Fundraisers know that a nonprofit’s financial resources have to be used wisely. They aren’t limitless. I would argue that your own energy is equally as finite and valuable a resource, and it deserves to be stewarded as carefully as your organization’s budget. But, be careful—multitasking can make things worse, not better!
It may sound counterintuitive, but one proactive step you can take to preserve your own energy is to reduce your reliance on multitasking.
My opinion of multitasking changed after a memorable and frustrating day several years ago. When I looked at my to-do list at the end of the day, very few items were completed but my brain was completely drained. I felt so frazzled that I was annoyed at myself for feeling so frazzled, if that makes sense. Looking at my to-do list you’d have thought I stayed home sick, but I’d felt busy all day long.
I realized I’d invested the bulk of my energy into toggling among different tasks rather than actually accomplishing any one thing. My greatest accomplishment that day was wearing myself out. Thinking this over, I realized that my real problem was that I’d allowed multitasking to become my default approach day in and day out, and it was taking a toll. I’d believed that multitasking maximized my productivity, but it was having the opposite impact. Yes, I could multitask. But that didn’t mean that I should, and I certainly shouldn’t do it all the time.
I thought I’d stumbled onto a quirky little realization about myself, but it turns out there are real drawbacks to multitasking. First, the term “multitasking” is an illusion. What it really refers to is task switching, and studies find that task switching can reduce productivity. Switching among tasks is time-consuming and can impair cognitive ability. No wonder my brain was tired and I felt unproductive.
Multitasking does serve a purpose, and sometimes it’s unavoidable. But I’d argue that it’s more efficient, and better for you, to avoid it. Do not adopt it as your default work style. Instead, think of multitasking as a tool to use in a pinch. Use it sparingly.
Instead of multitasking, make a habit of focusing on one task at a time, even if it’s for a 20- or 30-minute block. That amount of focus will prevent a lot of task switching. You may find it’s helpful to batch your tasks to prevent yourself from slipping into multitasking. Batching your tasks lets you fully focus on one category for a chunk of time so that you’re saving your energy for the actual work. For example, a fundraiser might batch tasks like this:
Monday: Gift processing and acknowledgments
Tuesday: Morning: donor stewardship; Afternoon: grant writing
Wednesday: Reports and data clean-up
Thursday: Newsletter and annual appeal prep
Friday: Gift processing and acknowledgments; loose ends
Interruptions happen. Occasionally, you will decide to multitask. But if you’re like me and you’ve slipped into a pattern of chronic multitasking, I encourage you to stop. I think you’ll find that you’re able to dedicate more of your energy and passion to the important work of your organization, and that’s one of the greatest contributions you can make.
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