time saving8 Time Saving Tips You Need to Try to Beat Overwhelm

If you’re like most volunteer program administrators, you “wear many hats.”  The constant need to multi-task is a critical issue that needs a solution.  But, given the current economic climate and budget shortfalls, it’s not likely that help is on the horizon.  To succeed in this environment, it may be time to work smarter, not harder. I have compiled a list of time saving tips that might help your volunteer program improve productivity. 

Time Saving Tips for Better Productivity

Below are a few tips and time management strategies that can increase your productivity. But remember that changing our well-worn behaviors takes discipline and patience.  Give yourself and your team some time to adjust to any new way of doing business.  

  • Save Your Email Until After Your First Task of the Day is Done — If you check you’re email first thing, chances are you’ll get distracted and become less productive.  Work with your team to develop “communication norms” that everyone can live with — if the expectation is that email must be responded to in 24 hours, that gives you some leeway as to when you need to check it.  Include in your norms what might trigger an emergency phone call or an interruption to a meeting.  This gives everyone some clear boundaries to work with.
  • Chunk Your Projects & To-Dos — Research shows that people waste a tremendous amount of time switching from task to task.  Email and social media are major culprits here, but this goes for other work as well.  Try “mini-tasking” versus multi-tasking. When possible, plan your day so that you can stay on one task until you complete it.  Also, set a regular schedule for re-occurring activities.  For example, schedule your volunteer orientation and screening on discreet days of the month.  And, plan time-limited volunteer recruitment campaigns versus never-ending recruitment activities.
  • Set Limits — We actually have much more control over interruptions than we think.  But, we have to be willing to jealously guard our “me time.”  Shut your office door (or put up a “do not disturb sign” on your cube or meeting room.  Set up office hours when anyone is welcome to drop by.  And, limit unnecessary meetings that eat up your time.  Be sure to let volunteers and staffers know when you can be expected to be free. Block out time on your calendar for tasks, not just meetings and travel.  And, post a small whiteboard on your door that alerts everyone of your schedule and availability each day.  Finally, mute the ringer on your cell phone, and turn off your social media, so that every ping doesn’t interrupt your concentration.
  • Work From Home When You Need To — When you need to think strategically or write something long or complex, such as a grant proposal or report, working from home can be a productive choice.  If your supervisor is skeptical, ask to try it for one day. Then, report back what you were able to accomplish at home and compare that to the hours needed for the same task at the office.  It may surprise you.
  • Focus, Focus, Focus — Reduce the number of new initiatives or projects you add to your plate.  Work with your team to critically evaluate each project and eliminate anything that doesn’t directly contribute to your overall goals.  Resist the urge for continued expansion, unless that expansion is accompanied by more people power (volunteer and/or staff based) and the necessary support infrastructure.  With increased service needs, nonprofits are hard-pressed to limit services, but tough choices may be necessary.  At the same time, don’t forget the tremendous human capital volunteers can bring to the table, provided some investment is made upfront.
  • Use Technology to Help Volunteers be More Self Sufficient — There are tons of free or low-cost web-based software options out there, and you don’t have to be a tech expert to use them.  Here are a few ways they can bolster communication and save you time.  Form a volunteer-led team to do some of the following:
    • Set up an online resource hub (WikiSpace, Google Drive, etc.) where all-volunteer support documents (handbook, forms, training materials, etc.) and works in progress (documents that need feedback or are being developed by a team) are posted.  
    • Set up an online discussion group (Yahoo Group, Facebook page, etc.) where volunteers can keep in touch with each other to ask questions, share ideas and info, arrange carpools, plan events, discuss scheduling, etc.  
    • Set up an email autoresponder for initial volunteer inquiries with links to a landing page on your website where all recruitment materials are posted, and give them step-by-step instructions on what to do.  
    • Set up an additional auto responder, or pop up, when applications are submitted electronically, to let applicants know when they can expect an initial email or phone call.
    • Post a short video featuring current volunteers welcoming newcomers on your recruitment landing page to make their initial contact more personable. 
    • Use video chat services (Skype, Google Chat or Meet Up, FaceTime, etc.) to meet with others rather than spending time on the road.  Many of these will accommodate more than two people at the same time, making it easy to hold short team meetings, too.
    • Use an online collaborative team calendar (Google Calendar, You Can Book Me, etc.) that everyone can use to schedule appointments, meetings, volunteer service dates and times, etc. without going through a central person and multiple email threads.
  • Get Volunteers More Involved in All Aspects of Your Program — For example, delegate volunteer outreach, recruitment, screening, and placement to a volunteer-led team.  Create workflow processes and standardized tools, train the team on what to do at each step of the way, and explain when and how to reach out for support.  Set up an email specifically for interested volunteers and let the recruitment team manage it, making sure someone is assigned to check it each weekday.  
  • Give Yourself a Break — Nonprofit workers are to be admired for their self-sacrifice and hard work under very challenging circumstances.  Be sure to take time out for yourself.  If you burn out, you’re no good to your cause.  There’s nothing to be gained from killing yourself, but everything to gain from caring for yourself.

Finally, remember all the good work you do and accept your limitations.  You may not be perfect and may not always notice the ripples you make.  But believe me, others do and are grateful even if they don’t or can’t tell you.  You are you, in all your fabulousness!  So, be kind to yourself first and foremost.

What are your best time saving tips?  Share them by clicking on the comments link.