Crash Course in Time Management for First Time Volunteer Coordinators

If you’re new to volunteer management, you might have a tendency to respond to every question by every volunteer as fast as possible.  Unfortunately, this is not always sustainable.

 

If you’re a multiple-hat wearer like me and have many responsibilities to balance, the only solutions that work for me are age-old time management tricks.  Below are some tips that I’ve learned along the way that I keep coming back to over the years:  

 

 

Time Box It

 

Checking and responding to every email, responding to texts, making calls to stay on top of the next event -- it’s never ending! There is always something to respond to, and those notifications can interrupt your flow.  Sometimes it can feel like those email and text notifications control your time. You can either respond to each of these as they pop up throughout the day, or you can choose to set aside one block of time, to complete them all at once.  Which would you rather do?  The latter is definitely the preferred way for me!  I personally check my email only in the late morning and in the early evening.  I feel more in control of my time when I’m not allowing myself to be interrupted -- and more often than not, the person on the other end is not expecting a 10 minute response rate!

 

Set a “time box” in your calendar that says you’ll sit down and do all that work at once.  Avoid doing that work at any other point in the day.  Your “time box” can be once or twice a day, or even once a week.  Whichever you choose, make sure it’s consistent not only for your volunteers’ expectations, but your expectations of others’ responsiveness as well.  

 

You might have questions such as, “What if I don’t get to everything I need to do? How do I prioritize?”  I’ll get to that!

 

 

Avoid Context Switching

 

Context switching is changing gears between one type of task to another.  For example, it takes energy to transition from checking emails to preparing for a meeting, or from making phone calls to updating a website.  There’s a bit of overhead time and energy spent when you mentally switch back and forth, so I find that it helps to cluster similar tasks together when possible.

 

For example, if your volunteer coordination tasks are mostly responding to emails, lump that time close to other times you check email for yourself or other functions of your job.  

 

Sometimes we might need to break up the monotony by context switching, but our brains also like efficiency and ease as well.

 

 

Turn Off Those Notifications!

 

To context switch effectively, you need to not be interrupted all the time, especially by email.  You should choose when to do your volunteer coordinating.  

 

Try to disable emails from forwarding to your phone.  If you can’t do that, disable notifications so your phone isn’t buzzing or dinging all the time.  I personally detach the inbox altogether from my phone and have it only accessible via a separate inbox on a computer.  Another thing you could try is filtering your volunteer coordinator emails into a separate folder, rather than having emails pop into your main personal inbox.  This helps me stay on track with my time boxing goal.

 

 

Now... How do you prioritize everything?

 

So now that you have a set amount of time to do your volunteer management, how do you choose what to do?  Sometimes you can get everything done, sometimes you can’t.  I have 2 rules of thumb every time I sit down to tackle my volunteer coordinator responsibilities…

  1. Unblock projects:  If a project is waiting for my input to move forward, I complete that first

  2. Fast things first:  If there is a quick task that I can finish up in a minute or two, I always complete those first before moving on to the more time-consuming tasks

 

I do have an exception to these 2 rules.  If someone sends me an email and I know I will see them in person before I can respond to it, at the very least I will send them an email letting them know I am reviewing it and will respond within a certain timeframe.  I do this because if I see them in person and I’m focused on other tasks, the other person might wonder why I have not responded yet.  This is my personal tactic of managing expectations.  Speaking of expectations...

 

 

Be up front about your expectations.

 

If you are time boxing your time to respond to emails, whether once per day or once per week, make sure others are clear on your timeline.  It’s reasonable to respond once per week if you have a full time job and can’t center your life around volunteer coordinating.  However, everyone has a different expectation of how long it should take you to act on something.  Just make sure you are proactive about setting that expectation.  

 

One of the things I like to do that I hardly see utilized is a one-time auto-responder on my personal inboxes that say something like:

 

Thanks for the email!  I check this inbox every other day and hope to get back to you in a timely manner.  If for some reason I haven’t responded yet, please do follow up because it probably slipped through the cracks.

 

It’s pretty easy to try any of these things, even just for a day or a week.  If it works for you, keep doing it.  

 

 

If you have any good time managements tips, I’d love to learn from you!  Please do share in the comments!