Have you ever been recognized for a special skill or talent? Maybe you are a great singer, writer, baker, designer, organizer or any of a million other awesome things. Great! You've got a sought after skill! And, I bet you're excited about sharing it with everyone who asks for help. Yep, been there, too. Unfortunately, I eventually got burned out. The requests kept coming in and I kept saying, "Yes!" Pretty soon, the skill that I was so happy to have turned into something I wished I could hide. I felt overwhelmed. Everyone had decided that I was the one to go to and all I wanted to do was find a moment to read a magazine or shop for nail polish.
You see, the funny thing about having special skills and talents is that they don't come with a user guide or manual to help you maintain them. Wouldn't that be awesome! No one tells you to pace yourself. Instead we're left on our own to figure out how to keep our sanity and our passion intact. Here are a few thoughts that I'd like to share on making life easier when it comes to working with others even if you're "only volunteering."
1. Don't just say yes.
One of the things I was guilty of was blindly agreeing to requests without having enough detail about the project and just thinking that I'd find a way to get it done. That is not cool unless you like the pressure of pending deadlines and setting false expectations for the people you're working with. Working with someone who doesn't quite understand the process and allowing them to take the lead is a disaster waiting to happen. Sometimes we don't want to rock the boat, but if you know that what you're being asked to do is unrealistic, speak up. Consider it a teachable moment. I suggest being fair to everyone involved by asking for the specifics before you agree to do anything. Yes, even the not so comfortable part about determining if your involvement will be compensated. It will save a lot of headaches down the road.
When agreeing to work on projects, I think it's always important to ask for a timeline, find out if there is a budget - not just for your own compensation, but to know if the materials needed to complete the project will be covered, and request a detailed overview of the project from your main contact. Removing the guesswork from the process will make it much easier to get the job done.
2. Set clear boundaries.
Before making yourself available to work on projects, you should already know when you prefer to work on projects and when you can get the most done. If you're like me and enjoy having your evenings free to cook dinner for your family and enjoy their company, then don't schedule working time for projects in the evenings. At one point, I was working my day job from 8 to 5 in the afternoon, cooking dinner in the evening (on days that I didn't let projects totally consume my evenings) and then rushing my daughter to bed early so that I could sit on the couch with my husband - laptop in tow - to work on projects, most unpaid.
I started to feel really guilty. This was my time with my family and I wanted to enjoy it. Now I only work on projects in the evening if I absolutely have to. Otherwise, I choose one weekend a month to focus on projects. I give my husband a heads up so that he can plan a fun activity for Olivia. This way I don't feel guilty about clearly neglecting them. It also helps me from agreeing to work on too many projects around the same time because I already know how much time I have available for the month.
3. Accept that sometimes you will have to say, "No."
Earlier this year I started reading books and articles about productivity. I was convinced that I was not maximizing my time. There just had to be a step that I kept missing that would help me optimize my day and not involve a triple shot of espresso, right? Well there was a step that I was missing. It was a big one. I realized that sometimes, I simply had to say, "No."
One night, restless in bed, I aimlessly browsed iTunes and found my way over to iBooks. I came across the title, 168 Hours. You Have More Time Than You Think. I was immediately intrigued. I spent the next few weeks on the elliptical machine in the gym listening to this book. I lost count of all of the "Aha moments" I had had. Yes, LET'S CELEBRATE! Hey, It wasn't me! Well, technically it was because I kept saying yes, but it wasn't my inability to get things done that made me feel unproductive. It was the outrageous number of things I had agreed to do that was slowing me down. Sometimes saying no is the only choice you will have, but it doesn't men you can't help at all. Ask if there's any other way that you can help. Maybe you can make a donation or assist by sending over some volunteers to help. If the cause means that much to you just ask.
Stephanie Powell is the founder of Hello Dreamers, speaker, consultant and graphic designer.