As I wind my way back to work from the holidays, my thoughts turn to the new year and what I hope to accomplish -- a revamped web site, a new training series to create and market, conferences to attend, networks to connect with, etc., etc. Next thing you know I’m feeling anxious. How can I possibly get all of it done? Just the thought of it tires me, and I haven't even begun!
I talk to a lot of people in the nonprofit world who are in the same boat; they feel overstretched and overwhelmed. It’s pretty much our constant state of being, right? So what can we do about it? My answer? Do nothing. Well, not exactly, but give this a try -- this New Years, instead of making your traditional list of resolutions, make Reverse Resolutions. Instead of adding to your “to do” list, find things you can take away. What will you do less of this year? What can you take off your plate? What will you ignore? What will you decide not to achieve? What will you walk away from?
It sounds radical, but it makes sense. If you’re like many of the mission-based organizations across our nation, you’ve been asked to do more with less. In response, you may have diligently found more volunteers, tried more efficient ways of doing things, even cut a few programs. All well and good. But, there is a tipping point. A point where where you, your staff, and your volunteers are burned out and ineffective. Are you there yet? Are you getting close? If so, give yourself a break. Set some Reverse Resolutions for you and your team, better yet, with your team. It’s liberating, invigorating, and may even be they key to your sanity and survival.
Some Tips for Setting Reverse Resolutions
1) Focus on what’s mission critical (either personal or organizational) & cut out the rest. Revisit your mission statement to remind you what you should be driving toward.
2) Have the courage to take a closer look at your pet project(s). Are they really contributing to your bottom line, or are they a diversion? This is a hard one. The reason you may have taken them on in the first place is for the mental or emotional relief they offer. If you can successfully simplify, you may be able to reduce the pressure that makes these projects necessary.
3) Reduce duplication of effort. If someone else in the community (or agency or team) is offering the same product or services (or doing the same tasks) equally as well as you or better, consider dropping it/them. There's no need to be territorial. You have bigger fish to fry.
4) Prioritize for people who can’t or won’t. While your team may really welcome the simplification, your funders or upper management may not get it. They may be accustomed to sending you directives without any formal prioritization. Make some executive decisions about what you’ll tackle based on 1) your mission, 2) community need, & 3) resources at hand. Be ready to explain your choices and then get on with it. Focus on exceeding outcomes in your priority area(s) and let the rest take care of itself.
5) Remember, you control your day. Even though it feels like others control how we spend our time, is that really true? You can make conscious decisions about how you respond to interruptions, when you check email, even which meetings you attend (at times, anyway). You can even choose a Reverse Resolution each day and make it work for you.
Give yourself permission to take some bold steps. Focus on what has real meaning. Reduce the clutter for your own well-being. You deserve it, and we need you for the long run.
I wish you all a simple, peaceful, and prosperous New Year. Thanks for reading and sharing.
Photo credit: TJohnson, Wave Rock, Western Australia, 2010