Juggling Multiple Hats? Tips on Tackling Multiple Priorities at Your Nonprofit

Blog Contributor: Jess Gouldthorpe | Executive Administrator at Regional Arts Commission

“I’m an assistant, a board liaison, a receptionist, an intern program manager, an event planner, a graphic designer, a human resource assistant, and…”

In my position as an Executive Administrator with an arts nonprofit, I accomplish not only what lies within my job description, but many other tasks that fall under the line we all know too well: “and all other duties as assigned.”

One of the most common trends in the nonprofit workplace is doing more with less. While it can be very stressful, nonprofit employees often become a “jack of all trades” per say, learning to cross collaborate with the other departments. Nonprofits are essentially cultivating young leaders to have the ability to be flexible and learn many skillsets, making them well-rounded staff members. 

While it can mostly be a positive environment, there are many challenges associated with this strategy. Staff may be getting the job done, but how well? When you're juggling many different roles, you don’t have the room to excel at any one thing or feel like you are making progress. Nonprofit professionals also tend to feel like there isn't enough time in the day to get the work done as they get more involved with and take on more roles in their organizations. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and overworked and forget that, sometimes, the process matters more than the outcomes.

With that said here some simple tips to help ensure success as you juggle many roles:

  1. Communication is key. Communicate with your supervisor. Ask for more time if needed on a project or to lessen the workload so that you ensure efficiency in your job. Good supervisors will work with you to enable success in your role and will also work to prevent burnout or disgruntled feelings. 
  2. Professional Development. Seek out as many opportunities for professional development that you can. You may be fortunate enough to have funds available through your organization to seek out opportunities. If not, look for free opportunities through YNPN St. Louis or other community organizations and universities. The Brown School at Washington University is also a really good resource.
  3. Prioritize. Learn to establish which parts of your job are most essential and figure out how to manage your time accordingly. For me, I need to make sure that first and foremost the executive director is fully supported. 
  4. Create an organizational system. I am a serious fan of to-do lists. Being able to see things scratched off my list contributes to me feeling successful at my organization. (One great option is Wunderlist.) Find out what works for you, whether it’s a hand written to-do list, reminders in your email program, or electronic sticky notes on your desktop. Finding ways to increase your efficiency is also important. At my organization, my desk is in the receptionist area, so I have found that making a “Do Not Disturb” sign can really contribute to uninterrupted work and efficiency. You also may find that there are certain times of the day that you are more focused; schedule meetings accordingly and practice closing your door for uninterrupted work. 
  5. Give yourself enough time. Plan ahead and allow for plenty of time to finish projects and meet deadlines. I like to take the time I think it may take me to complete a project and multiply it by three. If I finish early, I can celebrate moving through my to-do list even faster!
  6. Have realistic expectations. Do not ever take on more than you can chew. If you do not have the time needed to complete a task or project, simply say no. It is better to say to no then to risk the stress of taking on more than you can handle. 
  7. Find a mentor. We all tend to gravitate to someone in our office that gives us sound professional advice, especially when our skillsets are not fully developed. As a young professional, I look to a well-seasoned staff member with more experience for advice on projects and sensitivities in the office. 
  8. Take a break. Our bodies are designed for regular movement, but most of us sit at a desk for hours at a time. Make sure you get up and walk around the office every once in a while and move those limbs! Also, make sure to take deep intentional breaths; we tend to breath at the same short rhythm cutting off airflow to our brains.
  9. Pat yourself on the back. In the midst of constantly feeling buried or overwhelmed by our workload, we must take the time to celebrate accomplishments. No matter how small, but it makes all the difference to recognize a job well done.