Posts Tagged ‘productivity’

On the Road Again

September 10, 2015

post_banner_blog_nathan2

Traveling for work or pleasure is a great way to get out of the office and explore different areas, but it can also cause some issues when looking to further your education. When I was considering applying to the IMC program, I had several concerns about how the program would mesh with my work schedule. Finding a program that allows you to work, travel, raise a family if you choose to, and have a social life (also optional, haha) can really make a huge difference in your decision. One of the great things about the IMC program is the flexibility offered!

In my current position as an Admissions Counselor, I travel often to recruit students. During the fall, I travel for two weeks straight and attend college recruitment fairs.

As you can see, my travel season starts very soon and is jam packed!

Travel

I started the IMC program when I held another position and there were no issues, but once I started my new job I worried about how travel would effect my classes. My experience with traveling while in the IMC program has actually been fairly stress free. I have taken a few trips with friends and a few trips for work and haven’t had any issues with my classes. In my opinion, the best thing is that students are given the syllabus which lays out the entire course, assignments, discussion posts, etc. from day one and allows you to work ahead if need be.

Some tips I have for those of you who travel are:

  • Add your assignment due dates to your work calendar so you have reminders
  • Read and work on posts during your down time (lunch break, waiting at the airport, etc.)
  • Start your work early (procrastination definitely makes things difficult)
  • Be sure to email your professors and let them know you will be traveling
  • Start your day earlier! (I have found that getting up earlier and doing homework or reading before I start my work day has really helped me)

These tips not only help with managing homework, but they can be very beneficial when working on a major project at work too!

What are some tips you all have for getting things done when you have to travel?

(Featured Photo courtesy of Instagram)

Essential Productivity Apps

November 25, 2014

I use technology every day at work in order to increase productivity in our office. Though it assists us everyday, we use it in conjunction with face-to-face communication – not instead of face-to-face communication. Technology has streamlined our processes and allowed us to spend more time focusing on brainstorming and creativity.

Our Graphics & Marketing office has gone through many changes over the last four years.  We’ve gone from not having a graphics request form to carbon copy forms, to paper forms, and now we’re digital.  We’ve increased the number of graphic request forms by 8% and the number of projects we created by 44% in the last fiscal year alone. These apps are not solely responsible for these increases in productivity, but they have been an instrumental component.  Here are just a few of the tools we are currently utilizing in our office to help with productivity.  I should mention that we are avid iPad users and lovers!

iAnnotate: As I mentioned, we’ve gone from paper graphics forms to digital forms.  We developed a .pdf check sheet for any graphics project requested from our office.  When a client needs a project, we sit down and fill out the request form on my iPad.   Using iAnnotate, we are able to mark up the .pdf with all of the customer specifications. We do require everyone in our organization to set up a meeting prior to filling out a graphic request form. This helps us establish buy-in and makes the department feel more invested in their marketing efforts.  (This is the only app we pay for)

Downside to iAnnotate: No spell check

 

Our Graphic Request Form

Our Graphic Request Form

Trello: (I absolutely LOVE this.)  After a client and I fill out the form, I take a screenshot and upload it from my iPad into our project management system, Trello.  Each student has their own “slot” in the program and we can add “cards” that contain all of the information needed to complete the project.  We can assign the project to multiple people, pass “cards” back and forth, and upload documents and revisions to Trello.  When students have a draft for me to view they can put the card (with the draft) in my “slot” and I can make comments and return it to them.  It saves an enormous amount of time, energy, and confusion for our students.

Upside to Trello: FREE apps!

 

Our Trello Board

Our Trello Board

Evernote: I realize this has been around for a while however, I love how easy it is to use.  I no longer have to carry around notebooks or file information.  I can take notes, minutes, and photos and easily organize them in one area. You can also integrate PenUltimate with Evernote so you can write notes and incorporate them into your Evernote notebooks.

Easy Note: This is a great to-do list app.  I can write down all of the different things I need to get done and carry them with me all day.  You can setup different lists for personal, professional, departmental, etc.  It is very easy to use and keeps me very organized.

Dropbox: If you’re not using dropbox, sign up now!  It is so easy to use and allows for easy document storage and updating.  I can access files on my phone, computer, and through the website.  Plus, you get additional storage the more you share the program. We use Dropbox to pass large files back and forth between clients and our office to ensure no one is getting upset that their inbox is constantly full.

As I mentioned before, technology assists us in our daily tasks, but it doesn’t replace face-to-face communication. We still meet regularly as a staff to build relationships, brainstorm ideas, and discuss projects.  These apps are just tools to help keep us organized.  Nothing takes the place of good conversation and relationship building.

I hope you found some of these apps helpful! As I mentioned, we use a great number of apps in our office, but these are the ones that have been instrumental in our solving some of productivity and communication challenges. Feel free to share some of your favorites in the comments section!

The Sociopath’s Guide to Strategic Planning

September 23, 2013
Catherine Ames

Catherine Ames/Cathy Trask. Illustration by arelia-dawn @ deviantart http://fav.me/d4ckirk

There’s nothing like sifting through a 600-page book to reference a 60-year-old definition of a sociopath, but I’m always looking for a good reason to talk about my favorite book – John Steinbeck’s (1952) classic, East of Eden. Plot aside, Steinbeck’s sociopath is a natural-born strategic planner whose method of achieving goals deserves a brief mention if not some bit of admiration. He likens her to a monster.

And just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul? (p. 72)

When reading about Catherine Ames (aka Cathy, aka Kate), you root for her downfall, but at one point Steinbeck uses the character as a contrast to human tendency to falter on the course of our goals out of anxiety, hurry, or fear. He almost seems to pause to give readers a life lesson before returning to the flow of action.

If one were properly to perform a difficult and subtle act, he should first inspect the end to be achieved and then, once he had accepted the end as desirable, he should forget it completely and concentrate solely on the means. (p. 240)

The author notes that while “very few people learn this,” Kate’s one good quality was that she was able to form a plan and patiently work it to completion.

She thought to the end very quickly and then put it out of her mind. She set herself to work on the method. She built a structure and attacked it, and if it showed the slightest shakiness she tore it down and started fresh. (p. 240)

I’m currently building a strategic communications plan for PR Concepts & Strategy, and it occurred to me that the process is similar to the one used by Steinbeck’s villain. Textbook authors Laurie Wilson and Joseph Ogden guide students through a planning matrix that breaks down the classic public relations RACE model – research, action planning, communications, and evaluation. In the action planning phase, would-be strategic planners are instructed to begin with a goal, or “the end to be achieved.” Only after we have clearly identified what we want to accomplish do we begin constructing the method and identifying the means that will lead to success. It is not an easy task.

The goal setting part of the process is fairly simple. I compare it to that old Seinfeld episode where car the rental company tells Jerry that they’ve run out of cars despite him having made a reservation. To paraphrase, he complains to the agent that anyone can take a reservation, but it was the holding of the reservation that the company didn’t seem to understand. Similarly, I often think that anyone can set a goal, but it’s in the process of achieving the goal where so many people fall off. A well-constructed strategic plan is the bridge between starting out and reaching the finish line, but if you’ve spent at least 10 minutes in the marketing realm, that’s not big news.

Strategic Planning is Missing

Courtesy of Fran Orford http://www.francartoons.co.uk

The challenging part about strategic planning – and the lesson from our sociopath – is to emotionally remove ourselves from the end goal so that we can focus on the specific tasks and daily minutiae that are required to reach the goal. What’s great about corporate strategy is that the process is often spread out between upper-level planning and lower-level execution. In our own business and personal ambitions, however, we’re solely responsible to form the plan and work the plan. This means that we have to stop daydreaming about and brooding over our goals just long enough to be productive and objectively manage the necessary actions along the way.

Lifehack discusses this productivity practice in “How to Practice the Art of Detached Focus to Achieve Your Goals.” Author and Productivity Coach Ciara Conlon states, “And so the secret is to focus intently, but to focus on the path and not on the destination.”

In using Catherine/Cathy/Kate as an example, let’s remember to set aside such sociopathic tendencies as selfishness, manipulation, lack of empathy and evil plotting. Nevertheless, some of our goals could stand to benefit from a thorough strategic plan and an ice-cold determination not subject to emotional derailments, hurried mistakes or irrational fears.

Further Reading

Steinbeck, J. (1952). East of Eden. New York, NY: Penguin Books (reprinted in 1992).

Tips and Tools for Back to School

July 31, 2013

If you’re following the IMC group on LinkedIn, incoming student Kristi Hansen started a great discussion by asking – “any recommendations for a first time online student?” The responses include tips that I wholeheartedly support and at least one that I can’t believe I’m just now learning of (built-in citations in Word). Thanks, Kevin!

Whether you are completely new to the program, returning from an extended break, or still catching your breath after completing the summer term, now may be a good time to refine your productivity habits and get ready for a successful year. I tend to be a late-adopter, but a great lesson I’ve learned from my classmates and professors is to accept technology and take advantage of resources that enable us to work smarter.

Turtle on a skateboard

Work smarter, not harder

I’m currently working through Michael Sliwinski’s 10 Steps to Ultimate Productivity Video Course. This is a free course that offers advice on how to stay on top of it all by managing your inboxes, knowing when tasks are really projects, working through tasks by context, and more. While each step only takes about five minutes to watch or review, you may want to take time out to integrate some suggestions into your own processes. Sliwinski often pairs the advice with his own Nozbe system, but I found that I could apply most of his recommendations with Evernote.

Let’s talk about Evernote. Every so often I come across an app, movie, food, or some other product that I could shamelessly promote in the street without any paid compensation or company affiliation. After some initial resistance and a few trials with inferior applications, what finally convinced me to give Evernote a shot was the fact that I could download and manage it on my PC. This not only speeds up input and organization but gives me the option to keep notebooks local or on the cloud. Cloud items are synced with my phone app, and their Android widget allows me specify which lists I keep at a glance.

Evernote logo

For IMC coursework, you can use Evernote to create notebooks for each class and sub-notebooks for each week. Given that course readings, discussions, and assignments are often catalysts for new ideas, another great feature of the application is that you can organize your thoughts and classmates’ suggestions on other marketing or job-related projects. How many brilliant ideas never see the light of day because they get buried in a college-ruled spiral notebook? If you’re looking for a better system to get and stay organized, I encourage you to give Evernote a chance.

My last recommendation is a bit less technology-based but an invaluable resource nonetheless. For students who’ll be juggling family and home life with their coursework, a local library can be a haven for quiet time and longer sessions of uninterrupted work. This may seem like unnecessary added time away from the family, but a few hours of productive alone time can actually help you be more “available” to your loved ones later on. If your county or city library branches are not up to par with good Wi-Fi and quiet areas, don’t be afraid to “blend in” at a local college library. I personally alternate between several local libraries with varying early morning to late evening hours that fit my family schedule.

Library Photo

The best libraries are spacious with quiet zones, multiple power sources, and strong Wi-Fi.

What tools, tips and resources will you use to manage the upcoming school year? Let me know what you think of Sliwinski’s productivity course or how you use Evernote to juggle responsibilities.