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21. Getting Things Done

How do we get started with saving animals? How do we free up more time and deal with multiple priorities, adversities, and burnout? And how do we recognize success? Here is a concise guide to getting things done for the animals.

Getting Organized


If we are launching a brand new initiative, we need to define its vision, goal, strategy, and objectives. Of course, we all share the vision of a world where animals are no longer exploited for food, fashion, medical experiments, entertainment, or any other purpose.

We want to define a goal that is challenging, by being slightly out of reach, and designed to point us in the rights direction, like ending the use of animals for food in the U.S. Our strategies, or mission, should then explain how we plan to spend our resources in working toward that goal, perhaps by getting food processors to replace their animal ingredients with plant-based ones.

Finally, we should structure our programs and objectives to implement these strategies. A program could cover certain processors, like bakeries. Within each program, objectives should have a timeline indicating when we expect to win over a particular food processor.

Although we all share a vision, we may not agree on the optimal strategies to implement that vision. That could led to friendly discussions about their respective merits, but should never provoke recrimination or ill will.

Most of us are likely to join an existing initiative, rather than starting a new one, with its goals, strategies, and programs. In that case, our main concern is how to perform our assigned task effectively. That involves freeing up our time, handling multiple priorities, and avoiding burnout.

Freeing Up Our Time


We need to assign a market value to our free time
. That value is probably somewhere between what people are willing to pay for our services and what we are willing to pay others to perform services like mowing our lawn, cleaning our house, preparing meals, or walking our dog. If the difference between those two values is large enough, we should probably hire out those services to free up more time for our animal activities.

We can combine intellectual and physical activities (e.g., listening to a recorded lecture or podcast, or plan our next projects, while cleaning house, jogging, driving, or waiting in line). We should avoid engaging in activities, like surfing the internet, just because they’re easy or fun, unless they are part of our assigned task or scheduled “fun time.”

Finally, we need to beware of the law of diminishing returns and Parkinson’s Law. The first one states that, at some point, the additional improvements in our outcome are not worth the additional effort required, as in re-editing a composition, or getting that last family member to go vegan.  The second notes that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion,” meaning that we should schedule our time tightly.  In general, we should strive to be actually accomplishing things, rather than just looking busy.

Handling Multiple Priorities


Another challenge in our activism is to assign our limited time to the seemingly unlimited tasks at hand. Our first step is to divide those tasks into the four “D’ categories: do, defer, delegate, decline.

We should fit the “do” tasks, according to their urgency, into our weekly schedule that also includes ample time for sleep, recreation, exercise, and the usual work and personal obligations. Our inability to accomplish all the “do” tasks in that first week calls for a more efficient work style or for lightening the schedule – never for dropping the scheduling process altogether. The “deferred,” less urgent, tasks must also be assigned a completion date, perhaps during a holiday.

To delegate tasks, we must have an assistant or be willing to hire outside services, as we noted above. If we feel uncomfortable declining a task, we can place it in the “delegate” category and hire someone to do the job.  In delegating a task, we need to provide detailed instructions and  proper supervision.

Here are some helpful hacks for dealing with upcoming priorities:

  • When facing two tasks of similar priority and importance – just pick either at random
  • When facing a complex task, break it up into more manageable subtasks
  • When missing inputs needed to complete the task, reschedule, and get the inputs
  • When facing an unpleasant task, promise yourself a reward upon completion
  • When experiencing “writer’s block,” start jotting down random related thoughts
  • Conversely, when you get excited about an idea, jot down thoughts for later processing

Dealing With Burnout


Contrary to popular opinion, people don’t “burn out” of our movement because they have been working too hard, unless that hard work involves sleep deprivation or other neglect of personal care. In my long experience with hundreds of people dropping out, burnout is associated with one or more of the following factors, in order of decreasing importance:

  1. Peer hostility. Historically, the hostility would be associated with organizational conflicts, program failure, or allegations of financial improprieties. In the past three years, it has been all about the animal rights version of the #MeToo movement. One remedy is to remember that we joined this movement for the animals – not our personal comfort. Another is to reduce our participation in social media.
  2. Failure to recognize our own role. This could be due to an organizational demotion, or just a poorly defined status within an organization. We can help by recognizing each individual’s role in an organization’s overall mission.
  3. Failure to recognize our own contribution. Recognizing our individual contribution in the massive social changes we are achieving is often difficult. We can remedy this by celebrating our organizational and individual contributions whenever practical.
  4. Inability to deal with program failures. Failure is an unavoidable component of any program. It is also a valuable learning opportunity.
  5. Inability to insulate from the enormity of animal abuse. One remedy is to withdraw from groups that permit posting of graphic images and videos.
  6. Neglect of personal care. Yes, the usual: lack of adequate sleep, regular exercise and recreation, and a healthy diet. And we all know the remedies.
  7. Major change in personal situation. This could include major illness, or loss of financial security.

(In our next essay, we will address the issues of leadership and management in our movement)

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