Non-Profit Time Management: Letting Go of It All

This week’s “Mondays with Marissa” post was titled “Non-Profit Time Management: Scheduling Social Media Updates“. After reading Marissa’s weekly pearl of wisdom, it got me thinking. During tough economic times, donors are asking non-profits to do more with less, which is leading to longer task lists for both executive directors and fundraising professionals. All of this contributes to a lot of stress in the workplace. In honor of Marissa’s awesome blog post, I am dedicating this week’s posts to the idea of looking more carefully at time-saving tips with regards to managing your agency and implementing your resource development program.

Let’s continue this conversation by looking at David Allen’s Mind-Sweep concept.

I don’t know about you, but when I’ve found myself “under the gun” to produce, I feel like something has a hold over me. I can best describe it as a “gripping feeling” or a “paralysis”.  When I feel this way, my productivity falls dramatically. I think this happens because I am concerned about all of the plates that I have spinning. I get too focused on all of the things I need to do and not focused enough on actually doing them.

A few years ago, when things were especially bad, I asked my employer to send me to a time management training that was based on David Allen’s national best-selling book “Getting Things Done” (GTD).

While I still fundamentally consider myself more of a Frankin-Covey guy, there were a number of interesting and effective tactics that I took away from the GTD training. One of those tactics was called the “Mind-Sweep” and here is how it works:

  • Secure a pen and stack of loose leaf note cards or a small pad of paper.
  • Search your mind for things that you need to do — both big and small.
  • Write down one task per note card and put it in your inbox.
  • Once you’ve cleared everything out of your head — everything from buying a gallon of milk to calling a specific donor — go back through your inbox and prioritize the tasks in their order of importance.

If you think this exercise seems elementary, I wouldn’t argue with you. However, there is something “freeing” about dumping all of the contents of your brain out onto small pieces of paper. Whenever I have done this, my mind seems to focus and that gripping feeling seems to melt away. Essentially, I am no longer consumed with the thought that I may forget to do something, and I am able to spend time “doing” stuff.

While I’ve done this during extremely busy and chaotic times, I’ve also modified this approach and used it to help me in a Moves Management type of way. Simply focus your mind on an individual donor and everything that you think needs to happen to move them from one gift level to another, and dump it all out on one sheet of paper. The contents of that exercise become all of the “moves” (e.g. cultivation activities) that need to occur to position a donor to the next solicitation. Add dates to that list and put it in a spreadsheet (or your donor database Moves Management relationship tab), and TA-DA you have an individual donor plan.

The same approach can be applied to building a project management plan for a special event fundraiser.

The “mind-sweep” is more than just an organizing tactic, it is a time-savings strategy that can help you stop dithering and start doing. “Getting out of neutral” can be one of the best feelings in the world and can make all the difference when it comes to time management.

Have you ever felt gripped by a similar feeling that I described earlier in this blog post? If so, how did you get “unstuck” and moving forward again? Please scroll down and share a quick thought in the comment section. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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