Guest Blog by Beth Kanter
You’ve smiled through back-to-back-to-back-to-back meetings with donors and your best donor prospect just cancelled on you, and now you’ve got to finish that grant report before you can go home.
It’s totally normal to feel super exhausted after a particularly rough day—but if every day is starting to feel rough, you might be close to burning out.
The clinical definition of burnout is “a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion that occurs when we feel overwhelmed by too many demands, too few resources, and too little recovery time.” Given the harsh working environment for nonprofits, it is a perfect recipe for a whole bunch of burnt out nonprofit fundraising professionals and others..
The good news is that once you know the signs of burnout, you can take steps to stop it. In my book, co-written with Aliza Sherman, we walk through plenty of warning signs, along with self-care activities to alleviate your stress.
Here’s four warning signs of burnout, coupled with easy ways to feel better.
Warning sign #1: You’re feeling weary and small things are starting to really (really) irritate you.
Burnout can sneak up on you—and the first sign is often a short fuse. Maybe every little thing about a donor, a board member, or your executive director is rubbing you the wrong way. Your executive team’s expectations are way out of whack and you just don’t have the energy to politely set them straight. The WiFi is on the fritz again and it feels like the end of the world.
Every nonprofit fundraiser has to put up with some annoyances, but if you’re feeling like you’re at your wit’s end at the start of the day, you might be burning out. Left unchecked, this can evolve into angry outbursts and serious arguments both at home and at work.
Self-care solution: Get more sleep, even if it means taking a 20-minute nap under your desk
If you find yourself snapping at the people around you, you need to catch up on your Zzz’s. Sleep deprivation messes with your concentration, mood, and ability to cope. To get more sleep at home, stop trying to cram in one more email before bed and avoid staring at screens before you hit the hay.
But don’t limit your shut-eye to your bed. Sleep in the workplace may seem like an oxymoron, but napping during the day can improve cognitive functioning, leading to greater productivity at work. Studies show that daytime napping can elevate moods and even improve immune function.
When you’re overworked and over stressed, it affects your concentration—your mind wanders, you forget things easily, you can’t focus.
Warning sign #2: Frequent Distractions and Lack of Focus
This can be a bit hard to recognize in others, and it can also have multiple causes, but when you’re getting overworked and stressed, an obvious symptom can be distractions. You end up finding yourself, or your staff, seeking out more chit chat than usual. Or those phones are out frequently, and Facebook is on the computer screen more often than usual. When productivity is dropping like this it could be from feeling so overworked that sitting down to pick 1 task out of the 100 seems impossible. Finding distractions is much easier.
Self-care solution: Add more movement into your workday—stand up and walk around to clear your mind.
If you’re having trouble focusing, you may be suffering from “foggy brain” caused by too much sitting at work. One studyfound that a simple 20-minute walk can significantly improve your ability to concentrate. While another at Stanford University determined people were more creative when they were walking versus sitting.
My advice: stop using your computer keyboard as a lunch tray. Instead, incorporate a brain-replenishing walk into your lunch hour. Don’t think of a taking a walk as taking a break or slacking, but instead consider it a tool that will improve your productivity and bring more innovative ideas to your work.
Warning sign #3: You’re feeling sluggish throughout your day, even when you get plenty of sleep
Your energy dips at work more often than the post-lunch crash. You feel physically and emotionally exhausted—depleted even. You may go to bed early, only to wake up still feeling tired.
You might find it difficult to get out of bed at all. This sort of fatigue only adds to your anxiety about all the work you need to get done in a given day.
Self-care solution: Stick to healthy foods and beverages—and avoid the temptation of sugary snacks at the office.
What we eat and drink can impact how our bodies and brains work. There’s a reason why healthy food is called “brain food.” Knowing what we put into our bodies can mean the difference between being strong, clear-headed, and effective or being sluggish, dull, and slow at work.
At home, you may be successful at avoiding sugary snacks because you don’t buy them. But at work, if there are chocolate covered donuts in the conference room, you might be tempted to indulge. That’s why it’s so important to make a plan for bringing healthy foods and beverages to the office in order to make better nutritional choices.
If you’re not sure where to start, The Kaiser Permanente Healthy Meetings Guide includes a list of light meals and snacks that are simple and low cost and the American Heart Association’s Healthy Workplace Food and Beverage Toolkitprovides nutritional guidance for food in the workplace with practical action tips.
Warning sign #4: You’re feeling compelled to overwork because you think it’s the only way to get everything done
Working in talent acquisition means that you may find yourself working after hours and weekends to research donors, write proposals, or plan campaign strategies. And, of course, you may not mind that much if you have a real passion for your work.
However, your passion can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, that fervor helps you keep going in the face of difficult challenges. On the other hand, you can become so driven you don’t stop to refuel or smell the proverbial roses or even notice your work is starting to take a toll on your health and wellbeing.
Self-care solution: Give yourself a break—when you work too much, you’re not getting much done
Sometimes our reaction to stress is to work nights and weekends, not taking breaks throughout the day, or sacrificing vacations days. These habits are not healthy and will definitely make you unhappy, leading you down the slippery slope to burnout. And the kicker? Working longer hours actually decreases your productivity.
If you’re someone who accumulates vacation time without taking it, you are essentially working for free. Use your vacation time, and take real vacations where you completely disconnect from work, emails, and the mobile devices that connect you to work.
If you give your brain a chance to reboot, you’ll return to work with more clarity and perspective that will serve both you and your company far better than staying late at the office.
The bottom line: self-care isn’t a luxury—it’s the key to being productive at work. When you are overworked and super stressed, you will not perform at the top of your game. Take better care of yourself so you can raise more money for organization’s mission to save the world.
A version of this blog post appeared on the LinkedIn Blog, it is based on my new book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout also co-authored with Aliza Sherman.