By Alex Baumann
Do you ever feel like self-care and work/life balance are just another thing that gets sketched on your never-ending to-do list? The pressure to do well for your nonprofit, while exercising, meditating, journaling and spending time with family and friends is overwhelming. And while there are countless articles every year on the topic, many of us inevitably hit a wall each year declaring we can’t do it all.
So, instead of telling you what you should be doing, I’d rather propose a radical idea: There is no such thing as a work/life balance. Now, I’m not saying that your life should be all work and no play. I’m also not saying you should quit your nonprofit and focus solely on your personal life. What I am saying is that any work/life balance recommendation that tells you to turn off your phone after 5 p.m. or ignore the mid-day phone call from your daughter’s school isn’t realistic.
Instead, let’s be honest that your nonprofit work life and your personal life are always intertwined, and not just from a time perspective. What you experience at your nonprofit will impact how you feel about and approach your social life. Likewise, your personal life will run into professional life.
What’s even better, you can use the connection between work and life (notice I didn’t say balance) to improve both. By doing this, you can achieve something I do believe in – self-care.
Let yourself off the hook: The pressure to do well when working for a nonprofit can be overwhelming. You likely have a personal connection to the cause you’re working for. And, you truly have the ability to change the world through your work every day. But a go-go-go attitude often eventually results in poor work quality or even burnout. The first step is to acknowledge that no matter how hard you push yourself, you are not capable doing it all on your own. If you try, you will likely have failures or times where you feel you didn’t do everything you could. Prioritizing, asking for help and acknowledging that you can’t do it all are so important – but most of all, never beat yourself up when you know you’ve done your best.
Make prioritization a priority: Between your nonprofit and personal life, a to-do list can quickly become the enemy of a productive day. For each day or week, I like to outline my key “can’t miss” priorities. This might include critical fundraising campaigns, an upcoming board meeting, doctor appointments, managing bills, etc. From there, map out when and where you’ll complete each item. Beyond key priorities, note the ‘nice-to-do’ items such as updating your nonprofit’s website, organizing at home, etc. You can get to these if you have time, but don’t have to feel stressed if they fall by the wayside or get pushed to next week.
Call for reinforcements: Sometimes even a prioritized list is too much to take on. This is when I call for help – which can come in a variety of forms. At home, this may mean asking for help with chores you usually manage – such as asking a partner or roommate to help out, or hiring a service to help with cleaning, yardwork etc. At work, this often means talking to your support system, such as board members, committees, volunteers or interns, to see if they can support you or take on additional work. I’ve found that when I am open and up-front with my colleagues about busy times, they are happy to pitch in to get the job done. And when things are quieter for you, you can return the favor.
Know yourself, and use it to your advantage: Do you work best first thing in the morning? Or perhaps your creative juices spark in the late evening, after dinner? Consider working your schedule around times when you know you’ll be most productive working on challenging tasks. Whatever you do, try to avoid the last-minute as this can result in additional stress.
Set-up boundaries that make you comfortable: Communicate to your colleagues and your family/friends how you prefer to be communicated with. Some people are most comfortable checking email on their mobile throughout the evening while others prefer to be texted or called about urgent items. Likewise, when you’re at work, how do you prefer your family or friends communicate with you? Decide what works best for you and openly communicate it. However, if you are in the midst of a particularly hectic moment on the home front, it can be beneficial to turn-off notifications and put away your cell phone so that you can concentrate fully.
Make technology work for you: Technology can be your best friend or your worst enemy when it comes to self-care. Take a look at how you’re using it and make it works for you instead of letting it be an additional stressor. If you find technology to be stressful, then rework what and how you get notifications on your phone or computer. I find the sound of my phone when I’m at home to be unsettling, so I turn it on silent except for critical notifications.
Also, think about how technology can make your life easier and give you back time. Consider setting up automatic shipping for items you know you’ll need (such as pet food, toiletries, etc.) or ordering your groceries online so you can pick them up quickly on your way home. There are also countless meditation apps that make it easier to achieve calm no matter where you are. Beyond self-care, technology can greatly help your nonprofit’s cause (while making your life easier).
Using these self-care tips, you can make 2018 your best year yet!
Alex Baumann is a managing supervisor at FleishmanHillard International Communications, a global integrated communications agency. Her work focuses on in strategic media relations and corporate communications for financial, consumer and healthcare clients.