You’re seated at your desk, a lengthy list of tasks stretching out before you as you begin your day. Emails, phone calls, meetings, paperwork, and research—far too much to complete in one day’s time. Knowing you’ll have to start somewhere, you hunker down and dig in.
Tackling the list from top to bottom seems like a good option at first. But, as you click through your inbox, you realize that some of your deadlines are sooner than others. Some responsibilities cannot be completed alone and require coordination of schedules. And some tasks will be so involved that they may require some delegation or even a renegotiated deadline—but it could take days to figure out exactly what is needed and create a plan of action. You wanted to start crossing things off your list, but now your list is even longer. Where do you begin?
Time management is difficult in all stages of a career, and often the duties grow more complex as you achieve higher goals in your career journey. Those who are successful manage their time strategically. This doesn’t mean they do everything; rather, they find a way to make sure everything gets done.
Breaking Down How You Spend Your Time
To effectively manage your time, you must be able to recognize two key factors:
- Which tasks are highest priority for you?
- On which tasks do you spend the greatest percentage of your time?
Once you have determined the tasks that are most important, you can compare those to the reality of your everyday work life: Are you spending time on your highest priorities, or elsewhere? Consider auditing your time for a week to get a better understanding of where you spend your time. Then, shift your focus to devote the appropriate amount of time to each task.
Breaking Down Large Tasks
The same approach may be valuable when it comes to allocating your time to individual large or complex tasks. Often, these tasks can be broken down into sub-tasks, just as your weekly workload can be broken down into a list of daily tasks. While the completion of these tasks is your responsibility, it’s possible that some sub-tasks can be delegated, postponed, or even eliminated. Truly consider what goes into each task and create a strategy for handling it.
Keep in mind the following complications and tips:
- When schedule coordination and collaboration are required, bottlenecks are almost guaranteed to occur. Create a project plan with realistic deadlines and manage it closely. A large project that isn’t due until next month can be started today with a simple email invitation.
- Training someone else to help you with tasks can be a great way to give newer fundraisers valuable experience and a leg up—but the process of training them will initially consume extra time. The pay-off comes after they are ready to be productive without help. Discern whether there is time for training them before diving in.
- Not all tasks can be postponed while retaining their effectiveness. For example, postponing a follow-up item after a donor meeting can turn a donor off. Similarly, if you don’t fill in a contact report right away, you may forget something. Recognize what must be timely and what might be moved back without penalty.
- If you are spending your time on tasks that aren’t high priority based on your performance metrics, but there seems to be nothing you can do about it, respectfully share your concern(s) with your manager. Propose a solution while you’re at it to increase your odds of resolving the issue together.
- During a busy week, time management is one of the first responsibilities to slip through the cracks. Help ensure optimal productivity by scheduling a weekly organizational hour on Monday mornings. You can organize your task list so that you are managing it, and not the other way around!
Time management is an investment in your own success, and the time spent organizing your time is paid back exponentially. Implementing a time management strategy that works for you will sharpen your focus on priority tasks and make those endless, overwhelming to-do lists a thing of the past.
Want more practical tips about how best to manage your time? Inquire about bringing Priority Setting and Personal Success—our briefing designed with the time management needs of development professionals in mind—to your organization.