If I told you I can help make you a better, if not great school administrator, would you believe me? Short of growing a few more hands or adding hours to the clock, what elixir for greatness can I offer you?
In a day and age when school budgets are tighter than ever and resources are growing more precious with each passing school year, it seems like you’re continually being asked to do more with less.
Whether you’re a school communications professional, IT manager, superintendent or other administrator (or run a web communications software company as I do) we all wrestle with managing our workload. [Editor's note: Coincidentally, helping cope with your workload happens to be one of the selling propositions the Campus Suite solution offers schools and colleges. But I’m not taking this space to write about that.]
I’m here to talk about how to keep up with the daily to-dos that can quickly turn into to-don’ts if you don’t manage your workload: getting that news release written, completing that research project the superintendent asked you to spearhead, making a dent in the backlog of support requests. Sure, time management has something to do with it, but there are other solutions available that can make you a better manager.
Surround yourself with talent
Fact is, I used to wear too many hats. I dealt with the overwhelming pressure of trying know everything. My workload increased, and the unfortunate outcome was I wasn't really good at anything. I spent so much time trying to do everything, nothing got done. It's a challenge that you or anyone in a demanding position might face.
Then one day, I read an inspiring statement:
Perfect is the enemy of good.
I had been spending too much time trying to be perfect. Most of us do. I learned that I cannot ever be perfect, but I can be great. When I let go of perfection, I realized how to get rid of my hats. Here's one I made up myself:
Other people can be great too!
Now I can find people who specialize, so I don't have to. I can manage and delegate rather than trying to do it all myself. Finding ways to give others tasks and projects was the path to getting my time and sanity back. Today, we can find and place people to help us with all types of skills and projects.
One way to do that is with Upwork.com. Upwork is a online community for contractors and employers to meet and do work together. It’s a freelance marketplace that connects hungry and capable contractors with people like you who need the help to be great.
There are other good outsourcing websites for freelance solutions, such as Guru, and Freelancer. I’ve tried some others too, but I’ve found Upwork allows me to “scale myself” time and manage time differently. Upwork provides the search tools, payments, and all the other items needed to do work and collaborate with a contractor remotely. All you need is a credit card and some basic information about the job at hand, and you can be talking to a contractor in minutes.
Tips for getting started with Upwork:
Start small. Start some basic tasks or projects that are not time sensitive. I avoid anything that requires access to sensitive data or platforms. Find something that takes up 1-2 hours of your week, that you could get someone else to help you with.
Write a description of what you want done. This needs to be clear instructions and deliverables. Your contractor needs instruction and expectations. I see people use vague requests, and get poor results. Define the process so there is no gray area.
Know the skill sets you are looking for. Writing? Designer? Mobile app developer? List out the skills you need from your contractor in bullet-point fashion. Searching through thousands of profiles is easy when you have map.
Communicate. Communication often requires voice or video. Most contractors use Skype or Google Hangouts. Email is always available. Time zones are a new challenge when working with contractors. (Your contractor might have a 12- hour time difference.) Have a clear plan on how you expect to communicate.
Require accountability. Ask for status reports via email at the end of each day or project. Review the tasks to verify that work is progressing to your standard. Avoid giving someone too many tasks. Work off of your list, and add tasks as items get completed.
Be safe. Never share passwords, financial, or other sensitive information. Use a tool like Lasspass.com to share access to systems in an accountable way. Create new accounts for contractors, and disable at the end of a project.
Share simply. Have a standard location for files and names. Email is a terrible sharing platform. Google Drive, Box, Podio, Dropbox are all better solutions that offer a way to keep files in sync and give you the ability to add comments and collaborate.
Helping me achieve ‘greatness’
When I did everything, I was missing the details and knowledge to be effective. When I hire a specialist, I get that missing 20% extra. I send out tasks like editing PowerPoints, website updates, and social media management. I only have 40 (or so) hours in a week. I don't need to know everything; I just need to find specialists that can help me deliver a great outcome. Here are some examples of projects I have sent out:
- Research – I had someone do market research and compile the information into a report for me. The contractor saved me 40 hours of research time.
- Writing – I sent out writing blog posts for a website. I sent the contractor an idea, and they posted the finished article for me to review
- Editing – I had to edit 40 Powerpoints to different styles. I spent 20 minutes writing up the project, and saved at least 20 hours of editing.
- Transcription – I record meetings, and send them out to be transcribed for follow ups. With an Iphone, I can sent this work out in minutes.
- Design – I needed a presentation to look pretty. I hired a designer to clean up and format my deck.
- Support – I had a special IT project that needed an experienced network administrator for an intensive, 4-week period
The list can go on. The goal is to scale with greatness by finding contractors who do great work and giving them clear instructions. Save your time for your life.
Upwork, outsourcing and education
How do Upwork or other providers who play matchmaker with outsource projects and independent contractors fit into education?
Schools are struggling to find and pay staff to do work. In school public relations and communications, IT, purchasing and other disciplines, the lure of the corporate dollar is making it hard to find and retain quality school administrators and expect them to perform.
What’s more, the stakes are higher, and require more creative solutions to making more with less. Schools and school districts are under greater pressures these days to perform like well-managed organizations and businesses.
Making a budget to fill in many small roles with contractors makes sense for business and should make sense for schools. Contractors carry no long-term budgetary burden. Imagine hiring contractors to help you gear up for the start of the school year. You could double your workforce for two weeks, then cut back.
Let’s say you’re commencing a huge social media sea change in your district and you need help with getting that project off the ground. Or you’re implementing iPads or google Chromebooks district wide, and need some massive help with implementation. Or maybe just some ongoing IT network and system administration help that’s required, and you don’t have the budget for a full-time hire.
Keeping educators from being overwhelmed improves the education process. Filling in spot needs for specific skill sets can deliver projects on small budgets. Talk with your team about a pilot project with Upwork.
The next post in this series will be how to find and hire someone on Upwork.
Eric's background as a technical CEO with a big-picture focus brings the experience and vision that both gains the respect of technical audiences, and gets the attention of the progressive school leaders and administrators.