Leadership Hacks for Harm Reductionists

Roadblock Tips:
Time Management

Time management is another area harm reduction leaders, and indeed many people, report struggling with. There are many systems for dealing with time management that deal with one of two issues:

  1. How to prioritize tasks
  2. How to focus on tasks

Prioritizing Tasks

One of the most famous models for prioritizing tasks was developed by Stephen Covey, the author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey describes the time management matrix to help prioritize tasks. The matrix divides tasks into four quadrants and encourages people to list their to-dos within the matrix to determine what order to go about them:

Urgent Not Urgent

Many harm reduction leaders would also add an extra row for delegation. Like this:

Urgent Not Urgent

Here is a sample Monday to-do list from a fictional harm reduction leader we’ll call Jay:

  • Put away supplies
  • Stock van
  • Write grant report (due Friday)
  • Respond to email
  • Sign up for warranty on new computer
  • Prep for Community meeting (Wednesday)
  • Run payroll (due tomorrow)

Here is that list prioritized using the Covey method:

Urgent Not Urgent
Important Run payroll (due tomorrow) Write grant report (due Friday)
Prep for Community meeting (Wednesday)
Unimportant Respond to email Sign up for warranty on new computer
Delegate Put away supplies
Stock van

Focusing on Tasks

To focus on specific tasks there are many tips and tricks but one of the most famous, evidence-based ones, is the Pomodoro Technique. This method was developed by Francesco Cirillo, a university student frustrated with his own inability to focus for long periods. Instead, he found that he could focus on longer-focus tasks for 25 minutes followed by a short break of 5 minutes then returning to the original task or moving on to a new longer-focus task. This method has been studied and has proven useful to many. There are multiple free apps and websites to help learn and utilize this method of task management.

Other recommendations for focusing on tasks include:

  • Eliminate distractions – this should be self-evident, but it is very hard to work in loud or noisy places, or places where someone needs your attention every 10 minutes.
  • Get adequate rest – sleep is essential for focus.
  • Eat well and regularly – for full concentration it’s important to both eat nourishing food and to eat regularly to keep blood sugar and nutrient levels where your brain needs them to concentrate.
  • Regulate your chemistry – make sure that you have adequate access to whatever drugs you need to regulate your mood and biochemistry – from caffeine to nicotine to heroin – many of us need certain levels of chemicals to keep us focused.
  • HydrateResearch shows that when people are mildly dehydrated they don’t do as well on tasks that require complex processing or attention, so drink up – preferably water!
  • Find your productive time of day – contrary to popular belief there is no one “right” time of day for all of us – some of us are at our peak at 8 a.m. and others at 1 a.m. – find the times of day that work for your brain and, as much is possible, work then.
  • Allow yourself to take breaks – take breaks at an interval that works for you and your life.
  • Practice focus – if focusing is hard for you, try practicing it in small increments of a few minutes – like any skill, the more you do it the easier it is to do.
  • Use sound or music – use music or soundscapes to help you focus.
  • Avoid or limit social media – social media is literally designed to overstimulate you in order to keep you engaged, which, in turn, can disrupt focus – many people report that limiting social media exposure helps with focus and concentration.

More Resources

Don’t reinvent the wheel
During our development Harm Reduction Hacks have collected together a large number of resources from around the web you can find these in our resource folder in Google Docs. We are also always looking for more so help us by suggesting any resources we may have missed.
Suggest a Resource

External Resources

Collected from around the web
There are a number of external resources that contributed to the development of Harm Reduction Hacks. Here are a selection relating to this section:


The hacks on this site are shared with you under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International licence. This allows you (with attribution) to adapt content for your own use, although we do ask you to then also allow others to have equal access to anything you develop. More details of this licence can be found on the Creative Commons website.


We do not claim that this is an exhaustive set of strategies, shortcuts, or tips for running an SSP. What we do suggest is that Harm Reduction Hacks offers down-to-earth, practical information for being a better leader, starting and running an SSP, and providing syringe access services. We feel we can say this with confidence because the Hacks are based on interviews with, and the experiences of, literally generations of people who have been doing harm reduction work.

Please note that nothing in this guide should be construed as legal advice. Please consult an attorney local to your area to ensure your program is in compliance with all local, state and federal regulations that apply to your situation. 

Harm Reduction Hacks site design and implimentation by Nigel Brunsdon

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google
Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.