What is distracting you and impacting your non-profit agency?

X the Concerns

By John Greco
Originally published on June 25, 2012
Re-posted with permission from johnponders blog
Pen-paperIn this post I will be sharing one of the most profound and impactful lessons of my life.
But for you to really relate, I need you to participate.
So please go get a blank piece of paper and a pen.
Oh come on!  Painless, really.
Okay.  Draw as big a circle as you can on the page.
Now think about everything you are concerned about.  Everything: your aging mom, the near term milestone on that project, the risk of the company losing a key leader, the European financial crisis, etc.  Make small x’s inside the circle to represent each of those concerns.
You are now looking at your circle of concern.  Mark it as such.
Imagine that you rearrange your concerns, so that the ones that you really can’t do anything about (e.g. the European financial crisis; the flight risk of that key leader) move toward the boundary of the circle.  The concerns you believe you can do at least something about move toward the center of the circle.
Now draw a second, smaller, circle, inside the larger one, around those concerns that you believe you can do something about.
You are now looking at your circle of influence.  Mark it as such!
A common reaction, at this point, is that there are way more concerns outside your circle of influence than inside it.  Or, that the concerns that are outside your circle of influence are weightier and more consequential than those inside your circle of concern.
Disheartening, isn’t it?
In reality it is more than disheartening.  It is distracting.  And that distraction has consequences.
When we focus on things that we really can’t do anything about, we are actually expending valuable time and energy that could have been used to work on those things that are inside your circle of influence, those concerns that you really could do something about.
What really ends up happening is your circle of influence shrinks.
Yep, I said that right; when we worry, stress out, and become fixated or paralyzed by the things that we are concerned about but can’t really do anything about, we miss the opportunity to influence one or more of those things inside the smaller influence circle.  Let’s say you’ve been stressin’ about Greece pulling out of the Eurozone and Spain defaulting on its debt and Italy’s next and geezus what’s going to happen to my 401K! … and you miss the opportunity to work on that project milestone.  It’s too late to recover.  You are going to have to report that you missed that milestone, and the deliverable target date is now at risk.
That concern, in effect, just drifted outside your circle of influence.  Your circle of influence just shrunk.
Not a good thing.
But there’s more to this exercise, and if you quit now, you will only have seen the downside.  There is considerable upside.  Trust me.
Let’s say we don’t get distracted by those concerns that we know we can’t do anything about.  Let’s say, instead of obsessing about Greece and Spain and Italy and your 401K you use that time and energy to set up some coaching from a trusted colleague on the near term project milestone.  As a result, she actually helps you quite a bit; you subsequently are in much better shape to report on that milestone.  And when you make that report, it is well-received and your skill and effort is recognized.
Odds are pretty good that your circle of influence just got larger.
You’re thinking you may have less of a concern for that project, or even no concern at all anymore, but how can I say your circle of influence got larger?
Because it’s at least possible that that flight risk leader took notice of the way you recovered that project, and wants to talk about how you did it, and how might you help him… and that previous “nothing you can do” concern just slid into your circle of influence.
That’s quite a stretch you say?  Okay, another possibility:  because you are not so much concerned about the project now, you can devote some time and energy to researching twice a week home nursing visits for your mom.  That concern just slid into your circle of influence…
Look, these are hypotheticals.  I’m trying to bring to life those x’s on a piece of paper; but I don’t have to try that hard, right?  You know ‘em…
… and you know what this is all about.
Maybe you don’t need to be reminded, but I do —
John!  Don’t worry about things you have no control over and can’t do anything about!  Do something about the things you can do something about!  You can influence!
That’s the impactful, easy-to-understand-but-difficult-to-sustain-in-real-life part of the lesson.
Here’s the profound part — The more I influence, the more I can influence.
Yes, I do worry about the Eurozone financial crisis.  Can’t really do anything about that particular concern.
john greco sig

What are the golf balls in your non-profit organization’s jar?

I have people in my life who I consider friends that like to spam my email inbox. I bet you have friends like that, too. It isn’t malicious, but it is annoying. However, every once in a great while they catch me in the right mood, and I open one of those emails. Typically, I find sappy stuff about friendship and other times it is a modern-day chain letter. This last weekend, I opened one of those emails and found a fun little video about life and priorities. After a little reflection, I decided  there is a lot of wisdom in that video as it pertains to your non-profit organization.

Rather than spam your email inbox, you can either click here or on the picture below to view the short little inspiration video produced by simpletruths.com.

Borowski video screen shot

Cute . . . sappy . . . everything that I promised. Right?

However, what if the pickle jar in the video wasn’t your life, but it instead represented your non-profit organization? What would those “golf balls” (aka those things that are most important to your organizational mission and success)?

Here is a short list (in no particular order) of what I think your golf balls should be:

  1. Clients
  2. Staff
  3. Board volunteers
  4. Donors
  5. Program volunteers

jar of golf ballsI suspect many of you are nodding your heads right now. However, stop and think about your last week and where you spent your time. I suspect that many of you focused lots of time, energy and resources on the pebbles, sand and liquid in your non-profit jar such as:

  • an upcoming fundraising event or campaign
  • facility issues
  • technology challenges
  • bookkeeping or accounting issues
  • donor database administration
  • reconciliation activities

I suspect many of you are now starting to rationalize how these activities are related to the golf balls in your non-profit pickle jar. If you’re doing that, then I encourage you to STOP.

Yes, everything is interrelated. Of course! But take a moment to step back and see the bigger picture.

It is far to easy to focus your attention as a leader on things at the granular level (aka sand). In my experience, leaders are able to focus on the little things as well as the big things.

When putting your calendar together, make sure that your schedule reflects BOTH big and little things. For example, you should be sitting down with your board volunteers in between board meeting as well as putting the agenda and board packet together. You should be meeting with the annual campaign committee to plan the next pledge drive as well as sitting down with donors over a cup of coffee to talk about how their contribution is making magic happen.

The pickle jar analogy can be used to analyze any number of activities related to your non-profit organization. You could be asking questions like:

  • What are the golf balls in my fundraising plan?
  • What are the golf balls in my board development plan?
  • What are the golf balls in my program plan?

The following are links to other bloggers who offer other lists of golf balls for other pickle jars:

Did I get your brain working on this wonderful Monday morning? Which pickle jar are you thinking about? What are the golf balls in that jar? What strategies do you use to make sure you aren’t just focusing on the sand as the days and weeks slip through our hands? Do you have time management best practices that you would like to share with your fellow non-profit friends?

Please take a moment to scroll down to the comment box and share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Are you too busy or are you just prioritizing?

time1Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

In a post titled “Take Your Time,” John talks about the difference between not having time and not taking the time to do important things. I especially love how he starts his post off with a quote from The Merovingian in The Matrix, who said: “Who has time? Who has time? But then if we do not ever take time, how can we ever have time?”

I’ve been stewing on this for days because if I had a nickel for every time I heard a non-profit professional say something about not having enough time to do something, then I’d be a very rich man. Here are a few very real examples:

  • I didn’t have time to recruit an annual campaign committee and engage them in writing a plan.
  • I don’t have time to work on adding a major gifts initiative to our agency’s resource development program. And don’t get me started on planned giving.
  • Critique meeting? Are you kidding? We don’t have time to do that. We’re already late for the next special event.
  • I didn’t get around to writing an annual performance plan for my direct reports because there just wasn’t enough time.

I am the first person to point out that the non-profit community is severely under-resourced, and this means time is a precious commodity for non-profit professionals who are wearing multiple hats. HOWEVER . . . John pulls no punches when he says: “When we say we don’t have the time to do something, what we’re really saying is that something is not a priority.”

So, I find myself wondering:

  • Why is a written annual campaign plan (aka project management plan) not a priority?
  • How can it not be a priority to write a performance management plan for your direct reports?
  • What can be more important than working on complex fundraising tools that will bring in more funding?

time2I will be the first person to admit that I sometimes find myself practicing “avoidance behavior;” however, I know that this isn’t productive. More importantly it is destructive behavior and something that a non-profit organization cannot afford.

Do you find yourself routinely saying: “There just aren’t enough hours in the day to . . .”? If so, then I strongly suggest that you do an informal self assessment. You can accomplish this by doing the following:

  • Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper,
  • List all of the things you find yourself saying that you don’t have time to do on one side,
  • List all of the things you decided to do that same day on the other side of the paper, and
  • Go item by item and ask yourself:  “Was this more important than . . .”

You may just discover that you’re not prioritizing your time effectively. Or you may not. Regardless of the outcome, I think this process is good to go through periodically just to make sure you’re prioritizing your time effectively.

If you do go through this exercise and discover that you are doing a good job with prioritizing your time, then please stop saying that you don’t have enough time. Own the fact that you have limited time and need to make tough decisions about what gets accomplished. Once you start doing this, you might be surprised at how many people start telling you that what you’re deciding not to do is very important. Once THAT starts happening, then you have achieved the necessary leverage to turn the tables and ask them to please lend a hand with what they have just described as a very important task.

How can they say ‘NO’?

Do you find yourself saying that you don’t have enough time? How do you ensure that you’re prioritizing effectively? Please scroll down and share your best practices with your non-profit friends and family in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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