If you work in the nonprofit sector, grab a cup of coffee. It’s time we have a chat.
Here’s your life so far: You work long hours and when you finally do get to go home, your phone buzzes constantly, the email box dings, and small (or big) “fires” constantly demand your attention. And at the end of another unbelievably long day, you drop into bed for a few hours of black-out sleep before doing it all over again. We won’t even talk about your weekends.
We get it. The work you do is important, and choosing to turn your phone off when it could mean the difference between gaining or losing a new donor and helping or losing another orphan, can wrack you with guilt.
But here’s the catch: In order to continue investing in people (and we mean really investing in people), you need to stop, take a deep breath, and invest in yourself first.
We know it’s hard to distance yourself from your work and allow yourself to say no. Budgets are tight and there’s pressure to fill multiple roles. But sometimes taking on too much means that none of the work gets done correctly. So be aware of how full your plate is and develop honest communication with your superior about your capacity. When your plate is full, say no to more. You shouldn’t be working 60+ hour weeks every week.
Plus, due to the nature of your work, it’s easy to quickly become very emotionally connected to it. But over time, you’ll start to feel drained and taxed, not just physically, but emotionally. Being emotionally drained not only affects the quality of your work, but it also leaves you with no strength or capacity for personal relationships with friends and families.
You can’t change the nature of your work and you can’t change the type of investment you make, but you can manage it better. With a few little tricks, you can make a day’s work more meaningful. Because you play so many different roles within your nonprofit, you are often required to switch hats at a second notice. Transitioning between different roles requires a mental switch in your train of thought. With switches taking several minutes, even just a few breaks in your workflow quickly adds up to an hour or more of wasted time.
Here’s what we suggest—block off your days. If you’re tasked with running a year-end campaign, maintaining regular email marketing, and servicing major donor accounts, dedicate a day to each. Rather than constantly shifting focus between each project, spend Monday on the year-end campaign, Tuesday on writing and scheduling all emails for the week, Wednesday on major donor needs, and so forth.
In doing so, you’ll be able to stay focused on the task at hand without having to pause and switch modes several times a day. If you can’t dedicate certain days to certain projects, at least try to break up your day into two to three blocks with dedicated time to just one project in each block.
And remember, regular breaks are a good thing! Take a walk outside, make some more coffee, or leave the office for lunch. These breaks refresh your mind and alertness, giving you more strength to power through the next chunk of time.
It’s okay to say no. Say it with me. It’s okay to say no. I know you’ve probably heard this a million times, but it’s worth saying again. Say no. And when you leave work, make sure to actually leave work. Don’t take it home with you. Establish healthy distance between your professional and personal life to make sure your family and friends actually get to see the non-work you. You’ll return rested and recharged the next day, and you don’t need us to tell you that that’s the best way to start off a new day of work.
Because of dedicated people like you, lives are being changed, healed, and saved. And we know that completely obliterating work stress is impossible. But the only way you can successfully keep up all that work is if you give yourself room to rest. So give yourself freedom to set boundaries and say no. Enjoy your family, take a nap, cook a meal, or go on a vacation. Even God took a step back from His work, called it good, and rested.