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Effective Use of Your Day

 By Rhen Hoehn, Development Director, St. Albert the Great University Parish

The following post is an example of messaging included weekly to our Annual Manual Program clients. For more information, visit


Fundraising for a ministry or nonprofit organization can be a daunting task. There are many moving pieces that all need to fit together.
There are tasks which need to be done constantly, week after week. There are big projects that pop up at regular intervals throughout the year. There are fires that ignite by surprise and need to be put out.
There is writing to do. There are mailings to stuff, calls to make, and tedious database entries to work on.
Staying on top of all of these things is tough in a small development shop. You might be a team of one, or less than one - development might just be one of many things that you do for the ministry.
It is easy to come to the end of your work day and become totally overwhelmed by the number of items still on your to-do list.

Make a Plan For Your Week
One way to avoid the overwhelm and get things done is to plan a schedule for your week. This does not have to be an exact, hour-by-hour sketch, but it should be an outline of which tasks will get done and when.
Some tasks need to be done every week. These might include:

  • Thanking donors (creating thank you letters for donations and making some thank-you calls)
  • Recording donations and address updates in your database
  • Writing (appeal letters, newsletters, blog posts, bulk emails, etc)
  • Website and social media updates

Create a typical weekly schedule that will make sure these core, regularly-occurring elements of your routine get done consistently.
For example, you might specify that every Tuesday and Thursday morning, two hours will be dedicated to thanking donors. Maybe Monday afternoons and Friday mornings each have dedicated times to writing. You get the picture.
Set aside time to get these weekly tasks done, and then fill in the rest of your schedule each week with the items that are most important at that time.

Effective Use of Your Day
Research shows that each person runs on a unique daily body clock, as Daniel Pink describes in his book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.
Some of us are morning people and some are evening people.
All of us do certain tasks better at given times each day. 
You might be better at creative thinking and writing in the morning but more analytical in the afternoon. If this is you, it becomes more clear when to block out time to write the End of the Year Appeal Letter and when to focus on planning next year’s budget.
It is worth a little effort to experiment with what tasks you excel at during different times of the day. Keep a simple journal that records what task you performed, what time you worked on it, and how you felt while doing it. Try to find some patterns and line up the type of work you are doing with the times you are at your best with that type of work.

Beware the Working Lunch
With so much work to do, it can be tempting to take a working lunch at your desk each day and just keep plowing through the to-do list. 
Working lunches are lauded, and those who take them are often praised for their dedication to their work.
When it comes to your health and your effectiveness in the workplace, however, it turns out that the working lunch is actually a bad idea. Avoid working through lunch time.
As Pink demonstrates in his book, those who take a working lunch suffer health consequences and their work performance declines rapidly in the afternoon.
It is better for your health and your effectiveness if you get out of the office for lunch, and it is ideal if you can spend that time outside in nature. Even sitting outside under a tree is greatly helpful, though a walk in a park is particularly refreshing.
When it comes to being effective at your job day after day, month after month, year after year, a lunch break that gets you out of the office and away from work is important and should be commended.

The Nap
Another option for your lunch break, if you want to improve your productivity, is the often-maligned power nap. A 20-minute nap has dramatic positive effects on alertness and productivity.
The key, though, is to stick to that 20-minute duration. Shorter than 20 minutes, the nap isn’t effective. Longer than 20 minutes, you start to enter deeper levels of sleep which are harder to wake up from. It will make you groggy.
The next time you are feeling particularly tired at work, try finding a discreet location for a power nap over lunch. Set an alarm for 23 minutes (to allow yourself 3 minutes to fall asleep) and relax. In all likelihood, this will kickstart your afternoon of work.

The Daily Dip
One important observation that Pink points out about our daily schedules is the early afternoon dip. 
Each of us, no matter whether we are morning people or evening people, experiences a dip in alertness and productivity in the early afternoon. For most people this occurs around 1:30 pm.
During this early afternoon dip, we don’t do well with detail-oriented or difficult tasks. This is a good time to take your lunch break, if it is flexible, or to schedule menial tasks which do not require much thinking power.
With a demanding and challenging job like development, it is important that we all use our days as effectively as possible. Being aware of the times of day that we are at our best (or worst) for particular types of tasks will help us to be more effective more often, and ultimately will help us to serve our ministry and God to the best of our abilities.

Key Task of the Week

Use a journal to determine your best times of day for performing specific types of tasks, and then create an outline of your typical work week with regularly-occurring tasks sketched in based on when you do different types of work well. Think about your daily and weekly schedules and how you can make the best use of your time.

Rhen Hoehn is the Director of Development for the St. Albert the Great University Parish at Michigan Tech University. During his tenure at St. Al's, the ministry has built their Living Faith Society to over 225 active monthly donors, implemented two annual Matching Gift Weekends and launched the Multiply the Mission Capital Campaign. Rhen is also a regular contributor to the Petrus Blog and produces The Petrus Development Show


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