Monday, December 5, 2011

5 Ways to Work through your AE Burn-Out

After my first year of Association management, I came to the conclusion many others find as well in this profession: there is no end to the volume of work and no end to the volume of things there are to worry about. When asked how I've "avoided" burn-out, the simple answer is I didn't - I just learned how to work through it.

Here are 5 ways to work though Association Executive burn out ...

1. Change your approach: If you can't figure out how to manage your volume of projects, change your approach. A Senior VP at our National Association once told me everything changed when three days a week she spent the first hour organizing her work day - from home. Sometimes cutting out every distraction at the start of the day can make your day hugely more productive. Make four lists - a) the 3 things you want to do the least; b) the one thing that must get done, even if nothing else gets done; c) what no one will care about if it never gets done; and d) everything else. Do whatever part of the 3 things you don't want to do the most before you even leave your house - then you don't have to filled with dread the entire drive in to the office. And be sure the thing that must get done each day gets done. Sometimes I even time myself to see how many things on my list I can get done in an hour. Whatever isn't your typical approach - try that.

2. Do not give up the part of the job you actually love: There is surely at least one part of association management you love. Whatever that is, don't delegate it to someone else - even if the perception is that it's below your position title. Being happy doing something is good for your own professional happiness. I personally like writing the association newsletter so I do it. One bonus to being the CEO must be that you get to keep at least one part of the entire list of things there are to do that you personally enjoy. On the flip side, if there is a part of your job that you detest, are you really sure it can't be delegated or outsourced?

3. Add something life-changing to your life: If you have an insurmountable amount of new things in your work life, and can't think of the last time you added something new to your personal life - add something. Nine years ago, my new thing was a puppy - and he changed my life. Having no choice but to walk him during the day actually put me outside during the day, introduced me to my neighbors, and added a massive element of joy into my routine because dogs can't help but be joyous. And no, I didn't have time to have a dog. You might not have time to take kick-boxing, or ballet, or learn to paint, or finally volunteer for an organization whose issues you care about - but you may find that whatever you can carve an hour out of each day to do - or even an hour each week - or an hour each month could change your life. Don't let years go by without anything new in your life.

4. Come to peace with the fact there is evil in the world: I have seen colleagues just walk away from the profession because of the amount of energy (and grind) it takes to try to make everyone happy or to make that evil member grow to like the organization, or grow to like you. You cannot do association management and make everyone happy - it's just not possible. Some people are just evil and you may not have the power to change that. The sooner you can come to peace with it the easier it is to start the next day or start the next project. If a situation or person is draining the life out of you, call another association executive and you will get empathy and find you're not alone. None of us can avoid the bad and the evil, but if you can't move through it, you won't slow down your burn rate.

5. Feeling good and looking good: In the immortal words of Billy Crystal, portraying the eternally suntanned and well-dressed actor Ferndano Lamas, "it is better to look good than to feel good." Like the thought about changing your approach to your work day, if you just plain don't feel good then see if you can look good. Finding a way to distract yourself from feeling bad might make you feel better - like finding makeup to remove circles under your eyes or dying your hair to convince yourself you are not going gray with work. But of course it's crucial to feel good - and your burn out could actually be just feeling terrible for a health reason - maybe you need to give up gluten or are allergic to dairy or drink too much coffee. By having a complete physical, including checking for food allergies, you may find you can feel a lot better just by changing your diet.

It's possible to have a life, be super-charged productive at the office, and enjoy what you do. But it takes work. You will burn-out, and it's possible to get through it.


Anonymous said...

Great insights, Cindy! Having been away from the daily office commitment for a while, I fully relate to the wisdom of your words.

I think I might not have retired when I did, had I had your article to read. And there's one other thing I think now: If I could have had a brief sabbatical after, say, 20 years on the job--just three month--I would have returned refreshed and renewed. I always admired my husband's academic career---his employers understood the need to gain the perspective that absence brings. You know,"the heart grows fonder" and all that stuff.

Lisa Noon, RCE, CAE said...

Great article, Cindy. Definitely resonates with those of us who've been in the Realtor Association world for a long time!!