In the event of an emergency, secure your oxygen mask on first, and then assist the other person.” This is the safety announcement on all flights, when it comes to our survival. And, this is also the practice that experts recommend, when it comes to our generosity or giving habits. Why? Because being generous without boundaries burns us out.

As a giver, we urge you to be self-protective – look for high-impact, low-effort ways of helping, so you can sustain your generosity. Here’s how:

Know what you can give. Chances are you want to help everyone for everything. And that is where exhaustion sets in. But, if your generosity aligns with your interests and skills, giving can be enjoyable. Prof. Adam Grant of Wharton School of Business conducted a representative poll, and found that givers can be categorized into the following:

  • Experts who share knowledge.
  • Coaches who teach skills.
  • Mentors who give advice and guidance.
  • Connectors who make introductions.
  • Extra-milers who show up early, stay late, and volunteer for extra work.
  • Helpers who provide hands-on task support and emotional support.

Grant’s recommendation – don’t be a jack of all trades. Choose two or three of these profiles and stick to them. It’ll free you up to focus on helping where you have the most impact, and that in turn will recharge your energy.

Know whom to help. Much research shows that the biggest challenge givers have is with saying no. As a result, they end up giving to people who do not appreciate the efforts. Some takers are self-serving and feel entitled to others’ help. There are some others who take credit for the help they receive. And this leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of givers.

How to counter this? According to Grant, act like triage nurses in an emergency room: when someone comes along asking for help, don’t jump straight into treatment. Instead, gather information to determine how urgent the need is, and figure out who the best person to help might be. Assess if there are any steps you can take to create some buffer time. And then decide if you want to help at all! In other words, don’t help everyone.

Know when to be generous. It is not about spending less time helping; it can be more about pacing yourself and allocating your time wisely. Is it possible to dedicate half a day to respond to all requests for help? Or rather, can you carve out time that just belongs to your self-care practices? Say yes when it matters most and no when you need to.

The idea behind giving is to make your life more meaningful and happy. But that need not be at the expense of your own self. Beat the giver’s fatigue, and feel more generous.

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