Getting Everything Done When It Feels There's too Much to Do

By Annette Rubin

Annette Rubin
In the nonprofit world there always seems to be too much work and too few resources, but by focusing on what really matters—and using your time carefully and wisely—you'll be surprised what you can accomplish.

Here are suggestions for getting everything done, even when it feels so overwhelming, culled from the experiences of individuals who somehow manage to do it all (or at least most).

Be Sure Everything You're Doing Really Has to Be Done by You

The first step in getting stuff done is to ensure that you are the only person who can and should perform the work. Often people discover that they have tasks and projects on their to-do list that should be done by others. Why is that? There are three basic reasons

  • You can’t say no. If you say yes to every request from others, you won’t have time for your own work. Just because someone asks you to do something does not mean you should or can. Consider each request based on the importance to your organization, level of priority in relation to other work, who is asking, and whether someone else can take it on.

  • You don’t delegate. You may believe that your staff or colleagues are already working too hard or wouldn’t be able to do a job as well as you. However, giving others the opportunity to take on new tasks facilitates their engagement, helps them gain confidence and new skills, and supports your efforts to get the organization’s work done.

  • You haven’t let go of tasks/projects you don’t have to do yourself. Sometimes you just enjoy doing work that really isn’t part of your job description. You may be in management, but really miss direct service. Make sure you make your own critical work your highest priority.
Get Rid of Unnecessary Time-Wasters

Are you really using all of your hours in the work place to get your job done? You may find as you review your schedule, or look back on how you spent your day, that you actually spend very few hours taking care of business. Here's what can you do to increase your actual focused work time.

  • Manage your meetings. Do you really have to attend every single meeting to which you are invited? Are all of the meetings you attend a good use of your time? I would venture to guess that the answer is NO to both of those questions. Before you agree to attend any meeting, ask yourself if it is critical for you to be there. If not, then decline the meeting.

    If you are the one who is calling meetings, make absolutely certain that every meeting you organize is critical and that every person you invite needs to be there. Then, ensure you have a tight agenda, limit the length of the meeting, and stick to the schedule.

  • Manage distractions. One of the biggest time wasters in the workplace is distractions. Check your accumulated email or other social media only a few pre-considered times each day, so that you minimize the number of interruptions of your critical work.

    Encourage your colleagues to schedule meetings instead of dropping in for unscheduled “brief chats” that always seems to take longer than expected. Close your door if you have one when you are focused on a project, and put up a Please Do Not Disturb sign if necessary. If you don’t have a door, put a sign on top of your computer or in another location where everyone can see it. Create a culture of respect for people’s time and recognition of how distractions limit productivity.
Manage Your Work and Time

Do you take charge of each day or do you let requests from others divert you from your own essential work? It's easy to just be responsive, but that is not the most effective way to meet your goals. Be strategic in the use of your limited time.

  • Know what you have to do. If you are not fully aware of what you need to do, it is unlikely to get done. Create a list of everything on your plate. Update the list daily. Separate the list into categories: small items that you can do quickly, tasks that might take up to a couple of hours and longer-term projects. Each day identify your priorities in each category and focus on them.

  • Plan your day. Once you know what you have to do, determine when you will do it. Use your calendar to reserve time for projects and tasks, especially for work that requires concentration. Identify your most productive time—for many it is first thing in the morning—and do your highest priority work then. If you have to bump one of these appointments with yourself for another priority activity, reschedule the time you’ve set aside for YOUR work so that doesn’t get lost. Your calendar is an excellent tool for organizing your time. Just make sure you look at it and follow it!

  • Set deadlines. Assign a deadline for all of your projects and tasks. Then hold yourself accountable, or tell others what the deadline is so that there is external accountability. Without a deadline, tasks and projects may remain on your list.
Annette Rubin, founder of Coaching to Potential, helps nonprofit professionals strengthen leadership, management, and strategic skills. Email her at annette@coachingtopotential.com or call 508-561-4855.
September 2016