self improvement

How to Use Empathy to Make a Social Impact

For a lot of us, when we think of selling, the word “empathy” doesn’t come to mind. In fact, for many in the cause-focused space, particularly nonprofits, selling (just like marketing) is a bit of a bad word. However, it shouldn’t be.

If you have something that someone else needs or wants, isn’t that a good thing? That’s where it all begins.

Today, one of my spring interns, Rima Patel, is going to share how empathy intersects with the sales process, particularly the selling of products. I think this will not only be insightful, but good news for many of you.

You’re already leading a nonprofit, social enterprise, or other for-profit doing good, which means that empathy is at the core of what you do. This post will take it one step further, allowing you to see how empathy can be the glue that holds your triple bottom line together.

How to Use Empathy to Make a Social Impact

No one will deny that the key to creating a successful product is by thinking like the consumer. Putting yourself into their shoes and figuring out what they want can help make your great idea even more desirable. This concept is not unfamiliar to us; in fact, it’s something we aim to practice in our day-to-day lives. Whether it’s individuals trying to build strong relationships or cause-focused organizations trying to connect with consumers, empathy is essential.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Empathy is the difference between feeling for someone and feeling with them. Acknowledging feelings from shared experiences connects us as humans, beyond all the ways in which we separate ourselves—and that’s special. So special that it has the power to change lives and make an impact.

Maybe you’re an entrepreneur and you want your consumers to have an emotional connection to your product. Maybe you’re a nonprofit and you are trying to fix a social issue by inspiring others. Or maybe you’re a social enterprise and you just want to do more good. How can you use empathy to make a social impact?

Empathy can push you to create solutions that help others, but it can also push others to help you and your cause.

Empathy in the design process

A human-centered approach to innovation

Design thinking is a popular process that many social enterprises use today to creatively solve problems and make social impacts. This process takes a human-centered approach and involves five steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.

This semester, my Intro to Entrepreneurship professor decided to focus her class around the design thinking process, giving us the task of creating a product that would help solve the issue of climate change on campus. After the project was over, in a class with almost 300 students, we all came to the same general consensus: the empathize stage was the most important.

At first, many of us had a lot of great ideas, but the empathize stage made us quickly realize that our ideas could be better.

We all knew the problems associated with climate change and we all knew the different methods to prevent it, but what we didn’t know was how much people were actually willing to do. We found that college students want to help the environment, but don’t want to go out of their way to do it. You’ve probably seen something similar with your audience.

We realized that methods requiring the consumer to take some action like using water refill stations or compost bins don’t go as far as methods that don’t require the consumer to take an action, like putting motion detector lights in dorms. Creating the most value for our consumer requires using empathy to understand the best way to solve the problem.

The empathize stage not only helped us understand the consumer and how they felt about the issue to make the most efficient product, but helped us understand what steps they might actually take. Without empathy, our product might have ended up useless, unrealistic, and ultimately unsuccessful.

So, how do you use empathy in the design process? The first step is to ask questions.

Ask yourself:

  • What do you know about the problem?

  • What do you not know?

  • What are your assumptions?

Then ask others:

  • How do they feel about the problem?

  • How does it impact their life?

  • What are they willing to do about it?

These insights will help you understand the problem, who is involved, and how you might go about solving it in a way that brings others into the process for a more successful solution.

We all have great ideas that we want to see come to life, but if we want to be as successful as we can, it’s necessary that we open our ideas to other perspectives. Using empathy, you can see what would work and what would not, how people react to and feel about your ideas, and how to make them better.

There are many solutions to a problem, but the best solution is the one that begins with empathy.

Consumer empathy

Stop marketing products, start marketing feelings

Today, consumer empathy has become quite popular because companies are starting to realize its impact. If people have an emotional connection to a product, they are far more likely to buy it. If people share the same feelings as an organization, they are far more likely to support it.

Consumer empathy makes people feel less like consumers and more like humans, and that appeal is strong enough to make a positive impact on businesses and on the world.

Consumer empathy involves not only understanding the desires and struggles of the consumer, but also sharing those feelings with them. A great example of consumer empathy is a commercial for Cardstore by American Greetings in 2014. In order to promote their website, American Greetings sparked a common, shared feeling—the love we have for our mothers—and used it to help the audience create an emotional attachment with the brand. With this commercial, American Greetings was marketing a feeling, not a product.

Another great example is TOMS, a shoe company that built its brand on the concept that for every pair of shoes sold, there was also a pair given to a child with no shoes. Growing up, I remember seeing so many TOMS flags hanging up in bedrooms. Why were people so inclined to hang a shoe brand up on their wall?

The flag represented a feeling, an emotional attachment to the product, and a sense of pride for doing something good. TOMS recognized the power of making every person who purchased their shoes feel like they made a significant impact, and were part of a solution to a big problem. Today, TOMS continues to use consumer empathy to discuss other important social issues, like gun violence.

Now, it might seem like empathy is an obvious tool for marketing products. Of course thinking like the consumer is necessary for creating something that is valuable and relevant to them. Unfortunately, many companies still lack this skill.

Pepsi, for example, aired a commercial in 2017 amidst the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. The commercial involved Kendall Jenner joining an ambiguous protest and sharing a Pepsi with a police officer, sparking unity and excitement among everyone. Pepsi received severe backlash, taking down the ad several days later, and responses to the commercial gave a clear understanding as to why. A former organizer for BLM said, “No one is finding joy from Pepsi at a protest.” Bernice King, daughter of MLK Jr., tweeted, “If only daddy knew the power of #Pepsi.” To make things worse, the face of the ad was a rich, white supermodel who has no history of being an advocate for BLM, or any other social issue for that matter. Pepsi failed to understand their consumers and how they feel about the issue, which is what made the ad unsuccessful.

So, what did Pepsi do wrong? Pepsi’s commercial was trying to ignore the problem. Its message does not fall far from, “Why can’t we all just get along?” It provides a “solution” without actually acknowledging the existing problem of police brutality that some black people face everyday in America.

Empathy goes beyond just understanding someone's feelings; it requires learning to share them, too. Pepsi attempted to use a current, popular trend in social justice to promote their brand and make more money. Their mistake was leaving out empathy, and it was a mistake they could have avoided had they taken more time to know their consumer.

Using empathy in marketing involves understanding how your consumer feels, but it also involves understanding how your consumer will react. How do they want to feel, and can you make them feel that?

Using empathy to create social change

How feelings can change the world

The beauty of empathy is that it affects all of us.

Whether we are selling or buying the idea, it makes us all feel something. Empathy reminds us that we are all human and that we share experiences and feelings. It has been a tool used around the world to make individual problems feel universal.

Empathy allows consumers to feel like they are being heard and understood, that they are not alone, and that there are people out there trying to solve their problems. It sparks inspiration and motivation for people to work towards the things they care about.

As entrepreneurs and innovators, it is essential that we practice empathy in all aspects and phases of our projects—from idea to design to marketing. So, ask questions and open your ears. Understand who you’re working with and what they’re feeling.

Remember that empathy involves shared experiences, so remind yourself of your feelings and why you got involved with your cause to begin with. Keep in mind that the product or the profit isn’t special, but the feeling it invokes and how those feelings might eventually change the world is.

Developing Your Empathy Muscle

Empathy 101

One question that may have come up in reading this post might be something like, “Is it necessary to have empathy if others around me already do?”

In other words, is access to others with empathic skills just as valuable as learning those skills for yourself? In my opinion, no. Empathy is a skill we want to individually develop because it is a skill we can use in all aspects of our lives, not just work.

Having access to others with empathy is a great way to learn empathy; however, relying on others for empathy to make your ideas better only limits yourself.

Empathy isn’t just meant to benefit your business. It can be the very thing that motivates and inspires you when approached with a challenge or failure. Learning and practicing empathy puts things into perspectives you might never see otherwise, and that’s an important skill everyone should try to have.

If you want to develop more empathy, here are four recommendations:

  • As mentioned, hang out with people who have empathy. Surround yourself with people who challenge you to improve.

  • When you are around people who are more empathetic than you, ask questions that will help you understand their perspective and how they identify with the emotions of others.

  • Read more literature. According to research, fiction can make you more empathic and improve your EQ, or emotional intelligence.

  • Travel to new places. Putting yourself in unfamiliar environments and around different cultures is a great way to get out of your comfort zone and develop an appreciation for others.


Rima Patel

I’m Rima Patel, an upcoming senior at North Carolina State University, majoring in Sociology with minors in Business Administration and Nonprofit Studies. My ultimate goal in life is to do good and help people, and right now I’m doing that through marketing for nonprofits.

I hope to make significant impacts on social issues through innovation and social entrepreneurship.

LinkedIn



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Empathy can push you to create solutions that help others, but it can also push others to help you and your cause.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I’m Kristi Porter, and I help cause-focused organizations understand and execute effective marketing campaigns so they can move from stressed to strategic. Your resources may be limited, but your potential isn’t. Whether you’re a nonprofit, social enterprise, or small business who wants to give back, I’ll show you how to have a bigger impact.


The Key to Your Success May Be Staring You in the Face (Literally)

The end of the year is coming fast, which very likely means a busy season for you. You either have a big sale ahead of you, or you’re heading into the year-end fundraising season. Some of you may also have both.

And, realistically, a lot of you are already tired.

Not only are you a human with a life and responsibilities, but you are also at a cause-related organization, either for- or non-profit. So, whether your work deals with extremely sensitive and dark subjects like human trafficking or not, you still feel the pressure to succeed because there’s a social problem you’re trying to solve. There is a different kind of gravity to your work that few understand.

This can certainly wear on you over time, and without checks and balances, can lead to burnout. And burnout would be a terrible situation not only for you, but for your cause. The world needs your work!

So, what’s the answer to combating the fatigue and burnout? Community.

Community can give you the inspiration and motivation to make it through another year, month, or even day.

Essentially, you need to find your tribe—even if that’s only one other person.

How do you find the community you desperately need? I’ll show you.

The Key to Your Nonprofit or Social Enterprise Success May Be Staring You in the Face (Literally)

Why You Shouldn’t Only Rely on Co-workers, Friends, and Family

When it comes to community, too many people only rely on their co-workers, friends, and family to fill that void, even when it comes to their work. I think this is a problem.

I don’t know about you, but very few of my friends and family have founded a nonprofit or social enterprise. They’re incredibly supportive for sure, but they just can’t relate.

And as a solopreneur, I have no co-workers! Some days I love this fact, and some days I don’t. But even if you have co-workers, there are probably still a few things you avoid talking about like your salary. It just gets messy.

If you founded the organization, unless you have a co-founder, you also don’t have any direct peers. Meaning, you can’t be completely open and honest with the people in your office either because you need to maintain some professional distance.

Are you seeing the pattern? If you only rely on co-workers, friends, and family to be your community, there are gaps of your work that may never receive essential feedback, support, or input. That can impact you in a big way! It may stunt your success, allow little problems to grow into big problems, or even cause blind spots.

Worse still, without the ability to adequately communicate your thoughts and feelings to people who truly understand, it can lead to depression and isolation. I don’t know about you, but these are two things I already struggle with at times, so I don’t need anything else contributing to these issues.

Again, this would be a heartbreaking for you as a person, but it would also effect your organization. And my guess is that you care deeply about your cause and want to succeed. I want that for you too, so let’s talk about a few places where you can find the community you need.

Accountability Partner

Anytime a new or aspiring entrepreneur asks me for advice, the first thing I tell them is to get both an accountability partner and a mentor. I didn’t know how badly I needed these people in my life until I had them—and I don’t want you to miss out!

An accountability partner is someone in a similar situation or role. They don’t have to be at the same type of organization, but it’s great if they have similar responsibilities. Alternatively, they could be someone who is trying to accomplish a similar goal like writing a book.

Accountability partners are fantastic because they serve as a peer who can almost act like a co-worker or partner without the same strings. You are there to help each other succeed in your goals through, well, accountability.

You’ll be able to accomplish your goals because someone is there to regularly ask about them. It’s the same reason that Weigh Watchers meetings work so well. You take the necessary steps because you’ve got to get on a scale the next week to measure your progress.

You also both show up because you don’t want to let the other person down. Plus, they can provide a perspective and sounding board that you may currently be lacking. And, let’s face it, sometimes you just need to complain to someone who fully relates to your situation. We all have those days!

If you don’t have someone already in mind for your accountability partner, ask friends, family, or even put the word out on social media. It may take some time to find this person, but it will absolutely be worth it.

You might also consider a trial period to make sure you’re a good fit. My previous accountability partner and I had only just met when we decided to test the waters. We agreed to meet twice a month for three months, and we loved it so much we continued for six months. It was a huge boost for both of us—and our businesses!

Mentor

I think we all consciously, or even unconsciously, crave a mentor. We want “someone who’s been there” to show us the ropes. We are, of course, talking about your working life here, but you could also seek out mentors in marriage, parenting, hobbies, or any number of things.

The only prerequisite for a mentor is that they have more experience in a particular area than you do, and they are willing to share that knowledge. They almost act like a shortcut in that way, helping you bypass more of the struggles to get to more of the wins.

Let me also take a moment to dispel a couple of common misconceptions about mentors. The first is that we commonly picture mentors as much older than ourselves, but that isn’t always true.

My mentor Holly is only a couple of years older than I am, but she is CFO at a nonprofit called Growing Leaders, so she has vastly different experience than me. (One of those being that she’s good with numbers, ha!) She sort of serves as my all-around life mentor. We talk about everything, and often, that includes my business.

I had another mentor for over a year, Christina, who created The Contract Shop. She is actually over a decade younger than me, but had the experience of selling online products which I wanted to learn. So, while you may be seeking someone much older than you for one reason or another, you certainly don’t have to.

And because I also work with cause-focused organizations on both the for- and non-profit side, it’s also helpful to have mentors in both spaces.

With those two examples, you may have guessed the second misconception, and that is that you only need one mentor. Holly is the one who turned me on to this concept. She has multiple mentors that fill different roles in her life and career. Some she sees regularly, and some she may only see once a year. I really love that, and want to follow her example.

In my experience and in talking to others, mentors are much more difficult to find. It was six years of searching between finding Holly and my previous mentor. And I only had Christina for just over a year before her work got too crazy to maintain our appointments. So, I know how daunting it can be to find a mentor.

But again, I suggest that you start by asking your network. And even if you have the perfect person in mind, but they seem to already have a lot of commitments, never assume they’re too busy to fill that role. Make the ask, and be okay with hearing no, but don’t let an assumption keep you stuck. Mentors often get as much out of the relationship as mentees, so it’s definitely a mutually-beneficial situation.

Honestly, you may also just need to be patient. Don’t give up, but be okay with waiting. You’ll be so glad you did!

Mastermind

You may have noticed that I said things were going great with my accountability partner, but we only met for six months. That’s because we turned the partnership into a mastermind group.

I knew several other women who were looking for that kind of opportunity, and none of us were direct competitors, so for us, it made sense that we give it a try all together.

We meet every two weeks via an online chat, and sometimes in person. Our format was pulled from reading about other groups, as well as our own preferences. So, we usually have one person that shares about something they’ve learned which would benefit us all, and we also share a win, something we might need feedback on, and something we’d like to be held accountable for at the next meeting.

The benefit of a mastermind over an accountability partner is, of course, more perspectives and voices. But in all three of these scenarios, it’s been really incredible to get the additional support and encouragement. And that includes both the good days and bad days. We all know they’re both part of the equation!

Other spaces to find community

The three recommendations above are my go-to suggestions because they are often the most hands-on and consistent opportunities for community. They also make it easier to go deep on some of the hard subjects you need to discuss.

However, if those aren’t options right now, or you’re still in the search process, here are some other, great alternatives to try. Who knows, one of these may even lead to an accountability partner, mentor, or mastermind!

  • Events: This weekend I attended the Tribe Conference for the second year in a row. There are a lot of writers in the room, and “writer” is one of the main words I use to describe myself, so these were my people. It was comforting and motivating just to be around their energy. I also feel that way when I attend social justice events. Find the places your people gather and go meet them.

  • Co-working Spaces: These places have become huge community hubs for many entrepreneurs and small businesses. Not only are you working around new people you might not otherwise meet, but many of them also have regular and special events for you to actually hang out with the people sitting around you. I would definitely need these sort of structure introductions. ;)

  • Facebook Groups: It’s quite common now for course creators, coaches, and business owners to have Facebook Groups. (Psst: Have you seen the Signifiers group?) These online outlets are another great place to meet people in similar situations or pursuing similar goals. I’m in a bunch of them that relate to different areas of my life like business, hobbies, church, causes, friends, etc. If you’re have trouble finding community in-person, or have very limited time on your hands, this could be a great source for you.

  • Social Media: I’ll differentiate social media from Facebook Groups for the purpose of this post because groups are generally more targeted. On social media, you may have other friends and followers who could easily become trusted members of your community. For example, I have a new friend I met this summer over Instagram because I wanted to find other people who were Enneagram 4s as well as INFJ’s, both of which are smaller segments of the population. So, it’s been fun to chat with her about how our weird and wonderful minds work. :)

Encouragement From Tribe Conference Speakers

The work of your nonprofit or social enterprise is essential, and it needs you. But you can’t serve it well if you feel isolated, depressed, or burned out.

All of the above examples will meet different needs at different times, and when you mix and match a few of them together, you’ll be unstoppable. You’ll have the community you need to champion your cause, do your important work, reach your goals, and struggle less in the process. I want that for you, so I hope this post will help you take the next step.

As I mentioned, I was at Tribe Conference this weekend, and I can’t tell you how awesome it was. Well, I could, but we’d be here a lot longer! That event was the inspiration for this post because it definitely gave me the inspiration and motivation I needed to finish the year strong.

So, before you start taking those next steps, I wanted to leave you with some of the words of wisdom that meant a lot to me this weekend. I think they’ll do the same for you.

“You cannot avoid rejection and do your greatest work.” - Jeff Goins

"If you do work that is different, you’re doing something dangerous and worthwhile. People will question your differences now, and celebrate them when you succeed." - Todd Henry

"Other people see your work for what it is. You see your work for what it isn’t." - Melissa Dinwiddie

“Be relevant, authentic, and advocate for your brand.” - Amy Landino

"Community will help you succeed." - Chase Jarvis

"Dream big. Start small. Keep moving." - Charles Lee

“Lead with acceptance. Become a better listener. Don’t fear failure.” - Dave Delaney (Check out this guest post I did for him last year!)

"If you keep waiting for your dream to feel easy, you’ll never stop waiting." - Ali Worthington

"Don’t wait for permission to create your work." - Nicole Gulotta

"Marketing isn’t about closing a sale, it’s about opening a relationship." - Mike Kim

"We need to say out loud what our souls are silently screaming, because it may give someone else the courage to do the same." - Tim Grahl

“Know who your audience is. You can even have a less than perfect product or service depending on who your audience is and what they’ll pay for. They may just be waiting on you to create something.” - Joseph Michael

“Get okay with being uncomfortable.” - Heather Teysko

"Tell the stories people want to hear, not the stories you want to share." - Janet Murray

"Failure doesn’t ruin your story. Failure helps you write it." - Paul Angone

“You need to take responsibility for your own success.” - Joe Bunting

"It's easy to think about the things you haven't done or success you haven't attainted. But remember that there was a time when where you are sitting now was out of reach." - Ken Davis



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What’s the answer to combating fatigue and burnout? Community.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing and consulting services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I also teach solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies. I believe that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


Ask the Experts: Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Each month, I invite guest contributors to speak about timely, relevant, and sought-after topics that are important for cause-focused organizations like yours to be aware of as you grow. For September, Lauren Dawson will be talking about diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Lauren is a former intern from a previous job, and we recently reconnected because I was researching diversity and inclusion for a client project. I came across this awesome report from LinkedIn, and after digging a little deeper, realized that Lauren actually works in that department for the business networking giant.

So, I thought this could be a fantastic topic to address here on the blog as hiring and culture are always on the minds of small business owners. As expected, Lauren has some excellent information and advice for your nonprofit or social enterprise!

Ask the Experts: Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Q: What are the latest trends for diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

A. Some may actually say that diversity and inclusion is the trend of the year, and I’m hoping the attention will continue until it's obsolete. In the era of social media justice, campaigns like #blacklivesmatter and #metoo are the norm, and we're seeing that shift for diversity and inclusion as well.

Customers, employees, and other stakeholders are flexing in powerful ways to influence company decision-making. Where diversity and inclusion may have been restricted to messages of tolerance and team trainings before, it has now expanded to include products, customers, policy work, and more. As a result, employee resource groups are evolving their advocacy to align with business strategy and, by extension, receiving more opportunities to develop and be recognized for their leadership skills.

The latest trend in the tech world as it pertains to diversity and inclusion is the idea of belonging along with the emphasis on inclusion. Because of the laser focus on workforce representation of under-represented groups in tech, some companies had invested in their hiring activities with little movement in the overall representation numbers.

Now, in addition to hiring, investments are being made to increase retention by influencing how people make each other feel and help each other grow in the workplace: inclusion and belonging. With that being said, representation matters and the focus on representation metrics has been a powerful tool to motivate action and attract attention to this important issue.

Q. What's the biggest mistake you see people making in regards to diversity and Inclusion?

A. I think it’s a big mistake to create separate processes and responsibilities for “diversity activities." For example, the diversity team should not be responsible for “diversity hiring,” in my opinion. It should be responsible for designing and implementing strategies to enable the talent acquisition teams and hiring managers to get more diverse candidates in the hiring process and make them more successful.

In general, diversity and inclusion teams should be responsible for folding diversity, inclusion, and belonging into existing activities rather than creating new ones. In some cases, it is necessary to temporarily create a new role or process to manage the change or to pilot a new idea. However, the long-term goal should always be to empower, educate, and equip all employees and teams to infuse diversity, inclusion, and belonging into all business activities.

 

Q. What's your best piece of advice for people interested in diversity and inclusion?

A. In general, my best piece of advice is for people to embrace what they don’t know and proactively seek differing opinions and viewpoints.

Many studies over the years have proven that diverse teams win. In fact, McKinsey’s Why Diversity Matters 2018 report asserts that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have higher financial returns than their respective industry medians.

I believe it’s a competitive advantage, especially considering the increasing demographic changes and global mobility of people and commerce. Every individual can more authentically and sustainably develop their own capacity for teamwork when they align with the principles of diversity, inclusion, and belonging. For people leading these initiatives, patience is key because sustained change takes time to build, and fast change can often be counterproductive given the complexity of what we’re trying to do.

 

Q. What's one thing readers can do this week to improve their own efforts?

A. Lean in to your own ability to build relationships with people who are different from you, inside and outside of the office. Start a conversation with a colleague that you’re not as comfortable connecting with by asking them what inspired them to work at the organization.

Not only does this help create deeper connections and working relationships, but it also helps you develop cross-cultural competency. Learn more about this approach to connection on Charles Vogl’s website.

 

Q. Do you have any resources to share that might be helpful for people wanting to learn more about diversity and inclusion?

A. I recommend subscribing to Fortune’s RaceAhead newsletter for business and societal news related to diversity.


Lauren Dawson, LinkedIn

Lauren Dawson is an HR Specialist on the Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging team at LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network. She loves karaoke and brunch, and when she’s not in San Francisco, you can usually find her with friends and family in her hometown of Atlanta, GA.

Connect with Lauren on LinkedIn



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Hiring and culture are always on the minds of small business owners, and few topics are bigger these days than diversity and inclusion. So, I asked Lauren Dawson of LinkedIn to provide some insights on the trends and best practices for nonprofits and social enterprises.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing and consulting services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I also teach solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies. I believe that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


3 Foolproof Ways to Avoid Burnout at the End of the Year

Are you struggling with burnout as we come to the end of the year? I was, until very recently. I think it's pretty common, and probably one reason we look forward to the holidays—we can take a few days off without any guilt.

Burnout is an ugly monster. At the very least, it can slow us down and waste our time. At most, we can become unrecognizable. Tired, cranky, disinterested, shells of ourselves. I also struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, so I know that as much as I love this time of year, it has other hazards as well.

But I've got a business to run and a job to do, and I know you can relate. I only have the "luxury" of slowing down so much before everything is completely disrupted. So, what do we do? How do we cope? Do we just run headlong into the holidays, hoping that will save us? I don't think so, since most of us arrive on January 2nd's doorstep with that feeling of "needing a vacation from our vacation." 

In my past and recent experience, I think there might be a couple of other solutions we can turn to so that burnout doesn't get the best of us.

3 Fool Proof Ways to Avoid Burnout at the End of the Year

REGULAR SELF-CARE PREVENTS BURNOUT

This solution is likely the most obvious answer to you. It's tossed around a lot, especially at the beginning and end of the year. However, in last week's post from my friend, Daron, he points out that self-care is not something to be pursued when you're at the end of your rope. It's to be practiced regularly, throughout the year, so that you don't find yourself a frazzled lump of a person in the fetal position on the floor. (<-- speaking from experience)

I'm certainly not perfect at it, but here's what it looks like for me.

  • Monthly massages. These actually started as a result of some back issues, so it's more of a therapeutic massage, but I get them regularly, even when I'm not having other problems.

  • Travel. I love travel so much. It's life-giving to me. But since I was getting my business off the ground this year, I traveled much less than usual. And boy, did I feel it! I had the opportunity to housesit right before Thanksgiving in the North Georgia mountains for a few days, and just that short time and distance away did wonders for me.

  • Retreats. My goal is to take short, quarterly retreats. For the last two years, I've taken an annual retreat in January, and will be doing so again. But this year, I decided to make them quarterly. I squeezed in two away from home this year (January and March), one in a co-working space (August), and one at home (November). All of these were extremely beneficial, and helped me refocus on work and life.

  • Friends. I have amazing friends, and I'm sure you do too. But with life and work, most of them having kids, and my tendency to be a hermit, I see them far less than I'd like. However, I notice that when I do get together with friends, my days and weeks are better. So, I try and schedule to see friends a few times per month.

  • Walks. I live near a beautiful trail, and I love to get out there and take a walk. Even though I usually listen to business podcasts while I walk, it still does my heart good to be in a natural setting.

These may, or may not, resonate with you. We're all different. They key is to find things you love, and make them a part of your regular schedule. The trick in executing them is to actually put them on your calendar. Good intentions only get you so far, but we often live according to our calendars.

I put my retreat dates on my calendar at the beginning of the year. I schedule my massages a month in advance. My travel is often planned weeks or months ahead too. So, prioritize your self-care throughout the year to avoid burnout at the end.

Accountability partner/peer group

I've had mentors for years, and value them immensely. But this year was the first time I've ever had an accountability partner. I can honestly say it was one of the best things I did for myself and my business this year.

You can do this one-on-one, or with a small group of people. It can be formal, or less so, according to your preferences. I began with a single partner, but we are actually expanding it to a small group of women next year, and are pretty excited about it. 

Depending on your role at your nonprofit or social enterprise, you may already have one or more co-workers that you can confide in, or collude with. That's important, for sure. However, just having someone to gripe and gossip with isn't enough. The accountability piece is vital. You need someone to encourage you, to push you to be better, and to be a sounding board when needed. 

This is especially important for those in leadership positions where there are likely less options for peer-to-peer relationships. So, having someone outside of the organization to be that person is crucial. 

Accountability partners help each other get things done. We motivate one another, and sometimes, we just listen to one another. We all have good days and bad days in lives and in business, and it's a beautiful thing to have someone to help get you through them. Sure, you also have co-workers, roommates, spouses, etc, that can do that as well, but accountability partners relate differently because they should hold a similar position or responsibilities, and have similar goals. They serve a special purpose.

Note: For you introverts out there (my people!), having an accountability partner or peer group is an excellent solution for you too. They're limited in size, so not overwhelming, and we tend to function mostly inside our heads, so we need others to gain more perspective. This solution could be huge for you, so don't skip over it!

Habits/Routines

I'll be honest, this one totally snuck up on me in the past week. I would have never guessed that habits and routines could help fight burnout. And you may be skeptical as well, but hang with me.

Though I am an INFJ (with sometimes some strong emphasis on the J), I still fight the monotony of habits and routines. There are some things I still want to be flexible. In fact, have always liked freelancing for the fact that it changes. I get bored easily, so predictability isn't always my friend.

However, for the past couple of weeks I've been prepping for January. I want to get a strong start, and that means I lay the foundation now. So, I've been participating in some online business challenges to accomplish short-term goals. 

Through the posts, videos, and webinars in these challenges, the hosts have been talking about how successful people have strong morning and nighttime routines, as well as daily habits. The importance of these things is that they will carry you through when the motivation wanes.

We all start the New Year with goals and resolutions, only to wave bye bye to them a few weeks later. And that's often because we didn't build in the habits that would get us to the finish line.

So, I've been thinking a lot about this over the past week or so. When I'm not stressed and in a time crunch, I like to start my day with the Calm meditation app, 5-Minute Journal, and maybe Blinkist. But when I am stressed or feel like I have no time, I skip all of this by waking up and reaching for my phone so that I can check my email. Sound familiar?

I was on several, big deadlines prior to Thanksgiving, and I was stressed. I started feeling burnout creeping in. Luckily, I had that little trip, and that helped, but the beginning of December has been hard again.

So this week, I decided to go back to that slower morning routine that I enjoyed, even though I didn't feel like I had the time. I wasn't waiting for January. I even added in a five-minute yoga video from YouTube. And you know what? It helped my mindset and that has trickled through my day. I also looked at my Calm app, and it showed that I'd skipped all of November. Coincidence? I think not.

These sort of habits and routines also have strong ties to self-care. However, there are many other habits and routines you could choose, such as exercise, eating healthy, taking a nap, focusing on big tasks in the morning, only having meetings after lunch, checking email only twice per day, and many other things. By making any of them a regular part of your life, you are ensuring that you keep functioning and taking care of yourself and your work when times get hard. And this, friends, keeps burnout at bay.

What do you do to combat burnout? I'd love to hear!



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Burnout is an ugly monster. At the very least, it can slow us down and waste our time. At most, we can become unrecognizable. Tired, cranky, disinterested, shells of ourselves. So, what do we do? How do we cope? Do we just run headlong into the holidays, hoping that will save us? In my past and recent experience, I think there might be a couple of other solutions we can turn to so that burnout doesn't get the best of us.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.