Principal Hotline: Is Work-Life Balance Even Possible?

When “just one more email” is all your family hears.

Illustration of a woman in a suit doing work in a swimming pool

Dear Principal Hotline,

Every year I tell myself and my family that this is the summer that I will do a better job at work-life balance. But it takes about three days before I start getting up at 5 AM to race into school to work on the schedule or teacher assignments. And then it’s hard to get out the door at the end of the day. There’s always more to do. Another email to answer. How do I unplug? Where do I draw the line? My family needs me, and I need some time as a person and not just as a school leader.

Sincerely,

Can’t Turn Off Work

Dear Can’t Turn Off Work,

This is a timeless (and especially timely) question. As I’m sure you know, you’re far from alone—this answer is one we all search for.

Accept that you’re never going to be done. There are so many things that find their way onto your desk that you’re never going to find yourself out of tasks. From there, you need to accept that if you walk out of the building at your scheduled time without having finished all tasks, the building will still be there tomorrow.

This sounds silly when you say it out loud, but as professionals, we all have a hard time acknowledging this reality.

The feeling of responsibility, of knowing that actual life-altering things are happening during your watch—it culminates into an often self-created obligation to work around the clock until we fall to the floor, exhausted.

How do we combat this? Create rules for yourself. I’m partial to lists, so here’s a handy dandy list of my ideas:

  1. Set a firm time to come to work; go in at that time. Set a firm time to go home; go home at that time.
  2. Only stay late to address time-sensitive issues. If it’s something that can wait until the following afternoon, set it down and walk away.
  3. Don’t have your work email sent to your phone during the summer months.
  4. Don’t send emails to your staff when you are not physically sitting at your desk in your office in your school—unless it’s an absolute emergency.
  5. Only call your staff during their working hours.
  6. Keep your work at work. When you walk out the door, take only your person and your personal items.
  7. Pick one day a week when you’re allowed to stay late and finish up extra tasks. Only stay late on that day.

I hope you can see a pattern here. This type of list is scary if you’re a person who loves their job and who feels the full weight of their authority. Don’t be afraid to create boundaries. Working almost nonstop is unhealthy for your body, mind, and relationships. If you don’t take time to recharge, you’re not going to be able to give your best effort during the time you most need to. This doesn’t make you a bad person, a bad leader, or a bad administrator. You’re allowed to be human. Creating a work-life balance gives you that space.

If you’re finding yourself rushing into the office early and staying very late every day because you have tasks that must be finished immediately, you may want to take a moment and figure out why you’re finishing things at the last minute all the time.

Otherwise, go home. See your family. Be a person. You’re as entitled to your free time as anyone who works for you or above you. Your pile will always be there; just pick out what’s smoking and what’s already on fire, do what you need to address the issues, then walk out the door. Everything else will be there tomorrow.

You’ll only feel like you’re not drowning if you take time to breathe.

Each week, our brave school leadership expert will answer your toughest questions about the daily adventures and challenges we all face as we strive to make our schools great places for kids to learn. Have a question? Email it to principalhotline@schoolleadersnow.com.

Posted by Amy Lynn Tompkins

Writer, public servant, advice giver.

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