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Management and Administration

Tackling Time, Tasks and To-Do Lists

As a non-profit manager in an organisation, you are likely to wear multiple hats and juggle conflicting priorities. The workload can often feel bigger than the time allowed, and while you want to be ‘people and wildlife’ focused, there is often a pile of task-focused activities fighting for your attention.


Here are some tips for managing your time and ensuring the important things always get done.


  • Prioritise Non-Urgent Tasks

I know we all focus on getting the urgent tasks out of the way first.  However, if you focus only on the urgent tasks, everything eventually ends up being urgent.  Consider starting a new routine whereby you spend half an hour each day on important but not urgent tasks.  I personally do this daily to try to keep data feeding into Zims because I know what I will be facing at the end of the season.  By chipping away at these big-picture activities, you will always stay ahead of the game, and you won’t end up with everything becoming urgent at once.


  • Stop Being So Available

Having an open-door policy may sound like the best way to support your staff and clients, but being too available can not only mess up your workflow, but it can also hinder the development of people you are trying to support.  Setting aside an hour each day where you can work uninterrupted is a simple way to boost productivity, plus it gives your staff and clients a chance to problem-solve by themselves.


If staff or volunteers constantly interrupt you, try choosing a specific time each day to close your door. Post a note letting people know when you will be available again, and make sure you re-open your door when you say you will. You’ll be amazed by how much people can figure out on their own.



  • Emails

Create a new habit of checking your email only twice a day and setting a time limit for how long you will spend responding. For example, first thing in the morning and then once again around mid-afternoon. If people email between these times, then they simply must wait for a response. If you set a time, you will find you are more focused on dealing with each one as you open it. There is no double handling and no constant interruptions throughout the day.



  • Say 'No' More Often

Most of us struggle to complete our to-do list because we simply have too much on it. Take some time to identify what you will say yes to and what you will say no to, then practice pushing back on unreasonable demands. This is particularly important for demands that are placed on you at the last minute—one person’s lack of planning should not constitute a crisis for you.


It is important to recognise that when people ask you to do something, they are probably unaware of the activities you already have on your plate.  Don’t be afraid to explain your workload and ask them to prioritise which of the tasks they have given you they would like you to focus on.  They can’t help to lighten your load if they don’t know what your load is.




  • Stop Working Overtime (for some of us, this is impossible; it is, however, thought-provoking).

There is some truth in the theory that tasks expand to the time allowed, so let go of the idea that you will never complete your “to-do list” and be content with leaving work with a few things still to cross off.


Set a time for when you will go home and stick to it—no excuses or exceptions. By creating a regular schedule, you will retrain your brain to be productive when it matters and give it a chance to properly refresh between tasks. When you return to work, you will tackle the task faster and more effectively.


  • Stop Going Through the Motions

There are probably things on your to-do list that you are simply doing because that’s the way it has always been done.  Take some time to identify the purpose behind every activity and ask yourself if it is still the most relevant or effective way to achieve the outcome.  For example, are you writing reports that nobody reads? Are you holding meetings that could be faster or more effective as an online discussion?  Are there things you do weekly that might be better as a fortnightly activity?  Stop simply going through the motions and consciously decide what’s worth doing and why.



This article was written for WReNNZ by

Bev Wilkinson (WReNNZ Committee Member)


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