Balancing Everything on a Full Plate

By: Amy Guzewicz

Find out how one staffer at a small-staff association keeps a chaotic work life under control.

Working for an association can have its perks, whether that's flexibility or whatever else you may choose. One perk of my job as membership coordinator at the American Society of Ophthalmic Administrators (ASOA) is the organization's size. Yes, the workload can be demanding with a staff of only five, but I think working with a small staff gives me the opportunity to expand my skills, knowledge, and expertise in ways in which I would never have at a large organization.

Since we have such a small staff, not only is each of us critical to our organization, but we also carry a workload that often spans across content boundaries. As many of you can relate to, a person who runs a small-staff organization's government relations department may wear the hat of other departments as well. I am the membership coordinator, but I also handle website updates and work with our online education vendor. While everyone's work life is chaotic, we at ASOA have found some useful tricks for keeping it under control.

Be ruthless when it comes to organization. We have spent considerable time developing systems to keep our staff organized and, more important, to keep members happy. However, our work still has elements of chaos. Just when things seem to be coming into balance, something new will fall onto our plates.

Being rigorous in our approach to organizing is the only hope we have to get our work done. For myself, each day I put together a list of my top three to five to-dos.

Make everything a team effort. Collaboration is key to us and our sanity. With everything going on, it makes it easier for little things to fall through the cracks. That's why all of us review everything before it gets to our members. Of course, this is primarily for quality-control purposes, but it also reinforces the notion that we are all in this together.

Keep your coworkers updated. Since we have so much going on, we need to know what's on everyone's plate. While we meet informally daily, we have a set weekly meeting for two primary reasons: one, to make sure no one is drowning in work, and two, to make sure we are not overlapping in our efforts.

Rely on your members. With such a small staff, it's important that we take our members up on their offers to volunteer and take advantage of their expertise. We're fortunate in that our members are eager to help. Their efforts make up for the extra staff we sometimes need, especially when it comes time for our annual congress and symposium.

Don't lose the big ideas. Making time for innovation can be difficult with such demanding workloads. We are a bright, creative staff (as are our members), and we all come up with tons of interesting ideas. I'm not exaggerating—we have file cabinet drawers labeled "Projects 2012 and on." We love jumping on new projects and bringing them through to a final product or service, but time and work demands often get the best of us.

While we may not be able to accomplish everything we have stored in those drawers, I like to think of those ideas as the things we could accomplish if there was more human capital to work on them. And there's something about having them there, easy to access, that makes me know that we will be able to accomplish some of them.

As with everything else, the perks of working at a small association can come with challenges. I love that I have a significant role in my organization and am given opportunities I probably wouldn't be afforded if I worked in a larger one. And while it can be challenging at times, I truly do think that working with such a small staff (and having a great organization system in place) makes me a better association professional today and will do so in the future.

Amy Guzewicz is membership coordinator for the American Society of Ophthalmic Administrators. Email: [email protected]

Small-Staff Stats

Name: American Society of Ophthalmic Administrators
Location: Fairfax, Virginia
Staff Size: 5
Members: 2,500 standard members; 325 supplemental memberships