Not getting enough done? Here’s how volunteer managers can fix that

You don’t need to hide from those piles of work on your desk. Try this practice instead.

How busy are you at work? Let’s make it a scale of 1 – 10.  Are you an 8, a 9 – maybe a 20?

Every single one of the volunteer managers who attend my retreats or leadership circles report being at least a 9 on the beyond-busy scale. It’s something we talk about a lot because it gets in our way so much. We can’t meet the goals most important to us.

Or forget the important goals – sometimes we can barely get through the routine stuff. It’s why I stress goal-setting and accountability so much in my groups. Commitment helps us stay on course when the everyday gets in the way.

But – what if it’s possible that we already have enough time to get our work done – and that our challenges have less to do with our to-do list than we imagine?

Productivity gurus stress managing our energy as much as our time, and for good reason. Time management has limited results because we have only so many hours in the day.

Energy, though, is renewable, and it sustains us when we need to accomplish more.

When we are drained, we can’t take full advantage of the available time that we DO have to get things done. 

Of all the factors that affect our energy level – our physical health, sleep, our relationships, our values – I would start by addressing the one category that is certain to energize you than a double expresso at Starbucks:

The things you avoid.

Think about it. We generally know it’s better to deal head-on with actions that create conflict or discomfort for us. What we may not realize is how much energy it takes to avoid a situation. The tasks that we deliberately don’t do hang over us even when we pretend otherwise. They take up headspace.

Take my favorite example from when I managed volunteers. The number one task to avoid was making calls to turn away people who were not a good fit for our CASA program. Those calls would send my stomach into knots (I even wrote a blog post about it), and for the first couple of years I would put off those calls as long as possible.

The thing was, avoiding those calls did not set me free. I thought about them. I spent tons of mental energy practicing what I would say and how I would respond if applicants got upset. I would set goals to make those calls by the end of the day and then not follow-through. And not making those calls took up so much time and energy that by the time I got around to making them, I was spent.

And of course, the flip side was that once the calls were made, I left lighter, happier, proud of myself for taking on something difficult.

I felt energized — and guess what? I got more done.

If you’re unsure that addressing the tasks that you don’t want to handle will give you a boost, then test out my premise and see for yourself.

Right now, today –

– Pick one activity that you are avoiding and do it.  Then, observe how you feel afterwards and what you are able to accomplish. If you’re wondering where to start, consider this list of typical energy drains for a volunteer manager:

  • Difficult conversations with volunteers
  • Negative co-workers
  • Data entry
  • Writing or giving volunteer performance evals, or even…
  • Cleaning your desk

Energy management is not unique to leaders of volunteers. Any busy person benefits from managing their energy better. I bring up this practice because I see that my clients and colleagues get frustrated when they feel too busy to work on the projects most important to them. But it’s almost impossible to reach any goal when we feel too exhausted to take the lead and initiate change. Let’s avoid feeling fried by tackling avoidance.

Trust me. You’ll feel a boost.

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Tweet this Post! If you agree with my POV, feel free to share this message:

#volmgrsmakeithappen when they take action on this one thing and get more done, https://goo.gl/bnX56N @THNonprofit

2 thoughts on “Not getting enough done? Here’s how volunteer managers can fix that

  1. Nikki Clifford

    So true! It’s the very reason I now have a cleaning lady come in every two weeks. I hated spinning my wheels on when I was going to get to clean this or that in my house. Getting a cleaning lady freed my brain greatly!

    Now on to just doing it!!! Thanks for the reminder, Elisa!

    1. Elisa Kosarin Post author

      Any time, Nikki! And you bring up a good point. Sometimes the things we are avoiding are not in the workplace, but addressing them frees up more energy for what’s important.

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