By Melissa Lagowski
Big Buzz Idea Group
Losing Control? Reclaim Your Time!
According to the data available, “only 20% of people feel their work is under control daily.” As far back as I can remember, every nonprofit staffer I know has felt the stress of being buried by an enormous and never-ending workload. The industry is known for being notoriously understaffed while still needing to meet the deadlines of the association.
Along came 2020 (when everything felt strange, uncertain and uncomfortable) and people remained just as busy, but it was a different kind of busy. The comfort of the old routine was gone as everyone scrambled to increase communications and pivot their organizations through this unique period in history.
So where does that leave us today? It seems that every nonprofit executive I talk to is stretched thinner than ever before. The demands seem higher, the need is greater, the constraints are tighter, and the weeks are flying by at lightning speed.
Navigating the current landscape to increase productivity requires strategy, and it starts with being mindful and proactive about reclaiming your time. The following concepts are designed to put you back in control of the clock.
Put A Pause On Email
“The average worker spends 51% of every workday on low to no-value tasks.”* Email is like quicksand: you go in to check one thing and re-emerge four hours later, realizing that it is already lunchtime. To keep your inbox at bay, there are a few key things to consider:
- What do you need to accomplish before you tackle email? Do the important work first.
- How often do you check your inbox? One role model who greatly inspires me only checks email twice a day – late morning and end of day.
- Could you limit the amount of time spent on emails? For example, go in for an hour and skim for the most important items, and then go back to your other responsibilities.
- Block out time for email on your calendar. This will help you apply boundaries on your inbox.
Sometimes by the time you get back to an email, a glorious thing can happen and the committee or the board may have already arrived at a conclusion. Keep the faith and develop some new habits for taming this beast. If you stumble at first, remember that when practicing new ideas, it may take a few tries to determine what works best.
In the nonprofit space, we’re juggling so many issues that require attention that it’s easy to lose focus by following some shiny new idea – and then you end up off track from where you meant to be. It is so important to set your focus for the year and then keep those goals in front of you. Print and display these goals where you will see them every single day.
It might be helpful to keep it next to your computer so that during virtual meetings, when some great idea arises, you will have a visual reminder that new ideas – as wonderful as they could be – may have to move to the “parking lot” because they distract from the organization’s primary goals for the year. The more focused you remain on the big goals, the more successful you will be.
Do you often feel like your day is not your own? Find your ‘power hour(s)’ to reclaim your day starting immediately!
Which part of the day do you work at your prime? Block out a two-hour window when you are at your peak to focus on the work that you need to accomplish to move the association forward. Turn off the phone, close the door, disable notifications and dive in with your full attention on whatever priority is in front of you. You will be amazed at what you can turn out when distractions are eliminated.
If you can’t find a two-hour block each day, start with one hour because some focus time is vastly better than none. As this new routine enables you to become more efficient and productive, you’ll earn back more time to eventually facilitate the two-hour block to get even more done in your day, week and month. Play around with the scheduling to see what works best for you. Some people prefer mornings, some people like working a little later after everyone else has left for the day. Others have a block of time over the weekend to zone in on the more important work.
Urgent Vs. Necessary
It is truly amazing how many things pop up in a day that can derail your productivity. From staffers stopping by with questions to the member who needs a few minutes to run something by you. Or perhaps the volunteer who was supposed to finish mailing the gala invitations is out sick and suddenly it is your responsibility.
Unexpected “fires” happen. Daily. Maybe hourly. So, if you are not careful to curb the distractions and stay focused on the big picture, you’ll end up spending too much valuable time working on the urgent and not actually making any progress on doing what is necessary to achieve the big goals. Both are imperative, but do not let either monopolize your time.
Wind Down/Check-Out Routine
Sometimes in the nonprofit sector, it is difficult to leave your job at the office. But it is important that you allow yourself time to step away from the work. In doing this, you actually show up for your association more refreshed, more innovative and more energized to continue the work.
To help you “check out” and end the workday feeling more accomplished, create a routine that allows some closure on your day. Here are some techniques that folks in our office use to wind down:
- Allow 15 or 30 minutes at the end of your day to complete action items from the meetings of the day.
- Check off completed tasks from the daily to-do list for a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
- Close the computer.
- Clear your desk.
- Create a list of the top three priorities to tackle the next day.
- Create a mantra: “I surrender and trust that I give my all every day. I work to provide exceptional service, but I recognize that I am human. Any issues here at work will still be here tomorrow morning.”
- Meditate briefly.
Create a routine that works for you. Some people would rather take a walk or go for a bike ride instead of meditating to clear the mind. The point is to have an end-of-day routine that you can follow to disconnect from the office so that you properly refresh and recharge. This process allows you to take care of yourself better while serving others.
Let Some Things Go
This one is a real challenge for most association professionals I know, but sometimes you just have to let things go. We only have so much capacity available in a year (which for most people is 2,080 hours). The reality is that you are juggling priorities every day, and sometimes without additional staff, it is impossible to get to everything.
When you commit hours upon hours to the organization and make it look easy to achieve every task on the to-do list, people are less likely to realize that you are in desperate need of help (while you drive yourself crazy). Some items may need to go into the “parking lot” for execution in the future, and some items might not be as important as everyone thought.
The key is to stay focused on the necessary and the urgent items. Anything that qualifies as neither can go on the back-burner for now. This will reduce stress on you and your team if you can recognize these items and properly recategorize them on your list.
“Take care of the minutes, and the hours will take care of themselves.” ~Lord Chesterfield
There is no one best method to reclaim your time, so I invite you to try these tips and tricks to see what combination helps you to reclaim your time and “slay your day!” as my coworker, Tricia, likes to say.
*Stats pulled from Gitnux MarketData: “Time Management Statistics 2023: Facts & Trends”