Master Nonprofit Time Management in 90 Minutes

by Joan Garry

Want to go deeper on time management? Learn how to take back your time.

Let’s play a game.

You get 10 points if you have ever said to yourself – or out loud – any of the following:

  1. “I never even got up to pee today.”
  2. “Lunch? Who has time for lunch?”
  3. “I’m in back to back meetings all day.”
  4. “I said I’d be home by 6pm- why did I ever make that promise? Never gonna happen.”
  5. “An entire month went by and I never just casually checked in with a board member.
  6. “I’m too busy managing to get myself out of the office to network with colleagues, engage with community leaders, or (gasp) steward donors or cultivate new ones.”
  7. “I can’t even believe how many emails I got today. How does anybody keep up?”

How many points did you get? 70? I’ll bet at least 40.

If you’re like many of my clients, perhaps you wear this lack of white space as some kind of badge of honor.

Time for some compassionate truth telling. This whole badge of honor thing reflects quite poorly on your leadership. 

As a leader you set the tone. If you overhear someone talking about the ridiculous number of emails or anything related to an inability to attend to bodily functions because of too much work, promise me you’ll look in the mirror. This behavior certainly came from you.

YOU can make it stop. And it’s not as hard as you might think.

Here’s a time management strategy I recommend to my clients that enables you to approach your calendar with greater intention and smarter time management and does not take much time at all.


  • Set 90 minutes on or before the 15th of the month. Maybe you can get away with 60 but I know you. If you book 60, something will get in the way and you will rush through this. No rushing on this.
  • Put a blank calendar for the next month in front of you. It can really help to print out a month version so you can really see it (yes, I know that is very 20th century).
  • Next make a list of things that MUST happen during the upcoming month. Here are some examples:
    • Monthly all-staff meeting 
    • 1 hour planning time for agenda for all staff meeting
    • Meetings with 2-4 board members – just a check in – relational not transactional
    • Biweekly board chair/executive director meetings
    • 2 real time phone conversations or zooms with a colleague to kick around trends in your sector that can be a challenge or opportunity
    • Block ½ a day for writing:
      • Some kind of board update that fuels them with impact stories
      • Maybe a blog post for your site or for a blog that reaches potential donors
      • Perhaps a strategy document about the impact of a recently launched program
      • If you are speaking on a panel or a conference, consider extending to a full day to really focus on writing
    • And don’t forget the yoga class or the piano lesson or your kid’s soccer game
  • Plot these out in some format that makes sense on your blank calendar.
  • Now grab your real calendar with commitments already noted:
    • Assess what is on the calendar and look at overlaps with the ideal
    • If it overlaps, it’s time for some time management judgment:
      • Does it have to happen at all?
      • Is it something that someone else can do? (They call that delegating, by the way)
      • Can it move to the following month?
  • Make changes based on the above questions and then have a look.
  • One more thing: make sure the calendar has no (ZERO) meetings back to back. 30 minutes minimum between meetings. Not just for bio breaks. For mind breaks. For the opportunity to capture the action items from the convo you were just in or to deliver what you promised. The sooner you do them, the more impressive it will be. Oh, and this results in a dramatic decrease in, “Oh Dang, I didn’t do the thing. I went right into another meeting.”


  • If you have an assistant, have them set up the meetings on the ideal month – donors, board members, colleagues, etc. 
  • Create a list of meetings that will disappear or be led by someone else and set that aside as an agenda item for the appropriate 1:1.
  • Before the exercise is complete, take a pic of the calendar you created. You’ll need it for next month. Hooray for time management!


Before you repeat the exercise, pull out the calendar from the 15th of last month and compare it to how your current month is shaping up? What did you learn? What thwarted your plans?  

Or did it help you approach your calendar with increased intentionality that will only improve over time?


You’ll tackle 2 months at a time instead of 1 month. You’ll block out time for additional important writing or planning.


After you debrief after the first month, share the recipe at a staff meeting and encourage your team to do the very same thing. You know what I’d call that?

A badge of honor.