Article by Julie Steed, Air Force Spouse
Air Force spouse Susan Burks admits that she used to get involved in too many volunteer activities, because she hated to say no when asked to help. Despite her efforts to decline volunteer opportunities more frequently, she still finds it difficult to remove herself from positions that become too time-consuming for her schedule.
“Sometimes I’m just waiting to move to make a fresh start,” says Burks. Many of us can identify with Burks’ predicament. The toughest part is also the best part: There’s so much good to be done. All around us, military spouses have an amazing range of volunteer opportunities. From your spouses’ group to the local soup kitchen, many organizations depend on those willing
But when a commitment becomes overwhelming, stressful or begins to really encroach on your family time, the role of volunteer isn’t so fulfilling. How can you tactfully get out of a volunteer position that’s become more time-consuming than you ever imagined? Better yet, how can you learn to decline volunteer opportunities that are not right for you?
If you’re constantly finding yourself in volunteer positions you don’t particularly want, or you’re stressed because you’ve taken on too much, consider your priorities. Do the things you care most about align with the responsibilities you currently have? What volunteer work is most important to you? Prioritizing is the first step to taking back your time.
“Make a list of all current responsibilities. List them according to importance and value,” says Janet Pfeiffer, motivational speaker and award-winning author specializing in anger management, conflict resolution and relationships. “Designate a reasonable amount of time needed for each [task]. Then determine which are high priority, medium, low, unimportant at this time, and which can be assigned to others to handle.”
Remember to schedule personal time for yourself and let others know that you are making changes. “Make it a point to stick to your schedule,” says Pfeiffer. “Reevaluate every month or so to update and make necessary changes.”
Your prioritized list will help you put required tasks into perspective. Using your list as a guide, you can now take action to create and maintain a schedule that works for you and your family.
“When you are already over-committed, the best course of action depends on your personal situation and the people you are working with,” says Maggie Reyes, a life coach and blogger specializing in marriage and teaching women to live the life they love with the love of their life.
Reyes suggests two ways to tactfully leave a volunteer position:
The Cold Turkey Goodbye: End your assignment immediately by speaking with the person in charge. Let them know you are taking a break and will no longer be available. The
Gradual Goodbye: Prepare your team or fellow volunteers in advance by letting them know that you are thinking about your family’s priorities for the new year and will need to take a break from the project to reassess your level of involvement.
“If you are particularly nervous about the conversation [with the person in charge], rehearse it with your spouse [or a friend]. Try to anticipate what the hardest part of the conversation will be…and be prepared to address that,” says Reyes.
Say No Before It’s Too Late
The easiest way to avoid over-commitment is to learn how to say no when initially asked to volunteer. Use these strategies from Reyes to avoid saying “yes” because you don’t know what else to say. Deflect: Explain to the person asking that you will need to discuss the offer with your spouse first. Then you can prepare yourself to return to that person later and say no gently, but with conviction.
Reyes suggests this script to help you say no with tact: “Thank you so much for this opportunity. After reflection, and discussing it with my family, it’s not the right time for me to be involved. Thank you for thinking of me.” Ask for more information: When you’re offered a volunteer position that you aren’t sure about, ask for more information to give yourself time to collect your thoughts. Good questions to ask anytime you’re faced with a volunteer activity are:
• How long is the commitment?
• How many hours per day (and total hours per week) do you expect me to work?
• What is the scope of the project? Will I be stuffing envelopes or planning the Navy Ball?
Once you’ve got that information, really consider how this volunteer commitment will impact you, your family and the plans you have for the coming months. If it’s not for you, Reyes suggests using a version of one of these scripts to deflect a position that is too overwhelming or involved: Try Saying: “I am sorry I can’t commit to a three-month project because of family commitments, but I am available the week before the ball to help with decorations. I can block off that Monday and Tuesday to be available for whatever you need.”
OR Try Saying: “I am sorry I am not available to stuff envelopes, but I used to be an Event Planner for a large hotel. I can definitely assist with the fundraiser in February instead. Who should I contact to join that committee?”
Leadership who recognize the value of a happy, committed volunteer will understand when you let them know respectfully that you need to cut back on your commitments.
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