Monday, June 4, 2012

Top Ten Time Management Tips

Are you feeling overworked and overwhelmed? Does it seem like you are getting buried under an avalanche of email, phone messages, and deadlines? Here are a few tips to help you organize your time more effectively:

1) Use a to-do list: This can be a handwritten list or a list on your computer desktop. It doesn't matter which method you use - but it does matter that you actually review and update the list at the beginning of every work day. And be sure to break bigger projects down into smaller, more manageable tasks.

2) Set priorities each day: Mark the most important items by underlining or using bold type or any other symbol you like. This doesn't mean you have to work on these first; I actually recommend putting a couple of simple, easy chores on your list that you can cross off quickly. It helps to start the day with a sense of accomplishment.

3) Resist procrastination: Once you've emptied the trash or made the easy phone call, take a deep breath and go to work. "I'll get to it later" is not a good mantra.

4) Track deadlines systematically: Use ICal or Outlook to keep up with important dates for grant applications, reports, events, meetings, and regular tasks. Set your program to send an email reminder, so you don't have to lie awake nights worrying that you missed a deadline.

5) Manage your communications: Designate the first half hour of your day for emails and phone messages. Answer those that can be dealt with quickly; prioritize the rest and put them on your to-do list. Then get to work - and unless you are expecting something crucial - stop checking your email.

6) Minimize interruptions: Use voice mail to screen calls and allow for unimpeded work time. Schedule phone meetings. Define times in the day when you are available and when you are not. Don't answer the phone if you really don't have time to talk. Learn to say no gently and gracefully.

7) Take time to communicate personally with co-workers, donors, volunteers, and clients. There is no substitution for actual, real-time personal interaction for strengthening and sustaining your organizational work. Plus it's a good idea to take your eyes off the computer screen every once in awhile.

8) Leave contingency time in every day: The unpredictable happens. You can't prepare yourself for surprises or glitches, but you can leave some extra time to deal with them.

9) Take breaks: Get up. Stretch. Take a short walk around the block. Eat lunch (preferably not at your desk). You'll feel better and work better.

10) Reward yourself: Don't forget to reward yourself when you complete a big project, submit that grant application, or finish making your fundraising calls.

Face it - your nonprofit work will never be done. There will always be programs to manage, problems to solve, and more money to raise. So breathe, take it easy on yourself - and be sure to use that to-do list.

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