Given the perennial backdrop of barriers to sustainability for small charities, what can their CEOs do to keep healthy, beat Hurry Sickness and make sure they have a better day, without compromising performance?
Small charity CEOs are champions of time management, and can truly make the most of a working day. At the last small charity CEOs network meeting, we started the evening with a fascinating discussion about what everyone had been working on that day. The simultaneous breadth and depth of activity was astonishing, prompting admiration in me, for this group of deft professionals who can routinely switch from doing the bookkeeping to interpreting national policy, whilst dealing with a crisis – all while working at 100mph and remaining committed.
But I also felt the clear recognition, in the room, of a strain that often goes unspoken. Working at high pressure can stimulate motivation – a high, even, in the short term. Additionally, small charity CEOs usually have the luxury of job satisfaction that comes from meaningful and fulfilling work. But eventually, if there’s a build-up of sustained ‘multi-tasking’, the familiar signs of exhaustion and burnout start to appear.
‘Multi-tasking’ is a concept – indeed a myth – that I find particularly insidious. Our culture has come to accept the ability to do several things at once as a fact, a great virtue, and to aspire to achieving it.
In reality, the human brain can only switch between tasks, with a ‘stop/start’ process that can interrupt focus, lead to mistakes and raise stress levels. So multi-tasking is humanly impossible and, when we try to do several things at the same time, we achieve less but increase levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Add to this the fact that small charity CEOs have massive and diverse workloads, are often constantly switched on to digital media, and work round-the-clock hours, and you have a recipe for chronic stress, causing Hurry Sickness and physical illness. Research shows how Chronic stress can damage brain structure and connectivity, with long-term brain changes as a result.
In a wider context, The House of Lords this week published its report Stronger Charities for a Stronger Society on the sustainability of the charity sector, and shows how “the commissioning landscape is skewed against smaller charities”, recommending that small charities are enabled to compete, and that greater collaboration is encouraged.
Given this perennial backdrop of barriers to sustainability for small charities, what can their CEOs do to keep healthy, beat Hurry Sickness and make sure they have a better day, without compromising performance?
- Stop trying to multi-task! Focus on one thing at a time, for example switch off email and messaging apps when you’re not using them
- Make space during each day to use your time management skills – a ‘results’ list can be more effective than a ‘to do’ list for prioritisation and helps you avoid the urge to multi-task
- Take time at regular intervals to slow down and listen to your body and mind – set an alarm every hour on your phone to remind you
- Meditation improves your wellbeing – and your performance. Try meditating every morning for 10 minutes over the next week. There’s a Buddhist saying: meditate for 20 minutes every day; if you’re too busy, meditate for an hour!
- Build – and use! – a network of support. The Small Charity CEO Network exists to strengthen the small charity sector. There is nothing like peer support for reducing stress, and there is no other open-forum support network just for small charity CEOs – come and join us on 20th April along with I Am Enterprises. It’s a closed group of small charity CEOs where Chatham House rules apply, so a safe space to share, get support and learn from your peers.
We all know this stuff – but putting it into practice, amidst the flurry of the day, is the part most of us fall down on. Take charge of your wellbeing, make a commitment to yourself, and make sure you have a better day, every day!
Jane Hudson Jones is Co-CEO at United Way UK and Founder of Lotus Consultancy & Coaching and the Small Charity CEOs Network: www.lotusconsultancy.org