Smart philanthropy starts with an effective approach to our work.
In philanthropy, we seem to be perpetually rushing from one thing to the next. There’s always a new technology to learn or more grant applications to evaluate. Yet while everyone is feeling busy and moving quickly, the real change we seek comes along at the pace of snails.
We all get into daily work patterns—some of them healthy, some not. How often do you find yourself so focused on your to-do list that you’ve lost track of why you’re doing the work? Everyone can improve their work habits, and even if the changes are simply tactical, they can add up to a clear, focused approach to the job rather than an exercise in constantly putting out fires. To start focusing on impact instead of deadlines, we need to change the work patterns that hold us back and keep us from working at top efficiency. Here are six ways you can take charge of your schedule and capture more of your own time:
1. Don’t check email first thing in the morning. For many of us, this is a hard habit to break! You’re worried you might miss something important, so you start your day by clicking through endless emails. In reality, you’re giving control of your time and mental energy to others instead of starting your day focused on something you know want to accomplish.
2. Set your top three priorities for the day right at the start. Make these priorities manageable, but not so tactical that you’ve finished them in the first hour. They are meant to help keep you focused and on track, not simply to be items you can tick off of a to-do list that you’ve created.
3. Spend the first hour of your day doing something creative or tackling something that’s been causing you stress. Creative doesn’t mean you have to do something artistic—it means doing something that generates ideas or gives you energy. It might be taking the time to brainstorm your next funding initiative, thinking about how to reorganize your team or contemplating what professional development experiences can help you move forward. An equally effective alternative is to eliminate a stressor, whether that means installing better lighting in a dim office or figuring out how to terminate an ineffective professional partnership.
4. Prevent technology from taking over—no beeps or notifications. Ever. Go through your phone and computer and remove all the notifications (e.g., for new emails, breaking news stories and social media posts). Make this change permanent. It will help clear your head and eliminate constant distractions. Ruthlessly unsubscribe from unnecessary emails that are a drain on your time and offer you little substance. Send certain types of emails automatically into folders so you can peruse them at a point in the day that you’ve set aside specifically for reading. Finally, check your email three times a day—not all day long.
5. Pick up the phone instead of sending multiple emails. It’s often true that email can be more efficient than a phone conversation, but when “just one quick email” becomes a back-and-forth conversation of multiple paragraphs, you know it’s time to pick up the phone. You may worry about interrupting someone, but you’d be surprised at how many people answer their phones (or Skype or Slack calls) and are happy to reach a fast conclusion in a personal conversation instead of sending back yet another email. And if you can’t contact the person directly, you might reach an assistant who can help you schedule a meeting or find the information you need.
6. Assign it to someone else. As a general rule, if someone else can do the work, hand it off. Assign certain tasks to another staff member or consultant so you can focus on the work that only you can tackle. For managers, that might mean having staff summarize their performance discussions with you and then emailing you those write-ups. If a summary is accurate, great—file it away. If it’s not, reply with corrections and then file. You’ve dispersed the work, and you’ve helped your staff understand and internalize the conversations.
The goal of these time-saving tips is not to create efficiency for efficiency’s sake. It’s to do our work better, make smarter investments and change more people’s lives. Yes, it’s critical to make sure grant investments are worthwhile and have clear impact. But