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5 Ways Volunteering Benefits You

5 Ways Volunteering Benefits You

According to a recent study released by the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, volunteering in the United States has recently hit a ten-year low. In spite of the general decline, this still means that 62.6 million people spent time volunteering in the last year. While some people may not see the benefit of volunteering, I certainly believe that volunteering can change the outcomes for not just the population being served, but for the volunteer as well. For that reason, I have compiled a list of five ways in which the volunteer benefits from volunteering.

1. Volunteering connects you to other people and to your community.

Whether it is serving meals at a local soup kitchen or reading stories to underprivileged youth, volunteering helps you feel a larger sense of community and the world around you. Instead of staying in your lane with work, socializing, and your own family, you can gain a sense of the lives of those in your community are like via volunteering.

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2. Volunteering gives you a perspective unavailable elsewhere.

While I tend to think of volunteering and non-profit work as a very serious business, the fact of the matter is that people do it because of the emotional appeal. And, by appealing to their own emotions, volunteers are able to open up and learn about life in a way that was previously closed. For example, if you are down on yourself because you cannot quite land the job you want, volunteering at a homeless shelter might make you realize that the job is not everything, nor is it even really all that significant. In fact, volunteering will show that what is valuable is regular old kindness and appreciation.

3. Volunteering looks great on a resume.

Now that I’ve mentioned careers and landing the right job, I must point out that volunteerism really can help you land the job you want. If you volunteer long enough on a repeat basis at an organization you care about, that will show up on resume as dedication to a cause that is above yourself. Think about it: an potential employer spends a ton of their time leafing through resumes that show only how potential employers closed XX account or created YY widget. But how many employers would be impressed by consistent dedication to solving major social ills? Many, is my guess.

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4. Volunteering actually improves your health.

According to a Carnegie Mellon University study, volunteering may not only help your mind, but it may also actually benefit your body. This is especially true for volunteers over age 50. The study in question showed that, of those over aged 50, people who volunteered consistently had lower blood pressure than those who did not. And specific types of volunteering have specific help benefits as well. For example, in older adults, tutoring children helps memory and cognitive function, and activities that require a lot of movement (think of the soup kitchen again) help cardiovascular issue such as blood pressure.

5. Volunteering helps you develop new skills.

Maybe you ended up as an investment banker when you really had a knack for teaching. Or maybe you are a nurse who really has a knack for building houses. Whatever the case may be, volunteering can help you find skills you did not know you have. The only way to find out whether or not you are good at something is to do it consistently, and, if your career path at the moment does not include the area in which you think you need to grow, consider volunteering in that area. It could do a lot of good.

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For those who have been persuaded to volunteer, visit volunteermatch.org or idealist.org to find an opportunity in your community. You won’t regret it.

Featured photo credit: Volunte/All Hands Volunteers via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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