Heather Comstock Connects

Helping nonprofits and other volunteer organizations develop strong relationships and a clear voice in the community.

Burning Out


Is your volunteer schedule burning you out? How can we prevent burnout?

It’s fall and that is full-tilt time for much of my volunteer work. Most organizations, particularly those that work with children and families, tend to slack off in the summer facing the reality that most of their constituents will be doing other activities. But boy, once schools start back, everyone launches forth with regular classes and meetings as well as fall festivals and fund-raisers.

1. Recognize that there will be busy periods and PLAN for it! As Craig Jarrow the Time Management Ninja points out, you have a choice to “fill up your calendar before others do”.

I’ve made a rule that if we have something happening on a weekend, I will not commit to anything else. I want to make sure that we have at least one day that isn’t committed so we can rest. If we have something that takes up an entire weekend, I will do my best to bookend that weekend with days with no commitments so we have time to prepare and time to recuperate. Because we just know that September and October are crazy busy, we try to take it easy in preparation and as we’re going through it know that there’s a break at the end of the month!

If you feel like you don’t even have time to breathe or that you’re constantly on the go, that’s one sign that you should take a look at your calendar and schedule.

2. Acknowledge the amount of energy these things take. Its not just about the time, but there’s also energy expended making these things happen. Consider participating in a service project on a Saturday morning. For most of us, the event is on our mind that coming week. You will expend energy thinking about what you need to do prepare: will you need special clothing? What will the weather be like? What time do we need to get out and get out the door? How about meals? You’ll spend time compiling all the stuff you need. There’s also stress because you need to motivate people and managing expectations.

Now, if you’re responsible for the event, double that energy drain. Not only do you have to manage yourself, you also have to expend a great deal of energy providing that same logistical support to those you are leading and of course the associated stresses you have internally as you try to keep everything moving.

If you’re constantly dragging yourself along to things and not getting ample rest or exercise or eating proper meals or if you jump every time the phone rings or you’re avoiding email, spend some time evaluating what you’re doing.

3. “And now for something completely different”. Remember that from Monty Python? That’s how I feel after a period of continuous commitments. In September and October, SEVEN out of those nine weekends had a volunteer commitment. Now they weren’t onerous or difficult commitments, but the fact is I had promised to give my time. When we finally had a weekend with no commitment, we took off one day and went to a local museum.

Make the time to do something completely different! Really. Go to a museum or a park. See a movie. Play Pokemon Go! Something unrelated to anything else that’s just for you!

If all you’re doing is reading, talking, emailing, and messaging about your volunteer work, stop! Your brain needs something else to be inspired and re-energized!

4. Understand what it “costs” you. I enjoy what I do. I have made many friends and enjoy their company and most of the time, I leave these activities energized and inspired. However, saying “yes” to one thing often means saying “no” to something else.

Maintaining a calendar with the breathing room to meet these commitments is difficult. Sometimes, friends and family don’t understand why they get put on the back burner during these busy months. There’s guilt on my side because I feel like I am letting the people closest to me down. Fall is full of great festivals and activities, but I often can not participate because my time is already committed or I am recuperating/preparing for a commitment. By the end of the busy season, I sometimes feel a bit resentful. Which is usually a good clue, I need to take a step back and take care of myself.

If you’re starting to feel a bit resentful about your volunteer work, its a good idea to conduct a self-evaluation of your involvement.

Feeling tired, mentally exhausted, and a bit resentful are natural when you’re in a busy season. But when you weigh it against what you gain from where you spend your time, there should be a definite tilt in the direction of the positive. If not, there’s absolutely no shame in stopping what you’re doing and re-evaluating your time commitments! Volunteering is a wonderful way to make the world a better place and to make friends who care as passionately as you do. It can and should be a positive experience!













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