-face with your team. This will ensure that everyone has received the same message in a timely manner and also serves as a paper trail to which you can refer back if needed.
Mismanaged and Unwarranted Meetings
Meetings that are not managed well or are unwarranted can consume valuable time. An agenda with a clear purpose and timeframe will prevent tangents and meetings from getting off track and ensure that the meeting is required and not a matter of routine. In many instances, a simple exchange of information is needed which doesn’t warrant a meeting. An email would be suitable or a quick telephone exchange. If you need to have in-depth discussions for decisions to be made a meeting may be necessary. However, a meeting doesn’t have to be called in one hour increments. Keep it brief, focus on the issue at hand, and concentrate on reaching a workable conclusion. Should some participants be absent, have another person fill them in on what was missed and provide them with a copy of all materials and handouts.
Ringing telephones, email, staff and parent enquiries, child emergencies and interruptions of all types are part of any childcare director’s job. Putting strategies like those already discussed in place can dramatically optimize your time. But, it is important to organize your day in a way that reduces and plans for interruptions. For example scheduling paper work during child drop off and pick up times may not be the most efficient use of your time, but scheduling time to speak with individual parents during that time will definitely reduce interruptions that you may experience throughout the day answering parent inquiries. Be available at lunch and break times to chat with staff and schedule paperwork during child nap times. Plan for an activity or project to take more time than needed and leave a few minutes each day between activities to compensate for time lost during an interruption. Use deadlines to keep you on track. Establish a code to let people know you are working with a tight deadline. Often people will not be offended if your lack of participation is the result of a “deadline”.
Remember all childcare directors experience interruptions every day. The causes of your interruptions are typically part of your responsibilities. The key to dealing with this is to plan ahead of time how you are going to manage interruptions, so you can remain calm and effective. By doing this you will dramatically tame the time-goblins and increase your productivity.
Tammy McCormick is the Executive Director of the Early Childhood Community Development Centre (www.eccdc.org), Canada's leading early learning and care resource, referral and support organization. She is an RECE and early on in her career worked as a centre director.
Andrea Hannen is a management and communications consultant who specializes in developing and implementing growth strategies for not-for-profit organizations. She has worked with clients in the child care sector since 1993 and shares her insights at www.theassociationexpert.com ￼