Person writing list in journal

“How can I possibly accomplish it all?”

Have you found yourself asking that question in relation to your NEE implementation goals or your broader instructional leadership goals?

Instructional leadership is the principal’s most important job, yet it’s also the most difficult.

We get it. School administrators are wearing more and more hats, and day-to-day tasks can interfere with your big goals for evaluation and instructional leadership.

We often hear from principals that it’s difficult to complete NEE’s recommended six to ten 10-minute classroom observations per teacher, per year.

It might seem ambitious, but there’s a reason we make that recommendation: Research has shown over and over again that frequent classroom observations with timely objective feedback and effective coaching are the keys to achieving instructional improvement.

So, how can we help you accomplish your goals and become the instructional leader you want to be?

In this blog post, we put together a list of strategies and tips to help you manage your NEE implementation and instructional leadership goals. Our hope is that you will find at least one strategy that will spark an idea that will help you get to the things that matter most to you.

We have drawn ideas from James Clear’s “Atomic Habits,” Angela Watson’s “Fewer Things Better,” David Epstein’s “Range,” and Ryder Carroll’s “The Bullet Journal Method.”

Strategies to Help You Accomplish Your Big Instructional Leadership Goals

Examine Your Systems

You’ve set your goals, but do you have a system in place to achieve them?

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, says the failure to achieve goals is not due to poor goal-setting but to poor systems. After all, every sports team has the same goal (to win), but they don’t all have the systems in place to actually get it done.

One way to think about your systems is to imagine it is six months in the future and you have failed to accomplish your goals. Think about what likely caused you to fail and then adjust your system to address those challenges.

James Clear quote - When making plans, think big. When making progress, think small.

Create Habits

In Atomic Habits, James Clear maintains that creating a habit can be simplified if we make the desired habit obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying.

  • Obvious. State your plan: when, where, how. “I will do 2 classroom observations at 10 a.m. Tuesdays.” “I will complete one classroom observation every other day before lunch.” Put it on your calendar, and make it a can’t-miss appointment. Decide at the end of the previous day who you plan to observe. That way, you’ve made the important decisions, your action is obvious, and you’re ready to go. You can also try habit-stacking, if you have a habit that is already established. For instance, if you normally take a walk around the building after the day has started, make a new habit of stopping in one classroom for an observation. The established habit acts as a prompt and cues you to complete the new habit.
  • Attractive. Find something about completing your new habit that makes it attractive. For instance, grab a cup of coffee after your observation is complete. Use temptation-bundling to your advantage: You want that cup of coffee, so do your observation first.
  • Easy. We all know the simpler the goal, the easier it is to accomplish. Once again, emphasize tiny changes over big, systematic changes. The little changes fuel the big ones. Something as simple as opening the NEE Data Tool first thing every morning and laying your device on your chair can drive the change to pick up the device and get into a classroom before you sit down to read email.
  • Satisfying. Some people find habit-tracking to be very satisfying. After you’ve completed a classroom observation, go back to your office and put a big “X” on the day’s calendar. Once started, you won’t want to break your streak.

This feeling of satisfaction feeds into another of Clear’s habit-making strategies: Identity. If you link your tiny changes to the instructional leadership identity you want for yourself, the odds of turning your new habits into lasting lifestyle changes greatly increases. So ask yourself: What type of instructional leader do you want to be and how are your tiny changes helping you get there?

Don’t Get Discouraged

Let’s face it: Most humans are impatient. We expect the results of our efforts to be immediate. We think once we start exercising, we will immediately lose weight. The truth of the matter is that results typically take time, and changes to your instructional leadership strategy are no different. Be patient with yourself and keep in mind the plateau of latent potential. You might go through a “valley of disappointment” before you experience the results you desire.

The Plateau of Latent Potential Graph
From Atomic Habits by James Clear (Chapter 1, Page 22)

That said, if it isn’t working after a period of time, change it. In Range, David Epstein recommends trying your new habit for 30 days, and if it isn’t working or if a new habit isn’t developing, then tweak it.

1-3-5 Rule

Turns out 90% of professionals admitted they’re unable to accomplish all the tasks on their to-do list by the end of an average workday, according to this article on The Muse. You aren’t alone!

The 1-3-5 Rule might help. The idea is to complete one big task per day, three medium tasks, and five small ones. Research shows you’re most likely to complete your to-do list if you complete your significant task before lunch (preferably your least favorite from your list). There’s even a handy template available to help you record your daily 1-3-5 to-do list.

The Bullet Journal Method

Ryder Carroll’s “The Bullet Journal Method” promises to show you how to go from “passenger to pilot of your life through intentional living.” The bullet journal combines your to-do list, your calendar, and your notes in one place you write by hand (gasp!) – all while incorporating mindfulness practices into your routine. It might be old-school, but there are many benefits to hand-written notes and reflections. It encourages you to, on a daily basis, take stock of what you’ve accomplished and reflect on your priorities for the day, week, and months ahead.

Some people get really creative with their bullet journals, but don’t fret if flowery writing and illustrations aren’t your thing. The Bullet Journal is meant for function, so do whatever works best for you. You can buy special bullet journals, but any notebook will do. NEE’s Cathie Loesing uses a Circa notebook so she can add sheets and re-order them if needed.

Can Bullet Journaling Save You? Maybe.

The Progress Ritual

Just this morning, author Daniel Pink shared his latest “Pinkcast” in which he notes the importance of making progress. You can watch the full thing here (it’s only 2 minutes), but here’s the gist:

Research shows the single biggest day-to-day motivator on the job is making progress in meaningful work.

Makes sense. But here’s the catch: You have to make note of the progress that you’re making. Pink says the easiest way to do that is to establish a “progress ritual.” At the end of every day, take just 60 seconds to reflect on the progress you made that day. It could be as easy as writing down three things you accomplished.

So, all those small wins? Celebrate them. Making progress makes us feel good, motivates us, and sets us up to come back the next day and accomplish even more.

Quick Tips and Tricks for Better Time Management

All of these strategies so far sound good, right? Still, if you’re not ready to tackle an overarching organization or time management strategy, there are smaller tips and tricks you can incorporate into your routine.

Tips to Manage Emails

  • Schedule it. Schedule time for reading and responding to emails and don’t look at emails during other times of the day. Checking email can derail your plans and distract you from the task at hand. Yes, you should check your email, but you don’t have to have it open all day. Let people know your schedule so they know when to expect a response.
  • Set up folders. “Today” for items that will take longer to answer than you have at that time. Clear this folder once a day. “Later” for items you’d like to read more carefully but that don’t require a response. Work on this as time permits. If possible, delegate a response to someone else.
  • Create templates. If you find yourself writing the same email or message over and over, create an email template that you can use. Save it as a draft for easy access.
  • Say “no” to clutter. Set up another personal email account that you give to stores, websites, etc. so that your main email inbox doesn’t get overrun with promotional emails.

Tips to Manage To-Do Lists

  • Keep a single to-do list so you aren’t chasing down random sticky notes.
  • Have your administrative assistant create a list each day of calls, messages, requests, etc., and set up a time (or two) each day for the list to be passed to you. Unless it is a true emergency, you can deal with these as you’re working on emails.
  • Ask why. Make sure the items on your to-do list leverage your goals.
  • Get started. Stop organizing your to-do list and dive in.

Tips for Planning Time

  • Try the Pomodoro Technique. Many people swear by it. In this method, you break the day into 25-minute chunks followed by a five-minute break. You actually set a timer for 25 minutes of focused work. If you don’t have 25 minutes, use 15 or 20.
  • Find your “golden hours.” We all have times of the day that we are most productive. Find the time of the day that you tend to get the most done, and make sure you’re focused in during that time every day.
  • Reward yourself. After a period of focused work, reward yourself with a walk around the building or another activity that rests your brain and re-energizes you. Researchers endorse this approach. While measuring productivity, they found that those who made a habit of taking short breaks were far more productive than those who worked longer hours. (In fact, the best ratio was 52 minutes of work followed by 17 minutes of rest.) The most productive people in the study got away from their desk during the rest period.

Tips for Scheduling

  • Your schedule fills up fast. Make sure you’ve scheduled time for what’s most important: Your family and yourself.
  • Leave time for yourself on Fridays to clean up small tasks still left on your to-do list. That way you can enjoy your weekend and start Monday with a bigger project.
  • Create a habit of checking your plan first thing in the morning. Researchers found that people who look at their to-do list first thing in the morning are much more likely to report feeling that their time at work is productive. Those who checked their email and voicemail first reported the opposite.

Tips for Meetings

  • Meetings are a huge drain on time, so limit the number and length of meetings. We tend to hold meetings because it’s the “first Tuesday of the month,” for instance, rather than because the meeting is actually necessary. Meetings also tend to last exactly one hour, whether necessary or not. Be mindful of time and if you only have a small amount of information to disseminate, use email instead.
  • Try PechaKucha, or PK, for faculty meetings. PK is a style of presentation wherein you get to your point quickly: A presenter shows one slide for 20 seconds of commentary each. That means for each slide, you have to keep the information brief. After 20 seconds, the slide switches to black and you pause for a few seconds to see if there are any questions. Then, keep moving.
  • Send out longer reports beforehand. Not everything can be explained in 20 seconds. If you need to go over information in detail, consider sending out the information before the meeting to give everyone a chance to review it. Then use the PK summary in the meeting. That keeps the meeting shorter since you don’t have to go over every detail, plus you should get better feedback as people have already had a chance to consume the information. If a slide is generating a lot of questions, add the topic to the “discussion” section of the agenda and move on in your presentation. The whole point is to avoid getting bogged down.

Create a user’s manual

This is a real thing! Experts recommend that leaders create a user’s manual for those who work with them. The manual lets others know how you like to work, your strengths, pet peeves, and the best way to communicate with you. You can find an example and directions for creating your own manual online.

Tying it All Together

Like most things, your approach to organization and time management depends on your style. Some strategies might work well for you while others won’t. Regardless of the approach you take, it’s important to set clear, achievable goals and put systems in place to achieve them.

We hope you come away with at least one new idea or strategy to try. And, as always, if we can support you with any of your NEE implementation goals, we are only a phone call or email away. We are always here to help!

Mission Possible: Strategies to Help You Accomplish Your Big Instructional Leadership Goals via @NEEAdvantage


The Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE) is a simple yet powerful comprehensive system for educator evaluation that helps educators grow, students learn, and schools improve. Developed by preK-12 practitioners and experts at the University of Missouri, NEE brings together classroom observation, student feedback, teacher curriculum planning, and professional development as measures of effectiveness in a secure online portal designed to promote educator growth and development.