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How to Find Quality of Life as an Association Executive 5 Helpful Tips

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If we can’t answer the question of “why” and just reason that it is the way it has always been done, we will never center ourselves as executives.

“I am on and available to my board 24 hours a day, 7 days a week” is what one association executive told me. Even adding, “the board has my home number as well to reach me if they can’t get me on my cell.” I then asked him this question, “what is so important, that it just can’t wait until the next business day?” He looked back at me and said, “this is the expectation.” This answer never answered the question of “why” but only reinforced the old saying, “we have always done it that way.”

If we can’t answer the question of “why” and just reason that it is the way it has always been done, we will never center ourselves as executives. Here are 5 helpful tips to improve your quality of life, that in turn will center you in both your job and your life. 

  1. Set Expectations

Sit down with your board of directors and lay out expectations. Ask the questions of how do we communicate, when do we communicate and what is urgent vs. not urgent so that there is a full understanding of work time and private time. This is not one sided but also is a way to be respectful of the board’s limited time as well so they are not expected to be on 24/7. One opportunity to set expectations is during board training but should not be the only time. There needs to be good communication at all times so that everyone is on the same page. Setting these expectations then puts boundaries around your personal time.

  • Answer the Question of “Why?”

    Understand whythe calls after hours and on weekends are happening. In one case, the executive director told me that the board needed key numbers prior to the end of the month and they didn’t get them yet as they are not sent on a regular schedule. If this is the case, then schedule this information to go out timely and on a predictable basis therefore eliminating/reducing these questions. Communication is at the root of these issues. Establishing communication guidelines and processes to address the question of “why” is critical to providing the board with information it truly needs. By identifying the reasons why, the Board needs you in the middle of the night on a regular basis helps to establish processes to mitigate or eliminate that need.
  • Timing

    If you are sending emails on weekends and at midnight every night, then the board thinks you are working and that it is okay to cross over into personal time. One board member I spoke with once told me, “Well, if Mr. or Ms. executive director is sending an email, then they must be available. So, I will either call them or send the email expecting a response right at that time. They are working, right?” Not only does the board see the executive director working, the staff also sees this as they are regularly cc’ed on emails, texts, etc. They then get sucked into the vortex of 24/7 availability. Staff observes this behavior and thinks, if Mr. or Ms. executive director is sending emails, then maybe I need to as I am not meeting the working standard set by our chief staff executive. One fix is to schedule emails to go out the next business day and limit work communications outside of work hours if possible. But, reality does have to come into play as the job of an executive director is not a 9-5, Monday through Friday job, but, even with that said, there needs to be certain periods of time that are protected. Also, setting the right tone for staff is important to retain great talent. Talk to them and let them know your expectations. They are not mind readers.
  • Unplug. Unplug. Unplug.

    Quality of life comes from living life. Take time for yourself and your family and totally immerse yourself in doing anything but work on a normal day off (i.e. weekend, vacation). That means leaving your devices at home and immersing yourself in your family and social lives. One way to do this is to try to take one full day during the weekend, where you are fully unplugged. 

In a Forbes.com Article, the following quote is important here around living life, “Especially during the summer months, work-life balance is top of mind for employees,” says Mike Steinerd, director of recruiting at Indeed. “While some employees are headed off to enjoy a beach weekend, others have a hard time ignoring work emails [on their days off]. Work-life balance feeds passion for the workplace and contributes to a better overall work environment and morale. When there is a separation of church and state – meaning personal and professional life – employees feel more appreciated. In turn, they are happier, more committed, more productive, and therefore will likely stay with the company for a longer period of time.”

  • “Deep Thinking” at Work!

The constant attention to sending emails and texts, checking email, reading news, does not allow enough time to stop and think deeply around a problem, issue or opportunity your organization is facing. Unplugging a little during your work week as to focus on innovation and think strategically is important.  What some executives are putting into practice is taking 2.5 hours each week and assigning a “deep thinking” topic that you will put all of your energy into without any distractions. Go as far as scheduling 30 minute blocks of time on your calendar for this “deep thinking” exercise without any distractions.

There is a famous quote from Abraham Lincoln, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” As you think about the quality of life you create in your life, imagine the quality of work that will result. Please share any other tips that are working for you.