The Business Side of Volunteering

volunteer-1326758_1280I recently spoke on a panel regarding my career and how living overseas has impacted my options. During my preparation, and referenced in my speech, I thought about how volunteering is a big aspect of my life. The idea of giving back is a core value of mine that was instilled in me from a young age by my parents and was further solidified as a lifelong obligation once I became a member of Sigma Nu Fraternity. While giving to others and the community is an important aspect of life, personal benefits can and should be taken away from those experiences. Following the panel discussion, I spoke with several individuals about leveraging that volunteer experience to specifically add value to one’s career.

There are tangible benefits that come with volunteering. I have written about this idea before, but now I want to get into greater detail. Below is a breakdown of the business/career related benefits I have witnessed and/or received through volunteering:

  • Interpersonal skills: With each new organization and event, volunteering exposes you to a variety of people along all measures of diversity. Being able to effectively communication and build relationships in this capacity is excellent practice for speaking to customers and coworkers.
  • Networking: Along with interpersonal skills, the same people you come into contact with offer a great opportunity to share what you do and learn about them. These are connections that you would not have otherwise made and likely vary from your current network.
  • Time management: Adding time commitments to your schedule forces you to review how you spend that time. This is great practice for when work becomes more hectic due to increased responsibilities. Managing your time effectively requires practice.
  • Leadership: This is one of the best potential benefits from volunteering. Overall, I think leading a volunteer group can often times be more difficult than a work group because many of the same incentives for individuals to follow through are not there; such as not receiving a paycheck.
    • Management: Effectively managing and organizing is a great takeaway and helpful because it is often done with a limited budget.
    • Motivation: With no pay, new ways to motivate people must be found. Positivity and enthusiasm can go a long way, but the small things like recognizing others and creating small wins can help keep the ball rolling.
    • Delegation: Being able to delegate and follow-up with people on different projects or aspects of projects is great practice for the workplace. It is about finding the balance between allowing someone the freedom to own their work and not letting deadlines fall by the wayside.
  • Recruitment: Bringing in new people is an important aspect of volunteering, especially when looking for leaders. Seeking out the right people with the right skills at the right time is an important aspect of both the work world and for volunteers.
  • Business Development: Whenever someone has had to do fundraising as a volunteer, it is quite similar to conducting business development for a company. You have to try to find individuals and companies with a connection and lead them down a path towards “making a sale.” There are clear differences in the two ideas, but the strategy behind them is quite similar.
  • Problem solving: When volunteering, problem solving is often one of the most important skills to have across all levels of involvement because the solutions usually require a high level of creativity.

These are real benefits that can be taken away from volunteering. Taking on a leadership role only increases the opportunities. Using one’s skills when volunteering is a great way to give back and learn something new along the way.

Please share a time where you were able to use volunteer experience to benefit your career in a comment below.

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Motivation

blue-1845901_1920Motivation is a topic that is constantly on my mind. For the past few weeks, my motivation has not been at its normally high level.  It could be from getting over not feeling well, returning from a long trip, the holidays, a few work items not coming together or some combination of multiple factors. Either way, I must find a way to get back into my normal grove of high productivity though consistent motivation.

I know I am not the only one who struggles with motivation, so I compiled the top three actions that work for me to help get and stay motivated. Hopefully these can help others do the same.

  • Start with a routine: For me, part of motivation is about staying on track and reducing the amount of mental energy needed to get “in the zone.” This means creating a routine that allows me to auto-pilot certain activities. The easiest one is right when I get up; get dressed, eat breakfast, read the news and check for any important personal emails. This takes about thirty minutes, but allows me to feel ready to go and helps to knock out the small items that can usually distract me. After that, I can usually get several hours of work done without missing a beat. The fact that I work remotely presents additional distractions, but that is a different topic.
  • Finding a reset: After those few focused hours, my mental cup begins to overflow a little and I need to find a way to reset to get back on track. Working from home, I will often do something small around the house; dishes, laundry, a snack, work on a personal project, etc. Once I accomplish that small item, I am ready to return my focus back on work with a fresh set of eyes. There are also times that I need a larger reset, such as after a big call or meeting and writing the follow-up notes. For this, I often go to the gym, have lunch, call a friend or family member, etc. Then I get the drive back to finish off the day. The important aspect of this is doing a singular task that makes it easy to immediately go back to work.
  • Accomplishing a goal: One of my greatest keys to staying motivated is setting goals and achieving them. These will range from small to large. The small ones can simply be getting through all of my emails in the first hour of work or checking off my scheduled activities throughout the day. The large ones could be completing a project by the end of the week. Once I accomplish a goal, I feel better about what I am doing and am able to keep my focus until the next accomplishment.

Finally, as an additional element, I believe that time management and heavy involvement help keep me on track. Besides what I wrote above, keeping myself busy with different endeavors (work, volunteering, hobbies, exercise, community involvement, etc.) keeps my mind focused. By having multiple types of responsibilities, I am able to stay motivated and manage my time well because I am not having to focus my motivation in the same direction all the time. I regularly have fresh items that need my attention. I have to make sure I don’t over extend myself, but that is just a matter of finding the right balance.

Please share what helps you stay motivated in a comment below.

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Work/Life/School Balance

Blue-Sky-CloudsAs I sit here writing this blog post, I look outside to see a beautiful Sunday afternoon, with a few perfectly formed white clouds in the sky and a temperature of 86 degrees. Why am I inside? Because I am attempting to balance a job, school and life. Now, I will first say that I am not slaving away without a moment for myself. Not too long ago, I stopped to watch John Oliver discuss sports stadiums in the United States. However, working on these three items, simultaneously, comes with its own set of unique challenges.

On the work side, I am very fortunate to have a tremendous amount of autonomy that allows me to mostly work when I want and where I want. Just this morning I revised a future newspaper article and sent it off for approval; all from the comfort of my desk at home. Starting tomorrow, and going through Thursday, I will get to the office a little early in order to take Friday off. As I mentioned in a previous post about working remotely, this puts me in a position to be successful because I am not boxed into parameters that limit my productivity.

For school, the setup is also quite nice. All of my classes are in the evening, so there are generally no conflicts with work commitments. While there are social events I occasionally miss, I make the time to spend with family and friends. However, going to class isn’t as much of the difficulty as the work required once off campus. While I absolutely love my program, there seems to be an endless amount of knowledge to absorb that can take up all of my time – if I allow it to.

Now, the issue arises with balance between the three because of the very things that make work and school great; autonomy and loving my program. For work, I am constantly thinking about what else I can do to help a client, coworker or my office; there is always more work that can be done. That also comes into play with school. Because I like what I am doing so much, I find there is always more information to look at, read about and analyze. That has put a damper on my ability to truly relax. It has come to the point where I often feel bad for taking a few moments to myself; feeling like it is wasted time. And, I have found this only to be an issue when school is in session. None of this is overwhelming, but definitely creates an imbalance in the system.

Traditionally, going to the movies has been my escape. Off-hand, I would say that I have seen fewer movies in the last year than I have since I was not able to drive on my own. The reason for not going to the movies is not necessarily that I can’t make the time, but because I feel bad for going when I know there is work waiting to be finished. To rebalance my mental system, I have to find a way to allow myself to understand that by taking the few hours to go see a movie, I am putting myself in a better position to be efficient for the time I have my eyes on the computer screen looking at business plans or in a book reading about leadership.

Movies are my mental escape to refresh the batteries, but what are yours? Please post in a comment below.

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Family, Faith and Work: Prioritizing the Work/Life Balance

balanceThis is going to be a particularly busy week for me. I have three summer courses running simultaneously, several work projects are coming together at once, my fiancé is graduating from her residency program, one of my best friends is getting married and I am traveling 4 out of 8 days. However, this is what I live for. Nothing makes me happier than being busy and having so many wonderful things going on at the same time. The only way I am able to find a perfect balance is through a well-developed set of priorities.

Over the course of my life, I have been taught, and learned on my own, what elements are most important. Some people share these same items, and in the same order, but there are also many who do not. In ranked order, from most important, I value family, faith and work. That has come to mean some very specific things as I have continued through my career. I have also learned it is much easier to say this than implement it.

Family, as well as friends, is what drive me to succeed more than anything else. While I want to help as many people as possible, the motivation to do so is based upon the energy generated through my interactions with those who I love. For the most part, it is not about giving anything up to put family first, but about making shifts to what will allow for both to happen. The only instances when one is above another is when opportunities comes along where only one event can be put in one slot of time. That is the test of the prioritization. And, it should be noted that it is not about what happens when as the outcome, but that first moment when you realize there is an issue.

Faith comes next, but also includes my personal values. This, too, is what drives me to do what I do and gives me strength to push on and find success. I am extremely proud of the moments when I made the tough choice to stand up for something I believe in, not compromising my values, and put my faith first, however, there have also been lessons learned when that was not the case. My goal is always to use those moments where I fell short as a learning experiences as it is a feeling I do not wish to have again.

Finally, there is work, which is one of the most time intensive and important elements of my life. The opportunities I have had in my career have only served to help me define my prioritizes, learn and develop as an individual, and create value that impacts my personal life. My current position with the NSBDC is an excellent example of being able to develop great passion for what I am doing. Doing this only pushes me closer to my first two prioritizes.

There are some many wonderful things going on in life and I can barely stop to think about it all at the same time. This next week is going to be very exciting and I can’t wait to learn from what transpires, continue to push to become the best version of myself and help as many people as possible along the way.

Think about your own priorities and how you make decisions. Then, think about the ones that went well and those that didn’t. Finally, think about what you learned and how to push yourself to be the best version of yourself.

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5 Benefits of Using the Cloud

cloud-computingOne of my favorite advances in technology that has benefited me in my career is the emergence of The Cloud. I was first introduced to cloud computing in a previous job when I joined a new team towards the end of 2009. Since that time, I have been using cloud computing in one form or another on a daily basis. My main platform is Dropbox, but I also use Google Drive from time-to-time. Through my years of using these tools, I have developed a specific perspective on a few aspects of the technology.

Access: By using a cloud service, there is a great deal of flexibility given for working outside of an office. I am constantly traveling for work and do not always have my laptop with me. By using Dropbox, I can easily access all of my information on any computer with an internet connection. This makes giving a presentation easy because there is no need to create duplicate copies through emails or flash drives.

Mobility: Not too long after I started using Dropbox, they developed a mobile app for my iPhone. For me, this allowed for an almost exponential increase in functional use. By having access to all of my documents at all times through my phone, I had the ability to provide better customer service because answers that I would have needed to go back and check on were always at my fingertips.

Safety and Security: The nature of The Cloud is that information is not just sitting on one computer waiting to be lost at any moment when a hard drive fails or someone spills water on the keyboard. Backing up is almost redundant because your information is not just on one computer or device. Additionally, files are secured directly through protection from Dropbox. While hacking of their system does occur, I don’t believe the risk to my non-sensitive information outweighs the benefits.

Time Savings: The Cloud has also allowed me to save time on several different fronts. The first is for sharing files with myself on various computers. If I need to print a document, my files are already on the desktop I use for printing. This also saves time when sending a document to someone else. They are provided a link that will remain the same as I make updates; one location to find the latest draft.

Collaboration: Specific to Google Drive, being able to collaborate with others – in real-time – is one of the greatest benefits available. This is particularly useful when I am working with coworkers who are 3000 miles away. Again, this eliminates redundant drafts left out for people to mistakenly use.

The Cloud has greatly changed how I work and my productively. I wouldn’t call myself an early adopter, but I have been using this resource for many years and have tried to maximize the benefits with each new feature. I am certainly interested in seeing where the technology will go next.

If there are any other benefits you find from using The Cloud, please post them in a comment below.

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Time Management: The Almighty Checklist

desk-computer-iphoneOne of the most important elements of being a leader is keeping track of information and time. As I have progressed from simply being led, to also leading, there are many practices that I have picked up along the way that have helped to keep me on track. This has come about as the result of trial and error, as well as taking from the practices of others. It is important to remember that everyone must find their own style and practices that work for them.

Checklists, for me, are one of the most important aspects of my time management process. Keeping track of what I need to accomplish has been a fluid process over the last few years. One of the practices that I established early in my career was to centralize my action item lists. The first iteration was my email inbox. Those who emailed me would automatically be on the list because their message was kept in my inbox. As soon as it was taken care of, I would file it away. For the other items I needed to accomplish, I would simply email myself.

Email has two positive features as my checklist. First, it is easy to access as it is on my computer, as well as my phone. And the second, if I accidentally delete something, I can go back to my sent folder and retrieve it. Next, I added in calendar reminders, which have their own characteristics that are beneficial and each is emailed right to my inbox.

My calendar is where I put appointments in red to ensure they stand out, and everything else is in blue (as an Arizona Wildcat, those are the only two colors I know how to use). I set calendar reminders to accomplish certain tasks on a regular basis, such as submitting timesheets, but it is also makes it easy to push things back when needed. Something I learned, early on, with the calendar as a checklist, is that care must be taken to prevent it from getting out of hand. By setting a calendar reminder to come up when items need to be accomplished, it leaves less clutter on my email checklist. I have found the email and calendar checklist system to be very effective, and it has long been a part of my life.

The most recent element added to my checklist process is a desktop sticky note. Sitting on the right side of my screen, I track my major work, school and personal items. It is always there and, again, very easy to update. This has only been for around for three weeks, so it is still in the experimental phase, but it has been working so far.

Finally, while at work, I also use written sticky notes (my only non-digital reminder) to keep track of urgent and important items. These are generally for phone calls, emails and meetings that must be taken care of within 24 hours. I write them down and put them in front on my keyboard so they cannot be missed. When accomplished, I simply throw them away.

My current process has only come about after traveling on a long road. While the system I have used has changed over the years, it has done so usually as I become more involved and have more responsibilities; needing something to keep me on track. These have been excellent methods that keep me about 99% focused on what needs to be accomplished and when. It isn’t perfect, but that is why it is a journey.

What is your best method to keep track of your information and to do list? Please leave your ideas in a comment below.

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