For an association leader, the daily responsibilities tend to fall under a wide jurisdiction. Committee reports and board meetings require preparation and follow up, as well as many other duties-the list goes on. The many needs of an association’s membership can seem daunting, and it is paramount that these tasks are sorted, organized, and diarized to make sure that nothing falls through the cracks.

Below is a guide for prioritizing your to do list. Follow this guide to ensure that the most important tasks are completed first, allowing you to avoid drowning in deadlines.

For more on this topic, read Staying Organized in the Fast-Paced Association Management World.

Step 1: Keep Track

As soon you learn about a meeting, event, deadline, or task…. write it down. Microsoft Outlook’s calendar allows the user to create meetings that you can send to all attendees. You can also create tasks that will send you reminders to further guarantee you will not forget. They can even be color coded to organize professional and volunteer work. Whatever method you choose to keep track of your tasks, this is a major tool for efficiently managing your time and guaranteeing that your work is thorough and organized.

Step 2: Note Deadlines, Member Communications, or Upcoming Events.

Now that you have your list of tasks in front of you, you need to decide where to begin. The deadlines for some of your tasks may be obvious, such as preparing a committee report, or attending a board meeting booked for a specific time. Some deadlines on the other hand, although just as critical, are slightly more difficult to remember. Your association’s bylaws are an important resource. Review them well and diarize important dates and timelines. Once you have assessed each task and its level of time sensitivity, it is time to move on to step three!

Step 3: Work with One To-Do List at a Time.

Once you are ready to buckle down and get to work, set yourself a time frame and focus on one task list at a time. Stay on the prioritized task, any related small tasks, emails, and phone calls, as much as possible. Jumping from volunteer work to professional responsibilities will increase the likelihood of dismissing a task when it’s partially finished or letting the tasks we least enjoy fall further and further behind.

Step 4: Eliminate Distractions

It goes without saying that loud noise, personal cell phones, and chatty colleagues can be a hindrance to our productivity. Distractions are not on our side when it comes to tackling our to-do list, but it’s important to note the less obvious distractions that are fighting for your time. Try to do association volunteer tasks in a separate space from where you do your regular work. For example, after work hours, leave the office and do work at home. This mitigates the possibility of falling back to professional tasks and falling behind on your to-do list for the association. One other distraction that can waste a lot of time is a messy workspace. Keep your desk organized and when you are finished with something, file it away.

The same goes for your computer. When you constantly switch between spreadsheets, emails, and internet browsers, it is important to save and close what you are no longer working with. It takes time to sift through internet tabs or multiple spreadsheets to locate the one you need. If you save documents to the appropriate folders, you won’t have trouble finding that committee report right before the board meeting. The recently closed documents list is there if you need it, so don’t cause yourself unnecessary chaos and clutter!

In conclusion, the most important thing to remember is that we must expect our days to be busy, and that quite often our task list will feel sporadic and sometimes difficult to manage. If you can remember to use these four tools, you are well on your way to a highly productive day.

Read my colleague’s article The Organized Association Leader to learn more about prioritizing volunteer and professional work.