Archive for category Beyond Burnout

It Feels Good to be Running

Yesterday I rushed from lunch with a friend to a work meeting. Luckily the meeting ended early, since a quick check of my email reminded me that I still needed to prepare financials for the next day’s board meeting. I ran back to the office for 40 minutes, entered the latest set of donations into Quickbooks, and whooshed off an email before running out the door to a coaching appointment.

Traffic was heavier than I expected, so I arrived a few minutes late. Yet instead than feeling stressed and overwhelmed, I felt exhilarated and energized. After days of feeling lethargic and mildly depressed, it felt fabulous to be able to roll with so much action. I was in my flow.

I am learning that I have an optimal level of energy that I put out day to day. For the past several weeks, I have been operating under capacity in an effort to recover from a period of heavy stress. Instead of feeling rested and at ease, I was starting to feel depressed, unsure what to do, and unfulfilled. Yet I also know when I try to operate much over my capacity, I burn out from working at an unsustainable level.

I tend to err on the side of operating over capacity, so lately I have been practicing under doing it. However, it’s not working for me. When I am too far under capacity, my self care falls apart. I figure I will get around to meditation later. I can’t think of a good reason why I need to get off Facebook.

I know that operating over capacity can be a coping mechanism. Am I hiding from something? Am I avoiding hard feelings?

In this particular moment, I don’t think so. While running from thing to thing can sometimes be a way to run away, it can also be an efficient way to get things done. It’s efficient for me, as I get more focused and just get things done rather than fretting too much over how to do them. When I am busy, it’s easier to jump into rejuvenating activities like dance or talking with a good friend or writing or watching the season finale of The Voice. (Whoohoo Jermaine!)

I feel liberated, feeling into my natural capacity, feeling how the right tempo and flow unleashes my gifts of energy and motivation.

I know that my particular capacity is different from other people. And that my own capacity changes day to day, especially if I’m sick or been working over capacity for too long. But being present with my natural capacity, today, in this moment, I feel alive.


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Transitions Drag Me Down

Transition creates a huge drag on my ability to be productive.

New staff members have to be hired and trained. People have to pick up work done by former staff members while the new person is coming on board.

I know about this concrete drag. But there is also an emotional drag as well.

I have to process my sadness that good people are leaving. I have to grieve and bury the dreams I had shared with people who are leaving, as those dreams were built around the particular talents and skills of people who will no longer be central to the organization.

I have to process my frustration about picking up extra work. I have to process my overwhelm at having extra work to do, and less help to do it.

I need to make space for building trust and camaraderie with new staff people. We need time to dream our new dreams, laugh at our new inside jokes. We need to explore and find the magical sweet spot that speaks to our common interests and our particular mix of skills, that sweet spot that will make our work not just good but amazing.

All this work doesn’t just take time. It also requires a measure of emotional labor.

I have had a practice of excluding emotional labor from my regular work day. If I’ve had a hard day, I talk with a friend over dinner or call someone who I know will have a good insight. I don’t count this as work hours, even if I spend an hour talking about work.

When I only have the occasional hard day, this works okay. My friends don’t get tired of hearing about my job; they usually have their own stories that we process. There’s a mutuality that works.

But when many days are hard, for weeks and months on end, the emotional labor starts to take a toll on both me and my social circles. The hours of unpaid labor add up. I start to resent my job. My friends start to ask pointed questions about whether my job is bad for my health.

How do we build emotional labor in to the work day, particularly in times of transition when we know it’s absolutely necessary? How does the offloading of emotional labor to our support circles contribute to an unsustainable work place? Does keeping all the emotional processing within the workplace actually work? Or does it just turn into a social worker mess of over processing?


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What To Do Next? The Magic of Random

I am constantly seeking new ways to manage my to do list. It can regularly throw me into a panic.

Even when I write down all the things, there are so many. Should I work first on a blog post? Or something for work? Or maybe call a friend I haven’t talked to in ages? Ugh, I can’t even see the top of my desk – maybe I should clean that off first. Crap, I also need to clean the bathroom!

It doesn’t take long for me to start spinning. Which means I’m getting exactly nothing done.

Not Sure What’s Next? Pick at Random

It seems so obvious in retrospect.* If I can’t find a good reason for choosing the next right thing, and if it’s not intuitively clear, the best option is to do something. Anything. And trust that even if it isn’t exactly the right next thing to work on, I’ve at least done one thing instead of getting stuck in an endless loop of stuck. Plus it’s likely that working on one thing actually helps me work on all the other things too.

How To Randomize a To Do List

Step 1: Write down all the things I have to do. Only include ones I can actually do right now.

Step 2: Label each item with a number, starting with 1.

Step 3: Use a random number generator to pick one of things.

Step 4: Do it.

Repeat as long as I want. Building in some breaks is advised.

Watch the Magic Happen

I am consistently amazed at which tasks randomly get picked for me. Like the day I didn’t want to meditate, even though I’m trying to meditate every day for 30 minutes. I put meditation on the list, and figured if I was meant to do it, it would be selected. Of course, it was the FIRST THING selected.

Or the people I’ve contacted when normally it takes me weeks to connect with people. Or the proliferation of blog posts that happen when I can put several ideas on a list, and just wait for them to get selected at random.

I’m not completely beholden to the number generator. Sometimes I still pick my own tasks, when it’s clear to me that one feels more important or urgent. But the only reason I can skip a task is if it’s actually time to go to bed.

*I am eternally grateful to Beth Wodzinski for suggesting the random to do list! It’s totally changed my world.



Now Is Not Then

This week, I find myself poised to be named Acting Director at the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. It’s a temporary solution to support another staff member who will be on leave. We’re hoping this distribution of leadership will jump start our intended move to a staff collective this year.

I feel deeply honored to be asked to step up in this way. And deeply in awe of everything that has unfolded over the past two years, since I decided to move to the Bay Area to be more connected day to day with socially engaged Buddhists. I’m in an even more strategic position to fulfill my dream of trying out new models of governance in a Buddhist organization.

But it’s not all easy. I’ve been sitting with a lot of dread in my chest and throat, a sense of fear and trepidation about what I am getting myself into.

A certain amount of this is normal. There’s a lot of work to be done, and I’m not sure that I’ll be able to get it all done in a 40 hour work week. There are a lot of unanswered questions about how much others will be able to step up to help. I may be shouldering a lot in the next few weeks.

But a large part of this is not about now.

1. What does this remind me of?

So much of this is unprocessed anger and fear from my past experience with nonprofits. Some of it is directed outward at nonprofits that continue to work people until they burn out, unwilling to make the hard decisions that would make our work more sustainable. Some of it is directed toward me too – can I trust myself to really take care of myself this time?

2. How is now not then?

Now – I have a huge set of practices that I didn’t even have a clue about when I was last an executive director. Meditation, compassion, equanimity, lovingkindness. When I learned those practices, I was blown away. “If only I had known about these when I was a director, my experience would have been completely different!” Now I get to learn just how different they might be.

Now – I work in an environment that supports me in using these practices. Even ASKS me to incorporate these practices throughout my work.

Now – I also have a whole set of practices for interacting with my stuff. Talking with monsters and walls, learning the patterns with Shiva Nata, emergency calming techniques, how to enter and exit consciously. And a million other helpful things that I had never even heard about, much less practiced for the past year or more.

Now – I know going in the problems of burnout, overwork, and how nonprofits struggle to make hard decisions. I can enter as I wish to be in it. Which probably means doing less, more slowly, but more deeply. There will be more practice of saying no to say yes.

3. What qualities do I want to bring to this encounter?

Courage. Love. Sovereignty. Possibility.

Presence. Laughter. Sustainability. Fierceness.

4. What do I want?

To midwife the organization into its next iteration. To stay open to not knowing what that actually looks like or how much of this process is mine to do.

To find my practices of self care so solid, so natural, that I stop telling the story that “I can not be trusted to take care of myself.”

5. What do we have in common?

(I’m reading this as “what do I have in common with this role of Acting Director”). Ten things:

  1. We meditate
  2. We use other self-reflective practices to bring our best selves to work
  3. We open our hearts with practices of compassion, loving kindness, joy & equanimity
  4. We’re interested in non-hierarchial leadership models
  5. We need to get more rooted after a period of transition
  6. We need to not get so rooted that we can’t still be transplanted as things continue to transition
  7. We need to ask for help from others as a way to be less hierarchical
  8. We are both terrified and hopeful about the future of the organization
  9. We are walking forward into a dark forest full of unknowns, slowly feeling our way
  10. We are resting in a larger field of interconnected, supportive people.

6. And how will this experience help me in the future?

I will certainly be learning a lot more about my practices of self care. Even if they completely fall apart, I’ll have new information about how to retool my self care tools to be more effective the next time.

I also am getting another set of lessons about nonprofit management. Even if things completely fall apart, I’ll have new information about what works and doesn’t work when trying to shore up a nonprofit.

7. Without having to appreciate this situation, what might be useful about it?

I don’t love that I’m feeling so much dread about taking on this role. I wish I could be unabashedly enthusiastic about it.

But having to process this old dread is really forcing me to think about how critical my self-care is going to be in this, and how important it’s going to be for me to start saying no to many upcoming things. I’m wanting to carve out lots of time for self care and reflection. And I wouldn’t be quite so intentional about this if it didn’t feel quite so dire.

8. What might help this encounter be less agonizing more harmonious?

I could ask Slightly Future Me who knows more about how we are aligned with this role of Acting Director in cool and amazing unanticipated ways.

I could refresh my memory of some good Emergency Calming Techniques, so they are easy to access when I am in a panic.

I could make a bag of slips specific to self care, and pull one out every day plus every time I find myself in a panic.


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For When I’m Too Terrified to Make My To Do List

The past few days, I’ve found myself feeling a little lost and unable to focus. I’ve gotten into a groove with my new job, even finding time to hang out with friends and getting in some (crazy fun pop dance) exercise.

I know I’m a little off – I’m just returning from a week hanging out at the lake my parents which slows life down with a lot of lovely simplicity.

But – I’m also finding myself checking Facebook obsessively. And playing crappy online games (please tell me I’m not the only one who gets obsessed with the sparkly gems of Bejeweled).

Tonight I found myself drawn to these distractions and tried to track what was happening just before I got the overwhelming desire to read every Facebook post from every one of my friends for the past 15 weeks.

It was a familiar problem. I’d thought of one thing I could do – I should call back that friend that called me earlier! And instead of just doing it, I got dumped with an avalanche of other things I should be doing. But! I need to return that other friend’s email! And! I really need to plan for my trip next week! But! What about those six appointments I’ve been avoiding making! Those must be done! Right! Now!

And that’s just in the first millisecond.

I know I’m not alone in this, where “do one thing” becomes “DO ALL THE THINGS!

I know that one thing that has helped in the past is a brain dump. I make a list of everything that occurs to me that I need to do. I write it down, one thing per line. There is no categorizing. There is no deciding if a task should be done now or next Tuesday. There is no judging about whether it’s really that urgent to inventory all the items that are currently being stored in my closet.

At least if I get all of the things on to paper, the yelling and screaming and jockeying for position that’s happening in my head simmers down a bit.

But I often resist the brain dump. It’s scary! There will be so much! And I’ll see how many things there are, and be completely defeated. There is not enough time! And I will fail!

Dynomite is seductively calling my name, just thinking about doing a brain dump. If I’m sure to fail, why bother doing it?

Until I remembered the sage advice of my friend Emily who is my personal organization savior. When I first balked at her suggestion of a brain dump, she counseled me, “How much you have to do is the EXACT SAME AMOUNT whether it’s held in your head or on a few sheets of paper. At least if it’s not stuck rolling around in your head, you’ll have a chance to use your newly freed up brain power for sorting out what can be done, delegated, or dropped.”

And I remember that she is right about this. My to do list does not magically become a longer list when I write it down. And the 27 things I wrote down tonight look possibly doable. Hey, I’ve already done 4 of them, about to be 5 when I press publish on this post. Not bad for a night that was about to be lost to the internet.

I might have to play a round of Tetris to celebrate.


Endurance + Precision

I am good at endurance. I am not a naturally gifted athlete, but in late 2006 I found myself signing up for the Iron Horse Training Class. At the end of six months, I would be prepared to ride my bike (which I didn’t own yet) up a mountain (climbing 6,650 feet) and if I was lucky I’d beat the train (or finish in 6 hours before I got swept off the road).

I was terrified, but also excited about the possibilities. What wells of endurance would I find deep within my body? Who would I be if I was able to complete this Herculean task?

I was going through a tough breakup and dealing with funding challenges at work. It was easy to get down on my life and focus in on all that was frustrating. I knew I needed a big anchor to keep me focused on what was still amazing in my life, and training for the Iron Horse provided that.

Sure, it was hard. Physically and emotionally.

I still remember the terror I felt the morning of our first outdoor ride after four months of training on indoor cycles. I came to work and felt the ever increasing dread in the pit of my stomach. My coworker who was also my teammate in training asked if I was ready to ride and I burst into tears and sobbed for a solid hour.

Or the training day when we climbed a ridiculously tough hill, a 10%+ grade all the way up for 6 miles – tougher than anything we would face on the actual ride. We rode up the hill as the April snow started to fall, and I WISHED it was uphill both ways as my sweaty gloves were actively working to freeze my fingers as I coasted down and tried not to crash on any of the tight curves.

I was already hurting just 10 miles in to the actual ride, during the “easy” flat section that had given us a vicious headwind all the way through the valley. As we entered the remaining 40 miles of rolling hills and steep mountains, I was already ready to quit. But I had told everyone I knew that I was doing this race, so I thought I’d just go a little farther and maybe quit when I got to Purgatory, the aptly named ski resort that marked the bottom of the steep climbs. And by the time I got to Purgatory, my thighs were burning and my lungs hot. But I thought I could go a little further and at least say I tackled part of the mountain. So I rode on.

And so it went. Just committing to a little more each time. Even as I was about to summit the final pass, I was watching the clock. There was a chance I would not make the 12:40pm cutoff to continue. At the time, I was READY for the van to come pick me up. Sure, I was just a mile from the summit, and it was then just an easy ride in to town. I was so close! Yet I was so ready to be done. But not so ready that I would get off my bike and just stand there waiting to be picked up. I rode on.

I came around the final curve, saw the stately mountains ringing Molas Pass and started to cry. I could see the top. It was 12:39. I was going to make it. I was going to finish the Iron Horse. I had endured.

Endurance is awesome. I’m glad I have it in my skill set.

But sometimes it’s not awesome. Like when I know grad school is not right for me, and I stay for five more years. Or when I know a job isn’t the right fit, but I feel like I should try to make it work.

Then endurance is being sentenced to twenty years of hard labor. It’s putting my limited energy straight down the drain. There is no flexibility to gather new in-the-moment information that might change my mind.

Do I throw out endurance?

No. I just need to add something. Precision. Endurance for the wrong reasons is painful. It is precision that helps me know what work is right for me, what activities bring me energy, or whether my body is hurting but feels okay enough to keep riding.

Sometimes these energies feel at odds. I am good at endurance, so sometimes I am imprecise in stating what I need. I’m pretty good at putting up with less than ideal conditions, and it often feels easier to go with the flow rather than asking for change. Precision takes a lot of internal tracking, a lot of attention and mindfulness, a lot of care. It’s usually not something I can know for sure ahead of time. It takes trying something out before I can even do the internal tracking necessary to know whether it works for me or not. Precision requires experimentation, trying something and adjusting on the fly.

I want to be more precise.

I’m entering into a period where I want to be clearer about what I want, about what will work for me and what just won’t. I keep waiting for clarity to descend into my brain, the fog lifting and everything to be obvious. But it seems that what is more called for is a mountain of experimentation, with detailed tracking and attention to what works best.


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It always makes me smile when a random connection happens. I was so used to random connections happening in the small town I’ve lived in for the past 7 years. Walking into most public spaces, it wasn’t a question of whether you would see someone you knew, but who. With only 14,000 people, I was daily reminded of the vast and numerous ways that everyone is connected. The web is almost visible, you can see the strands that connect me to you to everyone you meet on the street.

So when it happens in San Francisco, each time I’m a little more amazed. It feels the same, that there’s the vast web of interconnections and I’m tightly bound up in it even though I’ve been here just over four months. And as I feel how tightly woven this web is, I realize how deeply held I am in this new city of mine.

I run in to people I know all the time in San Francisco. On the train, on the street, at restaurants. One day on BART, I ran into a member of the leadership team of the Anne Braden program. The randomness of this instance – that we both happened to be riding into the city at the same time, on the same day, and happened to get on the same car out of 9 cars to choose from on this particular train. If I’d have been 7 minutes earlier or later, or picked one car closer to the front of the train – we’d have never met.

But of course, it gets better. A simple meeting like this is starting to feel commonplace in San Francisco. But this day held even more connection. We start talking, and towards the end of the conversation I mention that I’m heading to meet my mentor, who I’ve been paired with as part of the program. As I start to get off the train, a woman who has been sitting in the seat right next to where we’ve been standing says, “Please say hello from me to your mentor – I know her from my work at SF Women Against Rape.” SERIOUSLY. Yet another person, on the same train, in the same car, who could have been running 7 minutes late and caught the next train instead, or who could have chosen another car, but instead found herself sitting next to us at just the right time and place, who is part of this web of connections that wraps itself even tighter around me.

Where I feel it even more in San Francisco is when I read something I love, something I’ve been thinking and feeling, something I’ve been hoping and wishing tha I can find others who know something about this. Like this lovely post by Yashna Maya Padamsee, who says “We need to move the self-care conversation into community care. We need to move the conversation from individual to collective. From independent to interdependent.”

YES. I am so tired of the conversation about self-care being about individual problems and individual solutions. I am experienced at burnout, and it’s so easy to feel again and again like I am the center of the problem. But in reality, our cultural push to work and overwork is driven by capitalism. And the ways that we are internally driven to feel shame and guilt if we don’t “achieve” in the right ways are fueled by sexism, racism, heterosexism – every system that tells us that we are not okay, broken, and inadequate. Making space for myself and others to practice self care is a radical act to say that we are okay as we are, that we have worth separate from what we produce. Cultivating self-care is essential to our movements to transform our world.

Of course, this story cannot end with a simple connection of ideas. I read this article, am touched and go on Facebook to share with others. And of course, brilliant people I’m connected with here have not only posted this article themselves, but are tagged in the original post as people who Yashna thought of when writing this post. I am already building connections with the people who I moved here to connect with.

In case I have any questions about whether I’m in the right place, connecting with the right people ….. San Francisco continues to remind me that I am right where I most want to be.


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Minimum Living

I’m participating in the #trust30 challenge to reflect on quotes and writing prompts from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self Reliance. I hope to develop more trust in my writing, more self reliance that what I write is worthwhile, even if just to me.


“Resolve to only do what makes you come alive.” – Jonathan Mead

I spent most of the day Saturday at TEDxSF at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Not a bad day’s work to be sitting in a room full of smart people listening to some brilliant TED-style talks. The day’s theme “ALIVE! Maximum Living as a Human” made me ask a lot of questions – what makes me feel alive? What squelches my aliveness, which I feel as this heavy, tired, foggy sensation in my body? What outright makes me grumpy, frustrated, and unhappy in my day to day life?

Since moving to San Francisco, it has been my ongoing question – what should I do here? There are so many opportunities, so many potentially interesting, engaging, and amazing things to be doing every night of the week. Which should I do? And more importantly, which longer term commitments should I make – to work, to community organizing, to community building, to personal development and education? The choices seem endless, and every attempt to choose one thing leads to a profound loss at all I will be missing out on.

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

I love to be of use, but I also know that I get burnt out quickly if I’m not doing what makes me come alive. If I’m not doing work that gets me out of bed every morning, that makes me cry when I think of the difference I am making in this world. Social change work is too hard to also have the heaviness and lethargy of work that makes you feel a little more dead inside every time you show up.

“Today, let’s take a step away from rational thought and dare to be bold. What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to accomplish but have been afraid to pursue? Write it down.” – Matt Cheuvront

How do I know what makes me come alive? I know for me, time spent without purpose is critical to feeling in to what makes me come alive. I usually need quite a bit of it to get through all the jitters after coming down from the adrenaline high of being on all the time, but I know that when I finally have enough I start to feel in to what feels good in my body, what gets me excited, what makes me smile and get giddy and start plotting and call friends to get them involved too in the coolest thing ever.

So my bold, irrational pursuit? Do nothing. Take some serious time off, make space in my schedule for long uninterrupted stretches of nothingness. Pursue boredom, that empty yawning Grand Canyon that opens up before I can find that small speck of aliveness. As the brilliant Nina Wise said, in her  talk that hilariously summed up TEDxSF, “Perhaps instead of maximum living, what we need is minimum living.”


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Say No so you can Say Yes

I say no to new opportunities at least 10 times each day. Hundreds of time each day, if I count every time I say no to buying the extra iPhone accessory the sales guy is pushing my way or say no to the guy on the street corner who asks me to spare fifty cents.

I am terrible at saying no, so each time I have to muster up the energy to say it, and each time there’s a lingering dread – should I have actually said yes? The pain is even greater when it’s something I would actually love to say yes to, but I’ve reached my limits of time or money – like when I have to say no to an invitation out with friends because I’ve got another commitment that I can’t get out of.

Moving to San Francisco, I’ve had to quadruple the amount of times I say no. I moved here because there’s so much cool stuff to do, but there’s SO MUCH cool stuff to do. It’s impossible to do it all. In Durango, most of the time it WAS possible to do it all, if you were willing to do a bit of party hopping or show up to a meeting 20 minutes late. In San Francisco, the sheer volume of activities and the travel time to get from one activity to another make it impossible to do everything I would love to do.

Increasing My “NO” Capacity

I’ve been struggling to increase my capacity to say no, especially because my life is already overflowing with projects and activities. I have two jobs, which combined could take up 26 to 60 hours of my time each week. I also participate in the Anne Braden program which is a minimum of 15 hours per week, with cool extra opportunities each week which could involve an additional 2 to 20 hours easily. So I’m at 41 to 80 hours of activities, before we even talk about all the tasks associated with moving to a new place, connecting with old and new friends, writing this blog, and all those basic self care activities which I find so easy to neglect. It’s all great opportunities, but it’s a lot.

A couple weeks ago, I had two different people ask me how I manage to juggle all my competing responsibilities. From their perspectives, I do it well and they wanted more insight on how they could apply it to their own lives. I’m always better at giving advice to others, and then realizing it all applies directly to me and what I most need. So this is what I discovered I needed myself in the process of thinking through advice to others. Hopefully some piece will be helpful to you too!

Know What Your Big Rocks Are

While I have used a lot of different time management tools over the years, my current problem is less a time management problem and more a problem with setting clear priorities. One of my favorite books in setting clear priorities is one of the time management standards – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I always cringe a bit in recommending this to others, because the author, Stephen Covey, has been accused of deceptively repackaging religious ideas into business language as a way to spread Mormon ideas to the general public. I don’t want to be a part of that, and at the same time I’ve found some of his metaphors and tools to be extraordinarily helpful to me.

My most well-worn chapter is for Habit 3 – Put First Things First. You may know the analogy of filling a glass with rocks – if you put a pile of pebbles in first, there’s no way you can get any big rocks in later. But if you put the big rocks in first, the pebbles will easily sift down between the crevices to fill in the remaining space.

Get Out of Crisis Mode

Covey also talks a lot about prioritizing the important but not urgent tasks. Especially in my work at a rape crisis center, I could have spent all day every day simply responding to the crises that came my way. Yet when I worked like that, I never had the time for strategic planning, building relationships, community organizing, and self care. And even work that I could anticipate – grant reports that were due or a press release that needed to get out for an upcoming event – these became last minute emergencies that got done right on deadline or were delivered with apologies for being late (again). I was always in crisis mode, and I never had time to do important work that would make a long term difference in ending sexual violence.

I got fed up with this mode of working. We deal with ENOUGH real crisis in our work. The shit that doesn’t have to be a crisis should be organized and produced with ease.

Who Are You Going to Be This Week?

So, how do we work differently? The most effective tool I use is weekly planning, with a clear set of goals for the week. I often don’t know day to day what I’m actually going to work on, but when I have a pocket of time, I have a clear list of what to work on.

Yet this list must be manageable – if my list is “Write a novel” and “Raise $30,000” – I’m probably not going to reach those goals all in one week. Most time management tools will tell you to break these down into smaller goals, but what size is right? It’s hard to know.

Covey switches the planning from task-based to role-based. A person can only manage about 7 roles in your whole life at any given time. Usually my job is more than one role as I’m juggling fundraising, marketing, organization development, and production.Yet, I also have personal roles that are important to me – like being a good friend, getting my new house set up, organizing a social justice project.

For me this week, my 7 roles might be:
– Person who just moved to a new place
– Data analyst
– Anti-racist training participant
– Fundraising & development planner
– Bookkeeper
– New roommate
– Friend

Each of those roles might have 2-3 important goals to achieve this week, and I can kind of map out when those things might get done during the week and still have a lot of space in my week to deal with whatever else comes up. The container of having a maximum of 7 roles forces me to be very selective about what’s most important to get done and then clarifies that the rest is over capacity and needs to be pushed off to next week, delegated, or cut back. Next week my roles might look totally different, or some of the same and some new ones.

Know What You Want to Say YES To

It’s hugely helpful to me to have to define the most important roles in my life and have that drive what I do, rather than try to randomly cut tasks from my to do list. I’ve seen this work tangibly for me when purging out old stuff. When I look at a previously treasured item and ask, “Do I want this or not?” the answer is usually “yes! I want this! It’s been important to me!” But when I change the problem to, “I get one box of treasured items – what are the most important ones to keep?” it seems effortless to send off to Goodwill a lot of things that I no longer treasure that deeply, so that someone else can enjoy them.

Seeing my most important roles clearly each week helps me see what I’m saying YES to when I’m saying NO to other activities. It makes saying no much easier because my own limits are much clearer and visible to me. It also helps me say yes to new opportunities that come up that fit with my top roles for the week. So I may not have any social activities planned at the beginning of my week, but I know that it’s something I will need and want. By including it as a role, I leave space to fill in fun social activities to meet that need.

Getting ready for a lot more “NO” in my life … so I can have plenty of space for all that I want to say “YES” to.


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Beyond Burnout @ the Global Engagement Summit

I am honored to be invited to speak at the Global Engagement Summit this April at Northwestern University in Chicago. I have been asked to speak on a topic near to my heart – “Beyond Burnout.” The impetus for this blog and my own search for new ways to do nonprofit work comes from my deep commitment to myself and other nonprofit workers to get beyond burnout so we can make the changes we wish to see in this world.

I’m especially excited to be presenting in Chicago which is so close to the places where I grew up and went to college. And excited to present to an amazing group of student delegates from all over the U.S. and the world who are already committing their lives to global change. I can’t wait to see what they have to teach me about how they will be committed to change in new ways that I can’t even comprehend yet.

I am hoping to design an interactive session that engages people in thinking about both short-term strategies of taking care of ourselves and long-term strategies that position us as part of a long history of movement builders for global change. I’m finding both to be essential in my desire not to return to burnout.

I will be working out some of my thoughts here on the blog. I would LOVE your thoughts: What has helped you manage and go beyond burnout in your work for social change?


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