The Happy Medium: 5 Tips for Improving Work-Life Balance
The business of improving the world can be a tough place to build a career. Our boards and leadership often ask us to accomplish more with less. From providing services to building relationships with volunteers and donors, the nature of our work is demanding. Many of these activities must happen outside of standard business hours.
As nonprofit professionals, many of us were attracted to this business because we are motivated intrinsically to make this world a better place. In light of this larger goal, it is easy to allow our personal needs to get lost in the demanding lifestyles of our jobs.
As leaders in the nonprofit industry, we owe it to our staffs and ourselves to build cultures that allow for appropriate work-life balances. Sadly, I did not learn the importance of prioritizing my home life until after my daughter was born and it was no longer luxury. By that time, I’d lost more than a decade of building memories with my husband, family and friends.
Establishing work-life balance requires attention on two fronts: Increasing productivity during business hours and protecting personal time outside of the office. Here are five tips for improving work-life balance for yourself and your team:
1. Schedule a no-meeting day.
Time spent in meetings can kill productivity during the workday. The to-do list grows and the time to complete it shrinks. Give your staff and yourself some additional desk time during the workday by blocking out a day each week when no meetings can take place. If your office uses Microsoft Outlook or similar scheduling software, send out a recurring meeting request to block the time on your calendar, so that those outside your department don’t inadvertently schedule meetings for that day.
When my boss declared Fridays as "meeting free," I’ll confess that I was skeptical. After almost a year of meeting-free Fridays, I’ll never go back. This one change helped increase my productivity during the workday, which has freed me to work less over the weekend.
2. Learn to say "no" or "not
The world is full of great ideas. When asked to take on a new project or task, evaluate that task against the priorities already on your plate. If this new project is going to distract your from or delay other work, then saying "no" might be the most important way you can protect you and your staff’s time.
As a leader, the additional work or projects that you approve often fall on the shoulders of those who report to you. Keep the workload of your employees in mind as you are agreeing to additional work. If it makes sense to take on a new project or a current project requires more effort than you originally had expected, consider adjusting the due dates of other projects that your team is working on to a later date.
3. Define a consistent time that
you will leave the office.
For me, day care mandated this lifestyle change. I have a one-hour commute, and the day care starts billing extra as soon as the clock hits 6:30 p.m.
By establishing a consistent time to head home, you are giving yourself time in the evening to live your life. You also are telling your staff members that it’s OK for them to head home in the evenings.
4. Take your vacation time
This seems so straightforward, but in 2014, 40 percent of Americans forfeited vacation time. Nonprofits often are more generous with time-off policies to compensate for gaps in other benefits. You’ve earned this time, take it.
As a leader, you should monitor and push your staff to use their vacation time. This also sets the expectation that taking vacation time is required, not optional.
5. Guard your time at home
My husband and I have established some ground rules for how and when work is allowed to enter our home. From the moment we get home in the evening until after my daughter goes to bed at 8 p.m., we are not allowed to work. This basically translates to a two-hour work-free zone in our home where we focus on having dinner as a family and spending quality time together.
Building this time into your life is important, regardless of whether or not you are raising a child. This scheduled personal-life time can be used to develop personal hobbies, get involved with non-work related activities or even go on a date.
I’ll confess this is easier said than done. As a recovering workaholic, it is hard to stay away from checking email on my smartphone.
Robyn Mendez is a peer-to-peer fundraising rock star. Over the last 15 years, she’s done everything from setting up pop-up tents in the rain to deploying multi-national fundraising websites. She has a passion for using technology to raise money and believes that the collective few have the power to change the world. Robyn lives in Houston, Tex., with her husband, two kids and French bulldog.