Visions of Time

So you want to have time for vision, to be a leader ... but the daily tasks keep getting in the way? The key to time management, says this author, is knowing your style, using time blocks, and practice.

By Dr. David Hoch

David Hoch, EdD, is Director of Athletics at Eastern Technical High School, in Baltimore County, Md. He was named the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association’s Athletic Director of the Year in 2000.

Athletic Management, 14.5, August/September 2002,

The world of an athletic administrator is certainly hectic and at times overwhelming. In order to survive and thrive in this environment, it is absolutely essential to effectively manage your time.

Because so much of our jobs entail daily responsibilities, it’s easy to get caught up in minutia: checking schedules, answering people’s questions, filling out forms. While these small tasks certainly must be attended to, an athletic director cannot abandon or ignore much larger issues. After all, the difference between being a leader and merely a manager is having vision. Therefore, we each have to move beyond the mundane tasks in order to become an effective, dynamic leader. The following may help you organize your days to make time for vision.

Analyzing Yourself
In order to become more efficient at managing your time, you first need to understand your strengths, weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies. With this information, you can go about making changes and improvements in managing your time. For example, ask yourself:

• Are you a morning person or does it take you a few hours to kick into gear every day? Knowing this is essential to setting up your daily schedule.

• How long of an attention span do you have? It may be necessary, for example, to break up some tasks into smaller parts in order to provide time to refocus.

• Are there certain tasks you find so distasteful you delay or avoid completing them? For some of us, it may be best to complete these responsibilities first in order to get them out of the way and then reward ourselves by working on something that we enjoy.

• How well do you react to the pressure of deadlines? Do you need the immediacy of the deadline in order to complete a project, or would you prefer to build in lengthy timelines?

Ignoring these types of questions will make it difficult to tackle the issue of time management. The key is figuring out how you best operate. Then, you are ready to improve your efficiency.

The Daily Schedule
As many of us do, I start every day with a “To Do” List. And, because I am not a morning person, I compile this list in the evening, before the next day begins. I take all of my accumulated notes from the day, check my calendar, refer to my list of due dates or projects, and think about how to prioritize items.

I then prepare my list using a technique I call Block Scheduling, which divides the day into chunks of time. This allows me to plug tasks into certain periods in the day when it is most conducive to complete them.

For example, I usually arrive at school around 7 a.m. From this point until the beginning of homeroom at 7:45, I want to be available for coaches and student-athletes who may need my assistance. But I still want to get something done during this time in between the visitors. So I list things for this period that will not involve serious concentration because I anticipate that I will be interrupted.

Conversely, there are also times during the day when I probably will not be interrupted. During these blocks, I plan items such as writing press releases, proposals, or articles for our booster club newsletter and anything else that needs my total focus.

Block scheduling also controls the amount of time I spend on a task and can help me focus on that task. If I know I’ve only got a certain block of time to complete something, I have a built-in incentive to complete it without getting off track.

Controlling Menial Tasks
In our positions, we typically contend with hundreds of small details and daily tasks. While they have to be completed, we cannot allow them to dominate our daily or weekly schedule. Concentrating on menial tasks may prevent you from working on larger, visionary projects and ultimately derail the improvement of the program.

The first step in controlling these tasks is to prioritize them. For example, some responsibilities must be taken care of in a timely fashion because the events of the day are dependent upon their completion. These include confirming security coverage for a contest being held that day or confirming the departure time for one of the day’s buses. On the other hand, there are some menial tasks that do not need top priority, such as checking officials’ vouchers and score sheets before forwarding them to the central office for payment; counting, verifying, and depositing gate receipts (as long as you have a locked box to store them); and verifying officials’ assignments for upcoming seasons.

With all of the menial tasks that crop up, I always ask myself, “What would happen IF I postpone it until tomorrow?” If the answer is, “Nothing” or “No problem,” this goes a long way in determining my priorities.

By taking this approach to planning your daily schedule, it ensures you tackle items that must be accomplished, but also allows you to be efficient with your time. Failure to incorporate this approach into your time management may mean you never find time for the long-term projects.

Breaking Projects Down
Facing large projects can be daunting. One way to make them more manageable and less anxiety-filled is to break them into smaller parts that can be completed as separate items.

For example, every Monday morning I have to fax a weekly press release to our three local newspapers. This needs to be finished by lunchtime in order meet the publications’ deadlines. However, I don’t start this project on Monday morning. I merely finish it by noontime.

On Thursday, I will find a few minutes to write up the game reports from the previous evening’s basketball games. On Friday, I will add Thursday’s wrestling matches. This way, I don’t have the entire task to do while facing a Monday deadline, but just have to add the weekend results. Not surprisingly, the quality of the draft is also better when it is not squeezed into my normally hectic Monday schedule.

With large projects, I always set up a time frame for their completion. In doing so, I allow some extra time for problems and interruptions, which are bound to occur. In my weekly schedule, I then plan time to complete small parts of the total project. By doing this, the project will not be completed under pressure at the last minute, which usually results in a haphazard finished product.

What kinds of projects get this treatment? This article for one. Preparing PowerPoint presentations for preseason parents’ meetings and conference sessions, various proposals, and reports are other examples of items I break down and schedule in small daily segments.

Coach Communication
Since working with coaches is a large part of our duties, it helps to figure out efficient systems of communication with them. Here are some ideas to help:

• Keep a copy of all memos and written communication to your coaches in chronological order in a large loose-leaf binder. This provides easy access for reference.

• Put a printed copy of any pertinent memos in individual coaches’ folders. This should be done if a problem associated with the memo is anticipated, or if problems have already occurred.

• Keep a copy of all important coaching documents, forms, guidelines, and checklists on disks. Properly label and date them so that they can quickly and easily be found, updated, and printed.

• Develop distribution lists so you can e-mail messages and attachments to groups of coaches all at once.

• Use periodic newsletters to provide motivational messages and seasonal updates to large groups of coaches. These are also useful for parents and booster club members, and can be sent via e-mail through your distribution lists.

At the same time, communicating with coaches directly, not through written materials, is one area that should not be skimped on. Even though an e-mail will take one-tenth of the time as meeting with a coach face-to-face, there are situations when that in-person meeting is essential. If a coach needs extra direction during a difficult time, you need to prioritize this on your schedule.

Since I do not have an assistant or secretary, I don’t delegate a lot. And I am a firm believer that our coaches are often overburdened with teaching, coaching, and family responsibilities. Therefore, in good conscience, I don’t want to delegate things to them.

There are times, however, that coaches come to me with good ideas or an interest in a particular project. When good, conscientious coaches volunteer to help, I do take them up on their offers and utilize their particular talents. This also helps coaches develop a feeling that they are important and involved in our program, and provides them with professional development possibilities.

For example, we have a very helpful student booster club. The officers and advisor, one of our exceptional coaches, have taken the responsibility of maintaining the sports bulletin board. This includes looking through the newspapers, clipping, and then posting pertinent articles. All of this is a big help to me, as it is one less thing I have to do, so I am careful to thank and honor this coach for his contribution at opportune times.

Controlling your Environment
While phones are absolutely necessary in our positions, they can be extremely disruptive and invasive. Phone calls can also be very time consuming. During a time block in which you need uninterrupted concentration, allow your voice mail to screen your calls even though you may be sitting at your desk. This permits you to return the call at a more convenient time. The obvious exception to this approach is during a rainy day when there will be numerous phone calls in connection with postponing games, canceling buses and officials, and making all of the associated arrangements.

When I do get caught in a lengthy phone conversation that begins to infringe upon my schedule, I use one of the following techniques:

• “I have to run to class now.”
• After knocking on my desk, I respond with, “I have to go. Someone is at my door.”

To avoid phone-tag, try using e-mail whenever possible. Not only is this more time-efficient with regard to your schedule, but it allows you to keep messages on file for reference. If needed, you can also file a hard copy as a backup.

Drop-in visits represent another hurdle to efficient time management. While it is important to be available to your coaching staff, these unscheduled visits can also cut into your available time. Normally my office door is, literally, always open. However, to limit drop-in visits, I explain to my staff that there may be times when I simply will not be able to alter my schedule to accommodate drop-in visits. They’re told this at our preseason staff meeting and reminded in periodic memos.

On rare occasions when I absolutely need uninterrupted time, I post a sign reading, “In Conference, Please Do Not Knock” on my door and close it. As long as this technique is used judiciously, it can be very effective.

Using Every Minute
The concept of using every minute has become my mantra, and I am absolutely fanatical about it. For example, the small photocopier in my office spits out only four copies per minute. So when I need more than one copy of a document, I will try to couple photocopying with another task, such as:

• Filing items which have accumulated on my desk (and there is always an abundant supply).

• Replying to e-mail messages that can be answered in a few words.

If I am waiting for a larger project to be photocopied in our Media Center, I will take mail and memos to read through, or make notes for an upcoming project. Simply standing and waiting for the printing to be completed is never an option.

While it’s important to have some downtime in your day, it can often be work-related. For some athletic directors, this may mean having lunch with coaches. For me, I usually eat a sandwich while answering e-mail. This may not be absolute downtime, but it allows me to take a break while also doing something productive.

Time For Reflection
Whether you need downtime in your day, you do need to put aside time to reflect upon the direction of your program, to analyze concerns, and to seek creative solutions. A perfect time for me to accomplish this is when I attend some of our home contests.

Since I don’t have an assistant, I am responsible for game management at all of our home contests. However, some of them are very relaxed and draw few spectators. Standing on the sidelines at these contests allows me time to reflect. Often I make notes at these games directly related to preparing coaching evaluations. Other notes may be answers to a problem with which I have been wrestling.

From experience, I never leave my office without paper and a pen in my pocket. If a coach or parent approaches me with a request, I can jot it down. I never rely on my memory, and with these notes, I can efficiently plan my schedule for the following day.

In like fashion, my 30-minute commute home often yields creative solutions. During my time driving on the expressway, I’m able to mull over projects and problems and crystallize things that need to be done. Okay, this technique may not represent the safest driving practice, but it does provide me valuable time to think.

An Ongoing Challenge
While becoming more efficient with your available time is definitely important, it is not a one-time or even an annual effort. To make progress with time management, it has to be an ongoing process. And, for athletic directors, there are two compelling reasons for this.

Our position is constantly evolving in terms of responsibilities and expectations. As it becomes increasingly demanding, time remains constant. It is therefore critical to use what time we have in a much more efficient manner.

Second, it is easy to get caught up in the menial, mundane tasks of our position. While these tasks certainly have to be completed, they cannot be allowed to take away from the visionary, analytical, and planning aspects of our role. In order to enhance and propel our programs forward, time cannot be centered upon the minutia that we encounter daily.

It should be obvious, therefore, that improving your time management is not only necessary to survive, but to ultimately thrive as an athletic director. Oops, I have to go! There is a knock at my door, if you know what I mean.

Sidebar: Unexpected Time

Many of us have a lengthy list of chores and projects to tackle around the house on weekends and during the summer. It wouldn’t be surprising that a lot of us also have a “Rainy Day” list in the event of inclement weather. I know that I do!

In similar fashion, try keeping a “Found Time” list for your professional environment. This is what I refer to when I find some unexpected, available time in my schedule.

Recently, some extra time fell into my lap when a contest was suddenly canceled. Immediately, I was able to go to this ready list of projects that eventually had to be done but were not urgent enough to be on my daily or weekly schedules.

For example, my “Found Time” list includes:

• Purge folders in the inactive file cabinets.
• File folders which have accumulated on my desk.
• Move folders from the active files to the inactive cabinets.
• Back up computer files.
• Purge e-mail messages from the Sent and Deleted folders.

With this approach, you can be prepared for canceled appointments or meetings, or for those extremely rare occasions when something takes less time than planned. Since time is so valuable, always use absolutely every minute of the day to its fullest!