It’s your time to manage

Staff members at non-profit organizations are known for having too much to do and not enough time.  You’re probably wearing multiple hats – all of which are important.  So how do you keep the proverbial plates spinning without them falling onto your head?  Well, part of the solution is in how you manage your time.

Here’s the deal: Time management isn’t as elusive or mysterious as it sounds. You must manage your time.  It’s your time – no one else’s.  It’s not the “time” of the person who didn’t plan ahead and is now begging for your help.  It’s not the “time” of that little email flag that pops up when you have a new message.  It’s not the “time” of the text message or meeting interruption or voicemail.

The good (and bad) news is that you alone are responsible for identifying priorities, determining which tasks need to be completed when, and how you will spend each segment of time available.  Yes, other people will try to impose on you.  Yes, you will get interruptions and emergencies.  However, you still have to decide each day how you will handle these issues.  Will you answer every email immediately or will you set aside increments of time each day to clear your inbox?  Will you drop your responsibilities to bail out a coworker from his/her lack of planning or will you make sure your top responsibilities are complete before helping someone else?  The choice is completely yours – you can’t blame this on your boss or your coworkers.  I know, ouch, right?

Here are some practical tips to help you manage your time:

1.  Prepare for the week ahead.  Consider the meetings, events and tasks you need to complete within the coming week.  Schedule an appointment on your calendar for each item and set reminders.  Leave yourself free time in between each appointment to handle small emergencies, take a quick break and allow for extra time to complete a task if needed.

2.  Start each day off intentionally.  When you arrive at the office, take a few minutes to review your schedule for the day and determine if any adjustments are necessary. Once you’ve decided on the priorities for the day, relentlessly focus on accomplishing those goals.  When you are interrupted (and you will be), consider whether it is more important to deal with the interruption or to finish what you were working on.  Which is more important to your organization? You (or your boss) are the only ones who can answer that question.  Whatever you decide, just make sure you think through the consequences of either choice.

3.  Handle incoming messages periodically (not constantly).  Check email, text messages and voice messages 2-3 times per day.  The more interruptions you allow into your day, the less productive you will be.  Depending on your job, you may have to check messages more often.  However, make sure that you have uninterrupted blocks of time to complete tasks that require a high level of concentration. Your colleagues may get frustrated at first with this change, especially if you’ve always responded to messages immediately.  If needed, explain why you’re making this change and encourage your colleagues to do the same.

4.  Use the system that works best for you.  It really doesn’t matter if you keep your schedule in a paper planner, on the computer or on your phone.  What matters is which tool you’ll have with you and that’s easy for you to use.

I realize that this may sound impractical or nearly impossible.  You’re barely keeping your head above water and I want you to plan the upcoming week – am I crazy?!  Well, no I’m really trying to help.  I get it – I have a full schedule as well and have had to adapt my time management strategies several times.  It’s an ongoing effort, but when I take 5-10 minutes to plan, I am much more productive and am convinced that I’ve saved hours of wasted effort.  Implement these tips (even if it’s only one of them at first) and don’t get discouraged with a less-than-perfect week.  Just regroup, try again and keep going until you find the time management method that works best for you.

How do you manage your time?  What challenges do you face in time management?