Program the Robot

It’s the time of year when we’re inundated with articles about new year’s resolutions. While I’m not a huge fan of over-promising ourselves how we’ll make immediate changes when the calendar rolls over, it’s a great opportunity to reflect and consider some doable steps.

What are some small steps you can take to boost your productivity in the new year?


This winter break, I’ve been leading a workshop called High-Intensity Leadership, and one of the concepts I introduce in this workshop is called the robot.

No, it’s not a dance; it’s a metaphor for our system of tools, strategies, and processes that work together to support your work as a school leader. When this system works well, the robot handles a lot of the heavy lifting involved in managing our work.

There are many predictable things about our work (including its high degree of unpredictability), so we can plan for how we’ll handle recurring and predictable issues. How you can you set up tools and processes that will make it straightforward to handle whatever it is you routinely have to handle?

The practical answer is that we need to have PEEP: a Place for Everything and Everything in its Place. If you think of something you need to do, where do you write it? If you make an appointment with someone, does it go on a sticky note? A paper calendar? In your iPhone? If you get an important piece of mail, what do you do with it?

As you think through more and more of these small pieces, true curveballs become increasingly rare. You have a measured, polite response ready for the angry email you get from a parent. You know where to put the data teachers turn into you.

And as a result, you don’t accumulate a big backlog of work. If you get busy and things do start to pile up, you can dig through the pile quickly because you know what to do with everything.

The key is to design the system to match your work. In other words, to program the robot, and let it carry the load for you.

I’ve written about Evernote and the tickler file many times before, and they’re great starting points for your productivity system.

What else is part of your robot?

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About Justin Baeder

Justin Baeder helps school administrators increase their productivity through the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network. Learn More »