By Tammy McCormick & Andrea Hannen
Leading a licensed child care program is no easy task. Whether you operate your centre on a commercial or a non-profit basis, you face all of the challenges that any small business owner faces. Since licensed child care is highly regulated, you have additional obligations as well and you can’t afford to make a mistake or have an off-day. And, while your work with families is emotionally rewarding, it’s also emotionally demanding and you may feel under pressure to be “on” all of the time. In such a relationship-driven environment, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done.
This is the first installment in a two-part series about getting more done and feeling less stressed. Next issue, we’ll look at some of the innovative ways Ontario’s child care owner/operators, directors and supervisors have found to optimize their time and why these methods work. This time around, we’ll examine some of the general principles of time management and offer seven tips for putting these principles into action.
- Think strategically about time
The truth is, even if you had more time each day, your work would soon fill it if you don’t take a strategic approach. Time is a resource. It is limited and it is valuable. How you use yours and how you deploy the working hours of your staff team are up to you. Time management expert Roy Alexander, author of Common Sense Time Management, notes that as a management system, planning how you will spend your time pays big returns: “it saves three hours for each hour invested.”
Think of yourself as the planner-in-chief and consider how you might instill a planning culture at all levels of your operation. Imagine how much more confident you and your team would feel if each person could reclaim even one half hour per day, simply through better planning and a more strategic use of time. Get rid of at least one time waster in your life each month.
- Educate yourself about time management and personal productivity
Not sure where to begin in terms of planning? Check out your local community college’s continuing education course calendar. You can usually find short, evening courses on time management and/or personal productivity in the business section. SkillPath Seminars also offers some excellent one-day courses and online programming in this regard. Visit http://www.skillpath.ca to learn more.
- Get some perspective
Sometimes, when you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of the demands on your time, the problem isn’t lack of time at all. It can be simple exhaustion. You might not be thinking clearly simply because you’re overtired and haven’t been taking care of yourself. Or maybe you’re too close to an emotionally charged situation to approach it in a rational manner. First of all, stop and take a deep breath or go for a walk. Ask yourself what is really important to you. If you’re like most people, it’s your health, your family and your friends. Put your goals in writing. Then set your priorities. Make sure you’re really getting what you want out of life. Remember, even if your centre closed tomorrow, you would still survive and you would still have the relationships that are most important to you. Then, proceed knowing that you are in charge of your life and your centre and you get to choose how you will respond to what is going on around you.
- Decide what kind of a leader and manager you want to be
You probably have job descriptions for each member of your staff team which are reviewed and amended on a regular basis, but assuming you have one for yourself the same may not hold true. Think about what the job description for the leader and manager of a successful, growing child care program would be and then write or amend the job description for that position. Keep in mind that you will only have about 40 hours per week to devote to the job. Are too many things competing for your attention? Try eliminating everything that anyone else within the centre could possibly do. Develop a clear picture of what kind of a leader and manager you want to be and get real about what you expect from yourself. The things you’ve eliminated from your list are the things you need to train or hire others to do.
- Understand how you’re currently using your time
To get a sense of how far you are from actualizing your ideal vision of yourself as a leader and manager, make it a point to understand exactly how you’re currently using your time. For the next two weeks, carry a small notebook and jot down how you’ve spent each half-hour block of your workday. Most child care owner/operators are shocked at how much time is being sapped by activities that add little or no value their overall effectiveness as a leader or manager, or to the growth or enhancement of their centres. Use this information to write a long-term plan for how you’re going to align your use of time with your vision of what a successful centre leader and manger would be doing. Management consultant Sue Douglas of SDC Solutions took this idea a step further in the presentation she gave at the ADCO Fall Conference, suggesting that you check in with yourself on an hourly basis and ask “am I currently acting like the kind of leader I want to be?”
- Plan for disruptions
Few work environments are prone to as many disruptions to planned work activities as licensed child care centres. That’s a given. When you are planning your work week and how you will spend your time, anticipate that you will have to spend at least an hour or two of each day dealing with interruptions to planned activities. If you think what’s on your schedule for the day will take you five hours to complete, don’t add even one more thing as you’ll probably need the extra time to deal with the unexpected. If by chance you find yourself with extra time, use it to mentally regroup, to reflect about what’s working, what needs to change and to plan.
- Do one thing at a time
Many people take pride in the notion that they are great at multi-tasking. However, there is mounting evidence that nobody can do more than one thing at a time and do it well. Business coach Dave Crenshaw, author of The Myth of Multitasking: How "Doing It All" Gets Nothing Done even goes so far as to assert that “saying you’re great at multi-tasking is the same as saying you’re effective at being ineffective.” He notes that multi-tasking really isn’t doing more than one thing at a time at all. In fact, it is just switching back and forth among tasks at a very rapid rate, which due to the time lost in making the switches undermines both the quantity and quality of an individual’s work. In planning your time, have the courage to set boundaries, shut your door, and unplug for at least an hour of your work day each and every day. Children’s sleep time may provide you with the optimal opportunity for this. That means no checking email, no taking phone calls, no text messaging and no staff drop-ins, except in the event of a dire emergency. You’ll be amazed at what you get done in that hour and how much less stressed you feel at the end of it.
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