10 Time Management Tips for Elephant-Sized Projects

The following tips will help nonprofit leaders tackle big projects, including adding a new funding stream or working on obtaining financial stability.

To Begin

1.Divide your elephants into servings sizes, i.e., tasks that you can complete in one or two-hour sessions. You can’t write an annual report or book in a session. You can create three ideas for the cover or outline the first chapter.

2. Evaluate if all the “servings” are necessary? Can you simplify them? Can you switch to a conference call instead of a meeting to save transportation time and expenses?


3. Identify “servings” to share with others. To avoid elephant rot, pass on as soon as possible. Establish realistic deadlines that allow for illnesses, vacations, and unforeseen complications (like other visiting elephant herds.)

4. Send out reminder notices of approaching deadlines 48-hours in advance. Please make a note to thank the person helping and their boss at least twice.

5. If your boss interferes, bring your elephant to them and seek their buy-in on its priority. Establish permission to say “no” to other requests, even theirs.


6. If you don’t already know it, discover your best hour of the day and day(s) of the week to tackle the most challenging “servings.”

7. Set a schedule to tackle each serving. Schedule four two-hour sessions on sequential days if you need eight hours to write a draft but get itchy after two.

8. Establish firm appointments with yourself. “On Monday at 1, I will work on the elephant for two hours.” Write this in ink on your calendar. Hold calls. Don’t open your email. If necessary, move to a secluded location, like a spare office or a library.

9. Identify servings you can complete in downtimes. Can you draft a table of content, set up a chart, or outline an agenda while waiting for your next appointment?

10. When you know you won’t get back to a “serving” for several days, jot a mini to-do list on an index card size sticky. Place it on top of the materials as a reminder of where to begin your next session.

When you complete an elephant schedule at least a half-an-hour by yourself or with the team to debrief and reflect on what you learned and would do differently, and remember to celebrate, even it is just taking a half an hour walk before your appointment with the next member of the herd.

Other Time Management Resources:

Read: Ready or Not? Time Management Tool

Read: Time Management Tips for the Holidays

Buy: Time Management Tips for Nonprofits

For more answers, check out this Karen’s Nonprofit CEO Library.

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