Continuous Improvement of Time Management

Run the day or the day runs you.

Don’t you love it when you hear your organization’s leadership say “it’s time to do more with less”? It’s the directive most likely to send grant managers howling to the break room, looking for something to break. Truth be told, overall streamlining is essential, because although you pull off the occasional miracle as the linchpin between grantors and grantees, even you can’t fit more hours in a day. There are a million time management blog posts out there, and a million more “life-saving” systems on the shelf promising to change the way you work. Are you overwhelmed, yet? Maybe you feel like you don’t have time to read and sort through them all. You’re right — no one does. The bad news is that poor time management can be the biggest impediment to a healthy workflow in your team. The good news: it can be improved. Over the next few posts, let’s ask some questions about your habits, workflows and those sticking points that can slow your department down.

Extinguish Fire Hazards

Are you stuck in inefficient, reactive patterns where you are consistently being asked to push other important duties aside to put out fires? “Hot jobs” are going to come up now and then in even the most well-oiled machines – that’s normal – but if you have a grantee that is proving itself to be a fire hazard, that’s a problem. Are you a fireman? No. But you are perfectly positioned to see the smoke that signals that foretell a time-bombing disaster – like a potential grantee that is not hitting application deadlines or struggling to fulfill essential requirements. No matter their good intentions, if an organization doesn’t seem ready to comply, that’s a spark that should be snuffed out, ASAP. If you’re in a position to bring these red flags forward during the award decision-making phase, do it – it will only save you time down the road.

Do the Right Stuff, Right Now

What’s the first thing you do every morning? Mark Twain recommended doing the hardest task first. “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning,” Twain said, “and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”  He had a point. What’s your live frog? Maybe it’s the same every day. Get it out of the way, first, and you’re destined to have a smoother workflow, especially if it involves writing. It’s widely believed people do their best writing early in the morning. But if you just can’t face the frog until you’ve had two cups of coffee, consider a dedicated planning period. Ben Franklin is said to have started every day by asking himself The Morning Question: What good shall I do this day? In the field of philanthropy, what could be more appropriate than taking half an hour to reflect, plan, and prepare to tackle those frogs?

Establish Cool, Calm Comm

Everybody’s got their own system to deal with their communications to grantees. Wait – do you have a system? You should. Whether you’re managing 50 grants or 5, keeping the information traffic moving is essential to your efficiency and sanity. This is a topic that comes up over and over again in GMN’s meetings and conferences. It’s so important, we’ve included it in our Project Streamline: Practices that Matter materials. More than anything, consistency in communication is essential – not just for the grantees, for you, as well. If you’re not the type to compose an elegant newsletter every time you need to send an email, that’s fine. Even the barest-boned communication plan will work, as long as you stay with it. Schedule your necessary communications into your day. Be rigid about it, if that’s what it takes: checking voicemails and responding to messages within the same time frame each morning; setting aside 2 to 3:30 pm to read, sort, and compose emails. You do not have to answer everything immediately. Let yourself take the time you need to make your time more efficient.

Here’s where being a member of GMN really pays off: templates, tactics, and advice from other members. Use them. Declining to recreate the wheel on every communication is a major time saver. Make use of these and other available resources to establish the routines you need to get your job done more efficiently and get time back on your side.

Nikki Powell

Nikki Powell is PEAK Grantmaking's effective practices director. You can find her on Twitter @nikkiwpowell.

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