Since a round of all five elements of Advancement (Asset Management, Retention, Marketing, Enrollment, and Development)  have been addressed over the past five weeks, let’s review before beginning the next round.  Remember, all five elements need to be in play since each have an effect on each other.

In a previous article, I suggested taking “one day at a time” to develop a framework where each element of Advancement could have a daily focus. For example:

  • Monday – Marketing
  • Tuesday – Development
  • Wednesday – Enrollment
  • Thursday – Asset Management
  • Friday – Retention

But some folks have commented that this doesn’t work, since they always seem to still be putting out fires, and they can never follow through with their plan.

Others have said that everything has to be done every day, and that’s overwhelming!

Truth be told, every job is overwhelming today!

You have talents with which you’ve been blessed.  If you’re putting out fires, and there’s no other way around it, then those actions take precedence.

Unfortunately, if you’re always putting out fires, there’s something that needs to change.  You need time to plan – but don’t think, “Plan,” because plan means prioritizing – and if you’re fires are always taking first priority, then you don’t have the time nor energy to do those things you really need to do to advance toward the vision you have for your school.

Planning is process thinking, rather than systems thinking, in action.  With systems thinking, you can’t think, “Plan,” since, more often than not, things don’t go according to plan, or you need to go to Plan B.  Instead, you need to start thinking, “Machine.”

To move forward with this new approach, use a strategy from the card game, Bridge.

Remember Bridge?  Folks used to get together for their daily dose of the game.  The key was to lead with your strong suit. Start with what you’re good at – it will get that task out-of-the-way first, let you feel a sense of accomplishment, and energize you to do the next thing that has to be done.

This is in direct opposition to other advice available from a number of resources which suggests to get the most difficult things done first since they require more time.  The thinking goes that doing so will allow you to give your best energy to the most difficult things, and then tasks which you find easier to do can be done when your energy level is lower.

Recall that Stephen Covey suggested to take care of the “Big Rocks” first, and then let the gravel fall between them.  That’s great for prioritization, but not necessarily for actual action on the tasks that need to be completed.


Because you may have lots of little things to do which you’re good at, but a big project will take some time to complete, not to mention that the project may take you outside your comfort zone.  If you put that “do” item first when it’s really a project, then you haven’t done the work to break those Big Rocks down into manageable tasks.  If everything is viewed as a task, and you do the big tasks first, then those other “little things” that need to get done just keep getting pushed to the next day…and then the next…and then the next…and…you get the idea…while you continue to work on the big, nasty overwhelming project.

There are a couple of planning tools that are available today, such as the Full Focus Planner, that helps to control the “big rocks.”  You may have many – put the methodology that goes along with this tool, as well as the advice of a number of productivity experts, consists of writing down the three main things you want to accomplish for the day that will move you closer to achieving your goals, and then list all the other things you have going on.  So, while you may have a number of those “Big Rocks,” focus on only three for the day.  Perhaps those smaller tasks of the day will help to get closer to the achieving one of those big rocks of the day.

The bottom line is that if you’re going to be using a planning tool, use it well – and use it for EVERYTHING (see what I did there to bring systems thinking into it?).  Don’t have different planners for different projects.  You’ll end up with multiple calendars and significant chaos.

Speaking of calendars, the people who use the Full Focus Plannier have a Facebook group, and from time to time, someone will make a comment about a having a calendar within the product.  Make no mistake – a planner is NOT a calendar.  Your calendar can be an electronic one.  The planner must be used every day to carve out time during your day to do what needs to get done.

Another strategy is to determine what happens “every day.”  Usually, that’s Development work – so do your development work every morning when your energy level is high. Then, use Monday afternoon for Marketing, Tuesday afternoon for Enrollment, Wednesday afternoon for Retention, Thursday afternoon for Asset Management, and Friday afternoon for whatever hasn’t been resolved (or to leave at lunchtime since you may have a Friday night or Saturday night event you’re required to attend).

Another possibility is to work an hour and a half a day on each item. Five elements at an hour and a half each give you a 7.5 hour day. You might have to experiment a little, but when you find what works best for you, then you can work it.  Or mix up each item to work on it during a different time of the day.

If all this is confusing, and you’d like a template that will chart this out for you, send an email to [email protected] with the words Advancement Schedule in the subject line.  I will warn you, though – it will look like something that you’re quite familiar with.  (Think, “Your school’s class schedule.”)

“Plan your work and work your plan” has been a phrase that’s been around for a very long time, but you need to be flexible enough for adjustments, and to fight the fires which will inevitably erupt.  It helps to remember a quote from Helmuth van Moltke the Elder, a Prussian general who was the architect of Germany’s wars of unification:

The tactical result of an engagement forms the base for new strategic decisions because victory or defeat in a battle changes the situation to such a degree that no human acumen is able to see beyond the first battle.”

Or, in the words of heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

There’s another German proverb that may help when thinking about your plan and planning:

Mann tracht, und Gott lacht.

That is, “Man plans, and God laughs.”

The point is that you have to be three things: a cheerleader, a juggler, and indefatigable. To be those things, you have to take time to rest to re-energize, and have something else that you’re passionate about to help you retain your creative “edge.”

And – this is very important – you must plan sacrosanct time for yourself – for planning, for traveling, for phone calls, for “stuff.”

In the recent book by Matthew Kelly, “Resisting Happiness,” he recalls looking at the calendar of a CEO he was working with.  Every morning at 7 AM on his calendar was the word, “Bible.”

Also remember that you need time to prep and get where you’re going.  If you have a meeting at 3 PM, and just have that meeting on your schedule rather than travel time to that meeting and prep time for that meeting, you may not be well-prepared for that meeting.

Schedule time to exercise, and perhaps, most importantly, to pray. Remember that prayer is conversation. Don’t just petition. You talk first, but then allow God time to talk to you.  Some resources say to pray for 15 minutes, and then listen for 15 minutes.  But since we have one mouth and two years, perhaps start out with 10 minutes of prayer, and then 20 minutes to just listen, be still, and let yourself be inspired.  That doesn’t mean come up with a great idea, either.  That means to be filled with the breath of God.  Remember, “Inspire” is the act of breathing in.  Let the Holy Spirit fill you, just a physical deep breath is almost always refreshing.

All the elements of Advancement must be addressed.  You can’t simply “do” one thing at a time, and then move on to the next one…even though that may be what you really want to do.  Just as the “school” needs to address faith-identity or its founder’s heritage along with activities, curriculum, technology and its surroundings as a system to be successful, so must the elements of advancement be completely embraced and addressed for success and sustainability.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2006-2024