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Managing Stress During The Busiest Time of The Year

Ronnie Gomez

End-of-year to-do lists are never a pretty sight. It seems like for every completed task, there’s another three waiting to take its place. As a nonprofit professional, working straight through lunch or taking your work home with you can seem like the only way to get everything done. But is it what’s best for you in the long run?

Planning and executing the best year-end campaign possible is important to you and your constituents. However, when it comes at the expense of your mental and physical health, it’s time to slow down and reassess. And this isn’t just us being nice, it’s proven by data.

Research has shown that productivity takes a sharp decline after working more than 50 hours per week. Making these long hours a part of your routine can also contribute to absenteeism and even worse, burnout.

Burnout is a state of physical, emotional and exhaustion brought on by a number of things, including work-life imbalance. It can cause excessive stress, anxiety, depression and even heart disease among other serious consequences if left unchecked.

It’s hard to help those in need if you’re not taking good care of yourself. That’s why we want to provide you with our favorite stress-management tips, for all of the most common year-end stressors.

The Problem: Not Enough Hours in the Day

You’re running your year-end campaign, maintaining day-to-day operations and sending out more appeals than you can count. You probably feel like the 24 hours in a day just aren’t cutting it.

There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re living in a never-ending race against the clock. With some effective time-management strategies and self-care techniques, you can give yourself a breather and still find time to get everything done.

Solution #1: Prioritize Your Time

This one goes beyond making an organized to-do list. There are a few proven time-management techniques that can help you get a better few of view of your priorities and schedule your time accordingly.

At Neon, we like to use Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Matrix. This is a simple chart that helps you define your priorities with the following labels: Important and Urgent, Important but not Urgent, Not Important but Urgent and Not Important and Not Urgent.

Using this tool to sort your priorities will allow you to work effectively and efficiently. Once you have all your tasks in order, you can better organize your day and delegate some of those less important tasks.

For a more comprehensive breakdown of the Eisenhower Matrix, click here.

Solution #2: Treat Your Breaks as Appointments with Yourself

Skipping your lunch to get some extra work in may seem like a smart move, but over time, it can really hurt your productivity and ability to work in long-term. Taking breaks isn’t just important for your emotional well-being, it’s important for your brain.

If you’re a chronic lunch-skipper, try blocking off 30 minutes to an hour in your schedule, and label it as a meeting with yourself. Putting some personal time on your work calendar can help you give your brain a rest.

The important thing is to treat it the same way you would treat a meeting with a team member or constituent. You wouldn’t miss skip out on them, so don’t skip out on yourself!

Solution #3: Use Automations

Remember the Eisenhower Matrix we talked about earlier? Take another look at your personal chart. Do you see a lot of repetitive, manual tasks under any of the sections? That means you could probably use some automation in your life.

If you don’t currently use any kind of constituent management tool, take some time to consider how your organization might benefit from using one overall. How much time do you spend addressing all of your appeals and sending follow-up messages? How are you keeping your contact list up-to-date? If it seems like these kinds of tasks are taking up too much of your time, you may want to consider investing in a comprehensive, robust CRM.

If you are already using a CRM,  these kinds of tasks are still taking up valuable space in your schedule, it’s time to reevaluate the value that software is bringing to your organization. If it doesn’t seem worth its cost, it may be time to make a switch!

The Problem: You Feel Like You Owe All Your Time to Your Constituents

Nonprofit professionals have some pretty unique stressors that come with their jobs, partly because, well, peoples lives are on the line. It can sometimes feel selfish or unnecessary to take some time to yourself.

Here’s the thing: if your stress level is impeding your ability to perform well within your organization, then no one is benefitting from your time spent. Not yourself, or your constituents. You need to take care of yourself in order to perform well within your organization.

Solution #1: Delegate What You Can

Delegation is a highly underutilized tool, simply because most people are too afraid to ask for help. If your workload has gotten to be too much, you shouldn’t feel bad about reaching out to a colleague for some assistance.

The trick is to be respectful the other person’s time. Before delegating a task to somebody else, you should always ask what their schedule and time allowance is like, and make sure to be specific. Just because somebody doesn’t have an hour to spare today, doesn’t mean they won’t be able to tomorrow.

Once you’ve found someone to take over the task, be sure to communicate that transfer to any other colleagues that may be involved in the project. Keeping everyone on the same page is vital to the success of any campaign, year-end or not.

Also (and this may go without saying), be sure to express your appreciation for the team member that lent you a hand! Everyone likes to feel appreciated.

Solution #2: Call in Some Extra Help

The holiday season is the perfect time to call in some extra volunteers. Studies show that charitable activity spikes during the last three months of the year. Use that to your advantage and send out an appeal some extra hands.

If you’re using a CRM, you can use the volunteer module to reach out to all of your previous volunteers to let them know that you could use some extra help over the holiday season. Remember to thank them for their previous involvement with your organization, and let them know what kind of impact they can make by signing up again.

If you’d like to go the less formal route, tap into your personal network and ask your colleagues to do the same. You would be surprised by what a simple Facebook post or text message can achieve.

Solution #3: Set Realistic Goals for Yourself

You know yourself better than anyone else, so you probably have a good handle on the amount of work you can manage. Use that knowledge to guide how much work you take on.

For example, if someone asks you to make a flyer for an upcoming event, but you know you have five separate appeals to write, two meetings to attend and a program meeting at night, you’re probably not doing anyone much good by saying yes.

Taking on more than you can handle isn’t the same as being a team player; It’s setting yourself up for failure. By setting realistic goals for yourself, you can ensure that you follow through on all your work-related promises, and prevent a lot of unneeded stress.

The Problem: You Bit Off More Than You Can Chew

There’s nothing more stressful than over-shooting your campaign goal. Maybe your team got a little over-ambitious during the planning stages, or maybe you didn’t have the right data to make informed decisions early on. Either way, scrambling to hit an almost impossible mark is not fun for anyone.

Just know that failure is never inevitable. Even if your campaign is in full swing, there are still steps you can take to reorient your team and create a plan that works for everyone,

Solution #1: Take Time to Reassess

You may feel bound to your original goal but in reality, that’s not usually the case. If you feel like there’s just no way your team will be able to reach a designated success metric, you should consider changing course.

Set a meeting with your team to go over the roadblocks you are currently facing. Separate what is insurmountable from what’s just a little difficult. The key is to focus on what you can accomplish with the time you have left. And who knows – you may even exceed your new goals! Studies show that people perform best when their objectives are difficult but ultimately achievable.

Solution #2: Communicate Roadblocks to Your Stakeholders

We understand that giving less than desirable news can be particularly anxiety-inducing. Still, in order to prevent any unmet expectations, you need to communicate goal changes to your various stakeholders.

To make sure the process goes smoothly, pay close attention to how you frame it. Don’t just tell them you’ll be unable to meet your original goal. Explain the specific hurdles you faced with your original goal, and how your new goal will benefit your constituents. Keeping everybody on the same page is important to maintaining harmony within your nonprofit.

Solution #3: Set Yourself up for Future Success

Failure is just a learning opportunity that hasn’t lost its sting yet. Instead of kicking yourself for not reaching your original goal, use what you learned from the experience to guide your future strategy.

Once your year-end campaign has wrapped up, set a meeting to take an audit of what was done well and what could have been improved upon. Once you identify just where things went south, you can brainstorm ways to avoid those pitfalls in the future.

We hope this helps you beat stress (and maintain sanity!) throughout the end of the year.

The holiday season may be stressful, but it will all be worth it when you see how big an impact your organization had on your constituents. We can’t wait to see all the amazing work you do!

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