The Dreaded To-Do List
I am a perfectionist. I do not know whom to blame for that trait. I am also an acute realist. After many years of working, I still have not found a hobby that consumes my (little) free time. I coached youth baseball for many years and played golf for enjoyment. Both of these activities, for now, are in my rearview mirror. My wife notes that I cannot sit still for long. So here I am in a Starbucks at 6:50 a.m. on a weekday morning waiting for an appointment and staring blindly at my dreaded to-do list.
I am old school and still maintain my to-do list by hand. I enjoy circling completed activities so I can add new ones to the list. I maintain both a written schedule book, complete with white out, and a computer version of the schedule that I fight to update. I like the written version because it is like an old friend.
Some days I do not look at the list because I know what is on the list. Like many of us, I juggle so many items at once, so the list will be fine if I avoid it for a day or so.
The point of this post is not to advocate for the elimination of a work-priority task list, but to encourage you to create a modified version of a list. You can write tasks to accomplish until the cows come home. A better thought is to divide your list by time segments, priorities and importance with respect to deadlines. Keep the list relatively short and high level. Match this list with a monthly calendar of activities.
I even look back at the work calendar from one year ago as some general functions are related to timing on the fiscal year calendar. For example, if you have an operational plan with an Oct. 1 start date, you should have created this plan with global tasks to accomplish throughout the fiscal year. If you haven’t done this, now is the time to begin. Create the plan, and work the plan. It gets more complicated if you are a manager because you need to know if your subordinate tasks are in sync with the overall plan.
If you are ultimately responsible for fundraising as a primary duty, your to-do list better consist of identifying, rating, screening and soliciting prospects. It is what we do and will always do. I wonder if I should just tear up the to-do list and replace it with a large sign that says, “fundraising goal”, “amount raised to date” and “what is left to raise in the fiscal year”. Some hamsters can never get off of the treadmill. As your career grows over time, the major difference you will see is your responsibility to generate larger gifts and more in-depth strategy to obtain them. Over time in a fundraising career, it is less about quantity and more about quality of donors and gifts.
In summary, if you are unorganized, consider the creation of this potential monster, but control it carefully. If you are extremely organized, I give you permission to dial it back a notch. If it will make you feel better, keep a primary to-do list of no more than 10 major items to accomplish at any point in time. If this post is making you tired, take a few days off and hide your list. It is still August, but already feels like the middle of October with respect to work. (Did I say the word treadmill?)
I guess I will never part with the dreaded work to-do list. That said, I suggest all of us create a new “fun” to-do list. My late mother always said, "The joy in life is having something fun to look forward to down the road."
Did I tell you my fiscal year ends a month and a half before a new one begins? If you are in the same cycle, you are wrapping up and hoping to achieve fiscal year goals while retooling for the next fiscal year’s success. It is time to begin to prepare my fiscal year 2016 to-do list. Is your list ready to go?
The word "dreaded" is only a state of mind. At the end of the day, do not dread the work-priority list. Use it to your advantage and stay on top of your game. The list itself should help you determine what plates need to be spinning!
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.