During my time with The Caregiver Space, I’ve continually tried to go more with less.
When I couldn’t keep up with the sheer number of hours I was putting in, we brought in more volunteers, more interns, more part-time staff. While we managed to do way more stuff with all the additional people involved, the number of hours I was working didn’t go down at all. Sure, it was more fun to be spending so much time chatting with people, guiding projects, and helping people do their best. They were people I loved working with.
But it didn’t solve the actual problem: I needed more work to be done than I could do myself. All I did was get some great company and switch the sorts of specific things that were taking up my time.
Once I realized this, we whittled the team back down. But I was back to where I started, only we’d expanded to have all of these additional programs and projects, so it was even more work.
At this point I was forced to make some hard choices about what to cut. Especially because my personal caregiving situations went from occasionally giving other family members a few days off and the sort of thing that was really conductive to spending lots of time on my laptop working to the sorts of things where I had a minimum number of hours to work and very little distraction-free time.
Working more wasn’t going to be an option. In fact, I was going to have to work a little less than full-time and just be really productive.
At least I’m lucky enough to have a job where I didn’t have to worry about it. It’s all research, right?
So I cut some of our most successful programs and our less popular programs.
Sure, people loved the daily email. It had the highest open rate I’ve ever seen, but it just took up too much of my time.
The weekly chat support groups also went on hiatus. We weren’t getting the consistent attendance required to turn a bunch of strangers online into a group of supportive friends. I didn’t have the time to support our volunteer moderators in the way they needed.
We cut back the magazine down to one post a day and I spent less time courting authors and reaching out to caregivers, instead I relied more on posts people take the time to submit and started sharing relevant creative commons articles.
Once the Facebook algorithm switched and our reach plummeted, I spent less time on my RSS feeds, combing through to find the best articles and videos to share. If we weren’t going to reach millions of people, it wasn’t worth the time it took. Instead I lean on a few really fantastic thought leaders, like Donna Thompson and Feylyn Lewis, to find and share the best content for caregivers.
This has been a busy year for me personally, which has a lot to with why The Caregiver Space hasn’t been launching and tweaking our programs constantly like in previous years. My grandmother died after a long battle with dementia and two years on hospice. My stepbrother recovered from a TBI and went back to work, got married, and is about to have a baby. My stepmom’s cancer went into remission. My wife reached a new level of stable (good!) health and then we separated. My cat was diagnosed with diabetes and had to be put down when he became insulin resistant. I moved — twice.
Adrienne’s been amazing during all the ups and downs, as always. Somehow I managed to keep everything running, even if I didn’t launch the programs we’ve been talking about. We just can’t seem to get them off the back burner!
Working with a time crunch made me realize just how much time I spend every day on things I forget I even do.
Like answering endless emails. I get at least a hundred emails a day, sometimes many more. Relatively few of them are spam. In fact, many of them are heart wrenching pleas for help from caregivers at the end of their rope. None of the articles about #inboxzero have good advice on how to simply provide some advice on who to contact for help and move on to the next email without feeling terrible.
Our contributors and moderators would probably say I keep my emails pretty short and take a while to respond, but I still spend so much time each week trying to keep up with the key people who keep our community running. It’s the part of my job I most wish I had more time for.
I took the post submission form down because I was getting so many requests for tech support on it and it would typically break for a day or two whenever WordPress would update while the developers put together their own update. While it’s simpler for our contributors to simply email their posts to me, I spend a considerable amount of time getting posts into WordPress, editing them, finding featured images, and getting everything scheduled in the content calendar. When I started we had columns, monthly themes, and themes for each day of the week. Now the content calendar is a step away from chaos! But I’m fairly certain no one but me even notices.
For most of the year I was running our caregiver penpal program every six weeks. It was successful in terms of signups, but required a lot of time to maintain. I thought it’d be pretty simple — pair up caregivers via email and give them weekly conversation prompts to help get things started. However, I was getting dozens of emails from people who wanted a match who was in the same exact caregiving scenario as them or were having other issues with their penpal. I’ve heard from folks who really hit it off with their penpal, which is wonderful, but we decided to cut down how often we match people and think of ways we can get people to talk to each other instead of all trying to talk to me.
Despite our best efforts at spam prevention, we kept having spam accounts created on the forums. For a while we had bots creating thousands of fake accounts a day, which all had to be cleared out. We’ve had seemingly legit users turn out to be scam artists, sending private messages to our community members. It took a huge amount of moderation, so I started requiring people to fill out their profiles completely and approving each member manually. It seemed like a good solution, but now I get emails every day from people who are upset that I’m taking too long to approve their profile, confused that they can’t log in until I approve them, or because they didn’t fill it out and I deleted it. We need a better solution.
Our social media accounts are the things that take up the most time — and they require attention 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Scheduling posts takes a shocking amount of time. There’s the Facebook page and ten Facebook groups, which all have a constant stream of activity. Bob and I keep an eye on things throughout the day, but there are still things that slip through the cracks. It’s a huge help when community members flag inappropriate posts and help deescalate tense conversations. The Facebook groups are much more self-moderating than the forums on our site, thankfully.
Somehow all of my hours are going to things that just keep things running, without having any time left to step back and think about improving things — never mind the time required to actually improve our current programs and launch new ones! I’m spending so much time on tasks that are important, but don’t feel important. It doesn’t feel like I’m accomplishing anything.
Like so many of you, there’s not going to be someone to help out. We already rely so much on our community volunteers, I don’t know how much more they could take on! And the bigger our volunteer team gets, the more time I spend managing them.
Instead, in 2018, I have to take a hard look at the way I spend my days. What tasks only feel important? If I don’t do something for a week or a month, what happens? How can I batch tasks so I can get into the flow of things? Is there a certain time of day or day of the week when I’m more productive at certain types of work?
There is only so much time, I need to find ways to do the things that mean the most, have the biggest impact and the best fit with our mission. Projects that don’t move the mission forward need to go. Anything that can be streamlined and simplified will be.
I think these are good questions for all of us, especially caregivers. What tasks have creeped into your days that don’t bring you joy? That don’t feel meaningful to you? What happens if you don’t do them?
What’s really important?
In 2018, let’s figure out what matters and what doesn’t. And then let’s do what matters.