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Are You Feeling Overwhelmed or Behind at Work? You are Not Alone! (Part 1)

October 9, 2017

by Tracey Church, MLIS

tracey churchAt this year’s APRA International Conference in Anaheim (July 26-20), I presented a session called, “Time Management: Getting a Grasp of Your Research, Project (and Personal) Time.” The 70 attendees completed a survey at the session about their own fundraising shops and workload in regard to their time and some of their overall concerns.

While the full survey results will likely be rolled out in several follow-up articles, there are some areas that can specifically be addressed with time management skills. Two of these areas were:

1)     “Do you feel overwhelmed or behind at work?” 88% of the respondents answered “yes.”

2)     “Do you take a full lunch break away from your desk?” 80% responded “no,” of which 54% responded that this was from pressure from others or because they were behind and wanted to use the time to catch up.

Having worked in research for over 25 years (the last 15 in fundraising), this idea of always being behind is often caused by understaffing or a prior research lapse in the organization. Many organizations try to manage a major giving program with less than the recommended five researchers per major giving officer (Wealth Engine, Measuring ROI and Impact of Wealth Intelligence, 2013).

However, since we can’t solve all of the personnel concerns in one sitting, here are some time and project management tips that may make your work load, and your day, a bit more manageable.

Learn how to prioritize 

  • The Dale Carnegie Time Management Guide has several tips and tricks which relate directly to what we do in our fundraising day. Prioritization of prospects and projects can help you manage your work load better and may even result in some work items coming off of your list.
  • Determine your primary goals and rank them. Many of your goals may have been determined in the strategic plan but let’s face it, some are high priority (is the development officer going on a call?); some are medium priority (is this for the monthly report?); and some are low (really, only if you can get to it).
  • A different 80/20 rule. We’ve all heard of the saying, “80% of your donations come from 20% of your donors.” In this case, you need to determine which 20% of your activities will yield 80% of your results? This is also where research staging comes in. Ask yourself what is needed for the major giving officer to get to the next stage in the solicitation? Don’t put the cart before the horse. Don’t do a whole profile, taking up a lot of time, if the prospect hasn’t even agreed to meet with anyone!
  • Create a schedule and stick with it. Yes, there can be some wriggle room, but in your calendar, add in everything, including social time – and that’s right, lunch! Block off work time for projects (if you don’t, someone will fill it in for you) and leave some white space for those last minute meetings. Determine how long it takes to do projects and allow for that time in your schedule, and then don’t go “down the rabbit hole” with redundant work.
  • Revisit goals and adjust. What has changed since you first set those goals – at the beginning of the campaign, the beginning of the quarter, or month? What has changed? What is not longer needed?
  • Purge! Sometimes you can get rid of something in your work queue. Share your research and work queue with your fellow development team members and ask them if have any of the priorities changed? Can anything come off? You’d be surprised how much is no longer necessary.


  • Compartmentalizing has been used in psychology for several decades as a way for people to cope with stress. In our case, it helps us to isolate and focus on issues and projects and not multitask, but instead assign the other task to another time or “compartment.” This process has kept me, and those I’ve taught it to, sane over the years.
  • Compartmentalizing helps to reduce the noise in the back of your head that tells you that you should be working on something else.
  • Isolate one issue from the rest. Ryan Blair, Forbes Entrepreneurs (June 26, 2012) has a good guide for this. Break down a larger project into easily workable parts.
  • Apply extreme focus on one compartment, but for only a short period of time. In research terms, that could mean splitting up an eight-hour profile into two four-hour time slots. Step away and clear your mind while you move forward in incremental steps.
  • Close one compartment before opening the next one. In other words, complete the task, even if the next task is easier. Start early on large projects and don’t procrastinate!
  • Say no to things that don’t deserve a compartment. “No” seems to be one of the hardest concepts to grasp, especially in terms of those who work for others. Make sure the projects you are working on always go back to your original goals and approved strategic plan. “Make work,” “off the desk,” “on the side,” and “wouldn’t it be cool if” projects are a big resounding “NO.”

Part 2 of "Are you Feeling Overwhelmed or Behind at Work" will appear in the December 2017 issue of AFP eWire Canada.

Tracey Church, MLIS successfully manages her own business, teaches part-time at Western University, is on the APRA International board and the AFP Golden Horseshoe board, and was editor and contributor to Canada's first book on prospect research; all while maintaining a marriage with two children, and participating in many (and many more) leisure activities. She hopes sharing some of these time and project management tips will help others in their busy lives!

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