10 reasons not to work more hours than you already do

Our seven-year archive of Rich TIPS covers the gamut of philosophical and tactical ideas. Here’s a new one from the category of self care and personal development. If this particular TIP does not apply to you, congratulations! You’re mastering the challenge of balancing a challenging professional role with a healthy life. If it might apply to you, though, read on . . .

One of the unfortunate characteristics of busy executive directors and development directors is working long hours at the expense of their own well-being. Our sector is particularly adept at attracting and reinforcing a culture of workaholics. As we round into the busy year-end fundraising season, are you convincing yourself and your staff that putting in more hours is the answer? Here are a few considerations.

1.  You cannot defeat the law of diminishing returns. You may be fully productive at 40 hours, and presumably accomplish more at 45. Start working 50, though, and you see fatigue set in. At 55 or 60 hours, you’re likely to make more errors, use poor judgment, exhibit inappropriate behavior, and put your emotional and/or physical health at risk.

2.  Whatever you are doing to make your organization more effective/successful had better be sustainable in the long run. There will always be challenges, and you need to be ready to address them. As one leader puts it, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”

3.  Keep it real. If you have a staff of two people doing the work of four, is that a strategy? Will you ever be able to make the case to your board or funders in the future that you actually do need more capacity? (As the saying goes, “Are you lying now, or were you lying then?”)

4.  Your commitment to your mission is not in question here, but your self-confidence may be. If you can truly say that you’re focused and passionate and effective at 40 or 45 hours a week, why do you still feel inadequate?

5.  Notice whether you are buying in to a guilty justification that “I am lucky to have this job, and I have to do whatever it takes to keep it.” It’s been a tough economic time, and for many, it still is. The question is whether you have to sacrifice yourself to survive. Is that really what your board is asking you to do?

6.  You are solely responsible for the quality of your life. No one is going to politely tap you on the shoulder and tell you it’s time to live differently. (Well, except your doctor. See Point 7.)

7.  Long hours always come at a price. Choose any three: emotional health, weight or any other medical indicator, relationships, marriage, hobbies, spiritual fulfillment. No one ever says at the end of their lives, “I only wish I had worked more late evenings and weekends.”

8.  What model are you setting for the young people around you? Why is being overworked and overwrought some sort of weird badge of honor? Modeling a successful and appropriate work/life balance–now that’s something to aspire to and reward.

9.  Workaholism is a disease, an obsession, an addiction. If you’re defensive or feel offended by this bullet point, you’re already down the path. You’re deluding yourself if you say, “Yeah, but it’s only for a few months” or ”It’s just until I can get on top of this program.” Right.

10.  No one is fooled. We’ve already pointed out that work done under great duress is rarely of high quality. Meanwhile, ever catch a passing glance of yourself in a mirror and think, “Wow, I look old and tired”? We all see you’re running on empty; we notice it all the time. So does your board, your funders, your volunteers, the people you serve, and the people who love you.





  1. Terry
    November 08, 2012

    Ouch!!!! – Thank you for the push – I appreciate your honesty.

  2. Andrew Garberson (@Garberson)
    November 08, 2012

    We’re constantly pushing ourselves to increase productivity, etc. It’s nice to be reminded to slow down sometimes. Thanks for leveling us all out.

  3. Mary Hanewall
    November 09, 2012

    Every nonprofit executive should have this as an orientation to the nonprofit world. We tend to be so idealistic and NOT good with barriers. Question: Do our Boards support us if we do 45, not 65..or 55 hours per week?

  4. Mary Hanewall
    November 09, 2012

    Every nonprofit exec should have this as they BEGIN their career! Best to get Boards on board, too!

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