Whether it’s a seasonal trend or part of everyday life, we all know what it means to be busy. Tasks have this magical way of coming together all at once, threatening to bring our work worlds crashing down the moment we’re off our game.
So naturally, this is the time when everyone needs something from us.
Don’t get me wrong: I love helping my team. If I’m the best person to handle a task that moves our mission forward, that’s great! But being human, I can’t do all the things all at once. And you can’t either.
But we can take steps to set better boundaries, optimize and reclaim some of our time. Try these tips next time you start to feel the weight of everyone else’s needs.
How To Get Stuff Done When Everyone Needs Something From You
1. Go into hiding.
Yup. Sometimes the only way to get stuff done is to disappear. If you can work remotely or from a conference room (or you can apparate), then make yourself scarce during those crunch times. It’s true what they say: out of sight, out of mind!
That won’t stop people from emailing you though. Even apparating has its flaws.
2. Block time in your calendar.
For tasks that need 100% of your focus, it’s reasonable to hope that you won’t be disturbed. So plan ahead! Put holds on your calendar to show colleagues that you’re preoccupied & unavailable (even if you keep the calendar deets to a minimum).
*Tip*: If you have the luxury of escaping your desk but need to prevent a panic, let your boss know where you’ll be hiding out.
3. Ask for deadlines.
Whenever there’s a high-priority request (I’m looking at you, ED!) the first step is to nail down your deadline. Whether you ask flat-out or propose one yourself, settling on a date helps you coordinate your schedule so that you deliver on time. It also sets expectations, that way no one is emailing you a dozen times to ask if something is ready.
But the key here is “high-priority”. For less urgent matters, don’t always ask for deadlines. Instead, do #4.
4. Set deadlines yourself.
Everything in nonprofit is urgent, especially if your org does life-saving work! So it’s on you to take charge of your schedule. If you sense that a request isn’t time sensitive, or doesn’t have a due date at all (!!??!), then assign one yourself. Figure out how much time it will take, add some buffer for the unexpected, and confirm the date works for your colleague.
*Tip*: Use your best judgment here. How urgent is the request to this team’s overall functioning? Don’t be rigid on a date that’s too far off, but don’t drive yourself into the ground either if it can wait. (Want to play this game on a regular basis? Consider a career as your org’s nonprofit database admin.)
5. Develop a process for the same types of requests.
Once you’ve got a sense of your org’s needs and your own capacity, it’s time to systematize. What do you need to fulfill a request? How far in advance should people ask, and what communication method works best – email, Google Form, messenger pigeon??
A smart process sets us up to do our jobs right, well and on time. It also serves our colleagues, who are crystal clear on their role any time they need something.
*Tip*: The trick to enforcing this is to be kind, firm & strategic. Of course we’ll bend occasionally! But we shouldn’t set the precedent that every incomplete request gets filled on time (even if we are unicorns and can make that kind of magic happen.)
6. Set a meeting.
By now, you’re probably thinking “ummmm I thought we were trying to save time here, Dee. What gives?” That’s because we know one of the BIGGEST time killers at work is the dreaded this-could’ve-been-an-email meeting.
But I’m just going to say it…the digital age is ruining us. So many of my email threads could’ve been settled in 5 minutes had they been actual conversations! Meetings also help you build rapport and camaraderie with colleagues, in a way that emails alone can’t.
*Tip*: An agenda will keep this nice & short. Clarify what needs to be covered in advance and prep your questions (or share them out beforehand, so that colleagues come with some of the answers to your meeting).
7. When priorities become unclear, ask your boss.
Sometimes, when all the burners are on and I know I’m about to burn something, I ask the boss what to save first.
8. The D word: Delegate.
Even if we could do it all, we shouldn’t. If you have teammates that share your responsibilities, or
like-minded minions direct reports to pick up the slack, then delegate to those people! Don’t fall victim to the nobody-can-do-this-but-me-because-they-don’t-have-my-knowledge-or-sense-of-perfection trap. At best, you conquer a professional skill that makes most of us go like…
…and at worst, everything falls apart. But when you’re swamped, that’s a chance you have to take!
9. Keep track of what you are getting done.
I struggle with this one. When it feels like you’re literally racing against the clock, the last thing on your mind is finding time to recap your work day! But frankly, this is the only way to remember it all. Doing too much too fast, you’re bound to forget things if someone asks how you’re spending your days. (And as a self-motivated professional, you ought to be able to provide a data-backed answer anyway!)
*Tip*: I do this using color-coded calendar blocks. But even a written list/word doc is better than nothing! (Keep this up and it’ll serve you well come annual review time.)
10. Get perspective.
It’s easy to hear a request, take it at face value and get to work! But sometimes, this actually slows us down. Try to glean the context behind a request before diving in, because that will unearth needs or requirements that will not come up otherwise.
For technical roles, this is critical. I’ve saved (and lost) sooo many hours fulfilling data requests, because I realized after sitting with someone that their ask didn’t get to the heart of what they needed to know.
Tip*: Start by asking about the goals behind a request, how it will be used, and by whom. That will impact what you bring to the table and how you put it together.
11. Leave when you’re supposed to.
Let me preface with, there are times when you should not do this. Please don’t pack up to leave early the day before an event and say “Well, Dee told me to go home.” O_o
I’m talking to the people who work late every day. To those people, I tenderly say:
If the consequence of finishing a task tomorrow is the same as finishing it today, it can wait the extra 12 hours. The work is endless, but our capacity is not. In order to do good for our orgs, we really need to do good for ourselves first. Otherwise, we risk burning out. Seriously.
As long as we work with other humans, you can always count on someone needing something from us. Just be sure to take your own needs into account too, because that’s a big piece of self-care!