Nonprofit professionals often find themselves stretched thin. It can feel like there are always millions of things to get done and never enough time to do them. Being productive enough can easily feel like a daily struggle.
But productivity and good time management aren’t just about getting as much done as you possibly can during your waking hours. They result from smarter workflows and well-grounded priorities. Of course, organizing these gets difficult too, which can lead to feeling burned out by the end of the day.
That’s why to save you some time, we’ve compiled 5 ways you can work more efficiently to carry out your mission. Apply these productivity techniques to your daily workflow and maximize what you can accomplish.
1. Track Your Time
We talk a lot about being data-driven here at StayClassy, and its importance applies to your time management practices too. If you want to work smarter (instead of harder or longer), you need to keep track of how you’re spending your time.
Try logging your daily activities and how much time you spend on them. There are lots of free time-tracking software options. I personally like Toggl, which lets me time my activities, classify projects, and create charts to better visualize what I’m spending the most time on. Do this on various days for a month or two, categorize your tasks, and see what you learn about yourself.
Maybe you’ll find that you spend most of your time on tasks that can be done by a trusty volunteer, like setting up for board meetings or counting inventory. Or that you can have other staff members, board members, or volunteers share certain tasks with you, like personalizing thank-you notes. By keeping track of your time, you can analyze the time-consuming tasks on your plate, rework those that can be redistributed or broken down, and make specific changes to free up more time on your plate.
Many development professionals know what it’s like to be responsible for a range of duties. With such a large and varied workload, it can be hard to find the time to complete the tasks that only you can execute.
In her book, Reliable Fundraising in Unreliable Times, Kim Klein recommends categorizing your work into four types:
While most tasks will probably fall into two boxes (ie. both important and urgent, or not important and not urgent), pay attention to how you address the tasks that fall only into one category. For example, a task might be important, but not urgent. Although it doesn’t seem “pressing,” you wouldn’t want to overlook it until it catches up to you and suddenly becomes pressing.
Focus on tasks that are important, and do them by level of urgency. You’d be surprised at how much time you spend on things that are not important, but seem urgent in the moment. For instance, do you really have to respond to everyone’s email, right away? Maybe a few of those can wait. By saving these 15, 20, or 30-minute time leaks in your day, you can add days – and even weeks – to your schedule!
3. Stay Connected to Your Cause
At the end of the day, productivity is not simply about how much you get done, or whether your schedule is always packed. It’s about accomplishing what is valuable and meaningful to you.
This is important for nonprofit professionals to remember. With so much that goes into operating a nonprofit organization, it’s easy to only focus on getting things done and taking care of day-to-day responsibilities. But to boost your productivity – and to stay more satisfied – in the long run, remember to reconnect with your values and the things you believe in. Know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Stay connected to the cause you care about.
A practical way you can this is by setting aside time to be hands-on with your mission. You can find time to directly volunteer and spend time with the people you work hard for. Take the time to engage with the world you’re trying to improve.
Remember, being busy doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being productive. The most productive people are the ones whose time and work align with their values. Knowing why you’ve adopted your mission will keep your motivation high.
4. Drop Your Multitasking Habits
You’ve probably heard this one countless times, but due to its level of difficulty, it bears repeating: don’t multitask. You might feel like you’re being productive by juggling multiple things at once, but research has shown that it decreases your efficiency levels across the board.
After a series of experiments, Clifford Nass, a researcher at Stanford, found that multitaskers have trouble filtering irrelevant information, mentally organizing information, and shifting between tasks. His ultimate conclusion?
Don’t mentally drain yourself by trying to do two things at once. If you want to improve both your performance and productivity, focus on one task at a time. Complete it, and then move onto the next item on your to-do list. (Remember that prioritization chart!)
Even if you do work on multiple projects, set aside time chunks to focus only on one project at a time. During that time, ignore your phone, close down email, and zero in on the task at hand.
5. Taking Care of Yourself is Social Justice Work Too
Many nonprofit professionals are in the industry because they want to improve people’s lives. But sometimes, the hardest person to take care of ends up being ourselves.
Eat well, get enough sleep, and exercise. Although these practices have nearly become trite to mention, they are actually directly linked to our productivity levels.
Do you rarely take 5 or 10-minute breaks? Do you usually find yourself eating lunch at your desk, while answering emails, editing your newsletter, or planning a board meeting? Or worse, do you sometimes skip lunch altogether?
If so, you’re impairing your ability to have creative thoughts and solve problems related to your mission. Kimberly Elsbach, a UC Davis professor who studies the psychology of the workplace, says that never taking a break actually leads to decreased creativity.
Take It Easy
Try implementing these techniques into your workday. You may discover habits or patterns that actually hinder your ability to achieve certain outcomes, but you’ll be able to make the specific changes required to boost your productivity. And by managing your time and energy more efficiently, you will have the necessary resources to carry out your mission!