How to Reclaim Your Time Using the Eisenhower Matrix
Updated: Feb 24
Kelly Gagnon is the newest member of our leadership team, joining Talbott Talent in November 2021as the Vice President of Strategy and Innovation. Prior to joining our team, Kelly owned Nonprofit Strategy Nerd and Grit HQ, companies providing board training, marketing, and leadership resources to nonprofits. Below you will find a few resources from her previous role. Learn more about Kelly and our leadership team here: https://www.talbotttalent.com/our-leadership.
I'm a recovering workaholic.
I used to brag about having almost 3.5 months of vacation payout when I left my first nonprofit leadership job. Yes, that’s how “dedicated” I was. I worked at Richland Community College in Decatur, Illinois for four years and went on vacation exactly - ZERO - times.
Although I now lead Talbott Talent's marketing efforts, business innovation, and strategic growth initiatives, in my former life I was a higher education rockstar, receiving four promotions in four years, with my final role being Director of Adult Education.
At 28 years old, I was the youngest director-level at the college I worked at. In fact, I was the youngest Adult Education Director in the state of Illinois.
I was rocking it - managing 20+ staff at seven locations, developing new, dynamic, evidence-based curriculum, auditing welding classes to build welding bridge programs, launching intensive family literacy programs to break the cycle of poverty, and training instructors on the newest curriculum.
I was on a personal and programmatic mission to address social inequity at root levels and help create systems to end the cycle of poverty.
But, right after I achieved all of those things and three months after I received the promotion I worked so hard to earn... I left.
Why? In short - I was burnt out. I had worked from around 5:30 am to 8 or 9 pm for 21 days straight. Saturdays and Sundays… where would you find me? At the office with music blaring working on grants and reports. Tuesdays at 6 am, where could you find me? Coming in early to respond to emails so I’d be “ready” with my doors open when faculty and students arrived around 8:30. It was the middle of grant season and Common Core was getting rolled out. Although I was the Director (not an instructor), I was only one of two staff members I'd deemed prepared enough to teach high school-level math. So, I was also teaching Pre-Calculus four days a week.
I was dedicated! I had lives to change and staff to support. I also needed resources to have those staff and change those lives; so I had grants to write. And I had programs to design. And things to track ...and new curriculum to create. And implement. And recreate and refine.
I was busy. I worked 70-80 hours a week. Each week. Nonstop. And then... I was working on a grant, had no time to finish anything, and found myself working 21 days straight and found myself crying alone in my office on a Sunday. I was burnt out. I left that job 3 months later.
But, you know what? It wasn't that "the job" was too much. I was too much. It was my expectations for myself and my time management. I now say that job would still be my dream job and I think I could do the same job in half the time with the same outcomes!
Fortunately, I've learned quite a bit since I was 28 years old about how to do leadership the right way - by delegating, prioritizing, scheduling, and eliminating tasks so I can focus on what's the most important. For me, the Eisenhower Matrix is the most important tool to organize my tasks and reclaim my time!
For most nonprofit professionals, we constantly battle with too much on our to-do list and not enough time to do it - fundraising, managing staff, creating new programs, attending meetings, writing grants, and, most commonly... putting out fires!
But, I challenge you to really consider: Are the tasks that keep you busy the things you should be spending your time and energy on?
When you're sitting down to decide how to spend your day and what to focus on, process each of your tasks through the Eisenhower Matrix - a prioritizing and decision-making system to ensure you're allocating your time resources on the right activities! And, most likely the right activities are things that are either important, urgent, or both.
IMPORTANT ACTIVITIES: have an outcome that leads to us achieving goals that serve our organization's mission and vision
URGENT ACTIVITIES: demand immediate attention, and are usually associated with achieving someone else's goals; often have immediate consequences