Your vacation is within reach, but the days leading up to it seem too overwhelming and completely out of control.
You have loads of e-mails that you need to respond to, a number of projects that need to be finalized, and other tasks that need to be delegated to colleagues.
In your gut there is a sense of dread since you feel that everything has to be wrapped up completely before you can leave.
I even have a friend who says that he’s almost ready to give up vacationing altogether, simply because it is too painful to get ready for it.
See, the problem is this; in most companies new assignments will keep coming up, so trying to reach the “100% done”-mark means that you need to work non-stop day and night, and even then you may not even get there.
There will always be more to do. More stuff always comes up, more details need to be included and/or a little extra could always be added to certain tasks.
The worst part about it is that you end up starting your vacation with all of your assignments floating around in the back of your mind. As we all know it can take several days to unwind, especially if you don’t reach a certain level of closure before your vacation starts.
And truth be told; your employer is not going to pin medals to your chest for wasting your vacation on worrying about your job. Rather, they probably want you to come back relaxed, well-rested, and ready to go back to work again with a fresh mind.
The secret to how you really get ready for vacation lies, like so many other things, in how well you are prepared.
Get ready without stress
My tips for you are:
Start preparing well ahead of time. If you try to get everything organized with only two days to go, you will most likely have trouble reaching your goal without running frantically.
Try to cut a deal with a colleague about handing over some of your projects well before you leave. If you can make the hand off, let’s say a week before your vacation starts, there are several advantages. 1) Your colleague will have an easier time taking care of the task, since you are still there to answer any questions. 2) You are able to concentrate on wrapping up the rest of what’s on your to-do list. If it seems a little odd to ask, remember that the deal goes both ways. Be ready and willing for the hand off when it’s your colleague’s turn to go on vacation.
Be realistic in regards to what you want to accomplish before your vacation. For some reason a lot of us seem to think that we can turn into super-beings in this situation and that we are able to get all sorts of projects done. Evaluate your work and if the project can wait, then let it wait.
Create a sensible overview of what needs to be done now and what can wait until you get back. Assign dates and actions to everything that needs to be done right after you’re back and add it to your calendar. This way you can rest assured that you don’t forget anything important when you return.
Prepare a simple to-do list and place it on the desktop of your computer. This way you can empty your head of activities and actions, which makes it so much easier to actually relax. Then when you return, you are up to speed in no time and can go through your list.
I hope these tips were useful for you and you’re welcome to share your best tips on how you get ready for vacation and unwinding. I’d love to hear them.
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The biggest challenge for a lot of teams is how to keep track of multiple projects.
By now, I have done quite a lot of work for a company, which makes high tech products in set product cycles.
There used to be some overlap of team participants in each product launch, but once in a while, several projects ran alongside with no overlap. This often resulted in a necessity to ‘reinvent the wheel’ again and again.
What one team was working on was not shared with other teams, often resulting in confusion and chaos.
Your own careful planning is practically worthless if nobody else is kept in the loop, so that’s why it’s vital that the information is shared among both team members and between teams.
You can find a multitude of project management tools on-line, but if you don’t know where to start, I strongly recommend an old-school Excel sheet, which, for example, you can save on Google Sites. This way, the sheet is available for everyone involved. All team members can read it and relevant team members can edit it as well.
The trick is of course only to include relevant information. I have seen loads of status reports, which held absolutely no useful information.
Write a clear status – be specific and concise. Remember that your update should make sense for others as well.
Make sure to include a next step for all projects – again concise; who should be doing what and when. This way you can do a short status at the next meeting regarding whether you have succeeded or not.
If you go through the list as a group, make sure it doesn’t take forever. The list is not meant to inform about everything around the project, it should only be about what’s relevant for the team.
In order for you to get started, I have uploaded a status report that I often use. Try it out and make changes to it in a way that fits your job.
Bonus tip: Even if you aren’t working in a team environment, the list is still extremely useful. It will force you to think ahead and write down actions you need to take at a specific time. Update the list once a week to hold yourself responsible for the progress you make in your projects.
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When you are responsible for a project, you know that you will end up in lots of looong meetings.
And long, boring meetings can make even the toughest person break down and cry…Just the thought of a recurring weekly status meeting can make you raise your hackles and that’s a sure sign that it’s time for things to change.
If you’re in charge of a large project, you have the power to change things. Unfortunately, a lot of meetings are run on autopilot without any thought as to whether they make sense or not.
Have you considered a strategy for how you can add a bit of excitement to those meetings without loosing the quality?
Is it even necessary for the project to have that meeting?
My guess is that most companies could shave off 30-40% of all meetings – in some places the percentage might be even higher. Just as it’s a bad habit to cc everyone and their grandmother, it’s relevant to ask these questions before a meeting:
Are you sure that everyone invited to the meeting actually need to be there or would it suffice to send them the minutes afterwards? There is a tendency to play it safe by inviting a lot more people than you need.
Is it even necessary to have the meeting or could the same result be achieved by e-mail?
If you plan the meeting well, can you then cut down the meeting to a minimum, so that nobody is wasting time?
In addition, you can take a good look at how you manage your meetings. In my view, it’s OK to be a little strict in this regard, since an incredible amount of time is wasted on bad meeting culture. If 10 people at an hourly rate of 200$ have to wait for 15 minutes before the meeting starts, because half the attendees are late, the company has spent 500$ on something that didn’t create a cent of value for anybody. You don’t need a calculator to figure out what a waste of time and money that is. Consider the following:
Have short meetings with a precise agenda
Insist on starting the meeting on time and stick to the schedule
All phones should be turned off during the meeting, and no checking of e-mails either
Why not stand up instead of sitting down? It calls for shorter speeches and more precise content
Make sure the meeting is moving forward – it just about kills you when you have a feeling that a meeting is going nowhere
If longer meetings are necessary, make sure that there are refreshments and regular breaks. You can’t expect an enthusiastic audience for hours on end with only a single cup of coffee as fuel.
Make sure minutes from the meetings are kept in a forum accessible for all – it’s up to the attendees to stay updated.
If you aim for clear-cut communication with your clients, you need to keep your message clear
Have you ever tried receiving one of those incomprehensible e-mails that don’t make any sense no matter how many times you read it? It’s really frustrating, since you end up using an excessive amount of time trying to decipher the message. The likelihood of misunderstandings is huge.
If you work with projects and write to your clients on a regular basis, do yourself the favor of avoiding complicated writing. The only thing you accomplish if you don’t simplify your writing is that
your clients won’t understand you
your clients will see you as impersonal, maybe even arrogant
without intent, you create a distance between you and your clients
You might have texts that have to be really concise, but this doesn’t mean that they have to be boring. Even your business terms can be loosened up enough so that your clients get a feeling that there’s a real person behind the company.
The way you communicate, even on a smaller scale, is part of the whole image of your company, making it all the more important that your writing reflects your style and you’re your personality.
Check your correspondence and general documents and make sure that your message is clear. If necessary; have someone not related to your company read it and ask them if they understand it.
Emails: Watch out for those rushed e-mails you send out. They sometimes get so rushed, that the logic disappears. An innocent comment might be perceived as much more serious than intended, irony doesn’t always come across as such and a negative e-mail may seem even more negative for the receiver. In short, if your e-mail can be interpreted in more ways than one, you can be sure that it will be…
User guides, etc.: Remember that these documents should be understood by anyone without your specialized background. With that in mind, you should weed out complicated tech-stuff and terms only understood by insiders. Maybe you need to consider, whether you are using the right media for these types of communications. For example, a lot of user guides would be much more helpful as videos.
What works for me is that I try to put myself in the shoes of my clients. After I write something, I usually go through the text, divide it into shorter sentences, create bullet points, etc. If I need to construct complicated sentences in order to explain something, it will likely be difficult to understand, so that’s the first sign that I need to change it.
If you deal with clients everyday, here is something to think about.
Have you noticed how many e-mails you get from companies, where the e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org? I’ve heard that it has to do with logistics, but it may be more damaging that you would think.
If I am a customer who has received a newsletter from a company and I want to get in touch asap to buy a product, how annoying is it if I discover, that I have to go looking for the right e-mail address?
Or if I have a question for my purchase, and I can’t reply to the e-mail by hitting reply – how happy and special does that make me feel?
If you are a small company, stay away from the no-reply e-mail addresses if at all possible – it makes you seem disinterested in your existing and potential clients.
Have you ever tried being the one in charge of managing a project and wondered how you would ever succeed?
In simple terms, project management can be divided into 4 parts:
If you were to allocate time spent on the 4 parts, the general agreement among project managers is that you should spend around 40% on the first one – preparation!
The key to success lies in the foundation. The reason is this:
This is where you make sure that you understand the big picture
This is where you define exactly what the task is, who is doing what, how and why.
This is where you analyze and reveal challenges and obstacles and you make strategies for how to deliver the project you are asked to do.
This is where you challenge the person who assigned the task to you on all the weak links in the project.
This is where you set a common goal for the task and set the direction for the task.
Almost all projects that go wrong have flaws in the preparation stage one way or another, so even though it might be tempting to cut this process short, you will regret it later. If you want to build a house that lasts you need to start with a solid foundation.
While I was still working in the advertising business, I often wondered why all our jobs apparently had urgent deadlines. When we got an assignment from a client, they were all accompanied by the comment: “This was actually supposed to have been finished last week, so you can probably understand why this is urgent…”
This makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
A lot of the urgent tasks we were able to identify, the client must have had sitting on their desks for months, but for some reason, they were only sent through the system once it was almost too late. This puts unreasonable amounts of stress on everyone involved in the process, including the client, since everything will obviously late no matter how much you speed up the process. This is not a great way to work, let me tell you that…
The fact of the matter is that there must be time for planning. If you want to let go of the mindless stressing around, you need to do some decent planning so that you are able to see the bigger picture at the beginning of the year of assignments to come. When you do your budgets, you know which campaigns you have planned, and you know the overall goals of the year. This requires you to sit down and plan out the whole year, take note of all important deadlines and milestones and calculate backwards. Suddenly you end up with a nice overview of when you need inputs from different departments, when you need to brief the agency, and so forth.
How do go about it in your company – are you in control of planning?