Five Tips for Working Smart and Staying Healthy in 2013

Editor’s note: The following article was originally published in the January 2013 issue of Insights, the monthly publication of Dance/USA affiliate member the Arts Consulting Group. It is re-printed here with kind permission.

By Rebekah Lambert

As arts and culture leaders, we are focused on our artistic product, the people who create that product, our community, our board, and our donors. These are all mission critical and never to be underestimated or taken for granted. However, we do our collective missions a disservice when we don’t focus on our individual mental and physical health and that of our board and staff members. Read on for five tips for working smarter, with the corollary of living healthier, so that we can grow and sustain our creativity and energy to further the positive impact of our organizations.

Yes! Consider this familiar analogy: When sitting on an airplane, you are instructed to put your oxygen mask on first, so that you have the ability to assist children and other passengers. What makes applying this concept to our work environment challenging may come from a well-­intended but false sense of work ethic and a misunderstanding of what being an effective leader looks like. Consider this additional concept: The value you create for your organization isn’t the number of hours you work each day or each week, but rather the quality of your work and its impact in advancing the mission and vision of your organization and in empowering others to do the same.The value you create for your organization isn’t the number of hours you work each day or each week, but rather the quality of your work and its impact in advancing the mission and vision of your organization and in empowering others to do the same.

Two studies reported in the Harvard Business Review in the past few years bolster the importance of mental, emotional, and physical health in one’s ability to effectively lead and produce organizational results. In one study of 300 business professionals conducted by Stewart Friedman and focused on finding value in work, home, community and self, participants reported increases in job satisfaction of 20 percent and job performance of 9 percent, even though they were spending less time at work and more time centered on other parts of their lives. In another study by Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy, participants in a Wachovia Bank “energy renewal” program that delved into building physical, mental, and emotional resilience produced 13 percent more in revenues from loans than a control group that made no changes. The participants also reported increased job satisfaction and improvements in customer relations.

So, in the spirit of traditional New Year’s reflections, please consider the following resolutions.

Working smart means using time well and concentrating on the work that really makes a difference in advancing your organization’s mission. Set clear goals — “deliverables” — for yourself and for your employees, and try to develop a keen sense of how everyone contributes to overall organization goals. Prioritize what’s critical, and when it must be done. Not everything is critical every day. A simple time management matrix (with thanks to Steven Covey) can help achieve an abundance mentality. Create your own, search the Internet for one that works for you, or adapt this simple example of how to prioritize your personal and professional tasks:

Deal with these “emergencies” promptly and get them off your list. What items will deliver the most impact when addressed? Which will empower others? (Remember that “everything on my list is not critical and pressing.”)

Prioritize your time to items on this list (planning, new program development, relationship build-­ ing, mentoring, etc.).

Try to hand many of these tasks off to others who may learn from and be challenged by them (mid- and entry-level employees, interns, volunteers, etc.).

Why are these on your list? Prioritize those that are most important, move those to another quadrant, and consider dropping the rest from your list.

Other tips to help stay focused on priorities:

  • At the end of each workday, identify the top priorities for the next day/week and then don’t think about them overnight. Come back reenergized and tackle those items first thing the next workday.
  • For big priority tasks, break them into smaller, doable chunks so you (and your colleagues) are not overwhelmed. That way it’s easier to see that incremental progress is being made.
  • Create your priorities in the context of agreed-­upon organizational goals. Ideally, this is a living Strategic Plan, but weekly staff meetings and important deadlines (performance, print, grant, etc.) can all provide context for decision­-making.
  • Sometimes deciding what to do now, and what to do in the future, and what not to do, can be key to your success. Not everything can or should be done this week, this month, or this season.

A smart priority list only works if you can actually focus on your work. In our busy, networked lives, this can be increasingly difficult. A few ideas in this area include:

  • Schedule your email, social media, and phone time. Reduce these interruptions during meetings and when you are working on other tasks.
  • Clean off your desk. It’s hard to focus in a cluttered space.
  • When you have projects that require concentration, go somewhere quiet with no distractions where you can give full attention to the work at hand. Maybe that’s a conference room or your local library. Wherever it is, find a place where you can think in a relaxed environment.

Many of us push to work long hours at the office, followed by exhibition openings, performances, donor events, and other activities in the evenings and on weekends. At some point, everyone’s productivity inevitably diminishes. With that in mind:

  • Take a break every 90 minutes. A study of young violinists done by researcher Anders Ericsson in 1993 demonstrated that the most accomplished of these young musicians all practiced using the same schedule, in 90-­minute increments with breaks. Ericsson found similar practice/work-­out patterns in athletes, writers, and chess players. If it works for them, it probably works for museum, ballet, and opera leaders as well!
  • Use these breaks to truly refresh. Walk around the block. Do a Sudoku. Talk about last week’s football game. Refresh. Engage in some bandinage. Make a cup of tea.
  • When you hit a wall in your work, try to remind yourself of why you entered the arts and culture management field or are involved with a specific organization in the first place. Sit in on a rehearsal to simply listen and watch your artists in action. Walk into the gallery and just look at your most-­loved paintings or sculptures.

Most of us function better in a positive work environment. One key step towards this tip is in knowing your own stressors and how to diffuse them. Beyond that, take deliberate steps to foster a workplace culture of teamwork and appreciation.

  • Thank your colleagues regularly and authentically for their work. Let them know how their specific efforts strengthen your arts and culture organization. A thank you (email, conversation, note, etc.), especially to those people who may not be publicly recognized for their efforts on stage or at board meetings, means a great deal. It also empowers and builds a team that understands how each person contributes to success.
  • Create deliberate opportunities for your team to come together and enjoy time with each other. Do a half-­day group volunteer project for another nonprofit in the community. Start a book club within your organization. Bring in pizza or homemade cookies occasionally for brown-­bag team lunches. If you’re a supervisor, take your employees out to lunch or coffee every so often, apart from your regular check-­ins or the annual performance review. Use this time to recognize their accomplishments and tie them back to the mission and priorities of your organization. This is a good time to talk about their longer-­term professional aspirations and how you and the organization can best support their goals.

We all know this, but it bears repeating: we work better, smarter, and more productively when our life outside of work is positive. In demanding a lot of ourselves and our colleagues, we must recognize the need for balance in life. Indeed, many studies indicate that there is mutual value and gain when a person achieves a more equitable work-­life balance. With that in mind:

  • Make time for that which is important to you outside of work: family and friends, hobbies, volunteer work. Go home at a reasonable hour. Don’t work all weekend. Use your vacation days.
  • Regular exercise increases energy and decreases stress. Whether it’s yoga swimming, or rock-­climbing, even at your busiest it is important to prioritize physical activity at least three times a week. And on the days when you can’t exercise, take the stairs!
  • Get enough sleep so that you can focus and be creative in your waking hours.
  • Set an example for a well-­rounded life by encouraging those around you to do the same.

Arts and culture leaders who create an organizational culture that honors the overall health and well-­being of employees will be rewarded by increased job satisfaction, creativity, morale, and productivity, as well as reduced stress and attrition. This, in turn, translates to organizations that are better able to fulfill their missions and serve their communities. Each of us can be a role model for working smart and staying healthy in our organizations, with our colleagues, and in our communities. Each of us can be a role model for working smart and staying healthy in
our organizations, with our colleagues, and in our communities. Prioritize and set reasonable expectations for yourself and your organization. Choose just two or three attainable activities that will help you work smarter and stay healthier in 2013. This is not about a selfish desire to “feel good.” It’s simply good leadership and good business because it delivers lasting results. Happy 2013!

Bibliography and Suggested Reading:
Covey, Stephen R. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Simon & Schuster. 1989.
Covey, Stephen R. First Things First. Simon & Schuster. 1994.
Friedman, Stewart D. Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life. Harvard Business Review, April 2008.
Schwartz, Tony. For Real Productivity, Less Is More. Harvard Business Review Blog Network, May 17, 2010.
Schwartz, Tony and McCarthy, Catherine. Manage Your Energy, Not Your Times. Harvard Business Review, October 2007.

Rebekah Lambert joined Arts Consulting Group in November 2009 with over 19 years experience in performing arts management, planning, board development, policy formulation, union negotiations, artistic administration, operations, and program planning. Over the course of her varied career, she has proven herself to be a thoughtful, creative, and flexible leader. From 1996-2003, Lambert served as executive director of the Eugene Symphony, where she completed eight concert seasons with surpluses and doubled the orchestra’s endowment fund. Lambert began her career in arts management in Los Angeles with positions at the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Young Musicians Foundation. After completing the American Symphony Orchestra League’s Orchestra Management Fellowship, she went to the Honolulu Symphony, first as operations manager and then as orchestra manager. After finishing her MBA in 1994, she was executive director of the Symphony of Southeast Texas, where she professionalized that orchestra’s administrative and fundraising capacity. Prior to joining Arts Consulting Group, Lambert worked in executive leadership for a large human services agency, where her duties included program supervision, coaching senior managers, and planning. She led a successful change process that resulted in a new model of service delivery to meet state quality goals. She served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Albania from 2003 to 2005, where she engaged in capacity building efforts with municipalities and non-profit organizations. Lambert holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara and an M.B.A. from the Yale School of Organization and Management.


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