Feb 06

Does the “Tyranny of the Urgent” Sound Familiar?

In late January, I received the monthly copy of the “Lancer Letter”  a staff communication letter from Robert E. Lee High School in Fairfax County.  Principal Abe Jeffers, member of the VASSP Board of Directors, graciously forwards a copy to me and it is nice to keep in touch with what goes on in Abe’s school.

The January issue had the lead article titled “Tyranny of the Urgent,” a phrase I had not used or heard of for quite awhile. This is due to the fact that retirees do little of what might be considered “urgent.” Nonetheless, this opening paragraph header had developed from a conversation that occurred between two colleagues, Abe and fellow VASSP board member and principal, Dr. Brian Matney. Brian is principal at Landsdown High School in the Virginia Beach Division. Both principals were discussing their busy and hectic schedules that every other principal in Virginia could acknowledge is often a part of their day.

During their conversation, the phrase/concept of the “tyranny of the urgent” evolved as a descriptor of their crazy schedules, amount of paperwork, increasing instructional demands and long hours that building administrators endure. As the issues build up, decisions which seemingly need to made right away and the list of  communications accumulate, principals struggle to maintain a schedule and seem to have little extra time in the day, even for lunch.

The driving issue for this phenomenon is the often urgency to resolve  conflicts and issues “right now.”  These arise from  persons who want their issue resolved now and feel that there is nothing more urgent than the solution to their problem.  The issue is that their problem becomes your problem if  you let it do so. Then, the tyranny of the urgent, the “solve my issue now” mentality can overtake your day and your plans. Using Abe’s  description of doing things in this manner  routinely”…prevents us from doing what we were going to do, planned to do.”  When this happens, you will find that  much of your time and attention will be be drawn into a “sea” of inactivity and consequently, your day may be spent putting out fires, but producing little of substance.

The other downside of this continued  resolution of urgent issues is having your scheduled activites building  up and then using  the resolutions of these issues as a blanket explanation as to why you as a principal cannot get anything done during the day.  This then becomes an excuse and it profits no one.

If this sounds familiar, then resolve to set your daily schedule and stick to it. Your staff must understand that you have many tasks  and that what needs to get done, will get done.  The message will get out to your faculty that while everyone on the staff is important, the building leader has to develop priorities and stick to them. Let them know that you will keep “urgency” in a proper perspective rather than to allow it to be in charge of your schedule.