Thursday, March 17, 2016

Fierce Intention

“A productivity ritual is a consciously created expression 
of fierce intention.” 
Tony Schwartz

For three years, I traveled 100% for work; it was both rewarding and grueling. Having the opportunity to work in widely-varying school districts across more than thirty states during those three years was an amazing professional opportunity. I learned a great deal during those years--about education, yes, but also about travel. During this time, I flew over 140 flights each year. I remember the number clearly because, at that time, to qualify for “Diamond Status” on Delta, one needed to accrue a certain amount of miles or number of segments flown during each calendar year. The perks for reaching

Diamond status were pretty sweet--so nice, in fact, that when I finished my first work year with "only" 138 segments, I took an overnight random trip to Florida on December 28th to see a childhood friend--and to collect my all-important final two segments! Flying this often dramatically changed the way in which I approached my travel planning. After a few months, I had the entire process down to a science, planning each step of my journey with, as Schwartz would say, "fierce intention."

Here are just a few steps I took each time I flew in order to
maximize my time: First, I would leave my home exactly 127 minutes prior to my scheduled departure time. From experience, I knew this was the precise number of minutes necessary to ensure I would have enough time, even if traffic became an issue, to drive to economy parking, take the tram to the terminal, check my bag, get through security, and make it to the Sky Club lounge, where I would wait until it was time for boarding. My next intentional decision was where to park in the always-busy economy lot at O’Hare. I took the exact same route through the parking lot each

time, knowing exactly what my first, second, and third tier choices were for best available spot. Then, I would do the following:

  • Place my parking ticket in the console of my car for safe keeping.
  • Grab my luggage from the trunk, lock the car, and immediately place my car keys in a specific pocket of my briefcase so I would know right where to find them upon returning.
  • Walk to the tram and enter the last car of the three-car train (because upon arrival at my terminal, the last car would be closest to the escalator I needed to ascend to the terminal).
  • Once on the train, I removed my drivers license from my wallet and placed it in my right front pants pocket, then putting my wallet away into a specific spot in my briefcase.
  • Then, I would take out my phone and open my mobile boarding pass; for the remaining time, I would peruse my Twitter feed, favoriting resources I wanted to come back to later.
  • When the tram stopped at Terminal 2, I made sure to position myself so I would be the first person to exit and immediately board the escalator, mere steps from the tram door.
  • I immediately proceeded to the priority baggage drop area, dropped my bag, and made my way through security.
  • Once through security, I made a beeline for the Sky Club lounge, where I showed the attendant my drivers license and boarding pass. Once I did this, I retrieved my wallet from my briefcase and placed my license back inside.
  • Next, I went to the rear of the lounge, set up my laptop, grabbed a water and some snacks, and began working.
  • Then, at precisely six minutes prior to the stated boarding time, I packed up, visited the men’s room, and headed to my gate down the hall.
  • Once seated on the plane, I took out my Kindle and read until the moment the flight attendant announced they had closed the cabin door.
  • Then, I closed my eyes and fell asleep (amazingly, I was able to do this almost every single flight).
  • I was always awakened by the announcement--preceded by the dinging chime--that we had reached an altitude of 10,000 feet. As soon as I awoke, I immediately took out my laptop and began working, which continued until informed we were descending and laptops had to be stored.


I practiced similarly intentional (OK, maybe rigid or even obsessive) ways of deplaning, retrieving my luggage, getting into my rental car, and checking into my hotel, but you get the idea. I planned out with fierce intention every step of my travel journey for each and every trip. Why did I plan so intentionally? To be honest, I spent so much time traveling for this job that I simply needed every possible minute I could find to do the actual preliminary work necessary prior to arriving at the schools and districts I served. I did not have a minute to waste if I were to get everything done that needed doing. As an added bonus, I found that the more work I could accomplish while en route, the more relaxed I could be when not working and the more I could be renewed on the rare occasions when I was at home and not on the road.

How does all this apply to teaching, learning, and leading? Let’s deconstruct Schwartz's quote form above into three key components, keeping great educators we know in mind as we do so:

“Productivity rituals.” Great educators establish rituals or routines and follow these consistently to minimize the possibility of wasting time or the likelihood of unexpected events from occurring.

“Consciously Created.” Great educators do not happen upon such rituals and routines by chance; instead, they learn from experience how best to set up their schedules--and those with whom they work--for success and purposefully go about adhering to them.

“Fierce Intention.” Great educators who consciously create productivity rituals do so because it is part of their very nature and indicative of the passion they have for ensuring those whom they serve succeed. They are determined to succeed at whatever it is they do and plan accordingly--even “fiercely.”

Honestly, many of the finest educators I have known--whether administrators or teachers--are also folks I would characterize as fiercely intentional. All teachers know what I know: there is simply never enough time to get everything done that we want and need to do during the school day; great teachers respond by rarely, if ever, wasting a single minute available to them and by establishing specific routines for themselves and others in order to best meet the needs of the students they serve.

Great educators are very busy people engaged in the most important work I know: shaping the future of our nation’s young people. Because every minute matters when it comes to our kids, they consciously choose to make the most of each precious one. Consciously creating productivity rituals and following these with fierce intention--are ways we Teach, Learn, and Lead with Passion!


  1. Well said Jeff! A fresh take on educational rituals. Routines should be as important in establishing our everyday fierce & productive greatness! Routines should be about establishing how to be better educators, instead of getting stuck in the mundane 'Groundhog Days' of daily lessons or yearly expectations.

    1. Sam, Thank you so much for reading and commenting. Although I am a firm believer of routines and rituals in education to maximize our time and focus our efforts, you also raise a good point about the downside of mindless routines. Thanks again; best, Jeff