Fifteen time management tips for nonprofit professionals

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Too little time? Too much stress? These are the worries of just about everyone who works in the nonprofit world (and most people outside of it, too!) Handling your workload with maximum efficiency and gaining control over your time is possible, and here's a hint: it involves more than just scheduling, it involves taking care of yourself, too. When you're feeling well and full of vitality, you work more efficiently and manage your time in a way that minimizes stress: it becomes a positive feedback cycle. Below are 15 tips to help you get started.

1. Categorize your days. This is a way to keep your head above water and know exactly where to start your office time every day.

For instance, say Monday is finance day. That day, you review all that is finance — your statements, your budget comparisons, your cashflow, etc and deal with any matters which show up. Tuesday could be fundraising day and so on.

This works for any job — category names are the only difference from job to job.

2. Use one hour every Friday to plan the following week. If you find you have time problems, address them immediately.

3. Use technology as much as possible. For time management and for client management, Outlook (or similar programs) can help tremendously. You can see your week from different views, drag and drop emails into time slots, list tasks and schedule them right into your calendar. Learn it well.

4. Use Google Reader and Google Alerts to keep up with the news in your industry. These are great tools for quick updating.

5. Say "thank you" sincerely and make it a daily habit. However, be very careful not to be an automaton in this area otherwise people will know it's not heartfelt. Say thank you and what you are thankful for, pause, and connect. Everyone, and I mean everyone, likes to be thanked for their contribution whether they are paid or not.

6. Smile — it's the easiest way to reduce stress, everyone's stress. Add a little laughter in there and lift people's spirits especially at those times when everyone is feeling the "pain".

7. Kill as many meetings as possible. For those meetings which are necessary, assure an agenda is set with a time allotment for each item on the agenda, the start and end times of the meeting, the purpose and the result desired. Stay within those parameters.

If you make a habit of extending your stay in meetings, then the meetings will go on longer. If the meeting was scheduled to end at 4, leave at 4. It'll be hard to do at first but the time you save will be a great reward. The message to everyone else: "my time is important and I don't want to waste it." Others will appreciate your leadership in this area more than you know!

8. Say no. It's the hardest word in the world especially in nonprofit organizations. It is the most necessary word in your vocabulary. Many times people get themselves into a time crunch because they simply are not willing to say no. And stick to your guns — no means no! Yes, of course, there are diplomatic ways of saying no and that is advisable at all times.

9. If the organization is filled with secrets and intrigue, leave. "Secret societies" are never healthy, cause unnecessary anxiety, and demonstrate ill-conceived policies, operations, and poor interpersonal and management skills on the part of the manager.

10. Create a year long schedule. To give you an idea, say a grant request is due every year on March 31st. March 22nd, review of new proposal and adjustments. March 1st, begin writing the new proposal and schedule an hour of writing every day. February 21st, create budget. February 10 ask for the reports you will require to complete that proposal. February 9th, review the grant criteria, etc. — you get the idea.

Keep adding all the annual events into this spreadsheet and when you've worked out the dates, put these dates into your calendar under Recurring events. Adjust as necessary.

Again, this works no matter what job you hold — everyone has recurring events in their work.

11. Volunteer elsewhere. People working in nonprofit organizations often volunteer with their own agency which adds hours and stress along with expectations from others. Volunteer in some other nonprofit of interest outside your industry. It'll be fun, you'll meet all kinds of new people and you'll have contributed.

12. Adopt the attitude that it is a job, only a job. Many people in the nonprofit world get emotionally attached to their jobs, and that approach causes a multitude of issues within the organization. Giving always has unwritten expectations attached whether acknowledged or not.

Adopt a business-like mindset to your job — x number of dollars for x amount of time for your expertise. What I have seen way too often is people "donating" a lot to their organization only to be devastated when things go awry. It's not a family, it's a group of people thrown together to get a job done.

13. Ensure your scheduling is not so tight as to be constantly derailed by unexpected events.

14. Work as a team, a real team, supporting one another, communicating, tweaking systems until they work for everybody and resolve team issues as a unit.

15. The most important tip is left for last: Manage time by managing stress. Do this by taking care of yourself.

What does that mean?

  • Take quick breaks every 2 hours — stretch, quiet time, drink water, etc.
  • Take the full allotted time for lunch outside your workspace.
  • Take a short walk at break time and lunch time to get the blood circulating and give the brain a rest.
  • Sleep — schedule whatever amount of time you need to sleep — 6, 7, 8, 9 hours — it is THE most important aspect to time management. If you're rested, everything in your world goes better and challenges are tolerated and handled better!
  • Eat well — good fuel for your body means stamina to sustain the high energy output every day.
  • Have a social life outside of work — friends, family, hobbies.

Lorraine Arams currently offers her services as an interim executive director and consultant to non-profit organizations. She helps them construct effective and highly efficient operational structures as well as teaches them to use modern tools such as social media to connect with volunteers and contributors. Lorraine also writes a regular blog on time management. Contact her today at

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