How to Create Stability

As a superintendent in the Dirt World, you’ve got so many different jobs, from daily reports to scheduling to overseeing site safety, all with the ultimate goal of optimizing your results.

But if you’re trying to optimize a project before you stabilize that project, you’re not fully executing your fundamental purpose as a superintendent.

What is this fundamental purpose? When you think about what a superintendent does, it’s really all about creating stability. “You need to stabilize a project first, before you can optimize it,” Schroeder said. “So superintendents are there to create an environment where all of the trade partners can be successful. Your people need to know what to do and when to do it. And that all comes from stability.”

Lead like Patton.

In order to be a good superintendent, you need to learn how to lead, and one of the best ways to do this is to learn from the greatest leaders in US military history. Schroeder used General George S. Patton as an example.

“Why was Patton so successful?” he said. “After the American forces suffered a number of defeats early on in World War II, they brought Patton in. He whipped everyone into shape. He ordered his soldiers to be in proper uniform, they practiced drills, he put everything in order. And that is why he won against the Nazi commanders. He was more disciplined. He was more stable.”

Create stability for yourself first.

If you want to create stability on the job, you must first get intentional about creating stability for yourself. But what’s the best way to do this?

“I’ve been all over the country teaching superintendents,” Schroeder said. “I’ve even been to Europe. Over the years, I’ve taught hundreds of superintendents. And I’ll tell you this. I’ve never seen a successful superintendent who didn’t have a good personal organization system.”

Personal organization for the win

Personal organization is the key to creating stability for yourself first. And once you have stability for yourself, everything will change for you on the project site. But you have to start with yourself first.

“Here’s where the rubber meets the road,” Schroeder said. “You have to have a personal organization system. You have to keep a to-do list. If you do this, you will win. You will win over and over and over. And if you don’t? You will not win.”

Triage your to dos with the Eisenhower Method

Start by creating a to-do list. “Everything goes on your to-do list,” Schroeder advised. “Everything. Don’t leave anything in your head. Capture it in your list.”

But if you’re like most superintendents, you’re dealing with a large number of to-do items every day. How do you know which task you should tackle first? To answer this question, Schroeder referenced another US military general.

“You use the Eisenhower Method,” he advised. Also known as the Eisenhower Matrix, the Eisenhower Method is named after Dwight D. Eisenhower, a five star general who led the Allied Forces to success during World War II, and who was subsequently elected the 34th President of the United States.

The Eisenhower Method utilizes a box with four squares formed by two columns and two rows. The columns are labeled Urgent and Not Urgent, and the rows are labeled Important and Not Important.

To use the Eisenhower Method, you slot your tasks into the appropriate squares in the box. “When a task falls into the Urgent/Important square, you do those tasks right away,” Schroeder said. “Anything in the Important/Not Urgent square you should plan. If it falls in the Not Important/Urgent square, you delegate the task. And if it’s Not Urgent/Not Important, you scratch it off your list.”

Using the Eisenhower Method, you triage your to dos by prioritizing what needs to be done and then acting on it.

Make use of habit loops

Your to-do list also helps you develop an addiction—in a good way—to your personal organization system. When you complete a task and cross it off your list, your brain releases chemicals that get you addicted to this act of crossing items off.

“They’re called habit loops,” Schroeder said. “They’re described in a fantastic book called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. And when you trigger the habit loop, there’s a reward cycle that says, yes, this was good.”

Leverage the power of Leader Standard Work

Finally, using your personal organization system lets you leverage a powerful concept called Leader Standard Work. Using this concept, you have a plan for every week, week in and week out. And in your plan, you’re employing the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 Rule.

According to the Pareto Principle, 20% of your activities yield 80% of your return. “So whatever this 20% is, you’re going to make sure you’re doing those tasks weekly,” Schroeder said. “And that becomes your weekly Leaders Standard Work. No matter what these things are, they’re the things that will drive your success. But you’ve got to do it daily. So I’m challenging you to come in every day, and distill from your to dos the things that need to be done that day. Timeblock those things into your day, follow your plan, and then track whether or not it's working.”


As a superintendent, your fundamental purpose is to create stability on the job site. As Schroeder noted throughout this lesson, you can’t optimize a project until you’ve stabilized that project.

But before you can create stability on the job site, you have to create stability for yourself first. And the way to do this is by implementing a personal organization system:

  • List your to dos. Get everything out of your head and onto paper or your phone. Remember that your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.
  • Employ the Eisenhower Method. Triage your to dos so you’re focusing your energy on the Important/Not Urgent items in your day. These are the tasks that are the drivers of your success.
  • Become addicted to personal organization. Every time you check off a to-do item, your brain rewards you with feel-good chemicals.
  • Focus on the 20% that yields 80% return. Plan out your week and apply the 80/20 Rule in your weekly Leaders Standard Work.

Join the thousands of Dirt pros who get our top workforce development tips.