3 Techniques to Avoid Getting Overwhelmed

Happy Healthy Nonprofit Book CoverGuest bloggers Beth Kanter & Aliza Sherman wrote The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit, a must read for communicators & fundraisers.

If there is one thing we can agree on, it is that that last quarter was especially stressful. Not just the usual hectic workload of year-end campaigns, but a difficult election season—a combination that has left many nonprofit communications professional feeling overwhelmed and

For many of us, the holiday vacation time probably did not come fast enough. We all probably enjoyed a nice reprieve from deadlines, tasks, and deliverables. And, after taking a break, it is hard to get back into the swing of things.

One thing we do know for sure, this will be the year that we will absolutely have to exercise our resilience muscles in order to do our best work and not get slowed down. In our book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact Without Burnout, we discuss ways that nonprofit professionals can use at work and avoid the stress of competing priorities. Here are three techniques to put to work right now:

1) Set Boundaries

There are times when you need to stand firm and protect yourself in order to be productive. Setting boundaries is about making clear choices and priorities and standing firm to defend the space and time you need to recharge.

Saying “No” more to requests that take up your time can be challenging in the workplace. You can’t always say “No” to your boss or board. But you can draw some clear lines to know when your workload is going overboard, and you need to bring it up to your superiors to make some reasonable adjustments.

Wendy Harman, formerly the director of Information Management and Situational Awareness at the Red Cross and a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow, uses an accountability buddy to stay on track with boundary setting. She and a friend speak weekly for 10 minutes to check on how their boundary setting is going. The conversation helps them both become more aware of where they are overloaded at work or even in their personal lives.

2) Work to Your Energy

Knowing the peaks and valleys of your energy at work can help you identify the best times to be working on the more challenging assignments and when to do lighter tasks until your energy rises again. Get to know your Ultradian Rhythms, the natural rhythms of your body and brain that repeat throughout the day. These differ from your Circadian Rhythms that rise and fall with light and dark, and dictate your sleep cycles.

“I take breaks to stretch my eyes and body every 90 to 120 minutes,” says Cheryl Contee, CEO of Fission Strategy, who applies techniques to work with, not against, her Ultradian Rhythms. She learned this technique from the book The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working by Tony Schwartz. Schwartz explains that our brains can only focus for 90 to 120 minutes before it needs a break for ten to twenty minutes.

An effective way to manage your energy is to design your workday based around those rhythms. While you may not have complete control of your daily calendar, being aware of your energy flows and trying to plan out your work tasks to align with those cycles can make you more productive.

3) Unplug Regularly

If you are around other people, especially in conversation with others, turn off your smartphone. Don’t succumb to “Technoference,” the distraction and relationship interference one experiences from looking at one’s devices instead of focusing on the person or people in front of them.

Try a digital detox by disconnecting completely from your electronics for any extended amount of time. Start by simply turning off your smartphone or mobile device in the evenings after work or on the weekends. Build up to entire weekends or make sure to leave devices in the car when you’re going out to eat or attending an event. Any deliberate and consistent amount of time away from technology will improve your ability to focus and relax.

By giving your brain and body essential downtime throughout the day and workweek, you are replenishing your much-needed energy to be happier, healthier and more productive.

Beth KanterBeth Kanter @kanter was named one of the most influential women in technology by Fast Company and is the award-winning author of The Networked Nonprofit books. She is an internationally-acclaimed master trainer and speaker.


Aliza Sherman Aliza Sherman @alizasherman is a web and social media pioneer; founder of Cybergrrl, Inc., the first women-owned, full-service Internet company; and Webgrrls International, the first Internet networking organization for women. She is a motivational keynote speaker and the author of eleven books, including Social Media Engagement for Dummies.

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