By a show of hands, who’s scrambling to add more to your to do list?
It doesn’t matter what we do or where we work, most of us are overwhelmed by our workloads.
Part of the challenge is that it’s all important work. More often than not, we’ve already put in the effort to decide what projects should stay on our plate. We confirmed they’re priorities and already deferred and delegated what wasn’t. Even when we’ve done everything right in setting our workload, there’s Still. Too. Much.
So, what can we do?
Just for fun, let’s think about our work pile as our Work Pie. The pie plate represents our finite time. The pie represents our priority projects.
Here are my eight ideas for managing expectations, boundaries and your workload
- Stay ruthlessly focused on established priorities
Our Work Pie should essentially be the deliciously edible version of our marketing and communications plan. Each slice should directly relate to the marcom objectives or priorities we already set.
When finalizing the projects that make up our pie, consider how much time each will take. And remember, ‘time’ and ‘priority’ aren’t always the same. A top priority project may take three hours to complete while a low priority one could take three months.
If some projects take more time, then others have to take less. The size of our pie slices – our projects – can’t be bigger than the pie itself – our finite time. We can’t add more pie on top of our existing pie. Pie shoved on top of pie is no longer a pie. It’s a crumbly mess.
Not everything we want to do, even the greatest ideas, can fit into one pie without spilling over and burning the bottom of our oven. Save those great ingredients for another Work Pie. In the end, both will ultimately turn out better that way.
- Break projects down into tasks, then prioritize and schedule them
It’s overwhelming to think about finishing our whole pie in one sitting. Fortunately, we don’t have to.
With the help of our marcom plan, we can identify specific tasks and set monthly, weekly, and even daily priorities. I know some colleagues who focus on one project a day and others who focus on the top five tasks that have the most pressing deadlines. Whatever we decide, we need to be realistic. When we over-estimate what we can do, we can feel stressed and disappointed; neither of which will keep us motivated to hunker down and get things done.
- Use smart project management to keep things moving
It’s rare that we work through our pie totally on our own. Other people are involved in the processes and decisions, so one strategy I use to help keep projects moving forward is like the game hot potato. I don’t want to hold onto a project too long. I want to avoid gaps of time where management could be giving feedback or approvals but aren’t able to because I haven’t put anything in from of them. I try to break out my projects by milestones, noting the points where I need others’ input. If I do one project from A to Z, it means the other projects aren’t started. The sooner I can put a project into someone else’s hands, albeit temporarily, the sooner I can move to the next thing on my list.
- Report on progress
One lesson I’m learning about managing my Work Pie can seem counter intuitive. I have a habit of putting my head down and plowing through tasks and not doing the equally important work of bringing others along with me. I just want to “get it done” but I’m learning that part of getting it done is keeping others informed and involved.
Keeping those we report to apprised of our progress shows them how we’re moving strategic priorities forward; priorities they often helped set. It also shows them how heavy our workload is, helping to suppress any new requests. Even though it may seem like we’re adding to our workload, giving regular updates to our supervisors and Board earns us their continued confidence and support.
- Say “no” more often
Here’s an important but not always popular idea. Say “no”. Let’s practice: “No.” Or better yet: “No, thank you.” “No, not right now.” “No, not by me.”
We know that our pie represents a finite amount of time and that it’s not possible to cram more pie onto our existing pie. Yet, we regularly face this request. Learning to say no is not a sign of weakness or incompetence. It shows we know what we’re responsible for and understand the resources required to do it well.
This doesn’t mean we give a flat out no and walk away. It just means we set boundaries. Things can change and we have to be flexible. If our nonprofit wants to add a brand new slice of pie, an existing slice of pie (that’s the same size) has to go. If something comes in, something has to come out.
- Use what you create in multiple ways
I’m a strong advocate of ‘greening’ our Work Pie. I don’t mean leave it out to get moldy. I mean we need to reduce, re-use, and recycle our content. We can conserve our resources by using the things we create for multiple purposes.
Do you need to create a social media campaign about a report your nonprofit has produced? Pull out the charts, stats, quotes, case studies, etc. from the report and turn these into your social media content.
In my part-time role, I find it impossible to do all the things I want to do. I can manage an annual content strategy to release stories and information throughout the year or produce an annual report. With all my other responsibilities, I struggle to do both. This year, I’m using a new approach. We will develop and release content throughout the year and, at the end of the year, re-package this same content into an annual report. The strategy, theme, and stories are the same. The target audiences are different. Using the same content for two or more projects can save us time, and money.
- Delegate or outsource tasks that are better suited for others
In my experience, many nonprofit marcom folks are generalists. We do everything from strategic planning to fixing broken web links. But, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re not equally good at all things. Sometimes we do things we’re not suited for, taking us a lot longer than someone else would. For me, one of these things is graphic design. I can waste hours trying to create something in Canva and, frankly, it’s mediocre at the very best.
To help manage my Work Pie, I made the decision to outsource design, building in a very modest graphic design budget when I created my annual budget. This makes my nonprofit look better and it means I can spend my time doing the hundreds of other tasks I’m much better suited to. Even if it’s a task we like to do, it’s worth questioning if we’re the right, and fastest, person to do it.
- Build a team
I saved the most obvious, and elusive, idea until the end. If we’re struggling to manage our Work Pie, a great solution is to get more pie eaters.
Related to #7 above, when we don’t have the time or skills to get through our workload on our own, we need to add people. This can be hiring staff, recruiting students and volunteers, and outsourcing to freelancers and vendors. (See these helpful posts about building a team, engaging volunteers, and skills-based volunteer roles.)
All of these options take time and money. If we follow idea #4 from above, we should already have the confidence and support of the people who set our nonprofit’s budget. This will bode well for us when we make our case to spend resources to have more team members who can help us finish every morsel of our Work Pie.
A few related things to read and watch
Managing your nonprofit’s communications for great results, a book review of Calm not Busy by Kivi Leroux Miller
This content was originally created for and appeared on Nonprofit MarCommunity.