My last post was about finding passion in your career, but what happens when you lose sight of that passion or you burnout? It’s very easy for you to get caught up in the work you are doing for others, and forget to take care of yourself. We see this happening a lot among nonprofit and social sector professionals. The work that you do will greatly improve if you are happier, healthier and more excited to be at work, so why are we not taking care of ourselves?!
I teach students about reflection and its value to make meaning of any experience, but as professionals, we do not place enough emphasis on this ourselves. We might take the time to reflect on a conference we went to and how we will apply what we learned to our work, or on ourselves after we go through a performance evaluation from our supervisor, but how are we reflecting on our personal well-being on a more consistent basis? Think about what you need, what is draining you, and how you can use your time most effectively to avoid exhausting yourself. For me, I have realized there are some things that I need to do to make the most of my work week. I start by building time in my work day for things that will help my entire day run more smoothly. Here are a few things that work for me:
- I block off 8:00-8:30am everyday on my calendar to allow me to get settled in, check emails and voice mails, and prepare for the day before I go to any meetings.
- Whether I take it or not (as hard as it is, everyone needs to take a lunch break!), I block of an hour for lunch each day. When the weather is nice I am more inclined to actually take a break and sit outside.
- Exercise is what keeps me stress-free, so it is on my calendar each day to remind me to go at a designated time based on my schedule.
- I block off “working” time. These are times set aside for me to work on a particular project and not be scheduled for meetings. This helps keep me on track.
- A few times a day, I get up from my desk and walk around the perimeter of the building once or twice. This gives me fresh air, allows me to move a little more, and gets my eyes away from the computer screen.
- I use sick and vacation days when I need to! If my brain is fried, there is no way I am going to be doing the best quality work, so I recognize when I need a break, and make sure I give it to myself. My office is not going to fall apart if I take one day off. Yours won’t either.
- As silly as it may sound, when my mind needs a break I sit with the senior secretary in our office (she has all the great art supplies) and color for a few minutes.
These are things that usually work for me, but everyone has to figure out what works for them individually, not everyone has the same office environment, stress reducers, habits, etc., The hard part is not figuring out what will help you take care of yourself, it is actually doing it. We find it especially hard to take a break when the work we do directly relates to social change or community empowerment, because we do not want to leave anyone without help, but it is a necessity!
Professor Dale Miller at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, in the Center Social Innovation wrote a blog post called “How Successful Leaders Avoid ‘Social Good Fatigue'”. It is an amazing view on “social good fatigue”, why its happening, what it looks like, and what others are doing. He quotes Ken Saxon, founder of Leading From Within, who tells of the executives he has seen who have lost their spark, “When you are in the business of inspiring and engaging others, burnout means you’ve lost your best asset.”
When training students leaders to facilitate a service project for volunteers, before anything else, I have them reflect on what service means to them. This is what gives them the ability to properly lead volunteers and help them stay motivated throughout the experience. It allows them to continuously reflect on why they are doing what they are doing. While it is the same for professionals, and continual reflection is a key component, our success is also determined based on the way we emotionally, mentally, and physically take care of ourselves. Take the time to determine what all those needs are how to care for them, use your friends and colleagues as a support system to breathe a little, and enjoy yourself. Above all, have fun at work and love what you do.
Here are some resources to help you take care of yourself:
- Tackling work-life balance in the nonprofit sector
- How to avoid our culture of overwork
- Taking care of others by taking care of yourself
- How to make time for yourself as a nonprofit professional