Going about our regular routine during COVID-19 is challenging since the only constant right now is change. As an association leader, you are likely a volunteer who may be working outside of regular work hours. Therefore, it can be hard for the association leader to stay organized.

Currently, there are very tight COVID-related restrictions across Canada. In-person association events are not permitted. As a result, all association meetings and events are taking place via teleconference or online. While we have settled in with our new normal, this is still new territory for the association leader. Even the most organized leaders can falter during times of uncertainty.

As an Operations Manager at an association management company (AMC), I consider myself to be a very organized person. However, this past year I have had to dig deep and draw on my own tips and tricks to stay focused and productive.

Start with Structure

Before you can focus on being organized, you first need to build structure into your day by sticking to a schedule or routine. I suggest the following:

  • Wake up at the same time every day
  • Get the coffee or tea pot going early
  • Schedule your association work at consistent times. Whether it be at the same time during the day, evening, or weekends.
  • Take sufficient breaks
  • End your “association workday” at the same time.

It’s important to organize your association tasks and to be consistent. For instance, block out times during the day or evening for responding to board emails, diving into board projects or action items, and scheduled meetings. Personally, I prefer to reply to emails in bulk at two different times during the day. I go through my emails first thing in the morning, and then again in the early afternoon. I like to attack items that require my full concentration right after I’ve read my emails in the morning. Business Insider found that the morning may be the best time to accomplish tasks that require critical thinking. For an association leader this would be a good time to work on strategic planning or review board meeting minutes.

Meanwhile, any repetitive tasks that do not require a lot of concentration, I leave for later in the day. The afternoon or evening would be an appropriate time of day to review membership numbers or follow up on committee work. If you need to do creative work, the Buffer Blog suggests that we may be most creative shortly after we wake up in the morning. Likewise, I like to do creative work (like write blog articles) in the morning.

Organize Your Environment

If you are working on association tasks at home, make sure that you have an appropriate desk to work at, whether it be a dedicated office in your house, or your kitchen table. Are you in a quiet area where you can close the door? If you don’t have a quiet space and you’re working at home with a spouse or children around, noise-cancellation headphones are a great investment. Personally, I like to listen to music, it helps me focus when I’m working on repetitive tasks.

Wherever you’re working, make sure your space is neat and orderly. Be sure to have everything that you need within reach. For instance, your computer, phone, notebook, pen, etc. should be easily accessible. An organized space is an organized mind. For additional tips, check out my colleague’s article on Learning to Work Remotely.

Additionally, it would be best to sit where there’s natural light. Not only does this put less strain on your eyes, but the sunshine is also essential for our mood and well-being. Likewise, a comfortable chair is important when sitting for long periods of time, so you do not put unnecessary strain on your back.

Build Breaks into Your Schedule

Be sure to step away from your work during the day. As a volunteer leader, you may be completing volunteer association tasks during the workday. Your eyes need a break from your screen, and your mind needs a break from your work. A change of scenery is very beneficial. Since board meetings are often during lunch, try to find other times throughout the day to give your eyes a screen break. Check out my article on Mindfulness & The Association Leader for more information. Go for a walk or get some exercise. Fresh air and/or exercise will give your brain a much-needed break so that you can focus on what you need to accomplish in the afternoon. Keep in mind that working long periods of time without taking breaks will not help your productivity, only hinder it. Balancing your work with taking breaks will only benefit the work you do for your association.

Don’t Forget to Stay Connected

While technology is helpful with keeping us organized and connected, don’t underestimate the value of human interaction. Whenever you can, pick up the phone and call someone instead of sending an email. It’s a great way to connect with association board members and the membership. Moreover, members especially will appreciate you reaching out and feel connected to the association. A familiar voice on the phone provides a nice break in our day and will convey a message of support as a leader. Associations need to continue to operate, and a strong, organized leader is what members need, now more than ever.