Successful and productive principals are leaders who possess great ideas and who assemble a team that brings great ideas to life. They are also honest, moral, and ethical. Successful principals delegate, communicate, create, motivate, and exhibit confidence and commitment. They also focus on quality, learn from others, communicate effectively, make decisions, set goals, develop a team, use meetings in a timely manner, inspire excellence, lead openly and with transparency, and boost achievement. Most importantly, successful principals do 12 very specific things every workday. Follow these ideas to keep your successes coming.

  1. Embrace the day. Excellence and success require principals to contemplate where they’ve been, where they are going, who they are, and who they want to be. Successful principals begin each workday with built-in quiet time—time for solitude and reflection, and time to recharge.
  2. Organize the workplace. More than 50 percent of all technology users spend up to 30 minutes or more each week searching for lost or missing files. Clutter can weave its way across the office workspace.
  3. Examine to-do lists and prioritize. Put your focus first on daily priorities and tasks—those important things to accomplish for the betterment of the organization. Principals examine their to-do lists and add what needs to be completed, then they create a realistic hierarchy of tasks and obligations. Prioritize critical first, vital second, important third, and unessential/trivial last. Recognize that you’ll need to complete critical tasks first, when energy is strongest, when thinking is clearer, and when interruptions are minimal. Remember: Tasks won’t go away if you simply put them off for later completion.
  4. Adjust priorities. Review your to-do lists first to assess whether anything needs to be adjusted, changed, or rearranged—and recognize when it is essential to reprioritize and reajdust their day. Meeting with a planning team, speaking to a school counselor, or connecting with parents all present instances that require adjustment. This type of flexibility also allows for the early morning preparatory work required prior to any action or meeting. Being flexible is key to leadership progress that is people- and professional-focused.
  5. Anticipate distractions. Unanticipated distractions can create a slippery slope toward a disastrous workday. Every principal has been there—what started out as a productive workday suddenly goes awry. Successful principals anticipate. The first step each morning to mitigating distractions is to recognize them. These are low-priority calls; unnecessary or optional meetings; chatty faculty or staff members; irrelevant emails/text messages/social media intrusions; and/or any other low-priority intrusion.
  6. Delegate tasks. Success begins by understanding the roles that are required to successfully lead a school. Such tasks frequently involve administering a budget, managing personnel, and attending to the physical plant. Other roles include interacting with the school community and business leaders, collaborating with faculty and staff, working with students, and attending meetings, to name a few. Successful principals also know they must trust subordinates and delegate. Also, trust never excludes verification. Successful principals realize they cannot take on every issue that occurs.
  7. Know how to say no. You should know how to diplomatically and politically say no by offering to engage later, especially during the first few minutes in the office. Knowing how to say no mitigates distractions, maximizes time, and allows introspection. (Remember, being a people-pleaser isn’t good for anyone.) If the superintendent or designee needs you, that is clearly an exception—so is an emergency! But an appropriate and timely “no” is not only constructive, it also allows you time to complete the best and most critical work knowing that a competing and/or conflicting issue has been appropriately avoided and can be addressed later.
  8. Avoid negativity. Successful principals compartmentalize negative events, actions, or thoughts; they work diligently to maintain a positive attitude. In place of finding and bringing forth problems, faculty and staff are advised to think and talk about “opportunities” and “solutions.” Successful principals begin their workdays by considering an issue or problem from every possible angle, maintaining a positive attitude, and avoiding a natural tendency to go negative.
  9. Meet and greet. Never fail to apply the “do first” workday skill—meet and greet! Start your day by checking in with office personnel, faculty, staff, students, or parents. You may think that this is not a high priority, but remember that people skills are what educational leadership is all about. Attitude, interaction, and communication can either amplify or chip away at a principal’s ability to effectively lead. Being friendly each morning makes the overall school environment pleasant, open, and positive. A “meet and greet” time gives the principal the opportunity to read the pulse of stakeholders. If something appears awry, a principal can best tackle a sensitive matter during the school day—solving a problem before it festers and becomes an out-of-control issue.
  10. Smile, laugh, and engage in good humor. Research has consistently revealed that laughter is the best medicine, and research has also proven that smiling immediately changes one’s mood to the positive. Starting the day with a smile or a laugh is a must-do for school leaders. It’s a great way to check attitude and get into a right frame of mind. When a principal laughs, smiles, and/or engages in good humor (some self-depreciating humor shows faculty that a principal is human and approachable, but don’t go too far) moods improve and others reciprocate. However, successful principals never use humor at the expense of others.
  11. Strategically check email to start the morning and check regularly throughout the day. Email and social media can become time-wasters—never permit emails to replace priority items. Successful principals do not permit others to set their agendas. Strategic email checking means efficiency—no more than 10 minutes to scan emails and prioritize them. Pick and choose wisely those emails to start, then keep up throughout the day. Responding to emails sends a powerful message: “I value you as a person. I regard your email correspondence as important. I find time in my busy schedule to help you, to listen to you, and to respond positively to you.” Those principals who are regular and prompt in their email responses find themselves valued, respected, and appreciated. Clicking “send” conveys a very important message to others—that their principal cares.
  12. Learn from events. It’s important to constantly learn from the events you experience. Some events are regular, others present new opportunities to learn and reflect, but analyze your experiences and learn something new each day.

Angus Shiva Mungal, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Educational Leadership and Foundations Department and Richard Sorenson, PhD, is the former chairperson of the Educational Leadership and Foundations Department at The University of Texas at El Paso.