Tools and Techniques to Boost Efficiency

March 22, 2023

Filed under: Human Resources,Leadership — jonathanpoisner @ 10:54 am

Guest Blog by Karen Graham

I had never thought of myself as an especially productive person. Like most of us, I often felt like there wasn’t enough time in the day to accomplish everything I needed to do, much less the things I wanted to do. 

But after colleagues called me out as an example of someone who is organized and efficient, I realized that I have in fact learned some helpful habits and discovered some helpful tools. I’ll share a few of them with you here, and I hope you will share your own tips in the comments, so we can help each other get better.

Start with your inbox

Whether you’re really struggling with productivity, or you’re already pretty good at it but want to improve, I recommend taking a look at how you manage your email inbox. Why? Because this is the low hanging fruit, an activity on which people tend to waste a lot of time, and where small changes can win back minutes or hours.

When it comes to email management, less is more. 

  1. Fewer touches – Check email less frequently, and when you do, try to either handle the message immediately or mark it for later, then get it out of your inbox. I use an adaptation of the Getting Things Done method, processing my email first thing in the morning and after lunch, and making sure my inbox is empty at least once a day.

  2. Fewer folders – Years ago, someone essentially dared me to delete all my email folders. I discovered that the search functions in Gmail and Outlook are so effective I really didn’t need folders, and I was wasting my time moving things to folders and sorting through them. Now everything that passes through my inbox either gets archived or deleted.

  3. Task apps – A task application or plug-in that integrates with your email system makes it easy to convert messages into tasks. I like Todoist for Gmail and Microsoft’s To Do for Outlook Web App, because they integrate tightly, preserving the link to the original message.

  4. Less email – Consider moving conversations to Slack, Teams, or other chat-style apps, especially if you’re living that reply-all nightmare.

Call in the robots

Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) can do a lot of mundane tasks for you, though you’ll want to set this up carefully so it doesn’t leave a trail of destruction in its wake. Here are just a handful of ways to use automation and AI.

Consider using Zapier for sharing data between systems. For example, when someone signs up for a webinar on platform A, a Zap could pass their contact details over to the CRM.

Set up triggers and actions in a CRM, marketing system, or case management system. For instance, when a donor makes their first gift, the system could create a task or reminder for your development director to personally welcome them, and automatically add them to a series of welcome emails. You might be surprised at how much automation your data management software offers.

Redesign processes to be more efficient

When you’re implementing a new technology tool, that’s a great time to also look for ways to streamline your processes, improve quality and consistency, and even make them more enjoyable. 

Let’s say you want to improve your donation acknowledgement process. You might use a time tracking tool, such as Toggl, to record how much time the current process requires and how much you gained through improvements. You could also use software such as Lucidchart to make process maps, so you can visualize where the tasks and decision points are. Or just use a pencil or a whiteboard. Once you’ve identified a potential improvement, try simulating or prototyping to see how it might work. Tools for storyboarding, such as Canva’s free storyboard creator, are a fun way to bring the envisioned process to life.

Establish good habits

Look, all the fancy technology in the world is not going to compensate for your poor habits. Productivity experts have written plenty about time blocking, eliminating distractions, and creating deadlines and rewards. Read up on it, find something that works for you, and don’t beat yourself up if the habit doesn’t stick the first time around (or even the second or third time).

One of my most fruitful habits is writing down daily highlights. I use Evernote to keep a note for each month, with a numbered list corresponding to the days of the month. At the end of each day, I jot down one thing I accomplished, big or small. Looking back at this helps me realize that even when I felt like I was spinning my wheels, I actually was doing something worthwhile.

Wrapping up

Here are a few key points to remember.

  • Check email mindfully, avoid endless folders, and use integrated task apps to keep your inbox clean.
  • Take advantage of automation for mundane tasks. 
  • Streamline processes with the aid of time tracking, process mapping, and storyboarding tools.
  • Establish personal habits that amplify your productivity.

Go ahead, practice this now. Make a commitment to try one of these techniques, perhaps using time blocking or a task management app to remind yourself to complete it. And then think about all the wonderful things you can do with your extra time!

About the Author

Karen Graham is a nonprofit leader and technology strategist who loves helping people solve problems – from making their work easier and more enjoyable, to enabling their organization to more effectively achieve its mission. She writes and speaks on technology leadership, software selection, user adoption, innovation, and strategic IT alignment. Karen owns Karen Graham Consulting, providing technology coaching and consulting for mission based organizations.

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