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11 minute read


By Alison Baringer English

We’ve all been there. The balls start slowly. Our mailboxes are cleaned out, our meeting schedule is light, we even have time for an actual lunch! Then the internet goes down. And your largest sponsor pulls out. The chair of your signature event angered your top vendor and now both are withdrawing. Your office manager is out for 2 weeks with the flu. And now your board is asking for a full update on your strategic plan. One week before your biggest fundraising event.

When deadlines and to-do lists add up, it is easy to want to scream, “I Don’t Have Time for That!” Time is a precious gift that can feel like it is weighing you down, but when utilized properly, can be the framework that guides you to astounding success and growth.

Below are some ways to put time back on your side:

Time Block

Time blocking needs to be your new best friend. The concept of time-blocking is simple - pair similar tasks together and literally set a time in your calendar for when you will work on these tasks. Have a project or task you’ve been putting off or dreading? Put two hours on the calendar to work on it - a time block. Have a key strategic plan or goal in your office? Mandate your team to set time blocks for progress towards these goals. I recommend setting weekly time blocks for long-term projects and strategic goals (an example of such a time block would be “Sponsorship Time”). On Friday afternoons, look at your week ahead and add in time blocks for things needing your attention. By time blocking, you are taking back control of your time and not leaving it up to the whim and needs of whatever is thrown your way each day. This allows you to create dedicated time for the most important things, the tasks and projects that will move the needle for your organization.

Time Block With Intention

Putting time blocks in a calendar is the easy part, the hard part is sticking to them! Protect that time at all costs. Shut the door to your office. Turn off all notifications (email, text, etc.). After you’ve successfully time blocked for a few weeks, take some time to reflect on your optimal work flow and time block with this in mind. Do you crash most afternoons at 3 pm? You need to block that time for easy, low-effort tasks like returning simple emails or filing paperwork. It is suggested that we only have a certain amount of will power each day - so put hard, dreaded, and thoughtheavy tasks first thing in the morning. You’ll be better able to accomplish and focus on the task first thing, and the feeling of accomplishing such a big task will give you energy and that “feel good” feeling throughout the rest of the day that will drive more production and energy.

For more information on time blocking and to see just how much time in a week you really have, read Laura Vanderkam’s book, “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.” You can google a 168-hour time log and keep track of just where your hours go in a week – it is truly enlightening!

Use Technology, Don’t Let It Use You

There are so many good digital productivity tools that can improve your time management. Top favorites include:

• Google Calendar: This should be a given but there may be some of you late to the bandwagon. Online calendars allow you to access your schedule from your phone, tablet, or computer no matter where you are. What’s even better is you can share your calendar with your team as they share theirs with you, so you always know what meetings are taking place and what progress is being made towards certain projects. You will also have your time blocks on the calendar, so others can know when not to interrupt you or when you might be more accessible for a question or brainstorming. Online calendars save time amongst team members by keeping everyone in the loop with what’s happening on an hour-by-hour basis.

• Asana: (Or other project management systems) Online, real-time access is key here. Assign tasks to your team members with details, attachments, and deadlines. They receive an email on the task and all can stay updated on the progress through the website. Saves time by removing the need for multiple emails concerning a task, time spent organizing information, etc. You can also download this as an App on your phone, so if you think of a task or project over the weekend/at night, etc. you can immediately open the App, add it, and it will be there in the morning or for your next staff meeting. This frees you from worrying about forgetting it and closes the loop in your mind on that task.

• Airtable: Another online resource much like Google Sheets, in an Excel-like format. The layout is pretty on the eyes and the ease of use is incredible. Can be utilized for sharing information with committees such as action items, budgets, donations, special event requests, etc. Saves time by allowing everyone real-time access and updates on a project.

• Canva: For those non-designers who need to make flyers, social media posts, etc. – this is gold. Design templates for anything one can imagine; a simple click and drag to change out for your photos, text, colors, etc. Seriously, you can get addicted to this program.

Technology can be extremely helpful when utilized correctly. It can also be the biggest time-suck and distraction. Turn your notifications off. All of them. There is no reason you need to know the second an email hits your inbox, or the second grandma posted a photo of her baked casserole to Facebook. The day is yours - the minutes are yours, use them for what YOU want to use them for. Don’t be at the mercy of what’s happening around you. Make sure you are using technology and it is not using you.

Automate Processes

Find a way to automize. Anything. And everything. Do you have a task or a subject matter that always stresses you out? Set up a process that, when it happens again, you can pull out and hit “play.” For example, we all know there are too many marketing platforms to promote an event. Did you remember to update the website? Set up a social media campaign? Request to go on media interviews? Send a mass email? Thinking through all these things for each event, in the midst of everything else, can be overwhelming and time-consuming. Create an “Event PR Checklist” and make it a habit to go through the checklist while planning each event. This will minimize the stress of thinking you forgot something, while utilizing your time and brain energy wisely.

Michael Gerber, in his book, “E-Myth Revisited,” outlines the success of this strategy. The McDonald Brothers, along with Ray Kroc, created a simple system for making a hamburger, down to the order in which ingredients were put on the burger. This system was so automated teenagers across America could easily be taught it, and customers across America would have the same experience regardless of which McDonalds they visited. And thus, McDonalds came to be. The same outcome every time, little thinking, very fast. (Let’s just make sure we have quality ingredients we are putting into our processes, okay?)

Automating processes forces you to step outside daily tasks of working “in” the businesses, and causes you to look larger, and work “on” the business. Side note, creating these automations and processes not only save you time and energy, but is one way to truly grow your organization. We each are only human and each human can only do so much. To grow and expand, you need these automations and processes to work for in order to pass along to others to fuel expansion and growth in your business.

Change Your Mindset

One of the biggest things to remember is that time spent doing one thing is time not spent doing another. For every project you dedicate your time to, you have actively chosen to not work on something else. With this being said, ensure you are focusing on high value work. The majority of your projects should be things that will wield high impact success or growth, things that move the needle towards whatever your goals are. Certainly, there will be things you have to do that may not wield high value results, either things handed down to you from upper management or routine things necessary to run the business. These are tasks you should try to automize. Create processes for these tasks so they take up less of your time, allowing you to focus on the projects that truly matter.

By changing your mindset, you will begin to recognize those projects that are most beneficial to your business. These projects should be heavily time blocked and given high priority. Working on these projects yield higher successes and by default, your time spent on these projects is more valuable.

Surround Yourself With High Performance

In today’s age there are so many amazing ways to level up your education and productivity. Some of my favorite ways to broaden your knowledge base include:

• Conferences: Time blocking whole days for working only ON your business with like-minded people is one of the top ways to achieve growth and success. The amount of knowledge and sharing you will gain just by spending time with those in your field (if you put yourself out there by introducing yourself to people, asking questions, engaging, etc.) is priceless.

• Group Discussions: Similar to the above, but from your own home and at your own time. Start a group chat or Facebook group, etc. with like-minded people. Odds are these groups are already in existence, you just have to find them and join. If you don’t see what you are looking for…be proactive and start it yourself!

• Books: There are an infinite number of books that will help increase your productivity and motivation. Some good ones to start with: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, Work Happy by Jill Geisler, and The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson.

• Podcasts: Again, SO MANY podcasts that will motivate and/or provide proven time hacks. What I love about podcasts is you can listen to them while you do those things in life that are necessary but not high output such as loading the dishwasher, folding laundry, getting ready in the morning, driving to work, etc. Check out: The Tim Ferris Show and Happier With Gretchen Rubin.

If you really want to level up (potentially even skipping straight over a few levels), consider combining the above. Think Business Book Club (I know, nerd alert). The combination of reading educational books (on business, leadership, management, etc.) with real-life group discussions can propel you into specifically thinking ON the business and not IN the business. This can elevate your leadership skills which ultimately results in utilizing your time and your employees’ time more efficiently.


Hopefully I don’t have to cite any sources on the benefits of movement and exercise. We all know we need to do it and do it often. But have you thought about how you incorporate it into your workday? Even a few minutes of movement or stretching signals to your brain that change is coming (movement vs. sitting at your desk typing). This makes it more alert and ready to tackle the next challenge. When you get stuck on a task or are feeling sluggish and not motivated…move! A quick walk outside or around the building, 10 squats, or even a good office plank challenge can activate your body into a higher state of motivation. Challenge yourself to set workday rules in advance to promote movement…for example any phone call on a phone means talking while walking, and any trip to the restroom means 10 squats.

Movement is a wonderful time hack in that it can spur creativity and forward motion. Exercise wakes up the brain and allows you to focus, which in turn helps complete tasks more efficiently and quickly.

At the end of the day, we can’t create more hours in a day. But by maximizing your time wisely through time blocking with intention, digital management programs, automation, changing your mindset, surrounding yourself with high performance, and incorporating movement into your day, your time will be spent more effectively. Soon you will begin to observe, learn, and adapt to new ways of working to be more effective and productive in your tasks and projects. You may still have all those balls in the air, but to a master juggler the balls are simply the objects that highlight the juggler’s talents, not a thing holding you back.

Alison Baringer English has been the Executive Director of the North Carolina Azalea Festival since 2015 although she has been with the Festival since her graduation from UNC-Wilmington in 2004 and has been a key leader in the Festival’s strategic growth over the past thirteen years. In addition to helping the Wilmington community through her career at the Azalea Festival, Alison is an active volunteer with other non-profits and leadership programs. She is a Leadership Wilmington graduate of 2013 and was President of the Junior League of Wilmington in 2014-2015. Alison has attended numerous international training conferences through both the International Festivals and Events Association and the Association of Junior Leagues International, where she has received extensive training in volunteer management, events production, sponsorship activations, and board management. Alison currently serves on the International Festival and Events Association (IFEA) Foundation Board as Chair-Elect and the UNC-Wilmington Alumni Board on the Executive Committee.