Another Productivity Secret: Do NOTHING

• fundraising productivity • continuous improvement • vacations
Ellen Bristol

I just got back from a two-week vacation, where I did nothing.  Well, I napped, and I slept, and I ate lobster and went swimming and hung out with my family, but mostly I did nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing. It was glorious. Now that I'm back, I find myself able to think about, and even start executing, some important projects to improve our impact, stuff I couldn't focus on before I left.


When's the last time you did nothing? In Vu Le's blog on July 15th, he offers some hilarious "definitions" of nonprofit professionals' vacations.  I laughed my head off, and you will too. But there's something serious in the notion of actually doing nothing, and it has to do with maintaining and improving your fundraising productivity.

First of all, you really need the rest. Most of us are sleep-deprived, which makes it far more difficult to be productive at work. When you're tired, not only are you more likely to get sick, you're also more likely to make mistakes, particularly stupid ones. And it ends up taking twice as long to get things done. 

Second, tired people simply do not have the energy to do the strategic work of productivity. When you're tired - even though you might not realize it - you will focus more on the onslaught of daily interruptions and administrivia, and ignore the difficult work of analyzing results and selecting improvement initiatives. Continuous improvement of productivity relies on this type of analysis, which requires a ton of hard brain-work. When you're tired, forget it.

If you haven't taken a real vacation in a while, and you can't realistically get away from it all, let me suggest a few things:

  1. Take mini-vacations.  It's summer.  Take off at noon on Friday, or come in at noon on Monday. Maybe take them both.
  2. Take a nap. Figure out how to take a nap on a weekday!
  3. Don't work on the weekend. Or at least don't work ONE DAY of the weekend.
  4. If you're Jewish, honor the Sabbath - no work, no emails, no texts, no phone calls from sundown Friday until an hour after sundown Saturday. If you're not Jewish, borrow that tradition (you're allowed to apply it to any day you prefer).
  5. Tell everybody you're taking a "do-nothing" break and you advise them to take one themselves. Then shut your door, or go out to your car, and stare into space for 15 to 30 minutes.  Don't text, don't call your buddy, don't read emails. 

Raising the productivity of your fundraising operations is supremely important. Highly productive fundraising operations are the ones that acquire high-potential donors regularly, retain and upgrade the majority of those donors, produce solid leads for major-donor/sponsor opportunities through 'retail' mechanisms like events and online campaigns, and always produce sufficient cash reserves to accommodate special opportunities or projects. Getting there requires rested brains and clear thinking.

Let me know what you did on your vacation this year - or what you're planning for your mini-vacay now!!




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