With Time to Spare


As I work with talented administrators across the country, I hear one familiar refrain over and over:

“I don’t have TIME to add one more thing to my calendar—whether that is advocacy work on behalf of arts education or fundraising or a myriad of other essential tasks that I know would make a difference to my organization or to the arts generally”. 

In fact, you may not have time to read this blog post! Yes, there is always the option of committing a few more hours to our day, making that a 16-hour day instead of a 14-hour day, but in the name of sanity, that is not an option for this discussion.

In an effort to discover some realistic options, I have reviewed the literature on standard time management and discovered some of the suggestions that we have probably all heard before.

  1. Start each day by listing the tasks and activities you want to accomplish.
  2. Rank these tasks and activities in order of priority. List the three to five most difficult tasks and try to get those out of the way first.
  3. Block out time on your calendar for the highest priority task on the list.

Yes, all good but what else? I am impressed with two ideas that my partner, David Bury, suggests:

The first is called Reallocating the Easy Twenty Percent: Ask yourself, what things I currently do that someone else (a staff member, a board member, a volunteer) could do nearly as well as I? Create a list of those things. Identify what person(s) are best qualified to handle the tasks, recruit them, and then ask them if they would take these on for you. You will be surprised. They will say yes.

The second is something you probably will say you can’t afford: Hire a Part-Time Administrative Assistant. For those of us who have taken the plunge and hired the right person to help, we will tell you that the cost will be returned five times over especially if you take that time and devote it to development/fundraising.

I like what the Harvard Business Review has to say about this and many other similar topics in the May 2011 issue called How to Get More Done: A complete guide to making yourself and your team more productive.

The ideas that Twyla Tharp writes about in her book, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life, are even more compelling. Tharp talks about RITUAL and how by embedding ritual in one’s life, she makes a difficult task easy to do.

If you can identify the tasks that you don’t have time to do but which you need to do and create a ritual around getting those tasks done, you will increase the chance that they will be done. I’ve started setting some rituals—automatic but decisive patters of behavior—that are established at the beginning of a new routine that helps to keep me on track.

I encourage you to find the easy 20 percent to give to someone else or consider hiring an administrative assistant. Either strategy (or both) should allow you the time to prioritize those things that are essential to the success of your organization.

If you can then set a ritual for getting these things done, you’ll find you will have time to spare…and a lot of success, as well.