Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Inefficiency is key to being efficient

Technology has really changed the way we do things as Administrators.  In many ways, we have the opportunity to be so much more efficient with our time.  We can send a message to all 15000 students and their families in our district with our digital call out system.  We can send an email to all of our fellow administrators in the district, or all the teachers in our school in a matter of mouseclicks.  We can tweet out messages on Twitter, Facebook, Buzz, Tumblr, or whatever social media vehicle we choose to all of our students in a scant 140 characters or less.   And with our personal technology devices, we can communicate at anytime, from anywhere! Make no doubt, the speed at which we are able to communicate our message today is exponentially faster than it ever has been.  As unbelievable as it is, this speed will only increase in the coming years.

One might expect that with this increase in communication capacity will lead to a commensurate increase in our efficiency as administrators.  And while this may be true in some ways, there are times when it is absolutely critical that as administrators we are deliberately INEFFICIENT with the method that we communicate with those around us.

Today, I had to deliver some news about an idea I had to three different sets of individuals.  In total, there were eleven different people involved spread over the extremities of our large dual campus.   The news had all of the potential to be quickly read and processed if I chose to send it in an email, but it had every bit as much potential to be misinterpreted, personalized and blown out of proportion.   It would have been very expedient for me to just send it out—a minute to compose the email, and a few seconds to attach the recipients.   I could have gotten on with the rest of my day, spent some time in classrooms, and had a few moments to deal with Mount Paperwork on my desk.   But I had that tingling ‘Spidey Sense’ that told me it was time to be ‘inefficient’.  I spent the next two hours speaking to the parties involved, and in the end each of them thought that the idea was a good one that we needed to pursue.

Maybe email would have been fine.  Maybe everyone would have gotten my intention from the words that I jotted down.  Maybe I could have just gotten on with my day, and Mount Paperwork would have been nothing but a small hillock. But maybe it wouldn’t have been fine.  Maybe there would have been hurt feelings, people feeling undervalued, or individuals feeling that they were being blamed.  I don’t know.

As I was writing this blog post, I had a parent stop by my office to talk.  This was a parent of a large family, and their final child will be graduating this year.  She wanted to take a few minutes to thank our school for all that it had done for her children.  She talked about the wonderful teachers at the school, the opportunities that her children had been afforded over the years, and the positive experiences that they had as a family throughout their children’s high school career.  I felt humbled, and have never been prouder of our school.  And it made me realize that she could have sent me an email saying the same thing, but instead she chose to tell me in person so she could show me the sincerity in her face.

These two stories highlight the fact that sometimes the most time-efficient thing to do is not necessarily the right thing to do, and the right thing to do may not be time-efficient at all.  But when we are communicating important messages to people, it pays to be ‘inefficient’.  We need to take the time to sit with people so that they can clearly understand what we mean, and allow them the opportunity to ask questions and be heard in a way that they cannot in an email.  With sensitive topics we must ensure there is no doubt about our intent.

In getting my message out, it was a situation where it was more efficient to be ‘inefficient’.  And furthermore, having this parent come into deliver their message in person just further reinforced the fact that it truly pays to be ‘inefficient’.  As much as I love technology and the speed at which I can transmit and receive messages, I realized today that I need to be ‘inefficient’ more often. 

So tomorrow, take a moment to be ‘inefficient’ so that you can be more efficient!



  1. Great post Cale! I think another example could be phoning parents about significant issues instead of emailing them. Although sending a message is much easier and takes less time, it could cause further damage later on.

  2. Great post, Cale.

    I could not agree with you more. We are in a "people" business, and the personal touch is critically important. We all have stories of emails either recieved or sent that were not read with the intended message and tone. It is worth the time, especially in the "digital age", to have a face-to-face exchange.

    Recently, a close friend and colleague passed away, and my wife and I acted as coordinators of his service. After the service in his memory, my wife I were thanked in person and via a hand-written card by the district superintendent. She could have sent an email, but the personal visit and the card expressing the district's appreciation of our efforts meant so much more.

    Thanks for the reminder to take the time to connect personally with the people who do so much in our schools.

  3. Well said! I learned a valuable lesson about this very topic when I was a VP. There are some topics/discussions that require an empathetic ear. Thanks for sharing this relection

  4. Yes, right on Cale.I think one of the best pieces of advice we can give to our fellow educators using e-mail is that it is great to share news and for quick information - but phone and face to face are still a better choice - particulary as emotions heat up. I have a rule to never e-mail back an angry parent (or staff member). As Jason says, we are in the people business.

  5. Cale - great post! Taking time to reflect and make the right decision is hard in the heat of the moment. It is so tempting just to send an email and move on to the next thing. I wonder how much time you might have spent clarifying yourself or getting "buy in" if you had just sent the email.

    Thanks for sharing.


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