Time. Sigh. If only we had more of it.
Time is the most precious resource for small organizations. But we don’t treat it that way. Instead, we disregard it. Treat it badly.
We can take ownership of our time and make it work better for us. But it takes commitment and practice.
I love this quote from Charles Buxton, “You will never find time for anything. If you want time you must make it.”
Today’s podcast episode features Maya Khanna Le Roy, founder and CEO of MKLC talks to us about managing your time in a realistic way that can help save you from burnout and reclaim your time. Tune in to learn step-by-step how you can work smarter, not harder.
burnout - an industry-wide epidemic
Putting out fire after fire and constantly switching hats is not easy - we’re in this for a good cause but it can be almost too easy to fall into burnout. Whether you work in an open, shared office or a crisis-based organization, there is a way to still get those tasks from “to-do” to “done.” It all comes down to understanding how to work. This means that it’s not just about what you’re doing but it’s how you get it done in a way that allows you to do the important things and protect your sanity.
Knowing what you’re striving towards is important for making decisions along the way. Think about what your day would look like ideally - what tasks would you accomplish? If you can’t imagine it, think about a day where you felt like you were doing what you were supposed to or when your team felt in-sync with each other. Then work your way backwards by reflecting on what you did and how much time was spent doing specific tasks. Are there people on your team that can get things done quicker or things that they enjoy doing? Maya advises us that having a good place to reference is a great way to start creating your agenda for the day.
understanding you and your relationship to time
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, Maya suggests taking a bit of a pause and reflect. Think about what is important and what will move you and your organization forward. Time feels different for everyone which is why Maya recommends thinking about what works best. In order to work better, you need to understand yourself and be self-aware as an organization.
You can find tons of books about discovering your personal habits and when you like to work best. It is important to know that if you love working first thing in the morning and if it’s possible to create a space around that, that is a really good place to start. Sometimes that isn't possible within our constraints. But having that self-understanding about what we love to do and don’t helps us learn when to apply the tools.
For instance, if email management drains your energy or time moves painfully slow, you carve out certain sections of the day that you'll devote to it. If you know that this takes you two hours to do, you can try dedicating an hour and a half to it. Over time, you can reduce this to 45 minutes or even 30 minutes. If you have multiple similar tasks, you can try batching where you put them together. If you're doing things that are really highly analytical or highly creative.
You can also set boundaries around how often you check emails as well by setting a vacation alert to let others know that you may not respond right away. Delegating or asking people what they need from you in a kind way, of course, can also be very helpful. Sometimes picking up the phone is a great solution to six emails back and forth.
Maya tells us that when you make the steps small, doable and realistic, you get traction from it. And then with this momentum going, there's an urge to build upon that. Over time you’ll be able to gain a good sense of how much time you can dedicate to different tasks so you can accomplish the things you need to and the tasks that you’re passionate about.
doctor’s orders: one shot of realism
Creating your plan can mean trying new tools or strategies, some that may or may not actually be realistic for you or your team. Let’s say that you normally spend two hours on email management and tell yourself that you’ll spend 30 minutes on it. Chances are, you won’t get what you need done and you’ll be taking a step backward instead of moving forward. Try recording how much time it takes you and your team to complete tasks to get an idea of how realistic your plan is.
Maya suggests thinking about this undertaking these changes by speaking to your team the same way you would say to clients. Letting people know, if you can, that you’re trying a couple of new time management tools or strategies. Don’t forget to ask for their patience during this trial-and-error, feedback about anything that would help them in their work and if they can identify any gaps or missing skills needed.
We live in a world of constraints - we may have to end our day or start our day at a certain time. Being aware of those and being real with ourselves by doing a check is really important to success.
how to identify when something is (actually) important
Maya uses the Eisenhower Matrix which traces back to President Eisenhower. It puts in the lens of what's urgent and what's important by using a four by four grid. At the top left, the urgent and important are found and it flows from there. So what often happens to us when we end up with pieces that are in the “urgent and important” place is that we either didn't see something coming, which of course happens and can happen to anyone at work, or it was something that we sort of knew about and perhaps procrastinated on. So you need to attend to those right away since there's a direct consequence if we were to ignore them. The often-ignored space is “important and not urgent” and that tends to be your priorities. This would be that piece that has been sitting on your to-do list and you just keep on thinking, “if I just had a couple of hours to get it done.” And when we are able to carve out time devoted to those, that's when we personally feel a sense of progress.
setting boundaries around your time
We can sit down and stare at a screen and not really actually make that much progress on those important things, or start something and then get distracted with something else, move on and then you don't make any progress.
Maya suggests starting with time blocking - Plan ahead of time to devote certain blocks of time to certain activities. This allows you to take a step back and say “if I'm going to be doing this task, I want to be fully present and actually doing it.” This can often be done in a calendar for the week. This helps minimize some of those distractions, at least for those consolidated times when we're trying to do our deep work.
If you work in a shared office, or even if your door is closed with a sign taped on, people they still interrupt. In busy organizations, it can be hard to create a culture where this is important for everyone to do. Maya suggests implementing a quiet hour where there’s less talking, less interaction, and more independent time. Picture in your head, what your office would be like if for an hour everyone got quiet and just focused on doing the work. If everyone does that together, our organizations could do so much more and have such a more significant impact on the world.
How you end your day can help you and your organization feel progress. Take five minutes to reflect on what has helped you move forward and what still needs to get done tomorrow, especially as you test and try different techniques. Maya suggests viewing this as a learning experience since our organizations change and grow. It's
never going to probably be an absolutely perfect model, it's going to be something that
gives you a sense of progress and makes you feel good about what you're doing and
moving forward on it.
Burnout is a chronic problem in our sector. By using these strategies and finding out what works best for you, you can show up every day more excited, achieving flow and doing the work that we're passionate about doing. You don't have to try everything - start with one thing figured out about what you can do to protect your time and your energy.
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The Small Nonprofit is produced by Eloisa Jane Mariano