It is never very easy to find a good way to combine being part of a nonprofit with a life with family and friends outside that organization. And this is even more of a challenge in times of uncertainty like we all face now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The thing with not-for-profits is that for almost all people involved in them it is a mission, not a job. And in times of uncertainty that mission becomes even more urgent and all-consuming. Balancing your mission and your life becomes even harder.
In a situation of lock down it is even harder to draw a strict line between work and private life – because your work is at home now, legitimately. It is now so much easier to think you have done sports during the day and therefore need to work a bit more in the evening. As your family members are also working or learning from home, you may not be able to put your work stuff away, so it is in view all the time. Many people feel the distinction between weekend and workdays is becoming very vague. Family holidays like Easter that you now cannot celebrate with the family are blurring into workdays. And before you know it, you are looking at a 24/7 work schedule.
Let’s be honest
But let’s be honest. For most nonprofit people, weekends and holidays simply meant different kinds of work to do (take part in a training, organize a dedicated activity specifically for the holiday) or different working times (no commute to the office but a relaxed home work schedule in the afternoon or evening). Most of you found it hard to stop at the end of a working day (whether at 5pm or later), because the work is never finished and is so important and urgent. Most of you had a hard time finding a good mix of work life and private life before a pandemic came and gave you an excuse.
Look who is talking
I know. I know this very well. Because I have been there. I always liked my work a lot. A LOT. (still do) And it always so happened to be especially important. (still is) And of course, it could never wait until tomorrow or next week. (yep, still true). Decades ago, a friend of mine gave me a t-shirt with a poem on it about how I was so important because I was busy saving the world. And it felt like that, too: I was needed to do these things for a greater good. And these people, this greater cause, was counting on me to be there. Yes, I know you are feeling that way and I know it is true, too.
But here is what I also know to be true. We need other people like our families, and we cannot expect them to wait until we are no longer fit for work to pay attention to them. We need downtime to give our bodies a rest. We need hobbies to give our minds a rest. I know this to be true, and I can feel it also. Because when I give myself downtime, I feel my creativity and focus increase. I can see much more clearly what is needed to be done when I am at a distance from the daily grind. I can see clearly what the real priority is and what is the best way to do things. I have learned (and let me be honest I am still learning this) that I can be better at what I do if I sometimes stop doing it.
It is very important to be intentional about it if you want to create time and attention for non-work-related activities. For me it works to visualize my week and my days beforehand (including more than work). This way it becomes reality to stop working at some point and to do something else – I have already ‘seen’ this happen after all, so I know it is possible. And having visualized it makes me feel the happiness of doing non-work things before I need to make a choice between work or other things. And that makes it easier to be intentional about them. This way I have been able to do sports daily during the lock down, while before this period I could manage the gym once a week and felt more was impossible on my schedule.
It also works for me to have an accountability partner. Nowadays that is my husband, with whom I plan the daily routine including easy breakfasts and lunches (while I would eat lunch sitting at my laptop when alone), the sports timetable and more.
For accountability, you need to set goals and hatch plans, you need intentions. I have intentions for the fun stuff too. For instance, I plan around board games I want to play and books I want to read. I think of people I want to hear. Due to an illness I was unable to do these things for years and now that I can, I lost my habits and routines for them. It now requires an intention and a visualization to help me fit these activities in my daily routines again.
Another thing that works for me is to look back at the end of each day and note things I am grateful for. What did I enjoy? When did I laugh? What would I like to do again or experience again? Paying attention to the joy that non-work things bring helps reinforce the intention to invest in these things too. Write down what you are grateful for. Formulate intentions based on your gratitude journal. So that you can have more of where that came from.
Most of all, you should be kind to yourself. And honest, too. I simply love what I do. I wake up with so many new ideas every day that it does not make sense to limit myself to a 9-to-5 mentality. It would simply not work for me. It would not make me happy at all. So I indulge myself. I let myself work in weekends and during evenings. As long as it makes me feel contented, this is also a form of being kind to my true self. In just the same way as investing in my health, my friends and my marriage is.
Be true to yourself
Key is to find your own best mix of work life and private life. None of us are the same and in different stages of your life your needs may differ, too. So you need to find out what works for you in this moment. You need to be intentional about making it happen. And do not forget to be kind to yourself if you cannot always get it right. Just make sure you note it and learn from it if it really bothers you. And if it doesn’t, well then you just found out your balance is not what you thought it was!