Are you busy all the time? Rushing from one task to the next with no time to breathe? Despite all that activity, do you feel as behind at the end of the day as you did when you woke up? It may seem you just need to work harder, become more efficient, or work longer days.
I suggest an alternate path: Do less.
Spend less time perfecting the meeting minutes. Forget the $1500 grant with a 14 page application. Skip your blog post on the weeks you have nothing to say. Take a walk after lunch.
I’m not suggesting you clear your schedule completely and sit in your office waiting for inspiration to strike, but there is only so much of you to go around. When your day is filled with minutia and busywork, there is no space left to think about what’s next.
What can you stop doing?
Use your mission as a guide here. It is why your nonprofit exists. Without it, the rest of your work, no matter how well executed, is pointless. I’m not saying you should fire the development director (please, don’t fire the development director), but when the marketing, development and administrative work takes over the life of your organization, you are no longer doing what you set out to do.
So how do you decide what should stay and what should go? The key is to connect each piece of work back to your mission. Think of it like stepping stones. For example:
The mission of Low Hanging Fruit is to help nonprofits be heard. The work of writing this blog post breaks down like this:
- I’m writing a blog post about prioritization so
- the nonprofit leaders who read it will spend their best time on the core of their work so
- what they do will have a greater impact.
- That impact will strengthen their voice in the community. (i.e. help them be heard).
Since writing new content is close to the core of my purpose, (only working directly with organizations is closer), there are just a few steps between my work and my mission. For administrative tasks, the link will take longer. For example, one night last month, I developed a time-tracking system. The breakdown of that work looks like this:
- I’m creating a spreadsheet to track my hours so
- I can evaluate how I divide my time between working with clients, writing good content, finding my right people, and growing my experience so
- I can ensure I’ve got the right mix of activities to grow my business so
- more of the right people visit my website at the right time and find what they need so
- when they need help they will contact me to work directly with their organization to
- help them be heard.
Both activities can legitimately be tied back to my goal. Some of your current work will not tie back–or if it does, it’s only because you are very creative. If you have to work especially hard on this exercise, or the linkage takes more than 10 steps, consider dropping that activity from your work–even just for a little while, and see what happens.
Prioritizing what remains
Even after removing activities not directly related to your mission, your schedule will likely be full. The next step is to prioritize the rest. This is usually where you’d see advice like “start with what’s most important” or “what is most unpleasant”, or even, “the easiest thing”.
The problem with this advice is it has nothing to do with what will work for you. Try this instead: sync your work with the natural ebb and flow of your productivity by doing the work most closely tied to your mission during your most fruitful hours. If you like to work from a schedule, spend time at the beginning of each day, or each week, sketching out a plan to budget minutes for each activity. Schedule the “mission critical” work for the times when you are fresh and unlikely to be interrupted and the less critical work during the times that remain.
If you know a weekly plan just isn’t going to happen for you, set a timer to chime (way better than buzz — but do what you have to do) every fifty minutes during your most productive hours. When you hear the sound, evaluate the work you are doing in the moment–is it the most mission centered thing on your plate right now? If not, switch to work closer to the center.
What’s the point?
Now that you have an extra hour or two in your schedule each day, enjoy it! Rather than tick off the next thing on your list, take time to dream about what’s possible, learn about something new, connect with people who see the world differently. By taking your nose off the grindstone, you have time to look up and see what is around you– it’s this time to look “outward” that will give you the experience and perspective you need to serve your community in whole new ways. (Plus you are less likely to burn out, but that’s another post. . . .)
What are you ready to stop doing?
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