Crowdsourcing: your new anti-burnout strategy?

I don’t deny that there are strains of this all throughout American culture, but social workers and nonprofit folks seem particularly susceptible: the one-up battle of “who is the busiest?”!

I see it in organizations where people are afraid or embarrassed to leave at 5PM, because they incur the wrath or disdain of their coworkers who take late hours like a badge of honor.

I see it in my students, who before their careers have even started, are convinced that they are busier than anyone can possibly understand.

I see it in social work colleagues, who inevitably answer even “how are you?” with something along the lines of “crazy busy, of course!”

And, of course, I see it in myself, when I complain to my husband about how I’ll be up until midnight again tonight and I can tell he has to bite his tongue not to ask, “um, why?”

And, so, it was this malady that was on my mind when I read the part in The Networked Nonprofit (thanks, too, for putting it in italics so we overly-busy could notice!): You have too much to do because you do too much.

I know what you’re thinking: but I HAVE to do all of this.

But, really, even if it does, indeed, have to get done (and, probably, that’s a question for another day’s post, related to information overload and mission-centered management), do YOU have to be the one to do it?

And, I think, given my infatuation with crowdsourcing, that the answer is most likely “no”.

I’m not just talking about getting volunteers to do some of your behind-the-scenes work, although I think that’s worth thinking about (yes, I know that it takes longer initially, but you’re bringing people more fully into your organization and building their capacity to take on work in the future, rather than just spending your weekends folding newsletters).

I mean crowdsourcing the “real” work, the stuff that right now you can’t imagine anyone but you doing. As in, really tapping into the power of your leaders and your networks so that you really, really don’t do as much anymore.

I would love to hear from people who have tried turning to their crowds to lighten their own loads (or from those who have found paths to organizational simplicity and work management that weed out the nonessential tasks, too, as I think about how I want to approach that topic). What have you tried? What might you consider? What barriers can you anticipate from your boss(es) as you shift your work? What advantages can you imagine, in terms of your leadership development, as a bonus to the workload reduction? And what factors, other than sheer amount of work, contribute to your burnout, that might be more implacable?

Obviously, every too-busy social worker will have to decide what makes sense in her/his own context, but here are some ideas that I’ve tried, albeit without thinking of them as “crowdsourcing”. I’ve tried to estimate the number of hours of work saved per tactic, too!

  • Report preparation/editing: I don’t mean just proofreading here, although I almost always do that with a crowd, too. When I wrote El Centro’s big research analysis of our surveys into the lives of Latino immigrants, I would often convene a group of immigrants, service providers, and community leaders, prior to report preparation, to share some of the raw findings and get their take on what was most important, what warranted further study, and how to explain seemingly perplexing results. Hours saved: ~10/year
  • Identifying representatives for coalition meetings: People like to be asked to represent your organization/cause at important meetings and, if you explain how the transfer of power and the preparation of the individual is working, your partners can be comfortable with it, too. Hours saved: At least 10/month
  • Constituent “maintenance”: To keep your network engaged, you need to communicate with them often. But it doesn’t have to be you. In today’s digital age, this might mean finding folks who can take on blogging or Twitter updates, but I used extensive phone trees to activate participants for events, keep people informed about legislative updates, and “listen” to rumors and concerns in the community. Hours saved: More than 40/month

    These are all things that I could have done, in fact, used to do, but things that I recognized I didn’t need to do anymore. They are things that others could, in fact, do just as well, leaving me to do, well, other things that others could have done, too, if only I’d figured out a better way to crowdsource those, too!

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