Categories
Motivation Productivity Self development

Getting out of your own way

When it comes to getting things done, sometimes we can be our own worst enemies. As community managers, we want to do the best possible job for our communities and our organisations, but it can be difficult to make time for ourselves. It can be even more difficult in a profession that brings people together to push ourselves forward. 

I’ve decided to tackle my own self-imposed obstacle course and get out of my own way. Are you feeling the same way?

In this blog post I’ll reveal the challenges we face, identify some realistic ways forward and share useful resources to help you get things done and make time for self-development and self-care.

A man with bare feet is making his way across a rope bridge in a forest with trees surrounding him and golden sunlight peeping through. Deceptively relaxing in my opinion.
This obstacle course looks deceptively relaxing…

Photo by Stephanie Ecate on Unsplash

Five challenges we face

1. Perfectionism

This is the biggest obstacle for many. Wanting to be the best that you can be seems so positive, but it has a dark side. 

When we fall into the trap of needing our work to be perfect, we can stop trying or give up at the first hurdle.

We give up learning. We avoid anything that’s challenging. We take forever to complete a task by constantly tinkering with our work.

Or we procrastinate by trying to master ‘the secret of doing it 100% right’ and never even start. I’ve been there. 

Wooden scrabble letters read 'done is better than perfect'
Perfectionism is the enemy of good. Done is better than perfect.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

2. Indecision

Perhaps I’m showing my age, but I remember the first time I saw cable TV and opened the channel list. Hundreds of channels beyond the five we usually had in the UK. I remember spending about an hour flicking through before heading back to 90s Top of the Pops. 

When you’re facing indecision, it’s difficult to know where to start. Perhaps you’re unsure of the right decision to make or which direction to take. You may have too many ideas and too many choices. 

That last one definitely resonates with me – I have a folder full of content ideas! 

A dark corridor with graffiti and at the end a question mark lit in red and orange neon lights
Decisions, decisions…

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

3. Fear

We don’t like to talk about fear, which is just what it wants us to do. 

Many people feel that fear is the reason that we procrastinate, sink into indecision or avoid trying new things. I think there’s a lot of truth to this. 

Fear of failure. Fear of criticism. Fear of consequences. Fear of the unknown. 

I’ve caught myself in a fear spiral of worrying about what would happen if I did something new or different. What if it all went wrong? What if I had the wrong take? It’s such a slippery slope.

A black and white image showing two hands holding up a cardboard banner which says 'what now?'
What now? Such a loaded question!

Photo by Jeff Stapleton from Pexels

4. Uncertainty

If I had a pound for every time I’d heard someone mention ‘these uncertain times’ I’d be paying for a copywriter for my blog (kidding!)

The reason why people talk about uncertainty so often is because it is true – we have experienced a lot of unpredictable change.

I’m sure we all know that COVID19 has made the world an uncertain place in our own lives; with a rapid shift to remote working and sudden changes to our plans for 2020. And 2021 …

In society, we’ve experienced several changes to the law regarding what we can do, confusion about government guidance, and a wave of ‘fake news’ about the pandemic.

No wonder we’re feeling uncertain. This extended period of changeability helps some people to thrive but for most of us, it magnifies uncertainty and makes decision making more difficult. 

Photo taken from above and shows two black shoes standing in front of two white arrows - one pointing left and the other pointing right
Uncertain to take any direction, we stand still…

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

5. Overwhelm

Is anyone else feeling overwhelmed? I don’t think it’s just me. 

There has been so much to contend with. Our way of working and living may have changed permanently. We may have experienced ill health or loss. We may be concerned about what the next few months will bring. For many people, that is a lot to carry at one time. That might lead us to retreat our energies for now.

The opposite temptation is to want to do it all and to take back control. We may be keen to catch up on lost time – the books we haven’t read, the projects we couldn’t start, or the trips we couldn’t take. We push ourselves to do more. For some people this is a great way to get started. For others, if we aren’t able to sustain our energy, this takes us back to overwhelm.

Image shows what looks like a wall with bushes and vines across it. In the middle a neon sign reads 'breathe'
When we’re overwhelmed, it’s important to breathe. Breathe…

Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

Five realistic ways forward

When it comes to getting things done, it can be difficult to know where to start. I’ve found five realistic ways that have helped me to move forward with work projects and life admin. If you’re stuck at the moment, why not try one or two of the ideas below …

1. Begin!

It took me a long time to write this post. The idea was in my head weeks ago. I kept returning to my plan – researching the best way to structure content and make my points. If my resistant and uncertain self had its way, I’d still be in draft mode, with nothing done.   

When we move into action mode, we come out of a comfortable place and start testing our ideas. After a while, I really enjoy this flow state of getting things done but it takes that first kickstart to get going. 

If I get stuck, I take myself back to the original idea and try another angle. The maxim ‘learn as you go’ is really helpful here as it helps to be in a mindset that is open to new ideas.

Those people who say ‘just do it’ used to annoy me profoundly. But they’re right.

Board games board with a start square with a blue playing token and two dice
The only way to finish is to first begin

2. Good is good enough

Earlier, I talked about the danger of perfectionism because it stops us trying by trapping us in a never-ending desire to get everything 100% right. We have to resist this urge.

If you struggle with knowing when to stop, consider what the end result could look like. When you reach that end result, you can take a break and then review. Chances are, you’re done!

If you struggle with wanting everything to be perfect, knowing what ‘good’ looks like will help. When you complete a piece of work and it’s good, then you’re done. Good is good enough.

Dark background and a white lightbox with black letters that say 'You are enough'
You are good enough. Your work is good enough.

3. Respond to change

A reluctant convert to mindfulness, I’ve been surprised that it’s helped me to manage change better than anything else. This is because I learned about impermanence

Basically, impermanence is the concept that things are always changing. Nothing is permanent; thoughts, emotions, relationships, and ultimately life itself are all destined to change or end. Change is a part of life and our best strategy is to learn how to respond to it.

When we work, it’s important to have a flexible mindset and be open to change taking place. We can can iterate – taking small decisions, or making small changes along the way.

When we face a large project, breaking it into smaller milestones or steps can help it to feel less daunting. When we repeat a task, having a basic outline to follow can keep us on track. 

Everything changes. Learning to respond to change is a vital skill.

4. Focus on priorities

When you have multiple tasks, ideas or projects, knowing where to start can feel overwhelming. Here are some strategies I’ve found helpful:

  • Find your most important things – the top three things you need to get done that day, week, or month. 
  • Consider any deadlines you have or milestones you need to meet.
  • Prioritise anything where you need to make a decision or move a task forward.  This is particularly important if you lead a team.

I’ll repeat another annoying maxim – a good way forward is to start with what needs to be done. 

Pieces of paper scattered in a pile including some pieces that are screwed up. One piece of paper says 'I can do anything not everything'
We can’t do everything, but we can start with what is needed

Photo by Tara Winstead from Pexels

5. Rest 

For many of us, we can feel so much pressure to do everything that we can end up falling at the first hurdle. 

If we put unrealistic pressure on ourselves, this can lead to burnout. In fact one of the key things I’ve learned is this:

“Whenever we treat energy as infinite, burnout is the result.”

I heard this on one of Bruce Daisley’s excellent podcasts on work culture.

A good way forward is to begin, to be happy with good, to respond to change, prioritise what matters, and to accept when we need to rest.

Rest! Enjoy rest! Prioritise rest! Protect rest!

We’re not robots, and hustle culture is for fools.

Picture of a sunset on a beach
Whenever I think of rest, I often imagine a gorgeous beach. Bliss.

Helpful resources

That’s all very well, but how do we actually start this process? Here are some helpful resources to help you to put this into practice.

1. Finding motivation

Find some resources that help you to kick-start and help get you out of the headspace of inactivity. I’d recommend ‘Do the work’ by Stephen Pressfield (read reviews and where to buy), plus this excellent article on how to start the task you’ve been avoiding, and this post on overcoming fear of failure.

2. Planning and using your ideas

There are three parts to this: resources that help you plan out your work like content planners, finding a way to capture good practice and good ideas, and putting time aside to develop, test and use ideas.

In order to get things done, it’s important to make time for focussed work. Taking steps to manage your diary can help. 2-3 weeks ahead, book in time for screen breaks, planning, and focused work. You may have to move a few things for urgent issues from time to time, but it’s helpful to set the intention to plan, focus, and rest.

3. Finding your own system

Everyone will have different ways that work for them when planning, prioritising and managing time. As I have multiple priorities and people/teams to manage, I’ve found that a Kanban style system works best for me. This is because it helps me to organise multiple pieces of work in terms of progress and priority.

I use an adapted version of this excellent mise en place Trello board, created by the person who co-designed the Trello product. Mise-en-place roughly means “everything in its place.” 

4. Blocking distractions 

Once you’ve made time to focus on projects and tasks, it’s important to block out distractions. I’d recommend exiting noisy instant communication apps like Slack or Teams and turning off the email notification in Outlook. Our phones are filled with noisy notifications too so I’d recommend turning as many of those off as possible or using an app like Freedom.

If music helps you, put together playlists that help you to focus and concentrate (I love Chillhop and Radio Lento). It’s also worth finding good quality noise cancelling earbuds or headphones. Earfun Air Pro 2 and Sony Wireless Headphones work really well for me.

5. Getting support

To stay motivated and inspired, it’s important to get support from others. Talk about your roadblocks and challenges with a colleague or peer. If you can, find someone who will hold you accountable in a friendly and supportive way. Speaking of which…

I’m getting out of my own way – but I need your support

Having broken the barriers down, I want to commit to blogging and sharing insights more regularly. I would love to hear from the people who read my blog, particularly those working for non-profits and charities, and those in the community management profession.

I’d love to know what you think and what you’d like to hear more about. My intention is to be helpful!

Categories
Community improvement Community strategy Self development

Plan, do, review – take your community to the next level

Just imagine there’s a ‘life is a race’ metaphor here.

How are you with New Year’s resolutions? Perhaps you’re obsessed with planning and goal setting, or perhaps you shudder at the thought of targets, and colour-coded lists.

Planning isn’t just a January fad, but a helpful way to take your community to the next level.

Are you unsure where to start, or wondering how to create a plan and make it work?

In this blog, I’ve put together some helpful resources and explained how you can apply the ‘Plan Do Review’ model to help advance your community, your team, or your career.

Before you start …

Consider what you’d like to improve, or what you’d like to change.

Have you ever created a community strategy (i.e. studying your organisation’s strategic aims and deciding how your community will meet them)? This excellent article explains how to get started.

Could you put a community roadmap in place to introduce new features or activities? This article from Community Roundtable has great advice on what a roadmap is, how it can help, and how to adjust it to each maturity stage of a community.

Do you want to kick off a project to set targets and goals for your team? If you’re interested in how to help develop and upskill your community team, this comprehensive article will help.

If you want to advance your personal growth and learning, have you put a plan in place? Earlier this week, I got stuck with how to start my own. This insightful and honest review from a community leader I admire really helped me to factor in the importance of reflection, celebration and continuous learning.

light bulb in hands

Step one – plan

Once you’ve chosen what to work on, you’ll need to create a plan.

Start with benchmarking your current position, then consider what you want to change or improve. Be specific and then be selective – don’t try to change everything at once. Consider what would be most helpful. Decide what success will look like and confirm one or two outcomes.

Questions to ask:

Do you have different ideas about how to complete your project? If so, consider the most practical approach to take.

What resources do you need, and do you need to set a timeframe? Consider what works for your goal and your organisational context: you may choose to iterate and work gradually, or have a set target and timeframe.

How will you track progress? Set some milestones and put in breaks to review. If you don’t have a manager, find a mentor or colleague to discuss your project with.

  • For community or team projects, involve your team in generating ideas. Create a ‘community wishlist’ and prioritise ideas as a team. If a team member is excited by an idea, invite them to work with you, or delegate that task to them.
  • For community improvement projects, look at feedback from your community, drawing out comments about what isn’t working well, or suggestions for new features and activities.
  • For community roadmaps, look at your previous year’s programme of work and decide what you will stop, start and continue this year.

Step two – do

Get started!

Seek inspiration by identifying good practice or ask for advice from peers in a community of practice. You may find someone who has worked on a similar project or has solved similar problems.

If you have a big project, set milestones or smaller steps along the way to make it less daunting and help you progress.

Put time aside for focussed work. Test and review as you go. If you want to test how an idea works in practice, involve your team or a small group of active community members.

If you get stuck or overwhelmed, consider what the quick wins are, or limit your focus to one or two key areas. If you scale down to make progress, put everything else on your ‘not for now’ list to revisit later.

If your approach or idea isn’t working, revisit the plan and consider a different tactic. It’s the goal that matters most, not the method!

person writing on a board where there are post it notes

Step three – review

When you review, start by assessing your original goal, benchmark and success measure.

Did you meet your goal and if so, what difference has this made? What positive impact has this had? What needs have been met, or what problem has been solved?

What went well? Take time to celebrate good work and consider what you or your team found most enjoyable. If you’ve identified future project ideas or resources, add them to your ‘future projects’ list.

Don’t shy away from the things that didn’t work. Identify the specific things that didn’t go to plan. Do you know why? Identify what you learned or what could be done differently next time.

When you review, capture your key insights so you can use them to demonstrate achievements and lessons learned.

What photographers think success looks like. You say potato…

Toddlers, and trying again

Finally, I thought I’d share a pearl of wisdom that struck me when watching this strangely compelling viral video of a toddler race set to the theme from Rocky III:

Create a plan, find your own way to progress and if you hit a roadblock, keep going!

Find your own way and whatever happens, keep going!

(Credits: the viral video’s most likely source is this tweet. Original video from semi-pro basketball player and podcaster Will Ferris)

Categories
Community advice Community industry Self care

The truth about burnout and community

The first draft of this blog post opened with ‘we need to talk about burnout’ but from what I’ve seen in my research, the charity sector has been doing little else for several years. Look at this powerful confession piece from 2015.

Burnout seems to be a persistent issue. It’s relevant for community managers who are expected to manage an active online space, and particularly relevant for non-profit community pros who also have a duty of care to support people facing difficult issues.

a row matches that are burned out

Burnout is a persistent issue

There are hundreds of articles giving advice to stressed and overwhelmed charity workers, and much of the advice is excellent. My self care blog series brings together some of this advice and my own ideas to help community managers manage their own wellbeing.

Why is burnout such a persistent issue? Are we getting our self-care strategies wrong? Are community managers and charity workers neglecting good practice? 

Let’s start by understanding the causes of burnout. I’ve summarised three of the main causes of burnout, what can prevent it from happening, and the warning signs to look out for.

orange life saver ring on a wall

Lack of support

It’s important to find and develop your own support networks. This helps you to guard against having insufficient support, which is a key cause of burnout and particularly an issue for specialist roles like community management. 

In a community role you will handle conflict, rule-breaking, complaints and have responsibility for organisational risk and safeguarding. Support networks help community pros seek advice, refine their practice, seek reassurance and feel able to keep going. 

When your support networks break down, this can put you at risk of burnout. It’s important to put alternatives in place. Finding a trusted ‘go-to’ person to debrief can make all the difference.

woman walking along a line in the road

Lack of boundaries

If you’re running a 24/7 online space for an organisation, any issue can arise and you can feel huge pressure in handling everything. If this rings true for you, then you’re at risk of burnout.

Boundaries can help you to determine what your true remit is and identify the tasks that need to be escalated or passed on. If you’re struggling to determine or agree boundaries, or lack the autonomy to do so, you’ll need to get support to put these in place. 

Watch out when those escalation pathways break down. If you feel you have no one to pass up to, your work can start to feel overwhelming and isolating. It’s important to put in place one or two points of contact who are willing to support you or your team. 

breathe image

Inability to step away

Are you a sole community manager, or is it difficult for you to step away from your role? In any job, it’s important to be able to step away or switch off and it’s dangerous to expect one person to be the sole point of contact at all times.

Strategies to step away and switch off not only guard against burnout but also retain community managers who may ultimately choose to leave a role or organisation that impacts on their wellbeing.

You’re at increased risk of burnout when it becomes difficult for you to step away from overseeing your community. You need to be able to step away at the weekends or take a few days off in succession on a regular basis.

a collection of stationery

The role of your workplace

If you’re at risk of burnout are you solely to blame? A few days ago Harvard Business Review published a compelling article which argues that burnout (which impacts on productivity, turnover and absenteeism) could be due to your organisational culture. It says:

“…evidence is mounting that applying personal, band-aid solutions to an epic and rapidly evolving workplace phenomenon may be harming, not helping, the battle. With “burnout” now officially recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO), the responsibility for managing it has shifted away from the individual and towards the organisation. Leaders take note: It’s now on you to build a burnout strategy.”

In the article, experts advise organisations that want to tackle burnout to move away from putting the onus on employees to improve their own wellbeing, and focus on addressing the root organisational causes of burnout. The solutions are simple:

  • ensure people are treated fairly and have autonomy to make decisions
  • provide the right amount of work and work hours 
  • ensure people are supported and feel heard
  • give people clear attainable goals and acknowledge good work
  • provide an environment suitable for work, based on need, not gimmicks

A culture of openness, non-blame and empathy also ensures the sustainability of existing initiatives that are much easier to provide (including wellbeing programmes). This excellent article from Mind explains how having support and agreed boundaries on workload and work time can guard hard-working people from burnout.

book with title damn good advice, some food and a drink on a table

Helpful resources 

If you’re not sure where to start, head to this excellent Wellbeing Guide from Charity Comms, which includes advice on mental health and wellbeing, how to support others, and an article from me explaining how a three step framework can help when handling difficult issues.

This article from the Blurt Foundation shares 15 ways to switch off and is helpful for anyone who is struggling to wind down, or wanting to learn creative ways to make the best use of downtime.

If you’ve been feeling stressed, anxious, low or are experiencing poor sleep, take a look at Good Thinking. This is an initiative aimed to support Londoners but has useful advice for everyone including a self assessment tool, guidance and tips on useful apps.

If things are really hard for you at the moment and you’re struggling to cope, please talk to someone. Why not speak with a trusted friend – they don’t need any qualifications other than the ability to listen. 

Look after yourself – your wellbeing is important.

breathe image