Easing the transition from vacation back to work

Back form vacation

I take the first week of July off every year and one of the things that I try to do every time is make sure that I take as much of that week actually off as possible. I try not to do too many calls and I keep correspondence to a minimum because I want to come back refreshed and having really felt like I spent some time away and maybe even missing work a little bit. I was able to do that this time around and the challenge then becomes: how do I get back up and running after I’ve been missing in action for a week? So I’ve got kind of three things that I do to make sure that I can hit the ground running.

  1. The first is that in the same way that I try to makes sure that I’ve prepared well for leaving, I try to make sure that I come back well. That means that I don’t make my entryway back into the work-a-day world a distraction for the other members of the team.  I don’t want to have people have to take unnecessary time to bring me back up to speed. So one of the things that I’ll do is the Sunday night before I come back into work, I’ll send out a few notes to key people to get a gauge from them as to when is a good time for me to touch base with them. This way they have an opportunity to work it into their schedule and I actually make that entire Monday an open day if possible. I try not to have any calendar appointments on the day that I come back because I recognize that a lot of that day is going to be spent getting up to speed.
  2.  The second thing I do is I try to have a creative project as something to work when on when I come back.  I think one of the really neat things about vacation is it gives you the chance to separate a little bit from the daily grind. One of the advantages of that is it enables you, if you embrace it, to take a little bit different perspective on the way that you work. I want to try to take advantage of that to the degree possible. So I’ll try to use my time away as an opportunity to maybe think outside the box or maybe to take a new approach to a problem that has been a plaguing the office for a while.
  3. The last thing I try to do is I try not to sprint back. I think that one issue that a lot of us have is you don’t want to miss too much time away from the office.  If you’re a hard charger, the temptation is to always go, go, go. I almost feel that if you run too fast in the days right after you get back from the vacation you miss some of the opportunity to take advantage of the separation that I was speaking of earlier from the office. So I try tom the first few days that I’m back, take things in and see if that fresh perspective enables me to think about something differently.  A lot of what I’m trying to get out of coming back is ensuring that I take advantage of the opportunity to use that fresh look and fresh perspective to my advantage rather than trying to buckle myself right back into the grind.

If anyone else has any tricks or tips they use for coming back from vacation or ways that they try to leverage their time away from the office, I’d love to her them.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Tired? Beware the temptation to shortcut

JITSU

Every once in a while jiu jitsu will highlight something for me that is really important for business or personal life with regards to performance.  This past week I was sitting around with a couple of the guys after class and we were talking about how it seems like being tired makes us want to rush through things. In jiu jitsu, you’re trying to work through a sequence of moves to get to some endpoint very much like you might do in a business project or anything else that has a deadline. The guy who brought this up mentioned how he feels like he has a tendency to rush during drills the more tired he gets. So we talked about it for a little bit and I think this is something that happens so often in life it was worth pointing out.

A lot of times when you’re in the middle of a project, you’ve got a deadline looming, you’re under the gun, and you’ve been working late to try to get things accomplished as the project winds towards the close, the tendency or the temptation is to try to skip some steps in order to get things done. Now whether it is trying to go directly from your head to a final project and skipping outlining, drafting, or other steps that you might normally do, or trying to cram down your review process; what I found in life as well as jiu jitsu is that those things have a tendency to set you back more than they help you. You have to really sort of embrace the grind and understand that there really are no short cuts. More often than not attempting to rush through or cut steps out of the process isn’t going to work. It’s simply going to end with either a poor result or in taking more time because you’re going to have to go back and go do the steps that you should have done the first time anyway.  I think that one of the things you have to do if you want to be successful under those conditions is you have to resign yourself or mentally prepare yourself to grind through it. You have to understand that it’s a process and you have to decide for yourself if you’re going to be able to make it through to completion because you’re probably not going to be able to shortcut that routine without the end result suffering.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Checklist for what to do at work before you leave for vacation

Vacation Checklist

Summer is vacation primetime.  People coming and going from the office can be stressful for everyone. In order to reduce the stress on yourself and those you leave behind at work, I thought I’d list some ideas for how to make sure your summer vacation goes smoothly. So before you check out this summer take a look at these 7 tips:

  1. Give people enough notice. It’s imperative to make sure you give enough lead time in order for those around you to plan accordingly.
  2. Coordinate with the rest of your team to make sure that you are all not out at the same time.
  3. Ensure that your regular duties have been transferred to other parties within your team so that they continue to get done. You don’t want to have things piling up on you while you’re gone or worse, you have to do them while you’re gone
  4. Take the time to transition the knowledge required to do those duties. You do not want the first call you get when you leave the office for your vacation to be, “Hey, how do I do that stuff you wanted me to do?”
  5. Make sure that your external stakeholders, clients, etc., have a point of contact that they can get in touch with you or information for whom they can get in touch with while you’re gone.
  6. Make sure that if there is a REAL emergency they can get in touch with you so you don’t have a complete mess when you get back.
  7. If it’s necessary that you check in while you are on vacation, make sure that you have a scheduled time and stick with it. You do not want your vacation to turn into a workcation.

As always I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts or any ideas for making the work to vacation transition easier.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Respect your peers: Self-Checklist before you ask for help

Peer review

I was having lunch with a good friend over the weekend and we got on the subject of reviewing things for people. Now this was somebody I’ve actually sent quite a few things to review and I know I’ve been guilty of violating his pet peeves from time to time. He had an interesting take on things and it’s definitely something I’m going to apply to my life so I’d like to share it.  One of the things we talked about was how frustrating it is to get something from somebody with the caveat of, “Don’t worry about spelling or nit nats, just take a look at the content.” Now this is something that I’ve actually said on a few different occasions so maybe it was a subtle message to me but the more I thought about it, the more it made a lot of sense.  His take on it is that there are three things that everyone should have to do before they send a draft out to someone. They don’t take that long, they make the editor’s job immeasurably easier, and they greatly enhance the appearance of professionalism that you put forwards.

  1. Run spellcheck.  It seems obvious but I know that I’ve been guilty of forgetting to do it myself.
  2. Read it at least once and preferably out loud for grammar. I know how easy it is to quickly dash something out and send it across for somebody to check over. You don’t ask for much, you just want to see if you’re headed the right direction or if this is the right approach. While this doesn’t seem on the surface to be to harmful, his take on it is that everyone has time to read something at least once. You shouldn’t send anything from your desk that you haven’t at least read and I have to agree.  If you don’t read it and you’ve got some glaring grammatical errors or you’ve made some really obvious mistakes, even if you’re an otherwise an excellent writer, it takes away from the appearance of professionalism that everyone should try to put forward. It often unnecessarily increases the effort required by the editor to do the work. This may be fine if you’re paying a professional editor and it’s on your dime but if you’re asking for a peer review, or particularly if that person is in anyway involved in reviewing you from a professional standpoint, you may want to think twice about what you send across, even if that content is early stage draft.
  3. Lastly, you should always include a simple line that says what you’ve done to ready your work before sending it across to them.  Again I think this is something that I hadn’t necessarily thought about but I kind of agree that it’s important. It sets the stage for the person that you’ve asked to review or edit to understand where in the writing cycle this work is. I know that I’ve had quite a few things dropped on me where when you open it up you think, “Wow, this looks like it’s in a really early stage or really unformulated.” That uncertainty makes it hard to gauge how you should phrase your response back.

So I thought those were three pretty good tips for anything that you’re trying to get edited by somebody, get reviewed, or even if you’re crafting a simple letter out to somebody. Following through those simple steps increases the appearance of professionalism that you put forward to other people. Running a spell check and correcting simple and obvious grammar mistakes shows you being respectful of their time in not making them waste time on simple unnecessary corrections. Finally just conveying what type of document you’re putting across to them frames what you’re asking much more clearly.  Just some things to think about next time you ask a friend to look over something for you.  I’d appreciate your thoughts as always.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Closing in on Crunch Time: 3 Things to think about

crunch_time_colour_skin_riproarrex_by_sr71abcd-d4vskt1

As your projects get down to deadline there are three things that can cause major problems as you get down to the wire. If a team has problems delivering at some point, they can probably trace back some of the issues that they had in achieving their goal to these things.

  1. General time wasters – By this I mean all the conversations at the front end and back end of solutioning activities. It’s the hallway talk that’s more interesting than staying focused on the task that you’re trying to grind your way through.  I think there’s a tendency in crunch time to reward small victories with the type of social interaction that most healthy working environments have on a day to day basis. It’s the 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there, snippets of conversation.  Certainly you can’t pull all of the social out of the sprint to the finish because then it just becomes a miserable death march but I think you do need to be careful about trailing into things that are counterproductive that are ultimately going to set the whole team back. It’s really easy to do because oftentimes when you’re working in those sprints within a project team you’re required to have more interaction. This is because you’re having to solve more problems faster so you get this sort of cumulative effect.
  2. You need to be more focused on how you pursue your communications – This one is directly related to the first in the sense that you need to schedule your communications explicitly and better. One of the things that falls apart as you charge towards the finish line is that the framework for project execution that may have been sustaining progress for weeks and months prior to the deadline can sometimes start to fall apart. As people take on individual challenges that need to be run to ground in order to get them finished in time, they can become so wrapped up in them that they become hard to access by other members of the team. All the sudden you’re creating choke points because you aren’t enabling the types of solutioning activities that need to occur person to person.  So as each person tries to complete their piece they’re effectively holding up everyone else’s progress on their pieces by virtue of not participating in answering a question that somebody has or whatever other type of interaction that is required to get it to the finish line.  So I think making sure that productive team wide communication is kept up is crucial.
  3. Perfect is the enemy of the good – This is all too common with teams of high performers and the types of cultures that are often found in high performing environments. You end up with a collection of people, each of whom is focused on delivering their piece to the absolute best of their ability, and sometimes what the team would really benefit from is if that person would sacrifice their personal standards just a little bit to deliver something that’s good enough to achieve the requirement that the team has.  This is something that you see all the time. Someone will obsess over a detail, specification, piece of a writing, or presentation in a way that is completely out of line with the value that that piece has to the final product. This is an absolute project killer because you need to, particularly as you’re trying to function against a deadline, have a common understanding of what good enough looks like. This gets back to what things needed to be identified at the beginning of the project but are really important in crunch time. You need to be able to identify: What are we focused on achieving here and how does what I’m dong play into the big picture?

So those are the big three things that I think get project teams in crunch time.  Two of them are very clearly social communications sort of things and I think the third one is related to that as well. There’s oftentimes a sort of self-imposed social pressure to deliver these exceptional work products when maybe what the team needs is just to get an acceptable work product across the table.  I’m curious what other people think and love to hear more.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Pushing your limits and knowing when to take a break

Tired Blog

Every once in a while most executives, managers, or anyone who is pushing hard to achieve a little more and perform a little better, is going to run into times that they’re going to have to go above and beyond. Times where you’re going to have to put in a lot of hours in a condensed period of time.  If you’re not careful, you’re going to get blown out. Now I’ve recently experienced this and have been putting in a lot of work to kick start a new business venture. This has meant a lot of late nights and weekends. It’s essentially become all-consuming but one of the things that I’ve tried really hard to do in the face of all that is to ensure that I don’t carry it too far forward. By that I mean I’ll explicitly take time to get rest.  There’s no way that, at least in my experience, that you can go 110% all the time.

If you get too many days in a row where you’re working 12, 14, or 16 hours and maybe only sleeping 3 or 4 hours, you will break down and your body will break down. You’ll get sick, the quality of your work will suffer, and you’ll take twice as long to get half as much done. So that is why you have to, no matter how pressing the timeline, force yourself to take a rest. It is very much a discipline thing. You have to force yourself to do things that are a part of your normal regime whether it’s exercise or something else. I know that even if I get very little sleep, a lot of times I get so amped up by the pursuit that I’m in midst of that I can’t sleep. So what I find, even after I’ve been up for a day straight, if I go to the gym and get a good sweat going it releases some of the mental tension that I have. It will enable me to get better rest. So I think that maintaining a reasonable level of physical activity and making sure that you take time to get good rest is critical.  I don’t mean go 18 hours, crash out for 3 hours, get up and go another 18 hours. You have to give yourself some recharge time. You’ve got to know your limits.

I know for myself I can do 2 or 3 days with very little sleep but eventually I’ve got to circle back around and take care of myself.  The tendency too often is to push until you can’t push anymore and that’s when you end up having other things slip through the cracks.  You have to maintain enough reserve so that you can deal with contingencies. You need to have enough reserve so that you can react to other things that are going on in your life and in your business. So you have to be really careful about how far into the red you push yourself because if you don’t keep enough in reserve you’re destined to break down and you can have some really catastrophic failures.  I’m curious to know how other people feel about this. I know that it is easier said than done and that the tendency is to push until you can’t push anymore. A lot of times we reward that sort of warrior mentality but I think that if you aren’t careful about it, you can really put yourself in a bad position. So I think it’s very important to be careful about just how hard you push yourself.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

How to tackle the job search without the stress

Job search blog

Scouring the marketplace for a new job is stressful under the best of circumstances but you can also turn it into an opportunity. You can take this time to not only improve your job situation but also to improve other aspects of your life, if you can utilize this exciting time without getting overwhelmed by all the pressures that go into this change. I would like to go into some ways I’ve found that really seem to help in the pursuit of new employment. First of all, I think your best approach is to proactively approach organizations you have an interest in working in. Take it serious and research some of the people in the organizations you are looking to join. Make sure you use the successes you have behind you that are quantifiable and unique to give you the competitive edge in your quest. This should be a major selling point.

Even though job searching is a difficult task, it’s one of great importance and should be treated as such.  So resolve not to do this thing in a sprint.  You need to take your time in order to make the best decision. This is your life you’re talking about and not having a great work situation colors everything else in your life. Expect that this is going to take you around six weeks to resolve, so remember to do it at a pace intended to win the war not the opening battle. Start by making an initial plan that carries you through the next 7-10 days. Identify some key milestones.  Here’s a sample timeline:

  • Complete cover letter – Target (Monday by 9PM)
  • Complete resume – Target (Monday by 9PM)
  • Identify 10 target opportunities – (Wednesday by 9PM)
  • Identify 3 people who can help me expand my coverage (Thursday by 9PM)
  • Treat Myself and Relax (Saturday & Sunday, but still get 8 hours sleep)
  • Contact 15 people (The 13 above, plus three based on those conversations (Friday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday)
  • Make a New Plan (Thursday & Friday)

Note: Ask each of these people at the end of the conversation if they know someone else who can help or who you should talk to next. Put this down as a note when you are doing the call.  This not only impresses the people you talk to, it is a great way to move the process forward with the best results.

Identify times to rest and relax explicitly. Choose to do something that will take your mind off things but do as part of a schedule and keep it within the schedule. Remember that down time is as important as the time you spend on the go. If you don’t rest you won’t be effective when you are going and you need to be at the top of your game for the next few weeks.

Like I mentioned earlier, making big changes in your career might also be a good time to look into improving the other areas of your life as well. Make sure you get rest you need and eat well. This might be a good time to try the Paleo diet I recommended. Mark’s book is a great start on that and I think if you spend some six weeks on it, you will feel better both mentally and physically. One of the things I have really noticed as I’ve reduced my sugar intake is that I have more stable moods. The combination of job stressors and personal life can grind on you, and eating well and ensuring you get 8 hours of sleep is imperative.  Commit to it for the next six weeks while you are trying to transition to a new job.

I’ll finish with this piece of advice – keep the next few weeks as simple as possible. I know that when I have a bunch of moving parts in my life, I sometimes have to focus on just a few and address them so that I can be functional enough to address other issues. I’m sure this isn’t a good move in the longer term if it causes you to avoid dealing with un-healthy area of your life, but sometimes you have to survive before you thrive. I also think that focusing in on just a few things gives you a chance to get things moving in a positive direction by giving you enough resources to overcome that particular set of obstacles. I hope people find this helpful but I’d be curious to know what other people’s thoughts are on the job search process.  What advice would you give to someone who is beginning the process of looking for another job?

Photo By o5com

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.