Overwhelmed, Overworked, Overstressed

Every so often, I lose it.  Feel overwhelmed, overworked, overstressed.  What’s interesting is that it is rarely when I truly AM over whatevered.  It’s just that, for some reason, it feels like it all is getting away from me and I will never, ever get it all done. My usual MO is something akin to hysteria, but in recent months (due, no doubt, to a recent spurt of maturity), I’ve reacted in a different way.

For starters, I realized that I never, ever miss deadlines.  I was a magazine writer for the first 10 years after I graduated from college and one thing I learned was if I missed a deadline, I really missed it.  That meant that my piece would not get into the publication.  And if that happened, I wouldn’t get paid.  Not for that piece and---probably—there wouldn’t be another piece assigned to me for a very long time (read:  Forever).

So putting the due date of something in my calendar has always been something I’ve done. And I still never miss a deadline if I am writing a grant, a report, facilitating a retreat or teaching a workshop.  These are all things with hard and fast deadlines.  But a lot of my work is far more fungible.  As, I am sure, is yours.

For example, you really need to start calling lapsed donors at the higher end of your annual giving pool and see if you can get them back.  You should make several of those calls a day and perhaps you even put it on your calendar… "Make calls to lapsed donors." But somehow, other things get in the way.

For me, one way to avoid those other things from pushing important (if not exactly urgent) work to the side is to not just calendar it but make it an appointment and treat it as if it were a meeting with my most important client (or your largest donor).  Instead of “Make calls….”  book a specific timeframe and state how many calls or—better still—who you will be calling that day.

In other words, instead of suggesting to yourself that this is something you need to do, make it a clear deadline that you will not miss.

The second thing I realized that often I don’t do what is not clear to me or feels too large to tackle.  Breaking things down into manageable pieces—each with its own deadline—keeps me on track.

“Write case statement” for a client can drive me to distraction.  But, “research history,” and give that a deadline, then “outline history section,” and so on puts it all into perspective.

Which brings us to time. I was lunching with a friend the other day and she was lamenting about some of her staff who are always complaining about how busy they are. “If they would just tackle the work instead of telling everyone how busy they are, the work would get done in a timely fashion.”  Indeed.

Finally I find that a to-do list for the next week is really helpful.  As I do things, I cross them off and add new things that need to get done that week.  I also make a box in one corner with some hard and fast deadlines that will be coming up—workshops I’m giving. Having it all in one place is generally a good visual that says, “It’s really not all that bad.”

Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and to build better, more involved and engaged boards.  She is the co-teacher of the online Get Grants class, and co-author of Get Ready, Get Set, Get Grants.  Learn more about Janet’s consulting and training at http://janetlevineconsulting.com.