Make time for service

Laura’s note: We have been without power for 48 hours now. A huge “derecho” storm rolled through here Wednesday and sheared off some trees, flattening the kids’ playset ten minutes after we were in the back yard. I have a back up generator connected to the router now so we finally have some spotty internet access. 

Today’s post: In light of the conversation going on about racism, inequality, police brutality, economic issues and the like, I know we all want to do something. I wrote this essay on making time for service— it’s going out as this week’s Saturday newsletter, but I thought I’d post it here too.

Complaining about being “busy” seems harmless. We all do it. But the downside is that people convince themselves that they have no time for serving their broader communities. And that’s too bad, because everyone can and should try to make a difference. The energy of people with careers and family responsibilities can contribute to making the world a better place.

If you’d like to make service a bigger part of your life, here’s how to do it.

Don’t fear commitment. Busy people often shy from making regular volunteer commitments. With so much going on, how can you say you’ll be somewhere every Thursday night? The trouble with this mindset, though, is that when you are busy, commitments are what make things happen. You’re not going to come home on a random Thursday night and look around for a project. But if you’re committed to showing up to help with a Thursday night class for English language learners at your library, you will go. Family members and colleagues will learn to plan for this commitment. You’ll build the commitment into your mental model of the day and week, and manage your energy with the commitment in mind. That said…

Focus your commitments. The world has so many problems, and we want to do what we can. But in general, people are best off focusing energy (and other resources) on one or two causes, rather than being half-heartedly involved (and potentially dropping the ball) in much more. Intentions are nice, but results are better. Concentrating energy creates momentum and progress. Look at your schedule and figure out how many hours you can devote to the causes you care about. Then prioritize within this time. This way you can treat what you do take on with the respect it deserves.

Align your time. By volunteering with a friend, family member, or professional acquaintance, you will be more likely to stick with it, even when life does get busy. It’s a little more challenging to find volunteer opportunities for young kids, but some family-friendly houses of worship or community organizations will structure projects so that kids can contribute too. In any case, you can talk with kids about the reasons you are serving your community, increasing the chances that they will want to get involved when they’re older.

Look for flexible work. It will be difficult to volunteer with an after-school program if you rarely get out of work before 6 p.m. But you could help with designing brochures or marketing the program at any time — freeing up the capacity of people who do have during-the-day availability.

Serve financially. Is it better to give money or time? The answer is “both” because in practice, people give more generously to places and organizations where they feel more involved. So if you’re in the stage of life where you have more money than time, consider that your service can involve a portfolio of resources: probably some hours and more dollars. And that’s fine. Both help get the job done.

21 thoughts on “Make time for service

  1. Really impressive job of not taking a side for the sake of your brand! I guess that means we really do know where you stand.

    1. (1) Pretty unfair comment, but just about what I’d expect after seeing years of comments under this handle.

      (2) May I direct you to the introduction, which notes problems with “racism, inequality, police brutality, economic issues.” Do you *seriously* think Laura is on the wrong side of these issues? Please. (Or one step back, do you really think SHU would be friends with someone on the wrong side of these issues?)

      1. I completely agree with you Kathleen. Who appointed Omdg judge and jury on what people should post on their blogs and what commenters and others should think, believe and say? There is a place for optimism and hope and serenity and inspiration even in dark times and personally I found all those things in Laura’s two recent posts, at a time when very many things drive me close to despair, police brutality against Black people being only one of a sadly very long list.

        1. I don’t want to join a ‘pile on’ but i have to say, I read both Laura and Sarah’s blogs and I can always pick an OMDG comment before I see the handle.

    2. OMDG, If you are a long time reader, you may recall that after the 2016 election Laura mentioned she had voted for a write in candidate. A lot of commenters were upset that as someone who promotes women in leadership she didn’t support Hillary Clinton. I have a feeling that since then, she has sworn off addressing anything political on her blog.

    3. Don’t the terms “racism” and “police brutality” in themselves align Laura to one side? It’s not like she said there were very fine people on both sides.

  2. Thank you for the excellent tips! I wrote to you a while back regarding suggestions related to pro bono work and your response was similarly helpful and assisted me in finding a pro bono cause I care about.

  3. Great post, Laura. I particularly like the reminder that we can provide service of both time and money, it’s not an either or. Also, many corporations offer a matching contribution for employee donations. Good to take advantage of that or else it’s money left on the table.

  4. Why is this post about service generally given the specificity of the current demonstrations against police brutality towards Black people? Why not a post on how to make time to educate ourselves on systemic racism and how we are complicit with white supremacy? Or how to make anti-racist actions a habit?

    1. Maybe because there have been numerous other posts about that issue this last week. Maybe because Laura realises that there are very many other things wrong in the world today that also need fixing or improving and she wanted to make a more general call to action across a range of causes and issues.

      1. Maybe all those things can be true, and this can still be a weak response that’s meant to look like she’s taking a stand without risking upsetting anyone. Perhaps I’m missing something, but I haven’t seen any other posts on this topic on this site. And there are of course many things in the world that need fixing, but that’s often used as an excuse to avoid dealing with specific problems. It would be weird to use Covid-19 deaths as a way to frame a general health improvement based post. And it’s weird (at best) to use people revolting against being murdered by those in power as content generation for a “if you want to, you probably have time to volunteer (for something)” post. I’m all for finding more ways to volunteer, but this was tone deaf and disappointing.

          1. You know what? You all are absolutely right. This post is non-specific and doesn’t really address the key issues that has been highlighted by protests this weekend. I believe that omission is purposeful. I was a long time fan of Laura. I’ve read all her books. She is intelligent and her advice has helped me throughout my career and transition into working motherhood. But as a person of color, I was very disappointed by her post this past weekend. I stopped following her (but continue to follow her counterpart SHU). Today I thought maybe there’s a reason behind her silence on this topic and there will be a new post specifically addressing the issues facing Black people that have been on everyone’s minds presently. I was wrong. You’re right that she doesn’t have to post anything she doesn’t want to – it’s her blog. But I will not be following this blog any longer.

          2. I agree with Layap’s comment below and some of the other comments in similar vein. I’ve been checking back on this thread as I have been hoping to see some sort of thoughtful response from Laura. I’m disappointed that Laura has chosen not to engage at all with these comments from her readers. Obviously it is her choice whether to do so or not but the fact she has not does influence my view of her (and my interest her her commercial endeavours).

        1. The topic of the blog is time management, so she addressed the issue from her point of expertise. Should the fitness trainer from the podcast have talked about loving yourself at any size, instead of how to get in shape?

  5. Respectfully, this is, again tone deaf. Here’s why:

    – You haven’t said anything in this that you haven’t already said many times before. It is recycled. I think taking time to reflect and having a personal, original thought is a bare minimum requirement.

    – “…and the like,…” I will leave that without comment.

    – The total focus outward on logistics and money is problematic. You can already be engaging in volunteer activities and providing financial support while also being racist and upholding White supremacy. This piece almost reads as though if everyone could make time for a Thursday night volunteer session then racism wouldn’t be an issue.

    – I’m left with the impression that racism is one cause among many equivalent causes. If you take it up well then great! Good for you! But if you choose something else that is okay, too.

    I could go on, but I won’t because you are capable of deciding whether you care about honest, genuine feedback from your readers or not. Your general tone in the past has been dismissive of people who have personal experiences different than yours and therefore make different decisions. I think that might be something to sit with.

    1. Yeah, agreed. This struck me less as a thoughtful statement and more “how can I post something that seems topical without alienating anyone”. Yes there are other worthwhile causes, and yes volunteering is good, but as a white woman I have a responsibility to learn about and fight against systemic and personal racism independent of those truths.

    2. Just wanted to say I am glad that you and your family were not hurt! That storm sounds scary.
      Also, thanks for the ideas re service.

    3. “and the like”. By which one could include anti-feminism, domestic violence, child abuse, modern slavery, sex trafficking, women’s lack of rights around the world, misogyny, internet porn, the objectification of women, unequal pay, discrimination against women throughout every society, the impact of war and famine particularly on women and children around the world but especially in Yemen, Syria, Iran and Libya, the plight of the Rohinja people in Burma and Bangladesh, , FGM. I could go on. In my view Laura has played and continues to play a small but important role in calling out some of the inequalities that still harm and hinder women of all races, however privileged, in a world that is stacked against us. That should be recognised. It is not all about race. Gender matters just as much. Read “Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men” by Caroline Criado Perez and weep – or scream with anger.

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