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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 advice Self development

Self care strategies – part two

This is part two of a blog series discussing self-care strategies for community managers at charities. [Read part one]

Looking after yourself is a tried and true ‘best’ way to help other people. Here are five more self-care strategies that help motivate and empower you, and keep you safe from burnout.

6. Look at ways to scale support for your community

Consider whether there are options to increase support for you and your community.

Get an agreement not only about your own responsibility for ‘out of hours’ but identify who could offer support so you can take leave. You may want to delegate to others in your team to cover agreed tasks, or to agree an ‘urgent queries only’ cover with another colleague working in a service user support role. Set clear expectations and ensure they’re clear on what’s expected, by sharing your processes, FAQs or letting them shadow you.

Look at other ways where you could agree support. For example you could ask colleagues with subject knowledge to help answer hot topic queries, or even answer questions on your community. You could agree an escalation process or a knowledge sharing agreement with your Helpline on more complex or emotive queries.

If you have a staff team, make sure you can all cover your basic BAU tasks like email enquiries and moderation. If your community is growing and you have an active member base, consider inviting members to support the tasks of welcoming others, being helpful, and flagging problems. You may also want to consider giving experienced members the opportunity to help with moderation. This can radically increase the effectiveness of handling spam and urgent issues, particularly out of office hours.

picture of toy monkeys in a chain of support with the background of a blue sky

7. Take breaks

This is obvious advice but I think people in digital support roles need to hear that they have permission to step away from their community and their day job. Your community is probably open 24/7 but you shouldn’t be.

This can be as simple as setting screen breaks, or checking in with other colleagues during the day to switch perspective. There are notable benefits of stepping away from your screen, particularly in the evenings.

If you can (and it works for you) agree at least one day out of office on a regular basis particularly for planning or development tasks when you may need to get your head down and focus. Set expectations with your team or with colleagues.

Most importantly, ensure you use annual leave – you’re entitled to it! Spend that time doing the things that matter to you.

8. Learn reflective practice

Reflective practice is so important for community managers as so much of your job is about handling issues, resolving conflicts and balancing the expectations of your organisation and also your community members.

You may be faced with emotionally charged conflicts, waves of resistance or abusive responses to moderation. An avalanche of issues can lead you to question your decision making and affect your confidence.

Reflect on how you respond to issues – not only what you say but how you say it. Catch yourself doing it right, as well as assessing responses that could have gone better. Consider your own emotional response.

Look on feedback as an opportunity to improve, or a way to recognise what is already working well.

I’d recommend spending time coming up with a list of ‘review’ questions that you can use to support yourself or others on your team. See the reflective practice model below for an idea of what to include.

When a challenging issue comes along (particularly an upsetting one), you can reassure yourself and your team by working through those questions and checking in on what you did well and could do differently.

9. Build your support network

Community management can be tough, and it can be an isolating role.

Build a network of support for multiple reasons – for buy-in, peer support, debriefing, advice and constructive challenge.

Start with people in your team, or people who also have user-facing roles in your organisation to offload, share perspectives and build a mutually helpful approach. This will prove especially helpful when you need to take a united approach to handling a major reputational issue.

Find people in similar organisations and build connections and trust. Ask questions, seek support, share war wounds (yes, this!) and explore ideas.

There are a number of comms-focused communities of practice in the UK charity sector, including Digital Charities on Slack, Third Sector PR and Comms Network on Facebook. For those running peer support communities there’s Modbods on Facebook.

Outside of the charity sector, the CMX Hub and CR Table groups on Facebook are worth a look to connect with others working in community management.

Try to find someone who has similar – ideally greater – knowledge and experience. No one knows everything. Find a mentor if you can, and make use of their experience to grow. Finding someone who will respectfully challenge you will help you to improve.

10. Redress the balance

Finally, one of the best ways to look after yourself is to take a balanced approach.

In this job you may handle difficult issues, support people in distress and take responsibility for resolving conflict. This comes with an emotional ‘cost’.

Redress the balance of handling heavy things by spending time doing things that make you feel energised.

What is meaningful and uplifting for you?

I support people who are distressed, bereaved and feel isolated. In my spare time I gravitate towards food movies, comedy and exploring London’s history. I offload with good friends in oak timbered pubs and walk the family dog.

To finish, I’ll share a video that inspired me to think about my own HappyList:

What’s on your HappyList? by zefrank. A part of me will always love this guy.
Categories
Community advice Self development

Self care strategies that actually work

What’s the best way to help other people?

The answer: looking after yourself.

Really? How is looking after yourself a tried and true ‘best’ way to help other people?

If you work for a charity that might sound counter-productive. Surely your focus should be on the cause, the people in need, the people you support. Putting time into focusing on your own needs can feel distinctly uncomfortable, wrong somehow.

You’re probably under-staffed, under-funded, overwhelmed and trying to meet an increasingly endless wave of need. The challenges could include service users in distress, complex moderation issues, last-minute requests for case studies, problems that apparently only you can solve, and that regular ‘ping’ of emails on the work mobile phone.

Self care? 5 minutes of yoga, a smoothie and a smug self-help quote won’t cut it.

smoothie being poured away. image from unsplash

Ten self-care strategies 

Even with a low budget and limited resources, here are ten effective and helpful self-care strategies that work well for me. They can help motivate you, empower you, and keep you safe if you’re an online community manager at a charity.

1.Be clear about your remit

Doing this will help you to know what you should focus on, and what you should say no to. This can prevent feeling like you have to be all things to all people at all times, which leads to burnout.

Define remits around time by agreeing expected work hours and the type of issue that justifies attention out of hours.

Define remits around requests by agreeing the types of requests that people can make, and how you handle them. Don’t give any external (or internal) person a carte blanche to post requests without your involvement – that way lies chaos!

Define remits around moderation by being clear what you allow, what you don’t and why. This will set your culture and ensure everyone knows what is expected (more on that another time).

2. Talk to your Helpline team

If you’re regularly in contact with people who are emotionally distressed or experiencing really difficult times, this can quickly have a big impact on your own emotional wellbeing. If you have a Helpline team, speak to them about how they handle these feelings and the tools they have in place to help them support their callers.

In my experience, online community professionals for charities should learn empathic communication techniques used by Helplines, and apply them to their processes for handling moderation, complaints and other enquiries. Empathy and community go hand in hand.

3. Set a clear debrief and escalation process

Make sure you plan ahead and know how you will handle issues. This is a great way to retain control when unexpected and urgent things happen. You’ll feel calmer and reassured when you follow your own agreed process.

This should cover:

How you respond to reputational issues – from identifying a complaint to effectively resolving or escalating.

Getting the right skills and process for safeguarding users who may be at risk of harm or abuse. This is particularly important for charities and will help you to know you’ve done all you can to help users in the greatest need.

Agreeing a consistent moderation process that will help you to be confident in handling a wide range of issues.

The other important part of this is the debrief. Do you have someone to check in with after handling a difficult situation? Find someone to support you and help you to talk things through.

4. Look out for triggers

We all have things that upset us, make us angry or unsettled.

Trauma triggers can happen at any time. This could be a series of threads about losing a parent, a news story about sexual harassment, or a user being sexually abused.

Learning to recognise your own emotional response is important. Watch out for things that keep returning to your mind, or make you lose your calm.

It’s helpful to develop your own techniques for keeping one step removed from these issues. Empathic communication and reflective practice can help you to develop good techniques that enable you to offer support and keep you at a safe distance.

This will help to guard against burnout, or vicarious trauma.

5. Log and track positive feedback – why you do what you do

Appreciation matters (see previous blog). On a tough day when you’re facing budget cuts, crazy deadlines, and a wave of issues it can be easy to wonder why you bother.

Put a little time aside each week to log positive feedback – from simple thank yous to the detailed stories that help show the tangible impact your community has.

Invite others in your team or in your organisation to keep watch for feedback.

If you have more time, share this feedback in your newsletters (anonymising details) or share with your internal contacts.

In community we spend so much time doing the job we don’t shout enough about the great value of our work!

Thank you note and a cup of coffee. Photo by Hanny Naibaho on Unsplash

To be continued…

This is part one of a two part blog series discussing self-care strategies for community managers at charities. [Read part two]