Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ants Marching- Managing your Workload

As I prepare myself for commencement next week followed by a sold out conference and finish a paper for my class on capital campaigns, glancing through the calendar on my iPad that screams at me with more meetings than are humanly possible, and end of the fiscal year projects, I thrill with the idea of balancing it all and excelling. Somewhere in there is a personal life too, but don't worry, I don't sleep so it makes everything easier. (I know you think I'm exaggerating but alas, that can't be said with a straight face.) So here I am on my morning commute musing about how my supposed madness can benefit many of you. One of the most difficult challenges we face as fundraising professionals is that of balance, time management, and prioritization. Here, for you, is a blog about how to manage it all, keep smiling, sleep well at night and have the perfect life. By now, most of my readers know I'm very honest and straight forward so that blog doesn't exist. But here is a list of tips and tricks I use to help manage the daily (over)flow of priorities, tasks, and life.

1. Calendaring and building a work plan
Ever since I was a one woman shop at Rollins, I have used a task calendar that was divided monthly, see below, with a list of the major projects I was working on that month. It helped me stay focused, it helps communicate with others and it helps with tip # 8. It helps to stay at a high level for your projects, avoiding drilling down into the minutia of the tasks and becoming overwhelmed.

2. Make lists-
I keep a weekly task list on my iPad that combines my work life, professional development life and personal life into one. At work every Monday I come into the office and make a task list of two sides, one of items that NEED to be completed this week and items that I WANT to have completed that week. I try to vary the list and, just like homework when I  was in school balance one thing I love doing with one thing I would rather not. Crossing things off the list helps keep me motivated and organized and works well when others want to place additional items on my plate. See item #8.

3. Have a heat chart-
when I arrived at my last position, and this one, I was tasked with rebuilding a donor relations shop from the ground up, something I love doing and now as a consultant help others perform audits to find out where their doing best and need improvement. I built a spreadsheet, pictured here that listed the items that needed to be completed then sat with my VP and had her place them in categories, low medium and high and built a heat chart, color coding them by importance, which helped me prioritize and then shaded them green when complete. This tool has been very beneficial for me.

4. Done one thing really well, perfect it and move onto the next thing when you are in a small shop or shop of one, life and work tasks can be so overwhelming. Now that I have a staff, I can still say the same except now add managing people to the list. My mantra when I work on my program is take one thing each year, semester, quarter, and perfect it as much as possible, do it really well, be satisfied and move on to the next. You CAN NOT do it all perfectly at once right away, but you CAN build incrementally, one bite at a time. I would rather be doing a few things really well than be a mess at it all because I can't task manage and am overwhelmed.

5. Make better use of your time.
This may be the tip you least want to hear other than mysterious #8, but it's true. My friend Pierre Khawand gives wonderful workshops, webinars and has many resources for you here at . As yourself if you are using your time wisely and efficiently. One example is this blog; I usually write it on my subway commute when I would otherwise be watching a movie or reading a book on my iPad, avoiding eye contact with another at all cost (lol). It's an efficient way to be focused, dead lined (before I get to work) and helps me greatly. The other thing I do because I am an extreme morning person is head into the office early. The quiet of the office in the morning helps me obtain focus and some days I get more done before others get there than with my daily distractions once everyone arrives and my extroverted need to interact takes over. Hate mornings? Stay late for some quiet time in the office too. It helps a great deal. Pierre also says that focused bursts of highly efficient work is another way to manage and I agree, put on some headphones, and block off time on your calendar, interruption free.

6. Ask for help-
This seems basic but often times is overlooked. There is no loss of pride from admitting that you we help and it builds camaraderie. People will respect you, you won't waste your time struggling with a spreadsheet or task that would take you double the time of someone else and you will find that others will ask you for help with areas you are the expert in. A win-win all around.

7. Get organized
 If you are like me, order some colored file folders and a label maker, index your shared drive, and get to work. Organizing your space one good time will help you work in the future and will save you time digging through files when someone needs something urgently. I would also urge you to move paperless. Everything I have in print is necessary, I never print emails, I have on average5-8 emails in my inbox and our shared drive and my email folders are organized and comprehensive. If there is no reason for you to have it in paper and it will cause clutter, don't keep it. Google docs and drop box are life saving apps. I have been able to save the day many times because I have things on hand digitally, in restaurants, airports, offices, everywhere, stored in the cloud where they are secure, easily accessible and portable.

8. Super secret and final tip--- say NO.
So here will be the revelation for some of you. It is okay, good, in fact, to sometimes say no. I know it seems contrary to everything we are and do, but it is necessary not only for your sanity but also for your success. You can't say no without purpose and strategy though, and sometimes no matter how hard you try to refuse, yes is the only answer. However, I find that many professionals are overburdened and unable to prioritize because they are not strategic planners, have people pleasing disease (an essential component for donor relations) and at times have martyr complexes. Since I'm not a therapist and keep a couple psychologists in their nice offices and summer homes myself, I won't begin to analyze that part of the issue. What I will say is that if you have a plan, a calendar, a heat list, are purposeful in your work and actions, explaining the no and declaring it to be true is much easier and is often respected by your leadership. It is easy to tell someone, "not now", or "here is what I am working on right now, how would you like me to shift my plans"? They will respect your strategic thinking and help you prioritize or shift your planning. If you fear you will be fired, thought less of, or otherwise negatively affected by taking the time to say no, I urge youth analyze your situation and yourself. Tough love time.

I hope these tips have opened your eyes, helped start you on a changed path or just reassured you that indeed, you are on the right track. I would love to hear your thoughts and tips and welcome your feedback and comments.




  1. Perfect timing for us all, Lynne! Thank you, and good luck with the next several weeks on your calendar!

  2. Ironic that I'm just now having time to catch up on this blog, the irony being that it's a "how to manage your workload better" post. I used #8 as the little nudge I needed to actually say "No" and I have to say it was the most difficult thing I've done professionally in a long time. Awkward conversationg, negative consequences, the works, but I think it was liberating - I took control of my own "desk" instead of letting others tell me what was important. I'm one step closer to trusting my own judgement.

  3. Dear Anonymous,
    Might I reccomend a great book called "Crucial Conversations" for you? It might help you manage those awkard moments...

    1. I participated in a class based on the book "Crucial Conversations". It was awesome! I'm not one who could say 'no' easily. That is slowly changing!

  4. Thanks for your post for the Blog Carnival - it's up here