Archive for May, 2015

Balancing urgent and important: How to be more effective

Have you ever wondered why it is that with all the advances in technology and communication in the workplace, we seem to get less done than before? And not only that, we seem to be more and more stressed about the things that we haven’t got round to doing. We get swept away by a torrent of emails and attachments, knocked off course by interruptions and phone calls, and bogged down in the daily scramble to achieve more with less resources.

Most time management gurus have tried to convince us that we can somehow shoehorn more into our day, so enabling us to take on that other project, attend that urgent meeting, digest that important report.

By contrast, management guru Stephen Covey asks us to look at things in a different way. His key work, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, first published in 1990, remains a bestseller and was voted the most influential business book of the 20th Century by Chief Executive magazine. Covey suggests that, instead of focusing on getting more done (being efficient), we should focus on getting more important things done (being effective). And therein lies the key to facing the challenges we all face in the not-for-profit sector of “producing champagne results with beer resources,” as the saying goes.

Urgent versus important

We can characterize any activity we do in our day in terms of its importance and urgency.

An important task simply means one whose completion would significantly contribute to an individual’s or organization’s key aims and objectives. An urgent task is defined by Covey as one that “appears to require immediate attention.” Note the word “appears.” Somebody interrupts you at your desk with a question. The phone rings. A little window pops up on your computer announcing the arrival of yet another email. All of these place an immediate demand on your time, but they may not actually require your attention straight away. They are urgent, but are they important?

Covey presents us with a two-by-two matrix showing all the combinations of urgent and important:

Fig 1. Covey’s time management quadrants.

Quadrant 1: The tasks outlined in this quadrant are both important and urgent, and typically this means panic or problems! This is the funding application that needs to be submitted today to meet the deadline, sorting out the server that’s just crashed or dealing with a complaint from a key partner. All these things appear to require immediate attention and really do require immediate attention!

Quadrant 2: These tasks are important but not urgent. Completing these tasks would make a significant contribution to your objectives, but you can easily get away with not doing them today (because they’re not urgent). Tomorrow will be fine. Or even next week … So, typically these tasks are about planning ahead, preventing problems before they happen, and building relationships with people (i.e. customers, colleagues, volunteers or partners).

Quadrant 3: These tasks are urgent but not important. To keep the “p” theme going, Covey characterizes them as being proximate or popular. These are all things that aren’t important but which come and get us, even if we’re hiding in an office. Phone calls, emails, interruptions, reports landing in your in-tray — anything which tries to grab your attention. And doing them often makes you popular, since people generally want you to give up your time just when it suits them. Conversely, saying “no” can be hard, and we fear it will make us unpopular.

Quadrant 4: These tasks are neither urgent nor important. In Quadrant 4 we are idly surfing the Web, flicking through magazines, chatting at the water cooler. It’s pleasant in Quadrant 4 … and the chance would be a fine thing!

How does all this help us?

Are we supposed to be spending all our time planning and making sure we never read any magazines? Not quite. Covey is a realistic kind of guy. He doubts whether most of us are spending much time at all in Quadrant 4. But, this is where those other time management gurus would have us focus, filling every bit of downtime with worthy endeavors. “Waiting for a train? Then you’ve got space to digest the strategic plan!” We need to be realistic about the time we spend in Quadrant 1. The world’s a messy place, and the world of nonprofits is no exception. So, with the best will in the world, we can expect to be putting out fires on a fairly regular basis.

What’s the key?

The key to personal effectiveness is cutting back on the time we devote to tasks in Quadrant 3 and shifting that time to Quadrant 2 activities. So, rather than saying “yes” to everything that comes along, challenge yourself to focus on the importance of what’s being asked. In other words, it’s all about “exercising integrity in the moment of choice.” That means taking just a second before you choose to start a task to ask yourself, “Is this the most important thing I can be doing right now? Or is it just the next thing?”

Think ahead

Covey argues that consistently spending even one percent more time in Quadrant 2 will start to have a significant impact on our lives. A bit more time thinking ahead and building relationships should help prevent crises from happening in Quadrant 1 and allow us more valuable time in Quadrant 2. And focusing on the important rather than just the urgent tasks can leave us with the lasting satisfaction that today we have made the biggest difference we could in our role. And isn’t that why we work in this sector?

See also:

Driven to Distraction at Work: How to Focus and Be More Productive

Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity and Productivity

Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done

Smarter, Faster, Better. Strategies for Effective, Enduring, and Fulfilled Leadership

Image credits: money.usnews.com, celebratingthejourney.com, inspirationboost.com

Leave a reply

Distractions at work: Is your screen in control?

Too often, many of us are saying to ourselves, “I’m working really hard but I’m not getting to where I want to be.” Driven to Distraction at Work author Edward Hallowell, MD, has dedicated his career to studying attention and productivity.

Hallowell has coined the term “attention deficit trait” or ADT to explain the increasingly common problem of distractibility in the modern workplace. An ADT is a response to endless demands and distractions that make someone unable to focus, slow down, be patient, feel fulfilled, commit reasonably, and feel stable instead of overwhelmed. An ADT is caused by the context in which it occurs and can come and go, unlike an attention deficit disorder.

In Driven, Hallowell addresses common challenges like the lack of ability to focus, the feeling of always being in a rush or bouncing from task to task, the attempt to multitask effectively, and the impression that every day ends in frustration and a lack of fulfillment.

Six most common ways we surrender our attention

The first half of Hallowell’s book explains the six most common ways we surrender our attention at work while the second half provides you with a plan for overcoming these distractions. If you can understand the underlying reasons for succumbing to distractions, you can focus and be more productive.

In today’s post, I wanted to highlight one of the six ways we succumb our attention at work.

Screen Sucking (“how to control your electronics so they don’t control you”)

People who feel distressed without their cell phones, waste hours online without even knowing it, and retreat to the Internet when stressed could qualify as screen suckers. The author classifies screen sucking as one of many Attention Deficit Traits (ADT) that can occur at different levels of severity, ranging from conflictive (“usage is annoying to at least one other person”) to addictive (screen activity becomes the most important activity in a person’s life, has a calming influence and can cause withdrawal symptoms).

Because technology today is more interactive than TV or radio in the past, a person can do almost everything online and can crave the “freewheeling state of mind where anything goes and nothing is shut down.” People can then become addicted to the feeling of being online. The problematic aspects of screen use, though, range from constant interruptions to rudeness to too much data without thinking to wasting time continually.

Hallowell applies a basic plan to treat ADTs that involves five elements:

Energy
Emotion
Engagement
Structure
Control

The author gives suggestions to restore productive states in each of these areas in order to allow someone to work more efficiently and disable the distractions. For example, screen sucking drains your energy, makes you numb, replaces your social engagement, provides a structure that works against you, and takes over your control. Hallowell offers the following tips, among others, to combat these problems: log how many hours you spend on electronic devices and gauge where you can cut back. Create pockets in your day reserved for screen time and turn it off at all other times. Turn off your devices during social engagements. Do more productive activities when you are bored. Avoid habit-forming websites and games. Measure and monitor your progress.

Everyone struggles with the common problem of distractions in work and life. With the advent of technological devices, distractions present a seemingly constant challenge. One quote from Hallowell’s book, in particular, sheds light on the level of distraction screen sucking induces. “They talk about craving it [technological devices] when they can’t have it and about feeling irritable and jittery on flights that don’t offer Wi-Fi. They admit to losing relationships and jobs due to their inability to control their craving. They describe the feeling of being online as a kind of anesthesia that eases the pain of everyday life.”

Watch for more highlights from Driven to Distraction at Work when we explore more of the six common ways we struggle with distraction and how to overcome them. Visit our summary library for more information about Driven and Page to Practice™ summary.

See also:

Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity and Productivity

Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done

Smarter, Faster, Better. Strategies for Effective, Enduring, and Fulfilled Leadership

The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work

Image credits: alsc.ala.org, yahoo.com, pinterest.com

Leave a reply

Do your board recruitment goals reflect your evolving nonprofit?

Your organization’s board recruitment goals will change depending on where your nonprofit is in its life cycle. There’s just one problem. Perhaps there was a time when people could describe a fairly predictable, steady trajectory for the life of a nonprofit board. Not so in today’s economy.

Today, an organization that is thriving one day can lose a major anchor funder the very next day. For example, a key funder could be a company that shuts down or is acquired, or an individual whose finances are wrapped up with the wrong investor, or a city government that has lost its commercial base. On the other hand, I am seeing nonprofits receive significant infusions of cash that are game-changers. For example, there are nonprofits receiving substantial new federal grants or contributions from individual donors or private foundations that are shifting their focus to fewer causes and organizations.

Organizational life cycles are also radically affected as nonprofits enter a multitude of strategic alliances – a more and more common phenomenon. Even more game-changing are nonprofit mergers.

When organizations go through such dramatic revenue changes, as well as strategic alliances, the pressure on boards to adapt can be fairly fierce. New pressures are driving some boards to be clearer about board member expectations, board assessment, plans for leadership succession and board composition.

Assessing where your organization stands

1) Before deciding whom you need to recruit for your board, think about the following:

2) What was the driving purpose to establish your organization in the first place, even if that was long ago? It’s valuable to put today in a historical context.

3) What’s your mission today? Is it still relevant and compelling?

4) What’s your vision for the organization’s greater potential over the coming years?

5) What’s your revenue model – your key sources of revenue (government, fees for services, philanthropy; corporate, individual, foundation)?

6) What are key challenges and opportunities going forward?

Assessing where your board stands

Based on numbers two through five above (the mission, the vision, the revenue model, and key challenges and opportunities), consider the extent to which your board has the diversity of expertise, experience, perspectives, networks and relationships to:

Ensure there is a strategy for financial and programmatic success, and plans to update the strategy in an iterative way (board in collaboration with the CEO).

Ensure there are metrics for the board and funders to monitor financial and programmatic progress (board in collaboration with the CEO).

Provide financial and fiduciary oversight.

Select board members with leadership potential for leadership succession planning.

Determining whom you need on your board to advance the mission

Based on “where your board stands” (above), consider the qualifications you seek as you identify and recruit new board members. Think about recruiting new board members with:

Leadership potential.

Diversity of perspectives.

Experience and expertise in particular areas such as: finance, accounting, public relations, law, strategic planning and the mission area on which the nonprofit focuses.

Ability to directly provide support or make valuable introductions in key revenue areas that are relevant to your nonprofit – for example, government relations, corporate funding, private donors, foundations, or pricing for fees for services.

A firm commitment to meet the board’s expectations to be engaged productively in the ways you discuss and define together with the candidate.

Less predictability requires greater dynamism

The era of lengthy terms of board service and board leadership are over. Historically, board chairs served for many years, and board composition remained stagnant sometimes for decades. In today’s challenging and enterprising environment, boards and their CEOs need to be engaged in iterative organizational planning, a highly dynamic process of assessing the board and identification and recruitment of board members who can and will commit to advance the organization in serving the community.

See also:

Leveraging Good Will: Strengthening Nonprofits By Leveraging Businesses

Super Boards: How Inspired Governance Transforms Your Organization

The Invisible Yellow Line: Clarifying Nonprofit Board and Staff Roles

The Practitioner’s Guide to Governance as Leadership: Building High-Performing Nonprofit Boards

 

Leave a reply

How one donor achieved impact beyond check-writing

“Philanthropy is neither a solitary effort by the donor nor even a dialectical effort between the donor and the grantee. Social change involves many different players from all sectors of society. It is through the engagement and alignment of these multiple players that catalytic donors achieve their impact.”

A best practice worth repeating

I recently taught a philanthropy class where we discussed the merits of this sentiment published in Crutchfield, Kania and Kramer’s book, Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World. While this book has been widely discussed since it was published in 2011, revisiting it with my class reminded me that the principles are as relevant today as they were four years ago. I have a renewed appreciation for some of the case stories that illustrate what it means to be a catalytic donor so I’d like to return to one of the authors’ great profiles about a donor by the name of Emily Jackson Tow.

Jackson Tow is an example of what the authors call an adaptive leader or someone who fully evaluates the issue and hand and determines how she can facilitate transformative change beyond funding. These adaptive donors “are not content to merely give a man a fish, or even teach him to fish; these entrepreneurs won’t stop until they’ve revolutionized the entire fishing industry,” says Ashoka founder Bill Drayton. In this particular case, Jackson Tow demonstrates the first of the six highlighted best practices in the book: advocate for change.

How Emily Jackson Tow advocated for change

The authors highlight the Tow Foundation’s advocacy efforts to demonstrate the power of a donor’s influence beyond financial impact. The Tow Foundation maintains a portfolio approach to giving, but its greatest impact comes from its nonfinancial contributions, such as sweat equity, knowledge of best practices, national and local networks, relationships and perseverance to reform the state’s juvenile justice system.

Emily Tow Jackson became aware of a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of adolescents who were jailed for minor offenses, such as graffiti, in the same facility as serious offenders and confined to small, poorly ventilated cells for up to 21-hour stretches with two inmates and no toilet. Beyond the horrible conditions, the larger issue was Connecticut’s escalating youth imprisonment rates. Many of the juvenile offenders did not require high-security prison facilities; rather they needed counseling, safe and stable homes, and other basics.

Tow Jackson immediately set to work by enlisting three nonprofit organizations to establish the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance with a start-up grant of $25,000. Additionally, the foundation engaged in advocacy activities that included the following:

–        funding and participating in collaborations,

–        educating legislators with forums at the state capitol,

–        participating on local and state government committees,

–        raising public awareness through media,

–        and giving general operating support to nonprofits focused on this issue.

By 2009, referrals to juvenile court dropped by more than one third and the number of youth convictions dropped by almost two thirds. At the time the Do More Than Give was published, Connecticut was recognized nationally as an innovative leader in handling juvenile cases, rather than as a leading incarcerator of minors.

Nuances of advocacy

The authors explain an important piece about this best practice: Some funders avoid lobbying because of a fear or misunderstanding of how much lobbying is allowed, so the authors define advocacy and related terms as:

–       Advocacy refers to activism around an issue such as climate change, free trade or youth justice. Examples of activities range from educating and mobilizing voters to pitching media stories and raising awareness to directly influencing public officials.

–       Policy advocacy (a.k.a. lobbying) refers to specific efforts to change public policy or obtain government funding for a social program.

–       Lobbying versus advocacy: Most of the confusion lies with advocacy. Lobbying is prohibited by foundations in the U.S. and advocacy is an all-encompassing term for a whole range of activities.

Private foundations, which include most family foundations, cannot fund or engage in direct lobbying, but they can make general operating grants to nonprofits that lobby. Large private foundations have a long political history because they generally have a larger staff of trained professionals who have a deep understanding of the issues and social sector.

Conversely, public foundations, such as community foundations are allowed both to engage in lobbying themselves and to fund nonprofits that lobby. Because community foundations find themselves at the center of many different stakeholders, most shy away from lobbying. However, the authors explore a case study about The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and how it successfully positioned its lobbying activities so its constituents would embrace them.

–       Corporate foundation lobbying: Good corporate foundations reconcile lobbying activities that benefit their company with those that lend strength to the social causes they support for a win-win. Corporations can leverage vast brand recognition and marketing channels to broadcast policy messages and they can mobilize entire industries. In contrast, some companies still support legislation that directly contradicts their socially responsible images. For example, Toyota, maker of the eco-friendly Prius, lobbied with other carmakers against tougher fuel economy standards.

Working together for maximum impact

To create systemic change, nonprofits today need catalytic donors in their court to leverage the full participation of every sector in society. According to the authors, the number of billionaires has tripled since 2000 and nearly half of the 75,000 private foundations established in the U.S. were created in the last decade. We’re also seeing growth in private enterprise where new corporate entities are created to blend profit with social purpose, as well as in government’s willingness to partner in nonconventional ways.

Within the context of these societal trends, there is no question that donors are positioned like never before to help orchestrate an integrated approach to problems and embrace catalytic philanthropy. Visit the Do More Than Give website for more stories about donors who create catalytic change in their communities.

See also:

Fail Better: Design Smart Mistakes and Succeed Sooner

Mission-Based Management: Leading Your Not-for-Profit in the 21st Century, 3rd Ed.

The Ask: How to Ask for Support for Your Nonprofit Cause, Creative Project or Business Venture

Image credits: ask.com, towfoundation.org, stlucianewsonline.com, parksandrecreation.com

Leave a reply

Welcome! Please provide your log-in information below.
Forget your password?
Enter your email or user name and your log-in information will be sent to the email on file.