Career

How Two Meeting Professionals Find Balance

What two professionals have learned about working smart while working hard.

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Convene asked two meeting professionals to talk about how digital overload, burnout, and mounting workloads have affected their careers and lives:

Rebecca Murphy, CMP, Meeting Planner

National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO)

CAREER Murphy has worked in the meetings industry for slightly more than nine years — the entire time with NACUBO. Prior to that, she had a career working on real-estate settlements.

DIGITAL OVERLOAD “A friend of mine who works for a bank said the expectation from his boss is that they will be responding to emails in the evening. And I said I would [schedule] an out-of-office [reply], and say I’m out of the office until first thing in the morning.”

BURNOUT “Yes, especially when you get close to an annual conference — when you’re waiting on other people to get things to you and everybody’s past their deadlines and you’re past your deadline. I think that all planners get burnt out at that point, even when they’re on site. You’re in fight-or-flight mode when you’re on site, but technically you’re burnt out.”

SELF-CARE “I do yoga in order to stay balanced just in myself, and that has helped tremendously. Meditation is also very helpful. If I feel myself getting [on edge], I’ll just step away, do some breathing, and then refocus. It’s always good to step away and then come back. I also have a standup desk. It is actually very helpful, because when you’re sitting down you can get anxious; at least, I can get anxious. For me, I’ll clean up my desk. I’ll stop what I’m doing and I’ll file everything, put things in order, put stacks with sticky notes on them, and then I’m able to refocus.”

WORKING SMART “We have to be aware of when we’re burning out, and we have to find tools that work for us, whether it’s going for a walk, whether it’s taking a break and going into the bathroom for five minutes and being away from everybody, or eating certain foods. When I get into fight-or-flight mode, I usually do an organic aloe juice, because there’s something in it that helps your body kind of get over that. It’s a lot of research and trying things that work for you as an individual, and not letting other people’s expectations drive you. I think with social media, everybody has this fear of missing out, and you have to be okay with not being connected to your device for a half-hour.”

Kimberly Smith Director of Conferences and Events

headshot2Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE)

CAREER Smith has worked in the meetings industry for nearly 28 years. She’s been in her current position with AASHE for a little more than a year.

WORKLOAD “I think probably everyone in this industry has a huge workload. And I’m a department of one. However, I do have a team of people that work with me on our annual conference and the smaller programs that we do throughout the year. But it’s still a lot of work nonetheless.”

DIGITAL OVERLOAD “The instant access is definitely something that puts more pressure on you, with the text messaging, the emails, the Skype. In fact, I’ve just gotten a chat [message] from Skype. One of my teammates is asking about some information and here I am just getting on a call, so I can’t answer her right now. But everyone wants that information right now, and if you don’t reply within a certain amount of time, you’re considered not being customer-friendly or you’re rude. We are all feeling the pressure of wanting to respond to people instantly, but you run the danger of living inside of your inbox, and that’s not good.”

BURNOUT “I worked for an association-management company, and I actually left that company after four years. When I first started I was gung-ho; I loved it. It was really my first job in the for-profit sector, because prior to that position I had always worked for nonprofit organizations. I loved all the perks, but I realized I was flying and traveling so much that people were getting married in my family, they were dying, they were having babies…. And I realized my whole life was just flying by and I wasn’t paying attention. That’s when I was on the road about three weeks out of every month, and it was a lot of international travel as well. But you were also expected to keep up with your work. I was working with 20 clients at the time, which was utterly ridiculous. That’s a heavy workload. That’s probably the time in my career that I felt the biggest amount of burnout.”

SELF-CARE “I take breaks way more frequently. I literally used to be able to sit behind my desk for eight hours and not even move, not even have lunch. Really bad habits. What brought it home for me is that I gained 30 pounds in one year. I said, ‘I can’t keep doing this, and I don’t want to.’ I’ve got my fitness tracker. It reminds me to get up and move around, so I do that. I take a mindfulness break at lunchtime every day, even if I’m not hungry. I get up and I go work out in the morning, and even if I’m a half-hour to an hour late, so be it.”

WORKING SMART “My attitude is different now, and maybe that is coming from my own level of maturity. My attitude now is, okay, I’m a department of one. I’m making a lot of changes to how we do things — really trying to put a Strategic Meetings Management Program in place, which we’ve never had. I’ve just decided that I can get done what I can get done. I don’t have to be involved in every single decision that needs to be made…. Just because you take care of yourself does not mean you’re a slouch at work. I think culturally we think that people who are always communicating and sending out correspondence and emailing, that they’re the ones who are doing all the work. That busyness does not mean that you’re achieving something. You can be busy all you want, but what are you really getting done?”

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso is executive editor of Convene.