What do nonprofit professionals (or all professionals for that matter) need more of?
Until we manipulate the space-time continuum, though, we’ll need to settle with better managing the time we have. Many people think multitasking is the answer, but research shows that people aren’t nearly as good at multitasking as they think. In fact, most aren’t multitasking at all.
“Rather than engaging in simultaneous tasks, you are in fact shifting from one task to another to another in rapid succession,” said Jim Taylor at Psychology Today. “When you shift focus from one task to another, that transition is neither fast nor smooth. Instead, there is a lag time during which your brain must yank itself from the initial task and then glom onto the new task.” This problem is at the core of some work tasks that are killing your productivity.
While you probably can’t cut these tasks completely, you can still make some simple changes to get more done. Reevaluate these work tasks to see if you’re wasting energy and use the following tips to make more time in your day for the things that matter.
What would we do without email? It saves us from mountains of printed documents, tons of snail mail, and endless games of phone tag. But for all the undeniable benefits of email, it’s also a distraction from tasks that require your full focus.
Part of the problem is FOMO (fear of missing out). You don’t want to miss an important message and when you see a new email notification, curiosity often makes you swerve off-task to see what’s up.
Most often, you disengage from your main focus only to look at a newsletter or another less-than-urgent message.
And how often do you have emails that need to be answered immediately? Could it wait an hour? Because that’s all it takes to break the email addiction.
It may sound scary, but one of the best things you can do to be more productive is to close your email and only check it at certain times of the day. Even if you check it once an hour, you will likely cut out dozens of little diversions and distractions. Without these interruptions, you can dive into your work and give it your full attention. In most cases, you’ll finish the task faster and maybe even do a better job.
To use this strategy effectively, clue your coworkers in on how often you plan to check your email. In all likelihood, no one will panic if they have to wait an hour or two for a response, but it’s always a good idea to let people know how to contact you in a truly urgent situation.
2. Instant Messaging (Slack, Google Chat, etc.)
Instant messaging is also a double-edged sword. It saves you from endless email chains over little things, but it also draws you away from your priorities.
If instant messages constantly interrupt your workflow, consider blocking off some quiet time for yourself. If, for example, you have a presentation or report to finish and it needs your full attention, change your status to unavailable. Again, if they really need you, they can come talk to you in person.
If your office depends on these messages for in-the-moment discussions, it probably won’t work for you to be offline most of the day, but you can also adjust your notifications to be triggered for certain scenarios.
While instant messaging platforms can be useful for checking in with coworkers, not all messages are worth the distraction. Change your settings to help you avoid a loss of focus because someone asks for lunch suggestions.
Before email and instant messaging, there were meetings. In-person meetings are still very helpful to train, brainstorm, and collaborate, but they can also overwhelm your schedule.
The first step to reduce the number of unnecessary meetings on your schedule is to ask the all-important question: “Do I need dedicated time for this?” Some tasks, like brainstorming and training do require an in-person appointment, but be on the lookout for meetings that could be replaced by a quick chat or an email.
Speaking of quick chats, have you ever noticed that meetings tend to fill up however much time you schedule them for? This is why, if you must schedule a meeting, you should think twice about the time you reserve. Where possible, cut a few hour-long meetings back to half an hour to free up time in your week. Come prepared with a specific agenda and objectives so you can cut to the chase and prevent overlong appointments.
A final thing to consider for efficient meetings is the time of day you schedule them. When do you feel most energized? If you come out of meetings feeling drained, its probably better to put them after difficult tasks that require your focus, rather than before.
4. Social Media
Social media is a marketing necessity for most organizations, but if you have a small staff it often gets pushed on someone’s already-full plate. Social media is great for donor relations, retention, and acquisition, but only if you are maximizing the return on the time you invest.
Like email, you don’t need to keep your eye on Twitter every moment of every day. While the platform does move fast, it shouldn’t be on your mind 24/7. Set reminders to check your primary platforms anywhere from once a day to every couple of hours.
To kill two birds with one stone, set your social media accounts to send you email notifications when someone engages with your brand. If you check your email and there are no new notifications, you don’t need to go scrolling through your feed.
Finally, a smart way to use social media efficiently is to plan and schedule posts ahead of time whenever possible. Create content beforehand and use scheduling tools to save yourself the few minutes you might have spent playing with copy and character counts.
Everybody has the same number of hours in each day. What matters most is how you use that finite time. For nonprofit organizations, where resources are often scarce, time management is absolutely essential. You don’t need to work harder, just smarter.
To identify where your time is spent, it’s a good idea to review the things you do every day. When you save a few minutes here and there, it adds up to hours that allow you to more effectively pursue your mission.