Lending Your Time
Q: I run a busy one-person business, but I'd like to do some community work as well. How do I make sure this community work doesn't take everything out of me and take too much time away from my business?
A: Good question. When you run your own business, there can be many times when it seems the business is "running" you, but by taking the bull by the horns (so to speak), you can regain control. One way to do this is to make sure you do the things that are important to you, not just to the business itself. Community involvement can be one of these things.
We've all seen people who get involved with different groups in the community and end up being so involved they have little time for anything or anyone else. This doesn't have to happen to you if you don't want it to. It's easy to prevent, but it does require a bit of willpower and assertiveness.
Once you've decided you want to volunteer, plan where you want to make a difference, keeping in mind your time and energy limitations. Which group really strikes a chord with you? Something to do with children or seniors? Maybe animals are more up your alley? Wherever you spend your time, you want to make sure that it's with a cause that resonates with you. Otherwise, why do it?
Another point to ponder is how much time you want to commit to the cause. Some groups will be more time-intensive than others-requiring commitments of days, weeks and even months of a regular time period. Others will be more laid back and easier to fit into your schedule. You really have to decide just how much time you want to give. Since you probably don't have a lot of time to spare, you want to make it count. For example, mentoring a child will take a lot more time and energy than attending a committee to help raise awareness for the group in question.
At the same time you're thinking about the time-commitment question, it's also a good idea to think about which skills you can offer the group. If you're a whiz at writing press releases, you might be able to avoid any meetings and spend time working on PR-related projects at home on your own time. If you know lots of people, then perhaps fundraising or development would be the best area for you. It all depends on you. Most groups will be happy to have your help wherever you decide to spend your time.
I think you'll find it helpful to set some boundaries (and stick to them) on what you'll do and what you won't, and how much time you're willing to give. Some groups can be rather pushy, and guilt can be a major motivator to just saying yes to one more activity. Keeping tabs on your volunteer work will enable you to ensure that you'll be able to get your "real" work done without feeling overloaded.
Remember, volunteer work can be a great partner to your business life as long as you keep your commitments under control.
Check out It's About Timefor more time-management tips on making the most of your busy days.
Elizabeth Inskip-Paulk has worked in the field of stress management and other health-related fields for more than seven years in both the public and the private sectors. She has a master's degree in English and has been freelance writing in her spare time for a number of years, which involves a significant amount of personal balancing. She tries to live what she teaches in terms of life/work balance (although it's not always an easy journey!). Elizabeth grew up in England, lives in Texas and now says "y'all" when necessary.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.