Graham’s Start Up School Leader System Tweak

Apr 19, 2017

After I recently posted Graham’s “Ready to start the week!” picture on the Together Facebook page, many of you wanted to know more. So Graham, a founding school leader in Queens who is getting ready to open Forte Preparatory, agreed to let us in his business a bit. Let’s dive in!

Maia: What does time look like for you now versus when you were working as a consultant?

Graham: My days have always been busy and full of variety, but I have to switch hats so much more frequently now. It’s much easier for an entire day to slip away. Additionally, more people require me to provide information or input, so I need to be extra intentional about how I plan and spend my time.

I have faint memories of a simpler time when I could reasonably predict 95% of my day… but those days are long gone.


Maia: First things first, tell me about your system before. What worked? Didn’t work?

Graham: My system(s) were pretty disjointed. I had multiple email accounts and calendars to juggle; my to-do lists were analog but my workplans were digital. I also had a less-than-stellar laptop that took ages to start up (discouraging me from ticking off quick wins when I had a spare five minutes). The system was successful enough when I had a wide-open day free of distractions. The system broke down as my days got busier and more of my time was allocated to tasks or people outside of my control. I had to change something. Dramatically.

Graham’s Digital Weekly Worksheet


Graham’s Digital Weekly Worksheet (continued)


Maia: Well, look at that fancy Weekly Worksheet! Tell me about your adjusted system!

Graham: I thought about my Weekly Worksheet in three big chunks:

  1. Big priorities
  2. Energy-based activities
  3. Check-ins with key people

As the founder of a new middle school, my time is spread across so many different activities, some of which are time-bound and some of which are more nebulous, just-get-it-done tasks. Knowing which are which, and more importantly, how much time each will take, is super important to my planning.

I used rely on intuition to plan. Now I have a much better sense of whether or not my work plan is actually feasible– and if it isn’t, what I’d need to change to make it work.


Maia: Paper or digital?

Graham: I’m a very tech-centric person! I have a Microsoft Surface Pro 4, which operates like a living, breathing worksheet, and use Microsoft OneNote for all of my worksheets, Later Lists, etc. I paste in a screenshot of my Google calendar, which I update a couple of times a week. I’ve got the OneNote app on my phone for easy mobile access and syncing as well. The great thing about having the system totally virtual is that I always have an updated version of my plans on hand.

There are a lot of things I love about Graham’s changes, but here’s what really stood out:

  • Willingness and ability to adjust when shifting roles. Many of us (myself included!) try to carry over the same processes as before, but new jobs and environments require systems to change.
  • Leaning into what he loves. Graham is a digital guy and he knows it. He has both the skills (OneNote) and the tools (Surface Pro) to support his natural inclinations.
  • Paying attention to required time and energy. Many of us list-lovers fall prey to a phenomenon I call “Make list. Pray. Hope. Feel unsuccessful.” By at least putting a stake in the ground regarding amount of time and priority level, Graham can make decisions more easily in the middle of his hectic days!

Thanks, Graham! Best of luck starting up your middle school in Queens!

PS More Weekly Worksheet stories here!