December for me is very much a loose-ends month. I look at my accounting, and clear up loose ends there. I look at my data, collect a few missing ones and run a few experiments. And I look at my goals for the year and figure out if I can still do something to get closer to reaching them. And I look at my to-do list for Q4 and check which things I still need to finalize. This is broadly speaking what I do in December. But let’s dig a deeper into what to focus on in December.
Obviously, December is always shorter than what you need for all your year-end plans. So, you need to prioritize the things on your to-do list and create a clear focus for yourself. Decide on the criteria that will help you rank your actions in order of priority.
Criteria could be whether or not it must be done in December (in the calendar year), the impact of the action or of not doing the action on the organization, whether the action can be delegated or not, etc. List up to 5 criteria and score the actions. Then list the actions on your to-do list in order of priority.
Plan the actions of your to-do list according to their priority in your calendar for the month. Make sure you do not plan too many items per day or week to leave space for unexpected issues popping up. Or just for allowing yourself some time off, to recover from a year that undoubtedly has been hectic and full.
So, what do I really focus on this month?
Breaking down the overview I shared in the first paragraph, here are my priorities
Priority 1 – loose ends in my accounts & cash flow
I focus on looking at my accounting system and my cash flow projection, to see if I have forgotten to pay someone or should remind a donor to pay a new instalment. I do that to ensure ongoing cash flow. But also, to minimize transitional items between the current year and the next that will pop up in my annual accounts. This is something that does not need to take up too much time, if you keep an eye out for this throughout the year.
Priority 2 – closing my accounts
I focus on closing the accounts as much as possible, making overviews of income and expenses by project (grant) and overall, for the organization. I share overviews with budget holders or project coordinators to check so that early in January I can finalize and complete these overviews. This is usually the most time-consuming year-end work, because there are often last minute issues involved on top of the many actions to take.
Priority 3 – data
I check the data we need for project reporting or management purposes and check whether we have these available or not. If not, I remind the person who need to collect or deliver these to do so. This is not necessarily much work for me to do, the focus is usually on making sure other people know what to do and do this.
Priority 4 – thank you’s
I make sure I send out thank you notes, and new year wishes to (key) donors before the end of the December. I write these for each key donor personally and e-mail or send them personally, too. This can be a lot of work, depending how many donors you have.
Priority 5 – my own sanity
The final thing on my list of key issues to take care of in December is myself. The past years I plan two to three weeks of time off between the end of December and mid-January. In this period, I recharge. I focus on professional growth by reading books or working on a course. Or I set up a new system, something I do not have much time for during the year.
What if there is time left?
If I manage to get all these 5 priorities fully covered and still have time and energy left in December, then I pick up some of the other issues I mentioned in the first paragraph. But first, I look at my team and check if there is something I can do to foster team cohesion, and the feeling of the team of having accomplished something this year.
I experiment a bit with social media platforms and data collection to see if we can get better numbers and collect data that helps us move forward better. I check our plans and see if there is still something I can do to move closer to reaching a certain goal. Often, plans for multi-annual plans or manuals get postponed and so these might be things I pick up in the end of the year, if time allows it.
My key tips
- Don’t overdo it! Many things can wait until January!
- Prioritize very clearly so you know what you really really really want and need to accomplish, before enjoying a good new year’s eve!
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