Create your own dog park to get more done!

by Marcy Heim on January 22, 2020

Did you ever wonder if there was a way you could feel structured and free at the same time?

At all my presentations, I take a survey asking you to share your greatest challenge. ‘Managing time/overwhelm’ is always in the top three…. and often the top two – right up there with needing to raise More Major Gifts!

For most of us, every day is a frantic effort to get in one more thing, continuously reacting to email, posts, and text messages, and running between meetings and visits.  Many of us resent having each moment of our day calendared out – day after day after day. There’s no time for creating. No time to artfully compose letters, emails and texts so important after our personal visits. No time to invest in a new project plan – perhaps a new segmented mini-campaign. No time to create a system that would give us better consistency and even SAVE time. No time to just stare into space. No time to chat with our colleagues – just be social. No time to catch our kids’ games or shows without thinking about work.

No time.

If only we could just have an open day – we’d organize that sock drawer, clean our electronic files or plan ahead on the next trip. Yet when we DO get an open day – and we do on occasion, we don’t seem to get much done at all. It’s like we just want to putz. Rest. Stop.

Here are four ways for you to THINK about your time differently.

dog at park

1. Creating Dog Parks in your calendar.

Research tells us we need STRUCTURE to be FREE. What? Think about a dog in a dog park. Without the fence, the boundary, Fido is constrained on a tight leash. The fence boundaries provide the freedom to run!  Children will play harder and happier within a fenced playground.  At the fireworks, we define our ‘space’ with our lawn chairs and blankets.


And like Fido knows the park is ‘run time’ we can look forward to focusing on a specific action within boundaries. Free from distractions of other tasks and interruptions.  Remember, every time you look at your phone or email, you shift from YOUR priority to reacting to someone else’s priority.

Take your week.  Try blocking off 90 minutes twice each week for donor follow up tasks, 30 minutes twice each day to process email, 60-90 minutes a day to do your highlight (see #3) and 15 minutes just before lunch to make thank-you calls?  I block writing, coaching and highlight time daily, weekly or monthly. I also block up to three hours (2-90-minute segments) for big personal or professional projects that are ongoing periodically. Understand you may not get it all done within these times, but as you do this more, you better focus within these blocks and you get better at stopping distractions within these blocks. And – you will find you enjoy the work more because you are intentionally doing what YOU have decided is important and meaningful to your success.

2. Switch from the “to do” lists to a note pad and calendar. 

I read an interesting bit of research from the tech world. Highly successful folks are carrying a small notebook (and yes, a writing tool like a pen) for meeting notes, capturing random ideas and remembering tasks.  It’s more about journaling.  Many of us turn this into a written or electronic list of “to do’s”.  I call mine ‘Get to dos” to think about doing my tasks as opportunities, not a drudgery.  But I’m going toward cutting this step out and instead moving from my ‘journal’ to choosing when on my calendar I will do this and planning the time within the boundaries of everything else I have going. I find it helps me make better commitments to when I can get work done.  Sure…it may only be a ½ hour project, but it’s ½ hour I won’t have until next Wednesday.  Does this make sense? Play around with it and let me know

Make time3. Create a Highlight for each day – and do it!

Once again, let me recommend the book, Make Time. While I am not executing all the advice perfectly, I have adopted the idea of a daily “Highlight” and it’s a terrific tool to focus on what you really intend to do in your day.  Make time to read it!

4. Be eager with your time, not anxious or burdened.Eager and Happy

How do you FEEL as you begin your day? There was a time I found I looked at another full day of tasks and was feeling almost burdened, “Today I have to work on that speaking powerpoint.” Or “Today I have 3 coaching calls.” Sincerely…I LOVE speaking and coaching, so what was this about? I honestly ask myself, “If I could do anything I wanted, what else would I do right now?” I have worked all my life to do EXACTLY what I am doing now. I love to speak and work with my clients, walk and sing. So I remind myself of this with a calendar entry at 5 am every Monday. “Eager and happy to be here attitude” It reminds me I choose how to begin every day and I intentionally remind myself, “I love what I get to do!”

And through this all, remember that when you focus on perfection, you’re not doing the work to becoming good at moving forward from a mistake. You’ll have hiccups as you try new things. There are many things you cannot control. How you respond to those things ultimately determines whether or not you succeed. Embracing imperfection allows you to accept more risk, and in the process, grow. Be gentle with yourself and keep going.  Know I am always here, plugging for you, and filled with gratitude for the gift you are in composing our generous world!

Marcy Heim is a trusted authority in the development profession and helps organizations and educational institutions boost their major gift programs through artful, long-term relationship building that dramatically increases fundraising success while promoting increased staff job satisfaction. To receive a free chapter from Marcy’s book, Empower Your Board to Serve as Effective Development Ambassadors, click here.

Questions:  Contact KK Konicek at

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