How are you improving your productivity in 2015?

plates spinningFor the last few decades, I’ve been on a quest to become more productive with the time I’ve been given. My counselor introduced me to the idea of mindfulness, meditation, and breathing exercises. Microsoft introduced all of us to Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint. David Allen and Stephen Covey introduced us to time management strategies, tools and techniques.
Truthfully, all of these things have helped make me a more productive person, but I’m still looking for the holy grail.
I’m not sure. It could be a loose screw in my head. Or could it be that 24 hours in a day is simply not enough? Perhaps, it is most likely that as I get older life feels like it is going faster and faster with more balls to juggle and plates to spin.
With all of this going on in the background of my life, I was drawn to the question Beth Kanter posed in her January 2015 Nonprofit Blog Carnival call for submissions post:

How are nonprofit folks strengthening their personal productivity online muscles in 2015?

I’m dividing this post into two sections. First, I want to talk about some of the new things I’ve been pursuing online to boost productivity. Second, I will talk about what I am doing off-line to tame the online beast that I’m feeding.
Online productivity
jugglerOn March 28, 2012, I published a blog post titled “Getting your ducks . . . er . . . volunteers in a row“. I talked a lot about various online services and software I had started using to work with volunteers such as Doodle, Google docs, GoToMeeting, etc. However, it was clear that I had fallen in love with an online project management service called Basecamp.
For the last few years, I’ve exclusively used Basecamp to work with my non-profit and executive coaching clients. It is intuitive and easy to use. Its functionality simply falls into the following areas: shared calendar, task list, documents file cabinet and writeboards.
I know this service fills a need in my non-profit clients’ professional lives. I know it because I’ve seen some of them continue their usage of Basecamp after our engagement ended. As our lives get busier and busier, Basecamp provides non-profit professionals and volunteers a virtual online space where they can collaborate and get work done without having to call another in-person meeting.
With all of this being said, I’m no longer convinced that Basecamp is the end all and be all of online collaboration services. A few weeks ago one of my clients asked me to look into Microsoft’s SharePoint and, much like Alice, I seem to have fallen down a rabbit hole.
Since the end of December, I’ve sunk time into:

  • watching YouTube videos about SharePoint
  • reading the book “Office 365 in Business” by David Kroenke and Donald Nilson
  • reading the book “SharePoint 2013 for Dummies” by Ken Withee
  • speaking with friends who use SharePoint in their office

Embarrassingly, I must admit that I’m still trying to wrap my head around what exactly SharePoint is and how to use it. I’m not a “tech-dummy,” but the functionality of this software/service is huge. In the interest of brevity, here is how Ken Withee summarizes the question of “What is SharePoint?” on page 40 of the Dummy’s Guide book I just referenced:

“Officially, Microsoft represents SharePoint as a “business collaboration platform for the enterprise and web.” SharePoint is a platform from Microsoft that allows business to meet their diverse needs in the following domains: collaboration; social networking; information portals and public websites; Enterprise content management; business intelligence; and business applications.”

In other words, it does A LOT and it is complicated.   🙂
I’ve concluded that the 21st Century will be a time of online evolution for non-profit organizations in the area of productivity and collaboration. In just the last few years, I’ve personally seen it with my clients as some embraced Basecamp and now others appear to be checking out SharePoint.
If you are one of those non-profits investigating Basecamp versus SharePoint, I found this awesome compare/contrast page created by TrustRadius. This is definitely worth the click!
Please scroll down and use the comment box to share some of your thoughts and experiences regarding Beth Kanter’s January 2015 Nonprofit Blog Carnival question. We can all learn from each other!
Offline productivity
meditationI remember it like it was just yesterday. In 2006, I started a new job working for a national non-profit organization providing resource development capacity building services to local affiliates. On Day One, I received my first ever “smart phone,” and I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
It was a Palm Treo (you never forget your first true love).  😉
Since that time, I’ve gone from a Treo to a Blackberry to a Motorola Droid Razr to a Nexus 6 (Google’s first attempt at manufacturing a phone after buying Motorola Mobility).
My love of these mobile devices is rooted in the idea of 24/7 connectivity, which makes me feel more productive. However, my love affair has ended, and I’m starting seeing these little hand-held devil boxes as a ball-and-chain that adds weight to my work-life-balance challenges.
As I said in the beginning of this post, I started working with a counselor almost two years ago. Without getting too personal or entering the realm of TMI, let me just say that I’m working on stress and anxiety reduction strategies that include mindfulness, breathing and meditation.
As online services provide non-profit professionals greater levels of productivity, the price many of us likely pay is stress, anxiety, conflict, and loss of balance. Ironically, all of these things place a drag on our productivity.   LOL
For those of you looking for resources and advice about stillness and meditation, I suggest checking our Russell Simmon’s book “Success Through Stillness: Meditation Made Simple“. It is an easy read and a wonderful place to start.
In the end, I believe you need to blend online and offline strategies to move the needle on your personal and professional productivity.
What are your thoughts? Please share your experiences in the comment box below.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Getting your ducks … er … volunteers in a row

Putting your nonprofit organization’s resource development plan together can be a monumental undertaking. If you do it in an engaging and collaborative manner, then you are likely temporarily expanding your resource development committee and inviting various stakeholders (e.g. event volunteers, foundation staff or board members, and donors) to come to the table. This could easily result in 8 to 16 volunteers jockeying for position around your planning table.

I have used this approach before. Yes, we experienced challenges such as:

  • getting everyone’s calendars aligned,
  • communicating effectively and trying to avoid crazy, overlapping, and confusing long email threads,
  • keeping track of action items (not to mention injecting accountability into the process),
  • collaboratively working on building one document that didn’t result in 20 different versions attached to countless different email threads, and
  • sharing files with each other (Note: “the cloud” did not yet exist at the time of the project I am referencing).

A few months ago, a very dear friend and fellow consultant — Teri Halliday — introduced me to an online product called “Basecamp“. She swears by it, and I trust her like I trust my mother. So, I purchased the service and it changed my life! (Yes, dramatic but very true) There isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t think back to the resource development planning process that I described a few paragraphs ago and wonder how different things would’ve been if I would’ve had access to Basecamp.

All of the challenges I described in the previous set of bullet points would’ve disappeared. Once everyone registers and links to your online workspace, you can:

  • work on collaboratively building documents in the Writeboard section,
  • keep everyone’s schedules in lock step with the Calendar section,
  • communicate with each other using the bulletin board functionality in the Messages section,
  • keep track of action items using the To-Do section (and OMG the system even reminds people their tasks are coming due), and
  • share documents using the Files section.

It is true that people who don’t want to be engaged won’t get any more involved in a project just because you’re utilizing an online project management tool. When you see this dynamic at play, your problem isn’t that you’re disorganized . . . you have a recruitment problem!

However, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen well-intentioned volunteers who want to be involved just walk away from a project because it is disorganized and hard to collaborate with other volunteers. It is this problem that Basecamp can help you resolve.

OK . . . I must admit that I am in LOVE with Basecamp. I am like a man with a hammer, and now I see nails everywhere! 🙂  I can see busy families utilizing Basecamp. I can see for-profit companies who operate in offices sprinkled across the country utilizing Basecamp. I obviously see the benefits for non-profit organizations who constantly engage busy employees and volunteers on a multitude of projects (e.g. strategic planning, resource development planning, special event fundraisers, annual campaigns, etc).

While I wish I could say that this “Software as a Service” (SaaS) was free, I cannot say such a thing; however, I think it is reasonably priced with one plan costing just $20 per month (and no long-term contract to sign).

I am sure some of you are wondering what has gotten into me this morning . . . am I a paid spokesperson or something like that? No! No! No! I am just a huge fan of things that work, and I have worked in the non-profit sector long enough to know that a tool like this can be a godsend. I say every day on this blog that “we can all learn from each other” . . . so I decided to put my money where my mouth is today.

What other tools (either free or paid service) has your non-profit agency used to help organize your volunteers and projects (e.g. Google docs? GoToMeeting? BigMarker? Microsoft Project?)??? Please take a moment to scroll down and share your ideas via the comment box.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847