Debra Zoerb oversees 20,000 people. Here’s how she does it

As the executive director of Folklorama, Zoerb oversees a team of 20,000 volunteers for Winnipeg’s annual multicultural celebration of food, arts and entertainment. This year’s event kicks off on August 2. We asked about her approach to time management.

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Debra Zoerb, director of Winnipeg's Folklorama. Photo, Thomas Fricke.
Debra Zoerb, executive director of Folklorama, the world’s largest and longest-running multicultural festival. Photo, Thomas Fricke.

Age: 44
Lives: Winnipeg
Telling details: In a long-distance relationship

What’s your philosophy on work-life balance?
Balance doesn’t mean equal at all times. The scales are going to go up and down, and there’ll be some weeks when work needs more attention. That’s okay because it’ll pass.

How do you stay motivated?
Every time I feel tired, I think about our volunteers. These are folks who have full-time jobs and, on top of that, are doing everything they can for Folklorama. I think about the pavilions, the performers, the food and drinks prepared by people who care about their cultures and traditions. It’s easy to get excited about that.

What’s the one thing you wish you were better at?
Mornings. I’ve tried all the tricks, but I still like to hit the snooze button until the last possible second.

What’s your guilty pleasure?
Some weekends, I won’t make plans before noon. I’ll sleep in, make coffee, catch up on the news and hang out in the sunroom in my favourite chair.

How do you recharge?
Spending an afternoon with the “niecelets,” as I call them. They’re 13 and 16. It’s the best thing I can do for my energy because they’re fantastic humans and super-fun.

What’s your biggest time suck?
Going through email manually is probably not a good use of my time. I know there are apps, but it’s habit, and there’s satisfaction in cleaning out the inbox myself.

What’s the one thing that you’ve had to let go of?
Feeling guilty. The two hours I spent doing chores on the weekend were two precious hours I could have spent having lunch with family or volunteering on an arts board. I had to give myself permission to hire help. The Prairie girl in me thinks I can’t possibly have other people do things for me. But it’s okay — you’re allowed to give your time and energy to do the things and see the people you want.

Debra’s tools for success

Microsoft Outlook task reminders: I use them a lot because I don’t trust myself to remember when things get busy.
Lists on paper: Writing tasks down organizes my brain — and it’s super-satisfying to cross them off.
Ziggy and Zag: I’ll be stressed, but after a few minutes with my silly little cats, I can feel my mood change.

Other time management tips:
A day in the life of a clothing manufacturer entrepreneur
How to change your life: From the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People