It's About Time

With this post, ATLIS inaugurates a blog series from the winners of the ATLIS Pillar Awards. Curt Lieneck, who is on the faculty of the Early Career and Aspiring Technology Directors Institute, shares in this post his reflections on time from the perspective of someone who has recently retired from multiple decades as a leader of technology in schools. You can learn more about the ATLIS Pillar Awards in our 1 May 2018 post, "Launched! ATLIS Annual Conference Highlights."

[15-minute read]

Curt LIeneck

I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately.  As a newly retired tech director, my days are very different now. No dashing from one meeting to another, no daily email cascades, no frenzied plate spinning — it’s pretty awesome to have ample time to reflect and make deliberate choices about how to use the same number of hours in a completely different way.

Truth be told, however, we need not retire to enjoy the benefits that accrue when we view time as our most valuable resource, something busy tech directors too often fail to do (myself included). Our time is precious; we can’t get it back once we let it go. If we hope to accomplish those goals we value above all others, mastering the way we dole out our time is crucial.

Time as a Resource

Doing this well means exercising discipline in our behavior and being judicious about what commitments we take on. Here are a few examples of how time gets squandered and how you can reboot the behavior:

  • Being constantly available to others seems like a good thing, but it isn’t. It encourages false urgency and disrupts your plans and priorities. Set calendar times when you can be available, or put those times in your email signature so people get used to them. Be polite but firm; when asked the dreaded “do you have a minute” question, say that you will be happy to chat just as soon as you are available.  

  • Schools are notorious for not planning how long projects will actually take before launching them. When you are pondering whether or not to commit to a project, or a superior assigns a project to you, do your homework and come up with a reasonable estimate of how long it is likely to take and what resources will be necessary. Then add another 20% to it just to be safe. Map those numbers against other projects you have in progress so you do not get overwhelmed.

  • Though it may be uncomfortable at times, do your part to keep meetings brisk. A 90-minute meeting with 10 attendees equals 15 hours of work time. That’s a lot. No matter who is running the meeting, expect a detailed agenda well ahead of time so you can review it before the meeting begins. Be on time and hold your colleagues accountable for being on time. It’s a matter of respect. Do not hesitate to speak up if the meeting veers off topic. If it turns out you did not need to be at the meeting, circle back to the meeting organizer afterwards and see what can be done to make better use of meeting time.

  • The need to manage time is a function of the commitments you make. People will often start a request for your time by saying, “I know how busy you must be, but ….” It’s not about being busy. Better to reframe things so that people understand how deeply you value honoring commitments you’ve made. Taking on more than you can handle means you’ll let someone down and risk compromising relationships you’ve worked hard to build.

Value Reflection

In closing, block out some time each day to reflect on how you spent your time and how it either did or did not help you honor the commitments most important to you and your school. What can you do differently tomorrow? I found that taking 15 minutes before I left for the day was a good time to do it. Surely you can find 15 minutes for such an important task.

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