“Our nonprofit’s website needs a revamp, but it is too big of a project to tackle on my own.”
“I’d love to get a regular newsletter going, but I just don’t have the time.”
“I spend all my time putting out fires so any strategic planning I’d like to do comes
Time and again we hear statements like these from people working in mission-driven organizations. Successful, skilled professionals like you are trying to do it all for the nonprofits they support and are frustrated because there doesn’t ever seem to be enough time to get everything done. Often, much of the day seemingly evaporates because you are reacting to the day’s most pressing activities. As a result, your to-do list is probably not getting any shorter.
We know that it pays to take advantage of opportunities as they arise for your organization, but we also know that regularly taking control of your time to plan or to work on projects can make marketing your nonprofit a lot easier too. For that reason, we recommend regular retreats where you escape the office to focus on planning or projects that seem to keep slipping to a back burner. Retreats can be viewed as a cousin to timeblocking, a practice that encourages you to set aside blocks of time to accomplish specific tasks during the day. But retreats take it one step further, removing you from your regular office and all the daily distractions you encounter there.
Here are a few ways you can incorporate a retreat into your schedule, no matter how busy you might be:
Multi-day retreats: Taking a few days away for planning or project work may seem like a luxury that you can’t afford, but when it comes to building a successful strategy that you can execute over a 6-12 month period, it is priceless. Multi-day retreats are perfect when building your annual marketing plan and budget because you can focus on where your organization is currently, where you’d like to go, and how you are going to take get there.
These retreats need not be out of town or in some fancy hotel. Simply moving out of your office for a couple of days can make a world of difference in your ability to focus. Turn off your cell phone, disconnect your browser, and take over an empty conference room or class room. The key is to minimize distractions for a few days to you can accomplish a task that will make your job easier in the long run.
Homework: Sometimes you just need a day of solitude to tackle a task that’s been eluding you during regular work hours. If your home is quiet during the day with children away at school or partner off at work, just staying home for a day can make a world of difference in moving a project to completion. Again, avoid distractions like the internet, your TV, and especially your blackberry. Your goal with “homework” is to have the solitude you need to think and dive deep into a project or plan. A stretch of several hours with a few movement breaks in between could be just what you need to move the needle.
Travel Planning: Need a little jolt of creative thinking and brainstorming to get your mission-driven mojo refocused? Next time you are attending a work-related conference, switch up your travel planning so that you arrive early – either the morning of the evening welcome session or the day before. By switching your travel plans so that you arrive early, before the other participants, you’ll give yourself the gift of several hours or even a full day in a new environment. This clears your head – and your schedule – allowing you to relax into the creative process. By the time the conference starts, you’ll be energized and rested, not stressed about making a connecting flight or checking in in time to hear the keynote speaker.
Coffee Breaks: One great way incorporate retreat into your schedule is to plan coffee breaks for yourself – 2-3 hour chunks of time out of the office on a regular basis. I call these coffee breaks because your local coffee shop is a great place to escape the office for a few hours of concentrated effort. If the coffee shop doesn’t work for you, try a study carrel at the local library or table in the back of your favorite diner. It doesn’t matter where you go, just that you make a date with yourself every few weeks to escape the routine and dig in to work that feeds your soul and supports your mission-driven organization.
During my career, I’ve tried each of these methods of retreat for accomplishing different projects that I’ve been involved in. Try them out and let us know in the comments section below what other tips you have tried to incorporate retreat into your productivity plan.