The Curse of Nonprofits: Not Enough Time To Get It All Done

You see the long  “to do” lists., You know everything is a priority. But where oh where are you going to find enough time to get everything done.  Sound familiar? I’ve heard myself saying those words countless times in my 20+ years working in the healthcare and nonprofit world. 

The result? It causes me stress, I get less than a good night's sleep, and I find myself getting  “snippy” when people talk with me -  thanks to that feeling of being overwhelmed. Sounds like whining, but it’s the truth.  Often it just doesn’t seem there are enough hours in the day for nonprofit leaders.

I think part of the problem is the reality of our  American business model.  We don’t take vacations to recharge, we bring our work home, and we put in more hours a day than any other culture.  What is wrong with this picture? 

Attitude about work.

Today in the United State there is a belief that being a workaholic is a good thing.   There is an inherent bias in our culture to do more.  Strong Type A personalities who never stopare seen as an asset to a company.  Our culture is one of the worst in the world when it comes to work-life balance.  It took me 30 years to finally get off the treadmill of trying to prove to myself and others that  I worked harder than anyone else, so I must be better.   This is warped productivity… on steroids.  

Research actually shows that workers do better and become more productive when they take breaks, when they use their vacation days, when they work reasonable hours in a day.  The folks who do this also have fewer sick days.   

What I have learned is that any organization, be it a nonprofit or a corporate entity, will take as much from you as you are willing to give.  So that means to some degree it is always our choice.  Easier said than done, but I repeat we do have choice to reclaim work-life balance so many other workers enjoy around the world.  And I know your next words,  “but you don’t understand the culture at my workplace, there is an expectation to work long hours, to take on extra projects.”   Again, you have choice even it means finding a place where work-life balance is respected.  Fortunately, more and more leading and profitable companies as well as large mission driven organizations acknowledgethe reality that workaholics aren’t good for the business. 

How do you make that shift toward work-life balance? Here are two steps:

STEP1:  Change how you think about work.  Workaholics benefit no one.

This is all about classic time management,  which is often difficult to practice.  But the truth be told, it is not the workload itself but how we do the work that results in not enough time to do everything.   And it comes easier for some people than others.  It all depends on how you are wired. 

I’ve always liked Stephen Covey’s approach.   I’ve used it off and on throughout the years, as it helps me to prioritize.  I have a cherished family member who has ADHD and he states when people tell him to prioritize, he can’t do it.  Everything seems equally important.  Yet, this little chart, which one can reference every morning, helps him discern how he spends his time. 

So when  there is just too much on the plate, and I don’t have enough time, I bucket things using Covey’s quadrants, or my own.  Instead of just asking myself what is most important to do given limited time, I make my lists, and then code them by my own categories: now, later in the day, tomorrow, later in the week.   I revisit those lists  each day as things can shift.  But I love being able to check off those tasks at the end of the day,   that are in the "now" or "later in the day" categories.

A few other ways to manage your time efficiently and  to create more time in the day:

1)      Don’t schedule 1 hr meetings.  This seems to be the expected standard yet it isn’t necessary.  Generally you can get as much done in 30 minutes.  Try it.

2)      Delegate, delegate, delegate ( you’ve heard that) but I add a twist. Delegate and then don’t be a perfectionist about what is delivered – that may signify your ego is in play. 

3)      Find your own personal rhythm and ask or allow yourself to work those hours.  For me it’s about 7-3.   For others it may be 10-6.

4)      Create your own sign for your desk – “Quiet time please” or “don’t disturb I’m on a deadline”, or even use humor – “chillin right now”.  I always had a hard time with this.  With an open door policy and always wanting to be accessible – my staff and colleagues constantlyinterrupted me and dropped by anytime – and I never could get a project done.    It may be better to set up informal “office hours.”

STEP 2:  Change how you do your work,  how you prioritize, and always carve out some quiet time.

 There are many, many resources, books, videos articles about time management.  They primarily focus on how to find extra time and how to prioritize.  All good stuff, but I also want us all to remember one of the fundamental issues is our attitude towards time.  Go back to STEP 1 !!

Ending the curse does not take a monumental effort. By simply following these two steps, you'll not only enjoy your work day a whole lot better. You'll actually find how much more effective you are.