Being a community manager is extraordinary and exhausting.
You get to connect and create, but you’re also drowning in information. Comments, requests, questions, emails. Notifications whooshing around at 90mph, all day. KPI’s and ROI. Everyone demanding attention, needing you to listen, to fix, to respond, to cajole, to soothe, to champion.
Some days it’s total overload. Some days you want to break every screen in front of you, join the National Park Service and spend three months manning a fire tower in Montana.
People who deal in content generation and manage relationships use more emotional and mental energy than most every day. Every interaction drains your cognitive power source - only a little, but these little losses add up.
Picture a thin, red string running from you to each member of your community. If you manage an organization with 10,000 members, that’s 10,000 tiny threads. Picture much bigger threads running to influencers, colleagues, and your organization's leadership.
This makes it easier to envision your impact, and also to see how you can get pulled in multiple directions at once and get tangled up in all those threads. To keep from being tripped up, each one requires a little bit of energy and attention. It’s rewarding, but tiring.
This is where the practice of taking breaks comes in.
We are inclined to believe that more time > more effort > and more speed > will make us more productive.
A majority of the research on peak productivity recommends working intently for 40-50 minutes and then taking a 10-15 minute break. This technique is not only taught and encouraged at major corporations, it’s how students at MIT and other elite universities are encouraged to study.
In order to allow your hardworking brain to function at its peak, you need to allow it a few minutes of rest every hour. Just like cooling down between exercises at the gym, your brain experiences fatigue and needs to rest. These breaks have an added benefit for community professionals - they allow you to step away from all of the strings pulling on you and re-center. By stepping away for a few moments, you’ll be more effective at creating top-notch content and managing all those relationships.
Bottom line, you get more accomplished when you take breaks (and, your dreams won’t be limited to Montana fire towers).
An ideal break gets you out of your chair, away from your computer.
Go for a walk, go to the bathroom, doodle, listen to music, get outside, set a timer and breathe for a minute or two, stretch, meditate, read a few pages of a book, talk to a co-worker.
Once you do one of these, come back and enjoy some baby animal pics. I’m serious, and you can thank Japanese researchers for this one. They have found that college students performed better after looking at images of baby animals. Interestingly, adult animals and food didn’t have the same impact. So: baby French Bulldogs, yes. French fries, not so much.
I know so many community managers that check in on their members all hours of the day –some even setting an alarm for the middle of the night. If that’s you, I encourage you to consider ways in which you can restructure boundaries and expectations so that at the minimum, you get a few uninterrupted, community-free hours every day. (And for those 2am community-checker-uppers out there, I beg you to stop. It is really, truly, detrimental to your much needed sleep!)
Another tip: Please take your vacation days, all of them. Every year. Summer is here –take ten minutes today to figure out when you’re taking time off! Even a long weekend away from all of those threads pulling at you provides valuable rest, as people returning from extended time off have been shown to make fewer mistakes, be more productive and are less likely to feel resentful toward their job.
If taking breaks is new to you, start slow. Try working in at least two 10-15 minute breaks a day, and going from there. Or commit to eating lunch away from your desk, every day.
We talk a lot about burnout for community folks. It’s an amazing, demanding job. So, think of it this way: To reach your full potential, to impact the most people, to stay healthy, schedule breaks or be ambushed by a breakdown.