A Game of Jeopardy.

Nonprofits for $1,000

Answer: The greatest impediments that nonprofits face in growing their income and improving results.

Question: What are time constraints?

Are nonprofit leaders the busiest of the busy? Yes. Nonprofits are under-resourced and often, when they have resources, they use them to generate more mission. Things like making lists, doing two-minute tasks immediately, or clearing your desk nightly are not enough to solve nonprofit time management challenges. You need heavy-duty help. In Jeopardy’s format, here are five answers to the tough but critical challenges of nonprofit time management. Use them to move mountains instead of trimming shrubbery.

Time Management for $1,000

Answer: No.

Question: What one word do nonprofit leaders need to use more often?

I was asked to serve, and served well. The next year “they” assumed I’d serve again. I asked, “Refresh my memory, when did you ask that I continue?” Two-thirds of success is actual doing. One-third is the opposite. Practice saying, “No,” to five activities this week. Pass on adding effort into stale or failing relationships. Cancel a subscription. Get off a committee that no longer makes you enthused. Say no to the drive—this time meet by Skype or telephone.

Then, stop telling yourself you have too much to do. Even if it’s true, saying it takes time, doesn’t help, and shuts down creative solutions you might gin up to better organize your schedule.

Next, take action to limit what comes in your front door, without using a deadbolt.  Flex if necessary, but establish a standing closed-door policy for your most productive 90 minutes per day. Don’t always be available. Say no to joining everything. Select two or three associations to join. Pay the extra fee to attend other meetings of interest. Place newsletters and meetings you want to monitor in your spam box. Then scan spam before deleting.

Use your “no” to pick fewer options. The foundation asks for a brochure. Do not even consider sending a packet. Someone tells you they can provide three to seven options. Ask for three. Plan your board meeting to have less than 90 minutes of agenda.

Yes, there is a role for as many options as possible, but only occasionally. You can save 30 days per year by selecting as few as possible. Select more only when it adds value. Pick fewer board members, sessions, interviewees, and paint colors. Save lots of options for critical decisions, worth precious time and added value. Otherwise, say no.

Capacity Building for $1,000

Answer: Improve your skills.

Question: What can nonprofit leaders do to create better time management?

Decide to become more competent in skills you use all the time. Focus on only one area at a time. If you write daily: become a better writer this year. Select common skills such as presentations, board relationships, setting priorities, or negotiation. Alternatively, select skills in your genre where people look to your expertise—such as healthcare changes, donor stewardship, or planned giving.

Skill building takes time. How does it lead to better time management? Improved skills yield better results faster. As your skills and successes increase, your confidence grows, and confidence is a huge time saver.

At some point, select time management skills. Start with data. Log your time for one week. Use fifteen-minute increments. Write in your log after each increment, not at day’s end. Trust me, you won’t remember. At week’s end, run some tallies and make observations.

Week two, conduct mini-checks. Make a tick every time you check your email, news, or other distraction.

Week three, do as management and leadership expert Kim Wilkerson suggests. Log your interruptions. What pulls you off task? The telephone, email, or someone at your door?

Use your new knowledge to change your behavior. Work toward saving a day per month. To build your time management skills further, supplement your data collection with articles, YouTube lessons, books, and the like.

Weekly Schedules for $1,000

Answer: Use blocks, and ebbs, and hold the pen.

Question: What are three secrets to effective and productive weeks?

1. Use blocks. Brain scientists believe that humans work best in 90-minute increments, or blocks.  Plan for four blocks per day, creating twenty blocks per workweek. For example, today I’ll write this, market, do book promotion, and client work. In between, I’ll do brief activities to refresh my mind, such as run errands, return calls, walk, and package outgoing mail. The rest of the day is catch-as-catch-can. The result? People admire my organization and productivity skills. Better yet: working this way keeps my energy high.

2. Work ebbs and flows. Use your ebbs. In February, I was in total flow—I had five presentations in eight days. The next four weeks I was in ebb and did no presentations.   As you glance at your calendar and experiences, look for ebbs and plan for them. Make notes of task to do. You might list: outline three months of newsletter articles, draft the holiday appeal letter, or plan for the next big event in the lull after it. For extra value, when you are in ebb time, choose tasks done under duress in the past.

3. Finally, whenever possible hold the pen that writes in your calendar, even if it’s a digital. Share your blocks with others carefully. In third world countries, you carefully guard your passport. As you move through your day, make sure your calendar is likewise protected; it’s more valuable to you than anyone else in the world.

Counterintuitive Time Management for $1,000

Answer:  Take more time off.

Question: What counterintuitive practice will improve your time management?

The busier you are, the more you need time off to refresh. Take a down day once per month, even if you can’t take it out of the office. Between tasks, take five minutes to notice, think, or be. After a block, do something different. If you have been solo at your computer, select an interactive physical experience such as taking a meeting-walk with a colleague.

Work at being mindful and present. Being present reduces negative thoughts, anxiety, worry, and ruminations. If we had a penny for every second we worried, we could collectively endow every nonprofit that ever existed. Instead, focus on the beauty of your hands, the light playing on the window, and the cool air you transform to warm in your lungs. We’re human. We default to worry. For eons, it kept us safe. In our modern work environment, worry without action is a time suck. Use mindfulness as a way to take time off and refresh.

The Gift   

Earlier this month, I was summoned to jury duty on dark rainy day. Before lunch, the Clerk of the Court released us.

I left the Court House pleased as if I’d been given a gift.  Indeed, I had—the rest of the day and the rest of the week—time I had put on hold in case a judge said, “Serve.” You receive a similar gift every morning. Use your time well and it will be greatest instrument your nonprofit has to grow your income and improve your results.

Your Life For a $1,000,000:

Answer: I will skim the article and select one suggestion from this article to add to my time management arsenal.

Question:  How can you best use the moments invested reading this article?