Standing Beside Alaska's Non-Profits

Take Time to Reflect

Riding on a train from Trenton, New Jersey, to Washington D.C. a few weeks ago, I had the rare opportunity to reflect. During the last five weeks, I have had only one full day in my office, one full weekend off, and only 12 days in my own bed. I am not proud of this behavior — I do not want your sympathy — I am confessing my own sins. However, I want to use this opportunity to ask you to reflect on your own work pace. Have you been working more than you would like? Do you wish you had more time for your family, friends, yourself? If the answer is yes, then join me in considering new behavior for the coming year.

At a recent nonprofit conference in another state, I led a discussion for 40 CEO’s on what they wish they had known before they became their organization’s leader. They identified issues such as developing and communicating vision, managing crisis, facilitating groups, developing and accepting support systems, and managing time and technology.

These last two management issues are very connected in today’s world since technology now controls our time. When Toffler wrote Future Shock in the early 1970s, he successfully predicted many of the ways technology would influence our lives, including the use of lap top computers, faxes, and wireless communications. However he was very wrong when he assumed that this new technology would give us more time.

Years before this new technology, most nonprofit leaders were already language impaired. Many didn’t, and still don’t, have the use of one very important word in the English language, NO. Technology makes it even harder for we “professional co-dependents” — who want to solve everyone’s problem except our own — to say that blasted word, NO.

Thanks to technology, we can now say “yes” 24-7-52. As my last few weeks, months, years demonstrate, I’ve been exhibiting this problem for all to see. While I am guilty of this bad behavior, I see many of my nonprofit and for-profit friends unwilling to go a day without checking email or voicemail. How many of us even check email on vacation? Do we really think we are so important that the world will come to an end if we don’t respond….immediately?

Technology now makes it far too easy for us to work overtime. By the way, that’s another word that many of us have lost the meaning of, overtime. What ever happened to a 40-hour workweek? Toffler thought a workweek may go down to 30 hours with the help of technology. Few time management experts endorse a 50 or 60-hour workweek. They warn that such excessive time at work can lead to critical mistakes.

The report from NASA on the failure of their systems before the Challenger disaster laid blame clearly on employees who made poor decisions, due to lack of time away from the office — in other words, overtime. Maybe we need to re-tool our minds to understand that while our work is important, so is our life. When our work is our life, we may need to do some deep soul searching and find out what drives us to this behavior.

The CEOs at the conference determined that it is important for us to control the compulsion to work too much and begin to better manage the time we allow ourselves to respond to ever-present communication options. Last year many of the Foraker staff, not just me, were gluttons for overtime. We developed a tool to help get a handle on our time we called the “Diet Plan.”

Successful weight loss programs that ask us to control another compulsive behavior – overeating — ask us to truthfully count calories (points) and limit our intake to the number needed to match the energy we expend each day. We suggest busy people create a spreadsheet for the time they work. Be honest, and record the total hours worked, including those guilty pleasures like checking email on that Blackberry before going to sleep. Do that for a few weeks and see how big your problem really is.

Unless you have a deal I don’t, boards pay us to work 40 hours a week. While salaried employees are expected to work until the job is done, should our jobs really take 60 hours a week, or even more, week after week? Maybe if we adopt new standards for work — let’s say work a 40-hour week, no more than 45 — and then see if the world really does come to an end. Let’s also limit the times we check our voice and email to a normal workweek. When we are on vacation, let’s use the out-of-office tools in our email and voicemail so people know that we are out and that we will check our messages during regular business hours when we are back at work. Be brave, take control, and get a life.

As the holidays arrive and we ponder resolutions for the coming year, let one of those resolutions be that we, as nonprofit leaders, commit ourselves and our workplaces to improved health and well being. Our work is important. We feed, clothe, shelter the needy; we inspire with art, culture, knowledge; we conserve the environment; we develop good citizens and build communities; we do very important work. I suggest that we will do all of those things better when we take better care of ourselves, first.

Happy holidays from the staff and boards at The Foraker Group. We consider it an honor to have served you in the past and look forward to continued and improved service to Alaska’s nonprofit sector in the future.