Sanity Lessons From “Snowzilla” 2016

Central Park Bow Bridge After Heavy Snow, New York City

Every so often, nature reminds us to slow down.

Here in the mid-Atlantic, we don’t get a lot of snow. In recent years, we’ve been particularly snow-starved.

This year has more than made up for that. Just one snowfall – Snowzilla – gave us a record amount of snow.

Being snowed in has reminded me of some mental health maxims I tend to forget in the blur of a busy life.

Sometimes you just have to accept. Highly competent, accomplished people can lose sight of the fact that there are some things beyond control. Blizzards can be seen as Mother Nature’s not-so-subtle way of reminding us that sometimes we are not in charge, we cannot always shape everything to our satisfaction, and we just have to go with the flow – or the drifts.

Beauty is everywhere. Except for the times I was out walking the dog in high winds, I was able to find great beauty in all the weather. The snow acts as a sound buffer, making the street quiet and serene. Sunshine on a yard full of snow is simply glorious. Icicles hanging from the roof reflected light in magical ways. There is beauty around us all the time; we just need to take the time to see it.

Not every moment has to be filled. Yes, I had lots of work to do, and the computer and electricity to get it done. But I also baked brownies, took the dog for longer walks, snuck in a nap or two, and spent some time just looking out the window.  It was a little strange at first, but after a little while it began to feel very good.

Solitude is a necessity, not a luxury. But people are great. I love being alone, so didn’t suffer cabin fever. The quiet helped me recover from 10 days on the road, allowed me to think bigger-picture about my work, and gave me room to rat around in my pajamas as much as I wanted to. But it was really nice to chat with neighbors as we shoveled walkways and dug our cars out. And it was great, when I finally was able to go out, to be around people, eavesdrop at the checkout line, and enjoy “the world” again.

I hope your experience of the past few weeks has provided at least a few moments of quiet, and time to appreciate those closest to you.

What was the best thing about Snowzilla? Drop me a line at coach[at]alexcarter[dot]com.

I’m Taking New Clients

I have a couple of openings in my schedule for new coaching clients. If you are a nonprofit leader, or trying to become one, and would like to develop your leadership from a strengths-based perspective, drop me a line at coach[at]alexcarter[dot]com and we’ll talk about how we can work together to make you the leader you’ve always wanted to be.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep with Doomsday Planning

Meteorites on their way to earth and breaking through atmosphere

Some of my clients are up nights worrying about their budgets.

Are you in the same boat? Are you fretting over questions like: What if the Generous Foundation grant doesn’t come through? What if next week’s event revenue falls short of projections? Should we replace a key staff member, or contract the work out?

We can worry about these things piecemeal, but in an uncertain economy, it makes sense to tackle budget woes head-on, and with some help.

A smart nonprofit leader I know has already done this, by establishing what he calls a “Doomsday Committee.”

A Doomsday Committee is comprised of the Executive Director, the Board Chair, the Treasurer/Finance Committee Chair and, if you have one, the Chief Fiscal Officer. The function of a Doomsday Committee is to take a hard look at income and expenses, and develop different budget scenarios based on possible changes in conditions.

At a minimum, the committee should develop three budgets: an “ideal” budget, where income is on target and expenses remain the same; a “tight” budget, where there is some falloff of income and some expenses need to be trimmed; and a “disaster” budget, where income craters and drastic measures may be called for.

The disaster budget is the most difficult to do, because it’s where the committee needs to make hard decisions. Do we suspend our 403(b) match? Should we increase the employee contribution to the health care plan? Do we lay staff off? Does senior staff take a pay cut? Or, in the worst possible case, should we consider going out of business?

Then, after the Doomsday Committee has done its work, the members should put the plans in a drawer, and get on with the work facing the organization. Your plans are ready, if and when you need may them in the future.

Psychologists would call this exercise “catastrophizing” – thinking specifically about the worst possible thing(s) that could happen. It can be debilitating if that’s all you do. But thinking through disaster scenarios can provide perspective on current reality, and help you let go of fears for the future.

It seems to work. My nonprofit friend says that he sleeps much better, now that the committee has gone through every possible scenario and examined every terrible choice. The hard thinking has already begun, and he’s not the only one doing it. The choices are laid out, and the consequences have been examined.

So, consider forming a Doomsday Committee to tackle the worst-case scenario that’s keeping you up nights. And email me at coachATalexcarterDOTcom and let me know how it goes.

I’m Taking New Clients

I have a couple of openings in my schedule for new coaching clients. If you are a nonprofit leader, or trying to become one, and would like to develop your leadership from a strengths-based perspective, drop me a line at coach[at]alexcarter[dot]com and we’ll talk about how we can work together to make you the leader you’ve always wanted to be.

Quick Deck-Clearing Tips for 2016

Okay, it’s a few days into the new year and, unless you are a very unusual specimen, you’re still faced with lots of clutter from last year

Let’s clear the decks for this new year. Stop dragging around the un-done, the un-answered, the un-filed papers, bytes, and thoughts that clog up your mental RAM.

I am not suggesting a wholesale trashing and/or burning of anything lying around. I understand that might provoke more anxiety than it would allay.

But I am suggesting that some clean space, real and virtual, will make you more productive and happier. So take a few minutes before the end of the week and try my tips for getting your most cluttered spaces cleared.

E-mail

Do you use your inbox as a reminder list of what to do? Do you let messages lie in your inbox until you get around to answering or disposing of them? And then, do you find that there are dozens – or hundreds – of messages that don’t get disposed of. They lie in there in your inbox, reminding your of things not done, or of mailing list items not read. It’s very draining.

To get your energy back, create a folder or mailbox in your email program, then drag everything from 2015 (and earlier) into it. You can label this folder/mailbox “2015 Inbox” or “Archive”. The messages are still safe on your machine, ready to be found if needed, but they are not cluttering up your visual field or your thoughts. (Gmail users, you have it easy. Select all messages from 2015 and prior and click on “Archive”. Done.)

Follow this with a resolution to keep your inbox as empty as possible. Reply to messages, or act on them, as soon as possible, then drag them to another new folder labeled “2016 Inbox,” “Archive,” or whatever works for you.

Some productivity folks recommend you create a folder/mailbox called “Action” for current messages requiring follow up. I tried that, and since messages were out of sight, they were also out of mind. It may work for you, though.

The Desk

Okay, quick: estimate the number of feet of the piles of papers on your desk. Then identify the number of inches of paper you will actually need to touch in the next week, or next month. The remainder should go into a box marked “Desktop papers, 2015”.  Put the box in an accessible location but someplace not in the way. Dust the new-found space on your desk. Enjoy.

Notice I did not say this stuff should be filed. This is because we both know that at least 80% of what gets filed never gets looked at again.

If you have grant-related papers, organizationally critical things, or the only copy in the world of a document, then you may wish to file it properly. Most of what’s on the desk, however, is copies of something available in your “archive” file in your email, or by asking someone else.

If you cannot NOT have things filed, then get an intern or hire a college student to come in for a while and make the mess go into the proper folders in the proper drawers. It simply is not an efficient use of your time to file things. Lots of people can file. You have other skills, and responsibilities, that nobody else has. Tend to those. Delegate the rest.

Credenza, chair, briefcase, car seat — or other places where paper accumulates

See “Desk” tip, above. Label boxes accordingly.

The point of these tips is not to make you into a productivity freak, or turn your office into a Zen space. (Though if you want a Zen space, rock on, and please send a picture.)

The point is to help you LET GO.

Cluttered space creates and reinforces feelings of chaos.

Let go of the chaos. Clear the decks.

What deck-clearing strategies have you tried? What’s worked the best? Let me know by email, at coach[AT]alexcarter.com.

I’m Taking New Clients

I have a couple of openings in my schedule for new coaching clients. If you are a nonprofit leader, or trying to become one, and would like to develop your leadership from a strengths-based perspective, drop me a line at coach[at]alexcarter[dot]com and we’ll talk about how we can work together to make you the leader you’ve always wanted to be.

 

Top Ten Tips (Plus One) for Dealing with Problem Boards

herding-cats

One of the biggest challenges for nonprofit leaders is dealing with their boards. Whether your board won’t fundraise, is overly-involved, or members are disengaged, there are things you can do to improve the situation.

Most problems with boards can be avoided by good recruitment and ongoing development. Obviously, it’s easier to address problems early on rather than correct them after years of bad habits.

But since you normally won’t have the luxury of tossing out the entire board and starting over, take advantage of the tips below, which can be used successfully with boards at any stage of life.

  1. Determine the types of skills you need on your board. Everyone wants board members who can donate money, but remember your organization’s other needs and consider members who have skills in accounting, legal matters, property management or policy.
  2. Recruit new members strategically to find the right people to meet your organization’s needs. Recruitment is an ongoing process, and not just something to think about when vacancies arise.
  3. Develop clear roles, responsibilities and expectations for board members. Prepare job descriptions for board members, especially for officer positions such as president, vice president, treasurer and secretary..
  4. Orient new members. Prepare a board manual and initiate a board mentoring system – current board members can provide support and coaching to new members. Consider inviting board members to tour your organization and meet with staff as part of their orientation. Give board members “talking points” – short sentences with facts and accomplishments – about your organization, so they know important messages to convey when they are representing you.
  5. Educate board members so they understand the organization’s mission and programs as well as their legal and fiscal responsibilities. Even long-serving board members can benefit from a tour of your programs or facilities.
  6. Establish appropriate committees that will enable board members to take an active role in furthering the organization. Some nonprofits require board members to serve on committees prior to joining the board, and every board member should serve on at least one committee.
  7. Communicate with board members between meetings. Provide organizational updates, encourage people to follow-through on commitments, and discuss issues in an informal setting.
  8. Host an annual retreat for board members. This will build board teamwork and improve their ability to function together, as well as help set the agenda for the coming year. You may consider involving staff as well. Engage the services of a skilled facilitator to assist with planning and facilitating the session.
  9. Appreciate, recognize and celebrate the contributions of board members.
  10. Every so often, ask the board chair to lead a self-assessment of the board’s performance, to determine how well you’re carrying out your responsibilities and identify challenges that require action.
  11. Finally, establish term limits and rotate board members so that fresh ideas and new energy come into your organization.

What are your top tips for dealing with problem boards? What board problems have you encountered that I haven’t addressed? Please let us know at coach[at]alexcarter.com.

I’m Taking New Clients

I have a couple of openings in my schedule for new coaching clients. If you are a nonprofit leader, or trying to become one, and would like to develop your leadership from a strengths-based perspective, drop me a line at coach[at]alexcarter[dot]com and we’ll talk about how we can work together to make you the leader you’ve always wanted to be.