Get more done by doing less

Here’s a message to fundraisers who qualify as control freaks, self-appointed messiahs, and/or living without margin in their work lives. Run, don’t walk to the September 13 issue of Harvard Business Review and turn to “Make Time for the Work That Matters.” This article is for you (ahem, me).

Okay, so authors Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen didn’t write with fundraisers and other nonprofit staff in mind. But their advice to knowledge workers – eliminate the unimportant and focus on what really counts – has much to offer folks who’ve cast their lot with the nonprofit sector. Including (most especially) those who’ve been called to the ministry of fundraising.

messy_desk_pc_4215I encourage you to find the article ASAP. The self-assessment questions alone are worth the price of a download or trip to the library. In the meantime, here’s a short version of what it takes to flee tasks that can so easily beset you (and me).


1. Identify low-value tasks.  Ask yourself if what you’re about to do is worth taking you away from fundraising. You might also ask if the organization would grind to a halt if you gave the task up. According to the HBR article, a quarter of the time the answer to both questions is “no.”

2. Decide whether to drop, delegate, or redesign, assuming you have the authority to do so. Frequently the unimportant is handed to fundraising staff by supervisors (CEOs can be the worst culprits.) If you’re not getting out of the office as much as you want/should, ask the powers-that-be for help in sorting the chaff from the wheat of your workload.

3. Off-load tasks.  Giving up work that’s been yours isn’t easy. There’s comfort in believing you’re indispensable – that no one can do the job like you. However, in all but the smallest of small nonprofits, there’s likely someone who can pick up some of what you’ve taken on. But no one else is likely to pick up fundraising.

4. Allocate freed-up time. Now that you’ve cleared the clutter from your schedule, the challenge is to redirect your time in a productive direction. Birkinshaw and Cohen tell readers to “write down two or three things you should be doing but aren’t, and then keep a log to assess whether you’re using your time more effectively.”

5. Commit to your plan. Change depends upon your determination to stick with work that matters, but there’s also value in letting colleagues in on your plans. In fact, as the authors warn,“without this step, it’s all too easy to slide back into bad habits.”

So back to the gang with which I began this article – control freaks, self-appointed messiahs, and all who’ve run out of margin in their work lives. If this includes you, be generous with yourself and let go of the non-essentials. I promise, you’ll feel as though you’ve added precious hours to your day.

For other takes on doing more by doing less, see:

Even good ideas may have to die

For fundraising success, focus

What's your take on this topic?

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