Getting At Work/Life Balance

Photo courtesy of chrisinplymouth on flickr

I remember hearing this famous story about a management professor talking about goals, vision, and the effective management of time. The professor told the story while starting to fill a jar with several large rocks, asking if it were full (to which the audience replied ‘yes’)  and then continuing to fill the jar first with pebbles, then sand, and then water.  Just as the audience thinks the jar is full each time, he continues to add more of the smaller items, letting them fall between the cracks.    What has stayed with me about this story is the idea that we must think about what represents the larger rocks in our lives and get them into the jar first…otherwise we run the risk of filling up our jars with less important albeit time consuming activities.

Easier said than done!

I’ve tried to remember this story when thinking about the balance between work and personal time.   Most of us have to make very conscious choices about maintaining a work/family/personal balance and school leadership is no exception.   There will be daily pressures to lose track of the ‘big rocks’ as other items compete for attention or time.  Taking to heart the ‘people before paper’ recommendation that we’ve heard from several authors and from some of our guests in our course, would be a way that I could set relationship building as one of my larger ‘rocks’.  Using my network of experienced vice-principals and principals will be crucial in gathering advice about setting priorities and creating structures to help with organization.  Networking and professional learning are both a balance challenge for me because I have access to a rich and generous personal learning network online as well as f2f.  This is a wonderful addition to my working and learning life, and with the opportunity to learn 24/7 in both f2f and virtual spaces,  comes the responsibility to make decisions about how much time to devote to learning and how to incorporate fitness, wellness and fun into the mix as well!  Students are also working and learning in virtual as well as f2f spaces and need some awareness of their need to make healthy and balanced choices.

I have to admit that when my sons went off to University, I may have busied myself with getting a new puppy and doing a little too much work —  it was fulfilling and valuable — and therefore a good distraction.  Other Moms or Dads probably take up a new hobby or run a marathon.  I’ve made some conscious choices in the last 6 months to be a little bit more selective in what I’m taking on this next year.  I’ve taken a break from the ECOO Board of Directors and ECOO Conference work  after six years, and I’m making time for some travel as well as getting to the gym more regularly.   It is important to encourage staff to consider their own situations and priorities and make time to talk about the challenges of family, work and personal time.

These final thoughts come to mind as important to remember as a school administrator:

  • Noticing people,  listening, and being visible can be powerful ways to get a sense of how staff are coping with the demands of the job.
  • We are all at different places in our family and personal lives.   Having young families, caring for elders,  or helping friends and/or family are big commitments that might mean contributions to the work place in varied ways at certain times.
  • Staff will be different in their need/desire to socialize and that’s perfectly okay. Providing a variety of options will encourage authentic relationships.
  • There is an ebb and flow to the busy school year that needs to be respected by administrators. Know when to add on, and when to take away.
  • Teachers are nurturers and need reminders to make sure to look after themselves too.
  • Work can be lots of fun!


  1. Good for you Brenda… taking a break and getting a new perspective is a good way to recharge, change direction and make new connections… I do suggest running a marathon and know of some good virtual training partners that will be your personal cheerleaders in this regard :). On another note I’ve taken up knitting again… got any tips??


  2. Oh boy!! I’m not sure a marathon is in my future but I could use the cheerleading for a 5K!! 🙂 Knitting is so great – love that you are back at it. I like the quick to do stuff like scarves, hats, mitts and socks…especially now that it’s cozy winter. Do you have any yarn shops near you? They are a great resource (and youtube of course) 🙂


  3. Some of the best moments of my work day are the unexpected connections that I make with staff and students. Usually this is something simple, unplanned and spontaneous. And, this usually occurs when I make the time to get away from my desk. Your refections cause me to reflect on my own practice. Thank you for this. I have to always remind myself that people have their unique way of living, connecting, working, being. Accepting and celebrating this is my task for the day.


  4. My friend Peter always says that we should plan to be unplanned – and calls this ‘intentional serendipity’ – I love that term. Your experience with those moments being the most valuable makes me think that despite our efforts to want to feel really organized and make the most of our day by scheduling lots in, it’s in the in between moments that might make the biggest impact.
    You always give me so much to think about – thank you for that!


  5. Thanks so much for this, Brenda….I struggle with this (a lot, sometimes). Did a mindfulness-based stress reduction course this fall,which helped. One gift I’ve given myself is giving up the guilt if I don’t do everything! I like the visual of figuring out what to put in the jar first – will keep that in mind.

    For me, the “being visible” part of what an admin does is that one I’m finding is often missing (at least in my own experience). When I think of my many administrators, the ones that left me with positive memories are the ones that were really, really visible in the school community. The kids knew they were there, and we knew they were there, and that made a HUGE difference.


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