Archives for posts with tag: Focus

Robert Dillon

Getting the most from a conference – Dr. Robert Dillon is the principal learner at Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School

Heading to a conference soon? Too often, we rush out of our buildings at the last minute to head to the airport to attend a conference with the details of school flooding through our heads. When we land at the conference, it takes us a few days to decompress, get in the mindset to learn, and inevitably the conference is coming to an end when we are primed for our best growth. To avoid this, think about trying one or more of the following ideas as a way to get the most out of your time with your colleagues from throughout the nation.

1. Think about how you are going to organize your thoughts throughout the conference. How will you organize your notes to make them last beyond the conference? One suggestion would be to write a daily blog post or e-mail summary of the day for your staff. This time of reflection and synthesis are key for ideas to germinate and spread into your building and beyond. Do you have a blog? Look to WordPress or Blogger for free places to start your digital story. Publishing your thoughts helps spread ideas to places beyond your office and your school.

2. Begin learning on Twitter. There has been no better space to grow professionally over the last five years than through the set of loose connections and networks that Twitter can provide. There are tons of great resources on how to start using Twitter, and I’d be happy to help if you reach out to me on Twitter @ideaguy42. Throughout a conference, the best ideas, resources, and conversations will be on Twitter with other colleagues at the conference and beyond. Get started now, so that you can get past the learning curve on how to use Twitter, so that learning will be front and center.

3. Connect with another leader that is attending before you arrive. It is certainly great to have those random meetings in sessions, but it is also helpful to start a new conversation today. Reach out to someone that has written for your industry trade publication, someone that you exchanged cards with last year and have lost touch with, or someone from your state organization with whom you have wanted to learn and share. Conferences are best when people are able to bring electronic or phone conversations to life face-to-face. It is also a great idea to reach out to someone that you wouldn’t normally talk to at the conference, someone that is outside of your normal comfort zone as those conversations bear some of the greatest fruit.

4. Watch a TED talk. It is important to get in the mode of thinking and exploring ideas, and there is no better place to do that than Thousands of incredible ideas are spread through this network each day. Most of the ideas aren’t specifically about education, but they are ideas that provide some lateral capacity building for school leaders. This fresh capacity can bring a new lens to our work, and it can also provide us with ideas that we can carry into education from fields as diverse as botany, rocket science, and poetry.

5. Be ready to share the best stuff at your school. It is so important that the conference feels like a rich marketplace of ideas, and every school has trapped wisdom and ideas that are worth sharing. What three programs are excellent at your school? Why are they excellent? Telling your story to others also helps you and your building grow.

Dr. Robert Dillon is the principal learner at Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School. He is dedicated to providing innovative and creativity education for all kids through unique experiences and opportunities. He believes that success includes scholarship, but it should work in tandem with leadership, citizenship, and stewardship.

Student Paths founder Chris Wills

Student Paths founder Chris Wills

Cocktail leadership
By Father Time

Picture yourself on a desert island.
In the South Pacific.
With a cocktail in your hand.
Like where this is going? Since it’s February, it’s not too much of a stretch.
But inevitably, what starts to creep back into your brain? All the tasks you need to get done. Upcoming deadlines. How you need to be around to ensure your team hits the numbers. I’d love to go, but…

I’d be very curious to know what percent of vacation time is actually taken by leaders each year? 75 percent? 50 percent? My guess might even be lower.

When I talk to other leaders, I’m struck by their comments of feeling a lack of control, and that they don’t always feel they have a handle on what is going on in their school or organization. In turn, that causes them to feel like they need to work and be around more. Time disappears.

But what if there was a way to be on that desert island and still feel you knew exactly what was going on? There is, and we’ll call it cocktail leadership. And if it helps you get in the mood, feel free to sip on your favorite cocktail as you read along.

The key to cocktail leadership is first identifying your unique 5 to 10 key numbers that predict future success. Reactive numbers tell you what happened, and aside from doing something different next year, the ship has sailed and you have no ability to do anything differently to get the numbers back on track.

Predictive numbers, however, tell you where you are heading, and if that is a crash landing, you as the captain have time to chart a course correction to your desired destination.

The exercise, then, goes like this: If you were on that desert island in the South Pacific and a bottle washed ashore with 5 to 10 predictive numbers from your organization, which ones would you want to see to have a solid picture of how things were going?

Make a list, set it aside, and review it a day later. Really think about what numbers would give you a great understanding of what was going on in your office thousands of miles away.

Then put those numbers on a piece of paper and call it a scorecard (or the South Pacific scorecard if you’re so inclined). Track them weekly over 12 week intervals and review with your team every week.

Identify the ultimate goal you are trying to get to with each number, make sure a single person is ultimately accountable for each number, and have that person publicly report each week if their number is “on track” or “off track.”

If “on track,” no further discussion is needed. If “off track,” discuss the item as an issue in the meeting and work together to identify specific action items your team can do to get the number back on track toward the goal. If the number is truly predictive, this can happen.
If the number is off track again next week, follow the same process of discussing as a team and agreeing upon action steps to get the number back on track.

This model can and should be followed each week, regardless of whether a person is out of the office or not. That means you can know what is going on when you are sipping your cocktail in the South Pacific, and if something happens to be “off track,” you know your team has a process to follow to get it back on track by the time you get home.

If you want to have a fulfilling 2013 and save lots of time, email me at with the secret password COCKTAIL in the subject line and I’ll send you a sample scorecard that I use in my organization. I’m also happy to work with you to figure out what some of your key metrics should be so you can enjoy reading them on that island later this year.

Father Time, or Chris Wills, is passionate about helping other leaders learn and grow and free up time they didn’t think they had. He is the Founder of Student Paths, an organization that better prepares students for their future in college, career and life readiness.

Chris Wills

Chris Wills

The ball dropped and 2013 is here, and along with it the cliché of a fresh start. But being I’m Father Time, after all, I am a sucker for the perspective a new year brings.

Now the question is, what are you doing about it?

New Year’s resolutions? Are you still wearing a pager? Those are soooo 1992.

Could there be bigger time wasters? People spend a bunch of time and mental energy to come up with them, spend a bunch of time in January following them, and by March are spending a bunch of time and mental energy lamenting that they aren’t following through on them. Then spring arrives, the sun shines a little brighter, and it’s back to the old habits.

Do you want a resolution or a plan?

What we should be focusing on is a personal plan for the new year. A personal plan is more than a wimpy resolution; it’s a well thought-out roadmap to the year that helps you identify what truly are your biggest priorities. And it provides a framework to break those priorities into smaller, more manageable chunks as well as tie those priorities to bigger goals 3 and 10 years out, so they are meaningful and lasting.

Let’s compare:

Typical New Year’s resolution: “I resolve to lose 15 pounds.”

Personal plan priority: Lose 15 pounds by the end of the year.

Personal plan Rock #1 (plan for the next 90 days): Schedule specific, non-negotiable times on the calendar to exercise an average of 3 days per week.

Personal plan Rock #2: Find an exercise buddy to tag along at least once per week.

Personal plan 3-year picture: I’m in good enough shape to run the Twin Cities Marathon with my son.

Personal plan lifetime wish list: Complete a marathon with my son

See the difference? Which one do you think has a better chance of getting accomplished?

I use a personal plan template developed by Gino Wickman, the author of Traction, whose Level 10 meeting I highlighted in a blog last year. It is in a simple, one page format, and when you write it out and your mind sees it, it is much more likely to happen. And as Gino says, scientific studies now show that when you physically write something, your brain engages and internalizes it more (see Brain Rules by John Medina, 2008).

The plan consists of the following sections:

Vision – A big picture view of yourself to guide you to what you hold dear and what is most important

  • Core values – You need to first reflect on what you value most, as that will guide you to set goals and priorities that are truly meaningful (and thus will actually get completed). So often this step is overlooked when setting things like New Year’s resolutions.
  • Passions – What do you truly love to do? You are far more likely to spend time pursuing passions by trying to “fix” something you don’t naturally enjoy
  • 10-year target – A really big goal you’d like to accomplish in 10 years
  • Lifetime wish list – Your “bucket list”
  • 3-year picture – A brief exercise to paint yourself a picture of what you want your life to look like in 3 years

Traction – Your 1-year view to achieve your vision

  • 1-year plan: Your goals for the year
  • Rocks: Your top priorities for the next 90 days that usually tie directly to achieving your yearly goals
  • Issues list: A place to put down in writing all the things you want to do or know you need to work on but didn’t make the cut as the top goals for the year. This section is liberating because you at least feel like you have a place to put these things so they won’t be overlooked or forgotten.

You can use this framework at work as well as at home, and it is an invaluable exercise to go through each year.

If you want to have a fulfilling 2013 and save lots of time, email me at with the secret password NOT A SISSY in the subject line and I’ll send you a free personal plan template.

Father Time, or Chris Wills, is passionate about helping other leaders learn and grow and free up time they didn’t think they had. He is the Founder of

Student Paths, an organization that better prepares students for their future in college, career and life readiness.

Scarborough Elizabeth
Looking back on 2012, what overall marketing tip do you have for enrollment managers?

In working with college and universities throughout the country, I still find that a lot of institutions manage their “recruitment marketing” out of the enrollment management division and their “image and brand marketing” out of their marketing department. Unfortunately, it is common for there to be absolutely zero relationship between the two. Can you imagine this strategy working well in a corporate setting? Take Best Buy for example. Imagine a scenario in which you see Best Buy commercials on TV and then go into a store to find a completely different image and identity….and a completely different set of marketing messages being communicated in collateral materials and from the sales team. That’s crazy, you say? Yes it is. But, that’s the approach many institutions are using, by default.

Why is marketing integration important, especially in 2013?

By integrating the recruitment marketing strategy with the overall image- and brand-building efforts of the institution AND also integrating the fundraising marketing strategy, an institution is maximizing the effectiveness of its marketing dollars across the entire enterprise. It’s good to remember that when it comes to marketing, every institution is stronger united, than divided. The more you can integrate and coordinate all the marketing that is occurring around your institution, the more effective your institution will be as a whole. In most cases, the reason integration is so difficult is because of the politics and power struggles we have going on within the organization. Every office or division wants to implement their own strategy; one they believe is “right” for their audiences and goals. It’s the same problem we are having in Washington right now. We should take a look at what’s going on in Congress and do the opposite. More collaboration and more focus on the larger picture. These are the elements that will lead to greater marketing integration on your campus. If you have ever complained that your institution has “no brand” or a weak brand strategy, ask yourself what YOU are doing to help your institution work toward a simple, focused message that can serve as the foundation for communications with all internal and external stakeholder groups. When undergraduate recruitment, graduate recruitment, fundraising, alumni relations, marketing staff members and others around your campus can work together to develop a coordinated approach to marketing, your effectiveness will skyrocket.

How can you help foster such integration at your institution from your role in admission?

Integrating does not mean you have to give up your authority or your budget, nor does it mean you have to add lots of meetings to your plate. What it does mean is that you need to come together as a team. Reach across the aisle to understand the objectives of the advancement division, the marketing department, and other critical units of your institution. Be a part of the solution that bring greater integration and more marketing coordination to your campus. Get on board with a strategy that can work for the entire institution as opposed to remaining fiercely committed to just your little piece of it. Your piece will be stronger and more vibrant with greater marketing integration. When your entire institution is working from the same play book, your job will be easier.

One of my favorite experiences of the year was presenting they opening keynote address at GEAC on St. Simon’s Island in November. The session was titled, “Why College Can’t Brand.” The moral of the story, of course, was that colleges CAN be effective in branding themselves. But, there are certainly hurdles to get over and they are listed in the powerpoint.

If you would like to learn more about SimpsonScarborough, Elizabeth can be contacted at or by phone at 703.403.0547.

by Father Time (a.k.a. Chris Wills, Founder of Student Paths)

Here’s the quiz you, as a leader, should ace this holiday season.

First write down the names of all your staff members (hopefully you can ace this one, otherwise things will go downhill quickly :)).

Next to each, write the names of spouses or significant others.

Then, write at least one thing that each person is passionate about.

Finally, and be honest on this one, if you were to buy each person a personalized gift that they would truly enjoy (fruitcakes and Target gift cards do not count!), what would it be?

Now go back and see how you did. Get the names of all or most of the spouses? Sorry, but unless you live in a cave, don’t pat yourself on the back too hard as that should be a bare-bones expectation.

Passions? You are getting warmer, but unless the relationship is less than a couple months old, you should be able to identify at least one for each of your team members.

And the measure of a truly engaged leader is that he or she should be able to get personalized gift for each staff member. If you know someone to that level, chances are you’ve put in the time to get to know them as a human being and not just a cog in a wheel.

Think about how you feel when you have that type of relationship with someone, especially someone you work for. The dynamic changes from “boss” to more of “colleague” or “partner.”

If you aren’t at that level, the good news is that taking Father Time’s Relationship Barometer periodically will help you identify gaps and help you do something about it. And if you cultivate that depth of relationship with each of your staff members, I guarantee your issues will go down and productivity will go up—saving you valuable time and money.

Then you might have some time to name all of Santa’s reindeer.

If you want to save even more time this year, email me at with the secret password BAROMETER in the subject line and I’ll send you the spreadsheet template that I use as my relationship barometer

Chris Wills

Chris Wills

Father Time, or Chris Wills, is passionate about helping other leaders learn and grow and free up time they didn’t think they had. He is the Founder of Student Paths, an organization that better prepares students for their future in college, career and life readiness.

by Father Time (a.k.a. Chris Wills, Founder of Student Paths)

Too many people spend their day reacting instead of being in control and spending time on the most important things. As a result, they work a lot but accomplish only a little, and the mountain of things to do never seems to dwindle.

This occurs because most people do not stop to first plan their day. The whims and fires of each day control them, as opposed to them ensuring their time is spent on the highest value tasks.

A common myth Hyrum Smith writes about in The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management is that people just don’t have time to plan each day, but that, of course, is ridiculous and a self-fulfilling prophecy. True, you have to give up some time to plan, but that time spent will save you oodles of time later and give you a true sense of accomplishment when you are in control and working on what is most important.

That is where the Magic Hour comes in.

As Smith explains, the Magic Hour is a block of time that is generally uninterrupted when you can focus on the things beyond the normal urgencies and activities of the day. My Magic Hour is before my family wakes up, but yours could be between 9 and 10 p.m. or whenever you’d like. It doesn’t matter when; just establish it at some point throughout the day.

Then use 10 to 15 minutes of that Magic Hour planning the upcoming day with the following six guidelines outlined by Smith:

  1. Find a place that is free of distractions.
  2. Review long-range objectives. It is easy to get caught up in the short-term, but always consider when planning what can be done each day to bring you closer to your goals.
  3. Ensure the number of tasks and the amount of time required by each is realistic. Over-planning can be de-motivating because we focus on what we didn’t do as opposed to what we did do. Anticipate interruptions and cut your planned tasks in half—the worst-case scenario is you accomplish everything, have extra time and feel great about yourself!
  4. Set specific daily goals for tasks, and reduce complex tasks into smaller, more manageable ones.
  5. Anticipate obstacles. Life does not go as planned; try to identify things that could keep you from accomplishing your tasks and consider how you might handle them.
  6. Prioritize. Perhaps the most important step of all, take some time to really determine the order of what you need to accomplish each day. And as tempting as it may be, don’t jump to #2 until #1 is finished, even if it takes the entire day.

Investing 15 minutes a day will pay huge dividends. Be disciplined to stick with it for a few weeks and once you develop the habit, enjoy watching the magic happen.

If you want to save even more time this year, email me at with the secret password MAGIC in the subject line and I’ll send you a free copy of the book The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management that contains more details on the Magic Hour and other time management tips.

Chris Wills

Father Time, or Chris Wills, is passionate about helping other leaders learn and grow and free up time they didn’t think they had. He is the Founder of Student Paths, an organization that better prepares students for their future in college, career and life readiness.

by Father Time (a.k.a. Chris Wills, Founder of Student Paths)

Most leaders can free up a significant amount of time if they work on how they solve issues with their team. I’ve written about how to run a highly effective meeting, and one component of that is the Issue Solving Track.

From my firsthand experience, having structure to how you solve issues is a considerable time saver and a fantastic alternative to lots of people talking in circles for hours and getting nowhere (not that it ever happens in your office).

The key to avoid being your own version of Bill Murray waking up every day to the same song on the radio is IDS:

  • Identify
  • Discuss
  • Solve

Identify Then Prioritize

When the issues start flowing in, first list them all and identify truly what the issue is. This step gets commonly skipped, and leads to lots of time being spent on solving the wrong issue.

For example, your regional rep says she can’t get any high school visits scheduled in the new territory you want to open. But what is the true issue? Is the territory the wrong choice? Is the rep not putting in the time and effort? Is the rep a good one, but not the right fit to open a new territory? Is there some unique element to the territory, such as statewide testing at that same time?

Invest the time upfront and have the discipline to identify the real issue. This will be easier for some than others, but you will find that it will make the issue go away forever because you are finally getting to the root problem.

Then critically, once you’ve identified the real issue, prioritize the issues in order of importance to get discussed and solved. Don’t just go in order down the list or spend your valuable time taking the easy route and solving lots of less significant issues; this is the equivalent of busy work.

Actually, even if you end up only having time to solve the top one or two issues, you’ll find that many of the smaller issues on your list will disappear because they are really just symptoms of those larger issues.


You’ve identified and prioritized the real issues, so the hardest part is done. Now you simply discuss as a team how to best solve the issue. Debate and disagreement are healthy, and if you are doing this with your team, encourage a safe environment for differing opinions. Allow people to be heard, which is crucial later for buy-in after the decision.

Plenty of studies have shown that verbalizing during problem solving helps expedite the process and often leads to a sound decision. The key in this step is to facilitate discussion but wrap it up once no new perspectives are being added and things begin to get repeated. Go too far, and you are over-discussing.


Now it’s time to solve the issue, and how you do this depends on both your leadership style and whether you are solving the issue on your own or with your team.

If the latter, you can say to your team: “We’ve explored different perspectives on the issue, and now need to make a decision. Would anyone like to suggest a solution?”

Many times the solution will be obvious, everyone will agree, and you can move on to the next issue. But there will also be times when the team will disagree and you as the leader will need to step in and make the final decision. When that happens, it is important to understand that consensus is impossible on every decision and as long as everyone was offered the chance to be heard in the discussion step, your team also needs to accept your decision.

The final step to solve is to document the decision in writing and then before the meeting is done, review the decisions and various to-do’s resulting from them. You’ll be surprised how important that echo test is to ensuring everyone is on the same page going forward.

If you want to save even more time this year, email me at with the secret password SEASON in the subject line and I’ll send you a free copy of the book Traction that contains more detail on IDS and the issue solving track.

Chris Wills

Father Time, or Chris Wills, is passionate about helping other leaders learn and grow and free up time they didn’t think they had. He is the Founder of Student Paths, an organization that better prepares students for their future in college, career and life readiness.