Taking Control of Your Inbox

2017-10-17 taming your inbox

By Meredith Parker, account associate

Yesterday, I was reading a blog post on the Thrive Global website where Ashton Kutcher was interviewed and he explained that email is “everyone else’s to-do list for you.”

This statement really resonated with me. At my nonprofit, we have just kicked off our annual membership campaign and are in the midst of preparing our annual budget and coordinating an in-person Board of Directors meeting in November. These items are, of course, in addition to my regular day-to-day tasks. As a result, like many nonprofit professionals, my inbox is flooded daily with waves of items from members, staff, and volunteers that may or may not be related to the most pressing issues of the day. To further complicate matters, our policy is to turn around emails to everyone within two business days.

When I began my work as a nonprofit professional, I did not know how to satisfy these competing priorities. The easiest method is always the path of least resistance, so I would spend the majority of my time responding to emails. Eventually, I realized that, with the absence of a concrete plan of attack, emails were controlling my workflow and I wasn’t accomplishing work that needed to be done.

Over the past year, I developed an organizational strategy for managing my emails and work, which is shared below:

First I identified the functional areas of my work:

  • Annual Conference
  • Board of Directors
  • Awards and Scholarships
  • Committees and Task Forces
  • Volunteers

Second, I created To-Do Folders in my email inbox for each of these functional areas.

Third, I established that the first thirty minutes of the day are dedicated to:

  • evaluating the state of each functional area through emails
  • deciding how much time to allocate to each functional area based on emails and outstanding work.

Following this, the first fifteen minutes of my day, I open every new email in my inbox and allocate it to the correct functional area To-Do folder. Then, in the second set of fifteen minutes, I create a daily work plan. In this work plan, I first write down any meetings that I have. Then, I allocate time to each functional area depending on the work that needs to be done that day. I make sure that, even if there are not pressing matters in each area, I allocate at least 15 minutes to each area so I get to all emails with the required two business days.

Fourth, I follow the daily work plan. With my entire day laid out in increments of time corresponding to functional areas, I am forced to prioritize what is important in each functional area instead of letting my email dictate it. In addition, because I make time for every functional area, I ensure that I am not dropping the ball on any items even if they are not pressing.

Since establishing this workflow, I have found that I work more efficiently. Instead of getting bogged down by emails for an hour or two every morning, I spend time focusing on the most important work of the day and answer emails as time permits and as needed within a functional area.

Though this method works for me, I know that everyone’s brain works differently and it might not be an effective strategy for all. I would be interested in hearing what works for you. Please feel free to share below.

Want to know more about association management? Contact us at info@imiae.com to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.


5 Tips to Avoid Being an Email Offender

Image Credit: Canva
Image Credit: Canva

By Whitney Thweatt, Account Manager

With so many emails flooding our inboxes each day, it’s important to follow some email etiquette to keep our communications meaningful for the reader. Before you hit “send” next, check out this list of 5 Tips to Avoid Being an Email Offender.

1.) Acknowledge receipt. If you were having a conversation with someone and they handed you a report along with an assignment, would you say “I’ll take care of this” or “I’ll review and let you know if I have questions” or a similar response? Practice this same conversation with email. Acknowledge receipt so the sender knows the email has been received and read. If the email requires follow-up before you can provide an answer, indicate such. An exception to this is if the sender includes “No Reply Necessary.”

2.) Respond to the entire email. Have you ever sent an email that included multiple questions, only to receive a response stating “yes”? If an email asks several questions, be sure to respond to each one.

3. ) Monitor your use of reply all. Do not use reply all when only the sender needs your response, but only if all recipients would benefit from the response. Avoid generic responses such as “thanks” or “me too” via reply all.

4.) Get to the point. Keep emails brief and to the point. State the purpose of the email within the first two sentences. Consider using bulleted lists instead of lengthy text.

5.) Use a clear subject line. Make your email stand out in the clutter by including a subject line that gets to the point. Ensure that the subject line matches the subject.

For a fun look into the “culture” of email, click here to watch “Email in Real Life.”

What are the common email offenses you see? Share in the comments below!

Want to know more about association management? Contact us info@imiae.com to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

Automatic Renewals for Associations

Image Credit: Canva

By Linda Owens, CAE, owner, President

“Sign-up and Receive Automatic Renewal Member Perks!”

We’ve all received promotions like this to reward automatic renewal. No longer do companies exclusively focus on the incentive of saving time on future purchases; they instead focus on tangible benefits to encourage anyone who might be on the fence about auto renewal.

For example, by signing up for the Entertainment Book’s automatic renewal program, I receive exclusive Renewal Members’ perks like:

  • $5 off your Renewal books every year
  • Free shipping on your Renewal books every year
  • Early delivery—15 full months to use each book
  • 10% off additional books you buy as gifts or for yourself
  • Renewal Members-only exclusive offers and discounts
  • 50% off additional Member Fine Dine Cards
  • New! FREE Companion mobile app — view your book on your phone

What if one of the associations I belong to was to send me a similar email, would I sign up for their automatic renewal program? What about you, would you sign up? What type of perks would entice the typical association member to choose to automatically renew their membership from year to year? How about:

  • $5 off the next year’s dues
  • Free shipping on your next order from the association’s bookstore
  • 5% off the next Annual Conference registration fee
  • Admittance to a free webinar held exclusively for Renewal Members only

Do you have other ideas to add to this list? Does your association offer an automatic renewal program?

Want to know more about association management? Contact us info@imiae.com to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

Roundup! Our Top 10 Lists

Image Credit: Canva
Image Credit: Canva

By Rachel Owen, Communications Manager

I love a good “list post.” You’ve probably seen them everywhere: Top 10 Ways to Simplify Your Life Before Breakfast, 5 Ways to Be a Superhero Every Day, or 7 Movies You Didn’t Know Are Based on a True Story. List posts get you to the information you need without a lot of fuss and then get you on to the rest of your day.

In honor of this perennial favorite, we present to you a roundup of the top list posts from the IMI blog!

Top 10 List Posts for Associations

  1. Top Speakers & Sessions at ASAE

Our team shares the sessions we just can’t stop talking about.

  1. 5 Ways to Save a Bad Day

If your Tuesday feels like Monday 2.0, this post is for you.

  1. 5 Steps to an Awesome Onboarding Experience

Help the new employee or volunteer acclimate quickly with these tips.

  1. Top 10 Excel Tips and Shortcuts for Associations

Whether you love Excel or love to hate it, these tips will make your day easier.

  1. Top Tech Tools for Associations

Here’s what our team is raving about right now.

  1. 21 Tips for Better Board Meetings

What happens when 10 executive directors brainstorm a better board meeting? You get this post.

  1. 9 Tips to Recruit and Retain Volunteers

How to bring in those volunteers and then keep them engaged.

  1. 20 Key Takeaways from the Book: “The Will to Govern Well”

We love a good book!

  1. 3 Things I Learned About Membership

Lessons from one year in membership services.

  1. 7 Evergreen Ideas to Engage Volunteers

This is our very first post on the IMI blog and it’s worth repeating!

Do you like list posts or do you prefer a traditional blog post? Share with us your favorites in the comments below!

Want to know more about association management? Contact us info@imiae.com to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

TED Talks for Associations

Image Credit: Mary Pi
Image Credit: Mari Pi

By Rachel Owen, Communications Manager

Looking for new and different inspiration for your associations? Check out a TED Talk.

If you haven’t heard of them yet, TED Talks are Technology, Entertainment, and Design presentations under the concept of “Ideas Worth Spreading.” (More on TED Talks here.)

Most of the Talks are about 20min long, which is the perfect length to view over lunch and refresh your mind for the rest of the day.

While TED Talks aren’t specifically about associations we think the concepts can provide inspiration for any organization.

8 Ted Talks to Inspire Associations

  1. Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action
  2. Sherry Turkle: Connected, but alone?
  3. Melinda Gates: What nonprofits can learn from Coca-Cola
  4. Michael Porter: Why business can be good at solving social problems
  5. Roselinde Torres: What it takes to be a great leader
  6. Beth Kanter: Doing Good Online
  7. Steven Johnson: Where Good Ideas Come From
  8. Clay Shirky: Institutions vs. collaboration

What are your favorite TED Talks? Let us know in the comment section below.

Want to know more about association management? Contact us info@imiae.com to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.


How to Unsend an Email

Image Credit: Aleksi Tappura

By Rachel Owen, Communications Manager

For all those times when you:

  • Forgot the attachment
  • Sent the email to the wrong “Jennifer”
  • Found a glorious typo seconds too late
  • Reconsidered your response to that critical email
  • Neglected the most important piece of information and needed to send a second email
  • Accidentally clicked “Reply All”

And wished you could undo it. This post is for you.

How to Unsend an Email … Sort Of.

Using Rules in Outlook, you can set up “deferred delivery” of an email such that after you click “Send” your email will sit in the Outbox for a time before it actually sends.

During that time, if you suddenly realize you forgot the attachment, etc., you can re-open the email in your Outbox, make changes, and click Send again.

While this function won’t actually bring the email back after it has been delivered, it does give you a small window of time to fix a mistake.

If you use Gmail, you can enable the Undo Send feature.

To set up deferred delivery in Outlook:

  1. Click on Rules > Manage Rules & Alerts.

manage rules

  1. Click on New Rule.
  1. At the pop up, select “Apply rule on messages I send” > Click Next.

apply rule

  1. At the “Which condition(s) do you want to check?” screen, do not select anything. Click Next.
  1. Click “Yes” when prompted to apply the rule to every message you send.
  1. Select “Defer delivery by a number of minutes.” In the Step 2 box, click the “number of minutes” to specify how many minutes to defer delivery. Click Next.
    A one minute delay has served me well. If you find that one minute isn’t enough time you can always modify the rule to boost the delay to two minutes or more.

delay minutes

  1. On the next screen, you can set up any exceptions to the rule here. If not, click Next.
  1. Name your rule, select “Turn on this rule” and click Finish!
    You will want to keep the name simple, such as “Defer delivery by 1 minute.”

finish rule
If you don’t want to delay all of your emails, check out the first part of this post for how to delay a single email.

Do you have any other email tips? Please share in the comments below!

Want to know more about association management? Contact us info@imiae.com to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

Theft Prevention Measures at Conferences

Image Credit: By Alejandro Escamilla
Image Credit: By Alejandro Escamilla

By Valerie Sprague, AMS Manager

Things can get hectic when attending or working onsite at a conference, not to mention the numerous distractions you encounter. In the blink of an eye someone can grab an unattended item (i.e. laptop, mobile device, etc.) for which your chances of recovery may be very small. You might feel a false sense of security while among your peers at a conference but you can’t forget about all of the other individuals who might be walking around a hotel or conference center.

Here are some tips on theft prevention measures to take while traveling to or attending a conference:

  • Do not leave your device(s) unattended. This may seem like common sense but it’s so easy to think “I’ll be right back” or “I’m just stepping away for a second.” Don’t risk that your device(s) aren’t where you left them when you return from a quick coffee break or a trip to the restroom.
  • Use a theft deterrent device. Consider purchasing a theft deterrent device for extra safety and security. Something like a cable security lock for a laptop would be a good investment that allows you to easily secure your laptop to a fixed item which will hopefully deter any theft attempts. Just don’t forget to hold on to the key!
  • Secure your device(s) in a locked room when not in use. Make sure to keep rooms, such as your conference storage space, locked when you are not present. Especially overnight if this is where you opt to store your device(s) when registration is closed. The same thing applies to leaving them in your hotel room unattended. It might be a good idea to use that cable lock, an available hotel room safe or to just keep the “Do Not Disturb” sign on your room while you’re out so that nobody enters your room unexpectedly.
  • Be vigilant when traveling with your device(s). Don’t forget your laptop when packing your bag up after going through security. Also make sure not to let your travel bag with your devices out of your sight when in the airport. Don’t leave it in the overhead bin of the plane either! The same reminders apply with transportation methods while traveling, such as taxi cabs and airport shuttles.
  • Protect your data. Make sure to password protect all of your devices using strong passwords. And when able, encrypt your local files and folders; or consider storing these sensitive documents someplace other than on your device while traveling (i.e. Dropbox). In the event your device does end up in the hands of someone it shouldn’t, you will want these added layers of security. And you will also want to consider making a back-up of the data from your device prior to traveling.

Remember that it’s better to be safe than sorry!

Want to know more about association management? Contact us info@imiae.com to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

Race for Relevance

Image Credit: Canva

By Whitney Thweatt, account manager

As an association management professional, I find myself constantly wondering how to improve the association and member benefits. In an age of almost limitless free resources available online, associations are faced with the daily challenge to show value and relevance to both current and potential members. What are some strategies association professionals can take to address this challenge?

The book, Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes for Associations, by Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers, CAE, proposes five fundamental changes in the way we think about association governance and management:

  1. Overhaul the governance model and committee operations.
  2. Empower the CEO and leverage staff expertise.
  3. Precisely define your member market.
  4. Rationalize programs and services and focus on those that have the maximum effect.
  5. Build robust technology framework.

Not sure where to start? Here are five high impact ideas to implement in your association.

5 Tips for Keeping Your Association Relevant:

  1. Members and volunteers face a work/personal life dilemma. “I don’t have time” really means “I have better things to do with my time.” Volunteers expect a return on investment of time so make sure you are offering some short-time volunteer opportunities as well as ones that are worthwhile to the volunteer.
  2. The board should focus on potential and possibilities; staff on implementation. Ideally you should have a competency-based board made up of five or six people.
  3. Specialization is key. Associations should focus on their strengths instead of trying to be all things to all members. Members will narrow their memberships to those with highest return on investment.
  4. Concentrate on the products that deliver the most value. Unused services and unneeded programs have no value. Prune obsolete services and your message becomes simpler.
  5. Every association function can be enhanced or performed via technology. Not only can automating some tasks free up staff time for other important member projects, it may also increase involvement. Find out what technologies and services your members are already using and integrate current member resources into those systems.

Want to know more about association management? Contact us info@imiae.com to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

Top Tech Tools for Associations

Image Credit: William Iven
Image Credit: William Iven

By Anna Morris, account associate

The Apple-invented adage “There’s an app for that” has never rung truer than in 2015 where there are apps, websites, and tools to assist any process or task imaginable. But sorting through all of the available “tech tools” out there can get just as overwhelming as managing your work day itself. To get you started, we polled our staff to pick their favorite tools that help in various areas of their day.

If you want to improve your organization, check out…

  • Basecamp – Working in association management often means you will have multiple clients with multiple upcoming events and multiple pressing deadlines. Multiply the multiples and you are left with a lot of to-do items to keep track of! Basecamp is a great project management tool that lets you create different “project buckets,” each with its own set of categories and to-do items with attached deadlines. Managers can create items and assign them to specific team members. Team members can comment on existing to-do items to ask questions or mark them as completed. You can even choose to view your outstanding action items for all projects at one—or just focus in on a specific section. This tool is a must-have for staying organized on a daily basis.
  • Google Calendar – Many other calendar tools and apps exist, but the tried-and-true Google Calendar platform is still one of our favorites. It allows you to make multiple calendars—each color-coded differently—and share each calendar with specified people. If you work with multiple clients, having one calendar for each client and adding the appropriate team members is a great way to keep people in the loop without cluttering their calendars with events that don’t apply to them. Add in the fact that Google Calendar seamlessly integrates with most smartphone calendars and you’re good to go. Think you’re a G-Cal pro? Check out these tips for more ways to maximize your calendar efficiency.

If you want to enhance team collaboration, use…

  • Dropbox – Dropbox became known as a tool to easily create shared folders and allow users to access large files from multiple computers. Recently, however, Dropbox changed the game by adding the Dropbox Badge that lets users edit Microsoft Office documents without leaving the Dropbox platform. This way, instead of having to download a file, edit it, and re-upload it, team members will always have access to the most recent version of a file and can see if someone on their team is currently editing it. This is a great resource for committee work projects.
  • Google Docs – Google has integrated their document-editing platform with Google Drive to let you store, share, and edit documents all from the same place. While these capabilities are similar to those of Dropbox, one of Google’s coolest features is Google Forms—with Forms you can quickly create easy-to-format surveys and have results automatically collected in a spreadsheet. This tool is great for quick surveys like collecting t-shirt sizes for conference attendees or collecting updated credentials for their name badges, where organizing the results is important but it would be too time consuming to set up a survey on a more extensive platform. If you are new to Google Docs, check out Google’s support page here for some handy overviews.

If you pull your hair out while scheduling meetings, try…

  • Meeting Wizard – Have you ever tried to schedule a board meeting with 20 people and tried to keep track of the best time in your head as multiple responses and conflicts come pouring in? Meeting Wizard eliminates the need for that mental strain by providing an interface for you to propose times, review responses, and then confirm the appointment with all attendees. Check out the Quick Start tool to take the stress out of planning your next meeting.

If all of your social media accounts are making you crazy, check out…

  • HootSuite – HootSuite lets you combine your social media profiles including Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ into one place. The free version allows for just 3 accounts, but the Pro subscription includes 50 social profiles for $9.99/month which should cover the needs of at least 10 association clients, meaning you could budget it in for just $1 per month per client. There are countless documented benefits to integrating social media into your marketing plan—here are 10—and employing a quality tool to help keep track of the various platforms is a great way to keep your head on straight.
  • TweetDeck – TweetDeck is similar to HootSuite but focuses just on Twitter, as the name implies. You can create columns for different handles, hashtags, or trending topics in order to stay on top of the approximately 500 million Tweets sent per day. This tool is especially useful on-site at a conference, where you can keep track of your event hashtag and respond to various threads of conversation in different columns.

If your daily work could use a design makeover, use…

  • Canva – Many design experts swear by Photoshop with its multitude of features and edit options, but it has a steep learning curve and the interface can be overwhelming for the casual user. Alternatively, Canva is a user-friendly tool that offers a platform to quickly design and export eye-catching graphics for things like social media posts or membership newsletters. It also hosts a Design School with tutorials to actually walk you through design fundamentals. If you’ve ever been super impressed by the branding of a conference or social media site, this is your chance to produce something equally impressive on your own. (Hint: The graphic for this post was made with Canva!)

If you want help keeping sight of the bigger picture, check out…

  • Grid Diary – Grid Diary is “the simplest way to get started with keeping a diary,” and overall is a user-friendly interface for keeping track of the little things throughout your day or week. With prompts for entering time with family, friends, and exercise in addition to work accomplishments, it’s a great way to remind us of the things we do outside of the work day to help make sure we are balancing our schedules appropriately. Unlike many of the other tech tools we have listed, Grid Diary is exclusively a smartphone app, so if you keep your phone nearby you will have easy access to keeping track of progress big or small throughout the day.

Those are our top tips for maximizing efficiency and productivity every day! What are you favorite tech tools we may have missed? Let us know in the comments below!

Want to know more about association management? Contact us info@imiae.com to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

Simple Tips to Complete Your To-Do List

Image Credit: Canva
Image Credit: Canva

By Adrian Emerson, Association Accounting Specialist

Recently, I attended an interesting class presented by Emily Parks with Organize for Success, LLC, called, “Moving From To-Do to Done: Task & Project Management Tools.” The class was a combination of tips to get things done more efficiently and suggestions of software that can help. Did you know there are hundreds, if not thousands, of different technology options to help with your to-do list? Of course, everyone has their personal preferences. Here is a brief overview of what I found to be the best tips to help get things done.

Decisions, Decisions.

With every task you must first decide what to do with it. Parks suggests four main options: Discard, Delegate, Delay, or Do. Making this decision should be done as soon as you get the task and update your task list as necessary as part of regular daily/weekly planning. Parks recommends the following four questions to help you determine what to do with a task:

  • Does this task move you or your company towards achieving goals? Or are you passionate about the task? If not, is its completion legally required?
  • Does the task require skills that you are exclusively qualified for or can others complete the task in an acceptable manner?
  • Could another person gain useful experience by completing the task?
  • Does this task really need to be done immediately?

To automate is to delegate.

Delegating does not always mean assigning the task to another person. You can also use technology to automate some tasks, like scheduling social media or blog posts and email filters to automatically move certain emails to different folders for later viewing or automatic filing. There are even some online services that use the simple format that if a certain action happens then you can have the service automate another action. For example, if you’re tagged in a photo on one website then you can have the same photo posted to another website.

Make it manageable.

Now that you are left with only the necessary items on your to-do list, here are some tips Parks gives to make the list easier to manage. First, break larger projects into smaller tasks and always give a task a due date even if it’s a month into the future. Next, group similar items together, like blocking off a section of time to make all of your phone calls for the day or clean up and respond to emails instead of going back and forth between tasks. She also proposes have a list of small action items that only take a few minutes, like making a phone call or reviewing an invoice, to be completed during small time blocks, like waiting in carpool or waiting for a meeting to start. Lastly, be realistic about what you can complete in a day. Parks says that on average you should only schedule to complete 3-5 tasks each day depending on your meeting schedule for the day.

Prioritize to stay focused.

Next you have to prioritize your task list, which for me is one of the more difficult things to do. Sometimes we are faced with emergencies and last minute requests, but Parks has strategies for those unexpected tasks, too. She advises two concepts for prioritizing tasks. The first is the Urgent & Important Matrix:

Image Source: Karthik Gurumurthy

It is suggested that Urgent and Important items be completed first, followed by Not Urgent but Important items, then Urgent but Not Important, and finally Not Urgent and Not Important items.

Another concept which can be applied in conjunction with the Urgent & Important Matrix is the Rock vs. Pebbles vs. Grains of Sand. The idea is that tasks that are Urgent and Important are Rocks, Urgent but Not Important and Not Urgent but Important tasks are Pebbles, and Not Urgent and Not Important tasks are Grains of Sand. Each day’s tasks should be a good mix of all three items. Think about it like this: A Rock can be something big and important like spending time with your family, then a Pebble can be something like finishing the laundry, which you would like to do today but ultimately can wait until tomorrow, and then Grains of Sand can be watching the newest episode of your favorite show.

Schedule for success.

Finally, you should plan your schedule of tasks weekly and revisit the schedule daily. Parks suggests that once a week you should create a schedule of 3-5 tasks for each day of the following week. Start with any tasks that were not completed this week and coordinate around meetings or other projects due in the coming week. Remember to plan out your Rocks, Pebbles, and Grains of Sand evenly. Parks goes on to recommend doing a daily wrap up at the end of each day. She suggests you take 10-15 minutes to review completed tasks and tasks that need to be rescheduled. Make sure you are prepared for the tasks scheduled for the next day, and request updates from team members as needed. She also advises tiding up your work space for fewer distractions the following morning.

Forward movement!

Finally, she says to celebrate the work that you were able to accomplish, even if you didn’t actually “finish” anything. Remember, they say starting a project is often harder than completing it.

For more tips about organization and information about Emily Parks, visit her company website: www.organizeforsuccess.biz.

Want to know more about association management? Contact us info@imiae.com to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.