IDM meets many economic developers throughout the year and we know how stressful the job can be. We began to realize how disparate our occupation is when we started a simple quest on the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) website to find the turnover rate in the economic development occupation to validate our perception that it is somewhat high. It turns out there is no such distinct occupation. On reflection of course, this makes perfect sense. There is no one-size-fits-all economic development job description, and economic developers are found in any number of industry sectors. Many, if not most economic development organizations in Iowa have a very few to no staff, yet they are the organization that the community relies upon for a wide range of activities. Industry attraction, existing industry retention and expansion, entrepreneurial and small business development, tourism, downtown and/or retail development, community amenities, housing, childcare and more, can be put on the organization’s plate if the activity is seen as a priority need by the community or area it serves. Each of these activities alone could warrant a fulltime staff member to be done well! This may explain why individual economic developers, and economic development organizations find themselves stretched to the limits of their human and financial capacities. This article offers advice on how best to manage all of the activities that are put on your plate, and tips to keep you healthy and sane in the profession.
It is always enlightening when we ask economic developers to sketch out how they spend their time on the job. Without fail, there is always more “job” than working hours to fill, which can lead people to feel overwhelmed, isolated, pessimistic, apathetic, you name it – but the end result is burnout, a lack of productivity and eventually, a change in employment (by choice or not!). So, how do we deal with time management and how do we say “no” when a proposed activity falls outside of the realm of the organization?
It all starts with a realistic strategic plan that identifies the organization’s priorities, under a clear mission statement that includes the organization’s areas of activity, and outlines what is going to be accomplished. A useful blog post on the website Time Management Success says there are two things important to managing time well: do the right things and do it right. The blog offers 26 time management activities, some of which make great sense for our profession as well as the organizations for whom we work.
Let’s start with the first three: know what matters to you, know your roles, and know your goals – these are the basics that form your strategic plan. What matters are your priorities, your roles are defined in your mission statement and outlined in your areas of activity, and your goals are clear statements of what you want to accomplish. Number six on the list is to set time limits on actions. Organizationally, this might mean understanding what a realistic time frame is for completing any of the initiatives you undertake to achieve your goals – not everything can be done all at once. Number ten on the list is to do what matters. We all do many things, but not everything truly matters. We can get stuck in a pattern where we are spending too much time on the unimportant, distracting things and not enough time on the important things. Consider using a matrix like the Eisenhower Matrix below to think about what you do, and what your organization does, and then really focus in on the important tasks that will lead to achieving your goals. This is where number 11 on the list comes in handy, do less. Before you take on another project, activity or initiative, make sure that it fits within your organization’s mission, if not, be assertive and say “no” to new requests. The last two items on the list that we will highlight include number 14, ask others, and number 16, delegate. You have more partners in your field than you know, reach out for help. Local, regional and statewide service providers exist to help you and your constituents, there is no need to struggle alone! Delegate if there is someone or some organization more suitable to take on a given task, seek out volunteers or board members who may have skills and interest in some tasks. The full list of 26 time management activities is worth a look for more personal time management tips. Hopefully, taking a good look at how you and your organization are spending time will help you align your job activities to a reasonable work schedule and a healthier situation for you and your organization!