Posts in Guest Post
The App Every School Leader Needs For Making Better Decisions

Today's post is from fellow educator and friend, Justin Baeder of EduLeadership.  We both use ToDoist and have a passion for helping school leaders achieve maximum productivity.  Justin also provides excellent professional development opportunities for school leaders via The Principal Center.  You can read my recent post about Asana on Justin's blog here.

Better Decisions with Better Information The most important decision we make, over and over again, is "How should I be spending my time right now?"

It's not an easy question, but it's one that we can answer better with the right tools in place. Every school leader's day is jam-packed with decisions to make, and an electronic to-do list offers the most concise overview of all of your work. If you don't have such an overview—one that's easy to update as circumstances change—it's hard to make good decisions about what to focus on.

When most people think of to-do lists, they're thinking about planning and organizing their day. Our verbs reveal our mindset:

  • "I need to make a to-do list."
  • "I'm checking off everything on my to-do list."

A paper to-do list will suffice if planning and executing are the only steps. But I want to suggest that electronic to-do lists serve a different function for school leaders: helping us maintain a single source of up-to-date information about what we could and should be doing.

Backup Systems

In my work with school leaders, I've found that very few people use an electronic to-do list—or at least, use it to go beyond the limitations of a paper list.

Paper lists are hard to revise, and aren't really up to the task of holding everything. When your task management system is anemic, other systems have to pick up the slack—a job they do poorly:

  • When you keep your to-do list in your head, you devote mental energy to simply remembering everything—and you inevitably forget a sizable percentage of what you intended to remember
  • When you keep your tasks on sticky notes, you're unlikely to integrate information that comes in via email or when you're talking to people away from your office
  • When you keep tasks in your email inbox, other people get to decide what you should work on—you'll tend to give the greatest weight to tasks that are most clearly articulated in the subject line
A purpose-built, cross-platform task app is the solution.

Beyond Functional

But many people have tried electronic task apps and found them less than inspiring to use. I believe that the tools we use should be not just functional, but enjoyable to use, and that's why I recommend ToDoist. TodoistToDoist certainly has all the basics:
  • Easy adding, editing, and organizing tasks
  • Apps for every platform, including email integration
  • Reminders and notifications
Todoist also has other features you'd expect from a modern app. But ToDoist really shines because it's been designed with human factors in mind. As busy humans, we often need to change our plans, and that means postponing, reprioritizing, and revising our tasks. This begins with knowing what's coming our way, so ToDoist gives you helpful views like Inbox, Today, and Next 7 Days, as well as project-specific lists:

7 day view

It's easy to use keyboard shortcuts or the mouse (or a few taps on your mobile device) to keep your list up-to-date and trustworthy.

ToDoist is also good at reminding you that you're using it. You'll get a daily overview email, lest you forget to look to your to-do list first thing in the morning, and this email links directly to your tasks for the day. ToDoist is great software, and it's a great tool for improving your decisions about what to work on—and ultimately increasing your impact as a school leader.

Whether you use ToDoist or another app, ask yourself this: Am I giving myself a single dashboard where I can plan and organize my tasks? One that's easy to keep up-to-date so I can rely on it?

Justin Baeder helps school administrators become high-performance instructional leaders. He writes about principal productivity at
Coast to Coast Productivity w/Laura Stack

Laura Stack, a.k.a. The Productivity Pro has this post of mine linked to her newly designed blog.  It's always nice to see a New Jersey to West Coast collaborative effort!

If you aren't familiar with Laura, she is a high-energy public speaker and just published her third book.  Check out Laura's site, along with my podcast review of her recent book. 

A few years ago, I booked Laura to speak to our faculty about productivity within an academic setting. Surprisingly, the issues that affect teachers are similar to those in corporate America. 

Humility, Confession & Customer Service

Today's guest post is from Margaret Benefiel of Executive Soul.

Photo by Striatic

At Landry's Bicycles in Boston, humility and confession drive customer service.


Landry's, vision plays a leading role in customer service. While that's
not unusual in retail (every company wants to be the best in sales, and
most want to be the best in customer service), Landry's adds another
twist. What's different about Landry's is that hard-driving vision is
coupled with confession and humility. "Dream is the engine, the fire.
What is it that adds balance to that fire? It's confession and
humility," explains CEO Tom Henry.

    Confession and humility form the
foundation of the extensive training employees receive. Unusual for a
seasonal retail business, Landry's commits year-round employment and
training to its employees. During the low-revenue winter months,
Landry's invests in employees through leadership training. Seventy
percent of the training is comprised of hands-on activities: role
plays, real-time interactions with other employees, and exercises
designed to enable self-awareness.

    While assertiveness and vision
contribute to a salesperson's success, the shadow side of those traits
is often an inability to listen to others and an insensitivity to
customer (or fellow employee) needs. The leadership training includes
helping employees see their own and others' gifts, and helping them
name the shadow side of those gifts. Through seeing the constellation
of gifts on a team, employees come to value one another as essential to
the whole. Employees also come to see the need for humility and
confession, when they trip over the shadow side of their gifts and step
on one another's toes.

    Humility and confession also come
into play in customer interactions. Rather than adopt a defensive
posture, Landry's employees learn to admit their mistakes and make them
up to the customer. "We pay for our mistakes" is one of Landry's
cardinal rules. At Landry's, admitting mistakes, learning from them and
making amends has become a point of pride.

    Landry's leadership training grew out
of hard-won learning. Several years ago, the executive team was
tripping over the shadow side of their own gifts. They realized that
they needed to model what a team could be at its best if they expected
the best from other teams in the 75-employee retail company. A family
business, Landry's experienced all the blessings and curses of working
with one's own family. While working together went smoothly 90 percent
of the time, the team found themselves plagued the other 10 percent of
the time by repeated patterns of stepping on one another's toes.

    By adding another (non-family) member
to the executive team and doing extensive self-awareness work, the team
learned to value one another's gifts, see the shadow side of their own
gifts, and practice confession and humility. For example, when Tom
Henry arrived 10 minutes late to an important all-company meeting, the
new, non-family member of the executive team called him on it. Tom
practiced humility and confession by apologizing to the gathered
meeting and committing to change his pattern.

    It took a full year of hard work, but
by the end of the year, the executive team realized all the work had
been worth the effort. Now, rather than stepping on one another's toes
and building up resentments that sap energy and commitment, the team
has learned to see others' toes sooner and thus step on them less
frequently. More importantly, when someone does step on someone else's
toes, confession follows quickly.

    Landry's has learned that humility
and confession form the foundation of strong teams. As a result,
relationships within the company are stronger, teams perform better,
and customer service has improved.


    Margaret Benefiel, Ph.D., author of "Soul at Work: Spiritual Leadership in Organizations,"
works with leaders in business, healthcare, government and non-profits
to help them develop spiritual leadership. Visit her website at Copyright 2007 by Margaret Benefiel.

Guest PostMike StPierre
Are Parent-Teacher Conferences Productive?

Today's guest post is from Lisa Hendey from Productivity at Home.  For more of Lisa's tips on Learning and Professional Development click here.

The leaves changing colors on the trees in my backyard and the
points on the “No. 2” pencils growing a bit dull are primary indicators
that the time for annual parent teacher conferences at my child’s
elementary school are drawing near.  I’ll be the first to admit that I
am one of those parents who gets a bit anxious at the prospect of
sitting down with my kids’ teachers.  It’s silly really, as both boys
are excellent students and have relatively good conduct.  I’ve never
had a “bad” parent teacher conference, so my nervousness is misplaced.

This year, I’ve decided to try to have a better, more productive
attitude towards what is actually a tremendous educational opportunity.
My oldest son is now in high school, where meetings with teachers
happen very infrequently. The high school conference is usually not
called to just sit and tell you how great your child is.  Our
elementary school, on the other hand, affords parents this formal
chance once a year to conference individually with each teacher.
Tomorrow my husband and I will visit with the three women and one man
who spend their time devoted to educating Adam and his classmates. 

Determined to make the most out of this opportunity, I turned to a
good friend for advice.  Kimberly Cochran is the Principal of Our Lady
of Perpetual Help School in Clovis, California.  Kim spent several
years in the classroom before transitioning into her administrative
role, so she speaks from the perspective of both a teacher and a
principal.  Equally as important, Kim is the mother of two sons, so
she’s sat on the parent’s side of the desk at these meetings as well.
In my book, Mrs. Cochran’s word is gold, so I was eager for her advice.

“My best advice...arrive with a smile on your face and a positive
attitude,” shares Cochran. “If possible, email the teacher ahead of
time if there are concerns you would like to talk about. Share the
positive things that your child shares with you and remember that the
teacher is there to work with you to help your child succeed. Thank the
teacher for the time spent together and let him or her know you will
continue to keep the lines of communication open.”

These are wise words from a seasoned educational professional.
Along with Mrs. Cochran’s advice, other educators recommend the follow
tips for participating in conferences with your children’s teachers:

  • Plan ahead.  Make sure that you prioritize attendance at this
    meeting and that if at all possible both parents are present.  If work
    schedules present a problem, notify your child’s teachers as soon as
    possible and try to work out a scheduling compromise.

  • Do your homework.  Many schools send home progress reports in
    advance of parent teacher conferences.  Study your child’s reports and
    look for trends, areas where your child may be struggling, or other
    concerns.  Make a written list of your questions and concerns.  As
    noted by Kimberly Cochran, bring special concerns to the teacher’s
    attention prior to the conference, giving the teacher sufficient time
    to prepare a response.

  • Respect the teacher’s time.  Arrive promptly.  Remember that your
    child’s teacher will be meeting with multiple parents, so be cognizant
    of the teacher’s time limitations.  Should your concerns take longer
    than the time allotted, schedule a follow up conversation to address
    more lengthy situations.

  • Determine an action plan.  With the teacher, prioritize the actions
    that need to be taken to ensure that your child is fully meeting his
    educational potential.  Talk with the teacher about how you can follow
    up to communicate about your child’s progress, whether by telephone,
    email or future conferences.  Leave the meeting knowing the next step
    to help your child meet his goals.

  • Thank the teacher.  Teachers are underpaid and under appreciated
    for the diligent work they undertake in our society.  I plan to take
    time tomorrow at my meetings with Adam’s teachers to let them know how
    much we truly appreciate all they have done to help our child develop
    into a responsible young man.

  • Follow up with your child.  Use your meeting with his teacher as a
    chance to pass along the good news on what he’s doing well.  Without
    attacking, discuss with him areas of needed improvement.  Work together
    to determine short and long term goals, setting a concrete appointment
    for follow up.  Share with your child how very proud you are of his
    accomplishments.  Underscore the value of education and the
    appreciation you have for both his effort and that of his teacher.

Parent teacher conferences are a unique opportunity for us to help
our children succeed, both educationally and in character development.
As such, it is well worth taking time to anticipate and plan for a
conference that will be productive and rewarding.

Productivity @ Home: Scheduling Workout Times

Today's guest post is from Lisa Hendey of Productivity at Home.  Lisa posts once a month for The Daily Saint and is our expert when it comes to integrating productive principles in the home.

I am typically a morning workout person.  During the school year, my
routine is to wake early, before my sons and husband.  I pray, work,
and drink lots of decaf prior to waking up the rest of the house.
After driving the kids to school, as many days per week as practicable,
I meet a friend at the gym for an hour long workout.  The rest of the
school day flies by filled with writing, web work, or other
commitments.  After 2:30, I turn into driving Mom, homework helping Mom
and cooking Mom.  I crash early most nights, preferring to be tucked in
by no later than 10:30.  I fall asleep before my head hits the pillow.

During the summer, the schedule falls to pieces.  People sleep until
all hours of the day, my sons cook "second dinner" at 11:30 pm many
nights, and my workout buddy is busy with her own summer craziness.  My
fitness routine becomes a little dicey, and it doesn't help that our
Fresno heat squashes my motivation to walk outside.  It becomes a
little too easy to say, "I'll hit the gym tomorrow..." and skip a day
(or four).

This has been happening far too often for the past two weeks.  One
of the problems with not working out is that I tend to get a little
"edgy" and things that don't normally stress me out start to drive me
crazy.  This was happening on Wednesday, when I was in a "martyr" state
of mind from all of the football practice inconvenience that's been
going on in this week.  Around 9:00 pm I realized that I had, yet
again, not fit in time to exercise during the day.  So instead of
plopping on the couch, I tied on my walking shoes and hit the pavement.

Revolutionary? Far from it!  Lots of people walk at night, but I'm
not one of them.  Surprisingly, I discovered that I loved walking at
that time of night.  The streets were silent, the heat was absent, and
the sky was filled with stars.  I am such a creature of habit in so
many ways - shaking up a few of my routines is a great thing.  The
night walk has inspired me to look at my schedule with a little less
rigidity and to be more open to using my waking hours more creatively.

Home-work for Today:

  • Thinking about walking or running at night?  Read this helpful article on Walking Safely at Night.

  • Rethink your fitness routine - does your schedule need a little "shaking up"?  Do you need to recommit to exercise?  Just do it!

In the DVD Player:

Reading Room Resources:
Blog posts from this week related to Health and Fitness

Guest PostMike StPierre