I’m not a big fan of new year’s resolutions. Two weeks into the year, I’ve usually forgotten all about my resolutions as I get caught up in the day to day work. However, if you can commit to these 5 easy and small changes, I promise that your stress will be lower and your productivity will improve.

1. Empty your email inbox (and keep it clean).
That’s right. Select all. Hit delete and clear that inbox. The worst that can happen is you will search your delete file once or twice for an email that you need. The best that will happen is you will be relieved of seeing those 200 or 2000 emails on a daily basis (yes, I know some leaders who have in excess of 2000 emails in their inboxes!) It is difficult to explain how ‘heavy’ those emails are until you have emptied your inbox for a fresh start. The relief of not having to think ‘I have to sort through those emails’ is immense. You probably don’t realize it but your inbox is stressing you if it has more than a dozen emails in it at the end of the day.

2. Turn off email notifications.
The average non-profit leader receives between 25 and 50 emails daily. Turning off the computer notifications that indicate you have received a new message will eliminate between 25 and 50 daily interruptions to your concentration and productivity.


email mountain2Experts claim that once interrupted, it can take 20 to 25 minutes to return fully to a task from which you were distracted. Do the calculation. It’s no wonder it’s so difficult to get things done. That’s a lot of time!
Reclaim that time by setting 3 or 4 times during the day to check email and then ignore it for the balance of the day. You are not obliged to respond immediately just because someone has sent you an email We have all become addicted to the immediacy of email and it is affecting our productivity. Don’t be a slave to the technology. Make it work for you by controlling your responses. If an email is really urgent, trust me – you will get a phone call.
3. Change your voice mail daily.
It takes less than a minute to change a voice mail message and yet most people’s voice mail says the same thing day in and day out. This great tech tool is a wasted opportunity for you to tell people what you are up to and when they can expect a return call from you. From a customer service perspective, anyone calling you will appreciate knowing that you aren’t calling them back because you are in an all day meeting, not because you are ignoring them. Learn how to change your message both from your desk and remotely and do it first thing in the morning. Your callers will thank you.
4. Make yourself a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign.
Every non-profit leader has projects that need undisturbed time to plan and complete. The unfortunate truth is that many end up doing those projects after hours when the office is quiet and the phone is silent. The other sad truth is that working after hours is usually at the expense of family or personal recharging time. To ensure you protect your personal time and complete those necessary and important pieces of work during business hours, close your office door and post a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign. Don’t be shy about letting people know that when the sign is posted you are unavailable to them. At best they will work out solutions to their issues on their own (great leadership development!); at worst, they will wait a couple of hours to chat with you.
5. Set aside planning time everyday.
Taking ten minutes first thing in the morning (or at the end of the day for tomorrow) is a habit that pays dividends in terms of productivity and efficiency. Spending that time organizing yourself before the day begins will give you focus and ensure that the critical to do items are at the top of list, not languishing in a file at the bottom of a pile on your desk.
Every once in a while, schedule a lengthier planning session – one that allows you to consider the next month or quarter, or the next year – and plan how the work will be accomplished to have the most impact on your organization’s mission. This first week of January is a great time for such a session. Clarify and define your priorities for the year so that the important things aren’t sacrificed in the service of the urgent things that you’ll inevitably face.

What small changes or resolutions will you make this year to improve your work as a non-profit leader?

Happy new year!