Feeling overwhelmed at work? You are not alone!

publication date: Oct 11, 2017

Having worked in research for over 25 years and the last 15 in fundraising, this idea of always being behind is often caused by under staffing or a prior research lapse in the organization. Many organizations try to manage a major giving program with less than the recommended five researchers per major giving officer (Wealth Engine, Measuring ROI and Impact of Wealth Intelligence, 2013).

At this year’s Apra International Conference in Anaheim, I asked 70 attendees about their own fundraising shops and their workload regarding their time and some of their overall concerns.

  • One of the questions asked was “Do you feel overwhelmed or behind at work?” 88% of the respondents answered “Yes”.
  • Another question asked was “Do you take a full lunch break – away from your desk?” 80% responded “No” of which 54% responded that this was from pressure from others or because they were behind and wanted to use the time.

We can’t solve all concerns in one sitting so here are some time and project management tips that may make your work load, and your day, a bit more manageable.

1. Learn How to Prioritize

  • The Dale Carnegie Time Management Guide has several tips and tricks in this regard which relate directly to what we do in our fundraising day. Prioritization, of prospects, of projects, can help you keep a clean work queue, and may even result in some work items coming off of your list.
  • Determine your Primary Goals – and rank them. Many of your goals may have been determined in the strategic plan but let’s face it, some are high priority (is the development officer going on a call?); some are medium priority (is this for the monthly report?); and some are low (really, only if you can get to it).
  • A Different 80/20 Rule. We’ve all heard of the saying “80% of your donations come from 20% of your donors”. In this case, you need to determine “which 20% of my activities will yield 80% of my results”? This is also where research staging comes in. Ask yourself “what is needed for the major giving officer to get to the next stage in the solicitation”? Don’t put the cart before the horse. Don’t do a whole profile, taking up a lot of time, if the prospect hasn’t even agreed to meet with anyone.
  • Create a schedule – and stick with it. Yes, there can be some wriggle room, but in your calendar, add in everything, including social time – and that’s right, lunch! Block off work time for projects (if you don’t, someone will fill it in for you) and leave some white space for those last minute meetings.
  • Determine how long it takes to do projects, and allow for that time in your schedule, and then don’t go “down the rabbit hole” with redundant work.
  • Revisit goals and adjust. What has changed since you first set those goals – at the beginning of the campaign, the beginning of the quarter, or month? What has changed? What is not longer needed?
  • Purge! Sometimes you can get rid of something in your work queue. Share your research and work queue with your fellow development team members and ask – have any of the priorities changed? Can anything come off? You’d be surprised how much is no longer necessary.

2. Compartmentalizing

  • Compartmentalizing has been used in psychology for several decades as a way for people to cope with stress. In our case, it helps us to “isolate” and “focus” on issues and projects and not multitask, but instead assign the other task to another time or “compartment”. Trust me when I say this has kept me sane, and those I’ve taught it to, over the years.
  • Compartmentalizing helps to reduce the noise in the back of your head that tells you that you should be working on something else. Mini theory - this may be more of a woman thing than a man thing as I know my husband can game for hours very single-mindedly! He’s already mastered compartmentalizing.
  • Isolate one issue from the rest. Ryan Blair, Forbes Entrepreneurs (June 26, 2012) has a good guide for this. Break down a larger project into easily workable parts.
  • Apply extreme focus on one compartment, but for only a short period of time. In research terms that could mean splitting up at eight hour profile into two four-hour time slots. Step away and clear your mind while you move forward in incremental steps.
  • Close one compartment before opening the next one. In other words, complete the task, even if the next task is easier. Start early on large projects and don’t procrastinate!
  • Say “no” to things that don’t deserve a compartment. “No” seems to be one of the hardest concepts to grasp especially in terms of those who work for others. Make sure the projects you are working on always go back to your original goals and approved strategic plan. “Make work”, “off the desk”, “on the side”, “wouldn’t it be cool if” projects are a big resounding “NO”.

3. Project Management Tips

  • You have prioritized you research queue, plotted out your work calendar and learned to compartmentalize your work – what happens when the next big project, or campaign, comes along?
  • You can’t do it all yourself. Projects and campaigns are team work and the team must determine: the scope of the project; the time allotted; and the resources (human resources too) that are required to complete the project.
  • Projects are divided into tasks (the breakdown) and who is responsible for each task.
  • Some teams like to use a Gantt Chart, also known as a work-back schedule. These carefully plot out (using different colour blocks in an Excel worksheet) the project by month, the project tasks, and who is responsible for the completion of each task. It’s a timeline so it is obvious what tasks need to be completed (and by whom) before the next task can be started.
  • Scrum, or Power Project Planning, is one way to “power through” a project. Scrum meetings are most effective off-site so there are no in-office distractions. In the software industry, these are called “sprint planning meetings” as they were initially created to handle back-logs. The team leader (the ScrumMaster -- I did mention this was created in the software industry) outlines the priorities. The “sprint” goals for the day are short and sweet. The team brainstorms activities needed to complete the goals. Here is the best part – the “to do” activities are added to the list, but how an activity is completed is up to the person who takes on the activity – they are trusted to do their job. This allows professionals to complete their assigned activities without micro-management and they can celebrate as a team when the spring goals are completed.

4. Self-Management

  • Of course there has to be an aspect of self-management when talking about time and project management. Zdravko Cvijetic wrote an article entitled “13 Things you Should Give Up to be Successful” (Medium, April 27, 2017). The idea of “giving up” habits can be one of the most difficult concepts to imagine but will help in regards to time and project management and freeing up some of your time to get tasks completed – and having a life too.
  • Give up a short-term mindset. Successful people set long-term goals, but use small steps to get there. Very similar to project management. The idea is to focus on “improving yourself” 1% a day. You can’t do it all at once, but keep moving forward.
  • Give up playing small. Don’t be afraid to voice your ideas and live up to your true potential. This is especially true in campaign planning. If you have a good idea, bring it forward at the onset of the campaign. Don’t wait until it’s too late and can’t be implemented.
  • Give up excuses. Cvijetic says “you are responsible for your own life – own it – and you will be in charge of what happens next”. That’s true on a personal, and team, level. How many times has a development team waited for the Case for Support to be finished before they start cultivating prospects? The Case may never be completed. What time has been lost?
  • Give up on believing in the “Magic Bullet”. Focus on what you can do in the day ahead to get your work accomplished. From a prospect researcher’s and development officer’s perspective, be realistic as to how many $1 million plus donors are out there!
  • Give up being a perfectionist. This is a hard one, especially for a consultant (where clients forget that we are human too). One attendee in my session said that one of her directors told her something years ago that stuck with her and was extremely helpful. She said, “Perfectionism is another word for Procrastination”. Looking for that one more perfect item to put in a profile before making the call may not exist. Forward the good work you have completed to continue the flow of the qualification and solicitation processes.
  • Give up your dependency on social media, the internet and being plugged in. Something that really works when you need to get the job done! Turn off that little “email alert” in the bottom right hand corner of your computer screen and you won’t be tempted to check your email every 20 seconds. When you are using the internet for your work, which researchers do all the time, are you distracted by the pop-ups advertising vacation destinations? Is your compulsive browsing related at all to your goals or peace of mind?
  • There are many other things that Cvijetic recommends “giving up” but as you can see from the few mentioned, all are effective in managing your time, and state-of-mind.

5. Awareness Overall

While you can’t change everything in regards to time, project, and self-management all at once, you can try introducing something today that will help. Step-by-step and you will get there.

  • It could be that your senior management team doesn’t even know that you are stressed; why you can’t get your projects completed; or, why there is high staff turnover. They need to be aware there is a time crunch and can be part of the process of making the workplace more effective.
  • This awareness of time, and time management, will help your team become more successful and more satisfied in the process.

Tracey Church, MLIS successfully manages her own business, teaches part-time at Western University, is on the Apra International board and AFP Golden Horseshoe board, and was editor and contributor to Canada's first book on Prospect Research; all while maintaining a marriage with two children, and participating in many (and many more) leisure activities. She hopes sharing some of these time and project management tips will help others in their busy lives! She can be reached at www.traceychurchresearch.com

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