At VM’s most recent training day, a joint VISTA/VMC training day, I got the opportunity to lead a training session on time management. Now, my skill at time management is cyclical. There are days when I create a to-do list and block my time perfectly to get it all done and there are days where I spend hours trying to write a blog post to no avail. I don’t consider myself an expert in time management and even if I did, my time management style might not be the ideal for you; after all, everyone manages their time differently. But I can share some fairly universal time management tips (and warnings) which can be individualized to fit your time management needs.
Create a to-do list: The first step in getting things done is knowing what you really have to do. Be sure to include things like checking email and returning phone calls that need to get done every day, but also include the big picture tasks such as crafting a vision for your nonprofit.
Challenge your expectations: Think about how much time you and your co-workers actually have during the day and compare that to how much time you think you have. Do you have a to-do list that never gets done? Chances are, you think you have more time than you really do. Do some hard thinking about how long day-to-day tasks take you and block out time to do those things during the day. Then consider the bigger projects and how long they should take, in theory, then block out a little extra time to account for interruptions that might occur when you’re working.
Minimize interruptions: Whether interruptions are self-induced or outside of your control, they play a big part in time management. Self-induced interruptions could be anything from internet surfing, to frequent restroom breaks, to immediately responding to all emails or phone calls. Interruptions outside of your control could be co-workers stopping by to chat, extra assignments from your supervisor that need to get done NOW, problems with clients, or an unexpected turn in the weather. The key here is to minimize the interruptions that you can control. While it’s important to check emails and return phone calls and you should find the timing that works best for you, setting aside a block of time to do those things and choosing to not check emails while you are working on a project can maximize your productivity. Also, if you are working on an important project, let your coworkers and supervisor know and ask them to refrain from interrupting you except in the case of a dire emergency. As long as you are not constantly shut off, they should be willing to give you some time to finish important projects, free from interruptions.
Say no: Saying no to your coworkers or supervisor can be extremely difficult, especially given the all-hands-on-deck atmosphere that many nonprofits operate under these days. However, this comes back to your to-do list and your expectations about time. If you don’t have time to do something, and do it well, tell people that and politely decline to do it. Explain that you do not have the time and that the quality of your work (and the quality of the project you are being asked to work on) will suffer if you add it to your to-do list. It might not always be possible to say no to projects that are immediately necessary for your organization, but don’t get in the habit of saying yes to things just because you feel pressured to do so. You will become known for not saying no and your work load will continue to increase.
Prioritize your to-do list: Knowing what you have to do doesn’t always help unless you can prioritize your tasks. You could spend all day checking and responding to emails and thus fail to serve the needs of your clients or work towards a greater goal. Conversely, you could spend all day dreaming about the vision of your organization and how you can successfully achieve it, but if you don’t get down to implementing that vision or dealing with day-to-day tasks, you could still fail in serving your clients. Of course, this can be difficult to figure out but having a tool to assist you can be really helpful. The tool we shared with the VMCs and VISTAs was the Covey quadrants from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. If you have trouble prioritizing, I’d suggest checking it out.
As I’ve mentioned more than once, everyone manages time differently and you have to find what works best for you. The tips I’ve shared above may not be perfect for you but hopefully they help. Do you have any time management tips to share? Please give us your ideas in the comments!