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.