Working in the nonprofit field and especially in a leadership position means that you may find yourself working after hours and weekends.  And, of course, you may not mind because the reason you decided to work for your nonprofit organization was your passion for its mission.

However, your passion can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, that fervor helps you keep going in the face of difficult challenges. On the other hand, you can become so driven you don’t stop to refuel or smell the proverbial roses or even notice your work is starting to take a toll on your health and wellbeing. Pair that with limited resources to meet increasing demands, and you have a recipe for burnout.

What is burnout? The clinical definition is “a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion that occurs when we feel overwhelmed by too many demands, too few resources, and too little recovery time.”   The antidote for work stress is to practice self-care.   Here are a few tips based on The Happy Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without get started.


The most important place to start your own self-care regimen is to get enough sleep.  Sleep in the workplace may seem like an oxymoron, and sleeping on the job can be a bad thing. But without enough sleep, employees are unable to focus or perform simple tasks and lack patience. People who are cranky from lack of sleep are not fun to be around. Studies show that daytime napping can elevate moods and even improve immune function.  Napping during the day can improve cognitive functioning, leading to greater productivity at work.  When concentration wanes in the late afternoon and early evening, experts suggest taking a 20-minute nap to prevent an energy dip.


Think about how long you sit each day in your chair. According to Dr. James A. Levine, obesity researcher at the Mayo Clinic and author of the book Get Up: Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It, our bodies were not designed for sitting.  Some ways that sitting is killing us includes organ damage, cancer, heart disease, poor circulation, back problems, strained neck, and foggy brain.

An easy place to start getting more movement into your work day is to stop using your computer keyboard as a lunch tray.  The sitting brain is really disengaged and that translates into wasted time. Why not use part of your lunch hour for a 20 minute walk?

Recently, researchers at Stanford University tested creativity in people that were walking versus sitting. They discovered that the majority of people were more creative when they were walking.  Don’t just think of a taking a walk as a taking a break, but a way to improve productivity and bring more innovative ideas to your work.


Try to avoid the common tendency of busy professionals to eat junk food because it is convenient.  Good nutrition is critical for productivity – there is a reason why healthy food is called “brain food.” At home, you may be successful at avoiding sugary snacks because they are not readily available in your kitchen. But at work, if there are chocolate covered donuts in the conference room at a staff meeting, you might be more tempted to indulge.

Having a plan for making healthy foods and beverages available at the office can help everyone make better nutritional choices. The Kaiser Permanente Healthy Meetings Guide offers 15 tips for light meals and snacks that are simple and low cost.


Sometimes our reaction to work stress is to overwork by working nights and weekends, not taking breaks, or sacrificing vacations days.   These habits are not healthy and they will definitely make you unhappy.    And worst of all your productivity decreases.

Jon Percavel of Stanford University author of the study “The Productivity of Working Hours” found that a drastic dip occurring after 55 hours or more of work.  In other words, working more than that is mostly wasted. Overwork also has a marked influence on physical health.

And if you’re someone who is accumulating vacation time without taking it,  you are essentially working for free.  Take real vacations where you are completely disconnected from work, emails, and the mobile devices that connect you to work.  You’ll return to work with more clarity and perspective that will serve your company far better than staying late at the office. 

Bottom line:  Self-care is not a luxury, it is a part of being productive at work.  If you believe in the mission of your company, make sure you are the best you can be to get great results .

This week’s guest blog was written by Beth Kanter. @kanter was named one of the most influential women in technology by Fast Company and is the award-winning author of The Networked Nonprofit books. She is an internationally acclaimed master trainer and speaker.

Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman are co-authors of the Happy Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout

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