Whether you are a team of one or a team of twenty, we all have times where we find ourselves in situations where we have more work and projects with looming deadlines than hours in the day to complete those projects. The question becomes, how do I navigate these scenarios effectively and efficiently? I can think of several times during my career that I found myself in these situations and trying to figure out how it happened and knowing that there must be a better way to balance multiple priorities.

Working in the nonprofit sector, I notice that many organizations are at times understaffed so there always seem to be multiple priorities to balance. In the article, I share tips and tricks that I have used to help me when I find myself in these situations.

I am going to utilize a scenario that I experienced while working in higher education from which to pull examples. We began preparation to enter a feasibility study and at some point, the timeline for interviews was accelerated. If you are familiar with feasibility studies, it is essential that you secure the most appropriate list of donors to interview for their input and feedback. This meant that we needed profiles for our top 100 donors ASAP. This accelerated timeline was not on our radar, so what do you do?

Be flexible. If you are like me, I tend to lean toward being a type A personality, so flexibility is not a strong suit of mine. However, there is power in being flexible. Do not let a change in plans throw you off your “A” game. Take a breath and begin to figure out your revised plan of action. Bring other colleagues that are essential to the project to the table to help you navigate changing and updating your plans. It is helpful to talk through a plan or change of plans aloud.

Acknowledge having multiple priorities that need attention. Let your team know that you have an overflowing plate so they can provide the space and grace needed as you navigate the best way forward. If you are a team of one, let the person that you report to know that you are especially busy right now and that you must prioritize your priorities. Ask for their guidance as well.

In this example, I collaborated with our director of prospect research to clear her calendar for the time needed to create profiles and update the ones that we had. That included allowing her to work from home if that was going to make it easier for her – less interruptions. I put word out, especially to our fundraisers, that any request for her time had to come through me first.

Prioritize. Create a list of what must be done first and what can wait. Review your organizational priorities and create strategic priorities. These are by nature the things that need to get done to make your organization effective and efficient. For the items that must be completed now, review the scope of the project, and create tasks and a timeline to bring it to completion. In the feasibility study scenario, we knew that the profile project just became organizational priority one. From that decision, we outlined a plan to meet our deadline.

If you are a one-person team, consider a project management system to help keep you on track. There are multiple project management tools available. More than likely, your organization has spent a great deal of money on your CRM so make sure you are utilizing your CRM to its full potential. Many CRMs allow you to create task lists and assign tasks to others and most CRMs have report and query capabilities that will assist you in completing your project more efficiently. When utilized properly, your CRM is your best data pulling, organizing, prospecting, prospect research and prospect management friend.

If all else fails, simply make a list. Writing out what needs to be done will help you navigate your priorities. And there is nothing more gratifying than checking an item off your “to do” list. It provides a sense of accomplishment which you need when you have a great deal on your plate.

When you have your prioritized list complete, make a project timeline. The timeline will help you stay on task, and it is an easy way to provide project updates to your leadership team. Make sure to add your timeline into your project management system (if available) and calendar to help you stay on track.

Delegate. Who on your team can help you with the projects and tasks at hand? Back to profiles – we determined that our director of prospect research could not create and update all the profiles by the deadline given to us, so we decided to delegate a portion of the profiles out to others. We had approximately fifty profiles that had to be created from scratch and fifty that needed updated. The director of prospect research was assigned the fifty profiles that needed to be created and I, along with another team member, took on the fifty profiles that needed to be updated (refer to the section on being flexible because my plans just changed).

Utilize your basic assets. Things like your calendar mentioned above. I am calendar driven so if my colleagues want to know what I am working on or where I am, all they have to do is look at my calendar. My travel, travel time, lunches, meetings, personal appointments, etc. are all there, and I update it regularly. When I need to contact a colleague, before I call or text, I look at their calendar to see if they are available. Add your project timeline to your calendar, too. I review my calendar weekly and daily to make sure I have allowed enough time to manage my work. I had the deadline to have this blog post completed on my calendar.

When I am working on a client project, I mark myself as “not available” and list the client’s name. I call these fake meetings or meetings with myself. Truth be told, I have put more than one fake meeting on my calendar to make sure that I have the uninterrupted time to complete projects and tasks. When I was updating profiles, I marked out half of my day, every day on my calendar for profile work. I also closed my office door. Historically, I maintain an open-door policy at work. However, I do let people know that if my door is closed, I am asking not to be interrupted unless it is urgent.

One other thought regarding calendars and organizational priorities, it is important for all organizations to make time at the beginning of each year to review what you did well the year before, what can be improved or made more efficient, and outline what your organizational priorities are for the year. Create an annual strategic plan and determine who is responsible for what. This is especially true when you have a limited staff. Each person/division needs to know what their goals are for the year along with a strategy to bring them to fruition. Consider a marketing calendar, solicitation calendar, etc. and key dates identified toward project completion that will help you track your progress. Ultimately, it will help you plan your year and balance multiple priorities.

Prioritize yourself. It is important to take care of your physical and mental health. Give yourself grace and give yourself breaks. When I feel the stress of a heavy workload, I schedule breaks, and I put them on my calendar. It can be as simple as showing yourself as “not available” so you have time to take a walk, stretch, workout, or simply get away from the office. I remember taking multiple walks around campus to clear my head when I was updating profiles. You need time away from your screen and your office. You are worth that break.

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