It’s Never Just Stuff: Lessons for Associations from The Devil Wears Prada


During a recent flight back to Atlanta, I found myself browsing the movie selections on Delta’s ever-growing in-flight studio. Somehow, I always find myself gravitating toward my personal “classics” and this time, I landed on The Devil Wears Prada where I knew I was in the safe hands of Meryl Streep’s acting. 

I had prepared myself for to the world of the “chick flick.” But over the 149 minute runtime, I slowly realized that this movie is filled with tangible takeaways for the non-profits that I enjoy working with on a daily basis. 

For example, in one of my favorite scenes, Miranda Priestly (played by Meryl Streep) is providing feedback on a run-through for the magazine Runway where she is editor in chief. Her assistant, Andy, stands toward the corner taking notes. When the designer holds up two similarly designed belts, Andy laughs and earns the side-eye looks of everyone in the room. Andy then quickly apologizes and says that she is still trying to learn about this “stuff.” At this point, Miranda Priestly delivers one of my favorite monologues by saying: 

This... “Stuff"? Oh. Okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select, I don't know that lumpy blue sweater, for instance because you are trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue. It’s not turquoise. It's not lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you're also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent - wasn't it - who showed cerulean military jackets? And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact you're wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.

The first thing this short interaction highlights is how important it is for non-profit staff to understand the impact our field (or our association’s field) has on the world around us. The better we know the greater impact of the day to day actions of our members, the more invested and equipped we will be in making a better association for them. 

In another scene, Miranda has tasked Andy with getting the unpublished Harry Potter manuscript with roughly four hours to accomplish this goal. To make matters worse, Andy has to perform other tasks like getting Miranda’s lunch and afternoon coffee. Andy calls everyone she knows in publishing and is on the verge of giving up when she receives a call back from Christian Thompson, a colleague in the publishing industry who she greatly admires and met while networking at an industry event. 

This scene of the importance of networking. The association world in particular tends to be collegial where everyone is willing to assist in resource or knowledge sharing to the greatest extent possible. With that and the above example in mind, networking is key because we never know when or where someone you meet will be able to help you out of a seemingly hopeless situation. Why, I felt in love with this field because associations are defined as people with a common cause coming together in a non-competitive environment. This collaboration is ex 

The last lesson I learned from The Devil Wears Prada comes from my favorite character, Nigel (played by Stanley Tucci). When Andy lost all hope and felt as though Miranda hated her, Nigel provided some sage wisdom and said:

Andy, be serious. You are not trying. You are whining. What is it that you want me to say to you, huh? Do you want me to say, "Poor you. Miranda's picking on you. Poor you. Poor Andy"? Hmm? Wake up, six. She's just doing her job. Don't you know that you are working at the place that published some of the greatest artists of the century? Halston, Lagerfeld, de la Renta. And what they did, what they created was greater than art because you live your life in it. Well, not you, obviously, but some people. You think this is just a magazine, hmm? This is not just a magazine. This is a shining beacon of hope for... oh, I don't know... let's say a young boy growing up in Rhode Island with six brothers, pretending to go to soccer practice when he was really going to sewing class and reading Runway under the covers at night with a flashlight. You have no idea how many legends have walked these halls. And what's worse, you don't care. Because this place, where so many people would die to work, you only deign to work. And you want to know why she doesn't kiss you on the forehead and give you a gold star on your homework at the end of the day. Wake up, sweetheart. 

This scene and these words light a fire in my soul that burns brighter than I’m almost embarrassed to admit. But it reminds me that a positive outlook and end-goal in mind will help us accomplish our task. It also reminds me that what we do every day is so much more than just an association. We provide community and hope to our members who may feel alone and hopeless otherwise. And finally, it reminds me to appreciate what we are able to do and accomplish together every single day because there are so many people who dream of being in our shoes. 

Written by Jessica Atkinson, Association Manager

The Twisting Time Management Road

But what if I had 30 hours in a day?  26 hours?  

Well, truth be told…I’d figure out a way to need more somehow!  

In the age of immediate gratification and “I need it NOW,” for the longest time I couldn’t figure out how to do it all.  Then I realized the secret.  Ready for your mind to be b-l-o-w-n? You can’t.  Man, woman, Gen-Xer, Millennial….doesn’t matter.  You shouldn’t.  You won’t. You can’t.  

And that’s ok.

But how you use the 24 hours you’ve given…well, there are some tricks I have stumbled on, researched or created to help with that.  


Opportunity #1:  Knowledge is Power

First, do you know where your time is going? The first step is knowledge.  Make a spreadsheet or somehow track your time.  I picked this tip up in Laura Vanderkam’s I Know How She Does It.  She took a spreadsheet and tracked her time down to the half hour.  A few years ago, in the days when I had two kids under five, I printed one out and [skeptically] went through the process.  Between running my company, raising a young family and trying to prove my worth as a mom, wife and entrepreneur…do you know my biggest time waster?  

Well, it wasn’t sleep!

It was social media. Facebook, in particular.  A close second:  email.  It was not only sucking my time, but was infringing on critical family time I was fighting desperately to have.


Solution #1:  Put Away the Phone

We created phone-free zones in our home. Dining room table during meals or family meeting were off limits for our phones.  Bedtime with the kids.  30 minutes prior to going to bed.  We’re not perfect, and there are slips, but overall, this has made our time with our kids and at home more impactful.  It also set good boundaries with our association partners and leaders, as well as team members. 

I mandated only certain times of the day that I could check my social media accounts during working hours years ago. This continues to help me focus on our association partners, while still having nuggets of FB time throughout the day.  I don’t feel behind in the Pollyanna Facebook world, and I maximize my attention space on projects, our non-profit leaders, volunteers and our amazing team.


Opportunity #2:  Become the Master of Your Schedule

Take control of your schedule or it will control you. 


Solution #2: Take Back Control

My Friday routine always includes one key hour.  I take my paper (yes! I still have one) planner and my electronic calendar and ensure they’re in sync. I check client deliverables the next two weeks, work schedules of team members, school-related items, sports and after school activities and my own workouts.  I make a list of the top priorities I must get done that week – professionally and personally.  I also plan all dinners and note them each night. I make sure it’s on the family’s shared electronic calendar so whomever is home (hubs or myself) can start dinner. And, you know, it works.


Opportunity #3:  There is So Much “Noise.”

Is your to-do list 21 items deep? Do you feel at the end of the day you accomplished nothing?  Do you write down things that come up during the day that weren’t on the list, but you need to check something off so you add it and immediately check it off? [me too!] 


Solution #3:  Keep a Separate List for the “Whenevers”

Keep the shorter tasks that are important, but not necessarily time sensitive tasks. on a list you can access anywhere.  I use ToDoIst (link to it ) for my task management. It has a free and paid version. I can pull it up on my phone or computer.   When I am coming to the close of my day and I have 20 minutes left, or I come to a gap between meetings or calls, I pull this up and knock out what I call the low hanging fruit.  These are the things that aren’t necessarily as time sensitive and may include things like practice or jersey reminders to the soccer team, or a note of “good job” to a colleague.  They have a purpose and are still worthy of my time, but these tasks are small in terms of time investment. I fit them in the cracks so they don’t take critical time from association partners, colleagues or family.


Opportunity #4: Big Projects Seem Impossible to Complete

Do you put off big, daunting projects?  It could be a proposal…or a blog article.  It could be cleaning out your closet.  Do you find yourself procrastinating? Do you look at a project and not even know where to begin…so you don’t?


Solution #4: Prioritize, Take a Bite at a Time and Enlist Help

If you find yourself putting off a project – whether that’s starting it, or simply slogging your way through it – put it FIRST on the list for the day.  Make a deal with yourself that you will get this done first, before you tackle anything else that day.  If it helps – create a reward.  “If I get this done, I get to do this.”  Sometimes it’s all about mindset. For me, it’s visioning how I’ll feel once it’s complete. 

Is the project just too daunting?  Break it down, one piece at a time. What steps do you need to take to complete the project? Split it up and schedule it out. Oftentimes, a project seems impossible until it is taken apart.  What is that saying about eating an elephant one bite at a time?

Finally, what other resources do you have to help you? Time or money? People? Tools?  Identify if delegating a portion to a teammate is an option.  Determine if there is a vendor that could be brought on to see the project to completion (budget allowing).  Would a project plan assist in the project’s completion? Above all, avoid feeling like you’re on an island with no collaboration outlet. Many of us work better through verbal or written collaboration. 

At the end of the day, time management comes down to spending time on what is most impactful and important to you in your world. It’s not about doing more with less.  It’s about doing what creates value in your world, and those worlds you impact. Spend time focusing on opportunities for growth, to create efficiencies for yourself and those whose world you impact first.  By looking at solutions and priorities, you create a better life for yourself, the ones you work with and the ones you work for.



I use for my kids’ spelling tests: I put the test dates on my calendar and the words in the notes. That way I can quiz them in the carpool lines or waiting for the sibling to get out of a practice. Great way to make productive use of our time together. 

Entrepreneur Hack: 

I keep NCG notecards in my bag. When I’m stuck in a carpool line by myself, I pull out a note card and write a note to a client, colleague or friend that I should spread a little sunshine and gratitude to in my life

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