“If you want something done, give it to a busy person.”

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Benjamin Franklin is reported to have said, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.”  I like to joke that I pick up extra work because people throw it at me while I run past, and it sticks to me. I really like to get things done:  I make lists, I cross things off, and it feels great!  I think Crystal and I were drawn to each other because we love the feeling of accomplishment, and we thrive on turning big problems into tiny, solvable problems.  Our company slogan is “We Manage Your Projects,” but behind the scenes, we like to say that it’s “We Get Sh*t Done.”  We are productive and effective, and because we are energetic and we have a fabulous team, we’re always excited to learn more and do more.

People who get more done are organized.  They prioritize, they make tough calls, they delegate, they plan their routes, and they are effective.  You can give them something extra to do, then watch them recalculate their workload to adjust.  They also ask smart questions:  why, when, how, what’s more important?  And sometimes even “can it happen tomorrow?” because often that task will slot more perfectly into the next day’s schedule. Essentially, they make the most of their time.

Here are some tips to help you make the most of your time:

1. See the Big Picture.

Think about your biggest priorities, the things that have to happen no matter what, then list what else is coming up on the horizon that you want to be ready for.  Perhaps you have a work deadline at the end of the month, or a dinner party next weekend to pull together. Perhaps you have a series of client meetings to attend, a new skill to learn, or a series of small work assignments to tackle.  Maybe the kids need to be at a summer camp every morning this week, or you have a book club meeting in three weeks and you need to be ready.

2. Delegate.

People who are effective and achieve a lot know that they don’t need to do things singlehandedly.  They readily hand things over to people whom they trust who are happy to help out.  Do you have a teammate who can help prep your meetings or who is ready to take on additional tasks and responsibility?  Can you enlist your friends to help with the dinner party, or your parents to help with summer kid duties?  Part of delegating is taking the time to teach and trust: how do you explain the results you want and give up responsibility to others, so that you can feel good about giving the work away?  And how do you provide encouragement and effective feedback so that the results are better and more predictable each time?

3. Prioritize.

It’s key to know what has to get done, what should get done, and what can be left to another time or not done at all.  There is a helpful grid, created by Stephen Covey, that is used often in business situations, but it works anytime you want help identifying your must haves vs your nice to haves.  Essentially, the grid helps you divide tasks along two qualities, importance and urgency.  It looks like this:

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Tasks that are both urgent and important are obviously ones to focus on right away, but what about all of the other things pulling at your time?  Items that are important but not urgent are very much worth doing, and better still, they can be the key to long-term planning and to solving problems before they happen.  Urgent but not important tasks are often last-minute things that other people want from you, or items that might be well-suited to give to someone else.  Lastly, jobs that are neither urgent nor important (which are often the items on your to-do list that just never seem to get crossed off) are sometimes not worth doing at all – it can be scary, but taking a minute to remember why they’re on your list in the first place, and giving yourself permission to “dump” some of them, will feel great and free up your time for higher priorities.

4. Schedule.

The calendar (paper, online, or both) can be your friend.  An effective way to tackle a big project is to break it into smaller tasks, and then set aside time to accomplish each one.  For example, let’s say you have a deadline to deliver a report in two weeks.  If you calculate the time it will take to do your research, write up your notes, draft a report, review it (or have someone else read it), and complete a final version, you can schedule each of these pieces in order, with breathing time in between in case you need a break, or in case something goes sideways, so that you aren’t rushing to complete them all at the last minute.

5. Roll with it.

Life is unpredictable and priorities change, people need things, sh*t happens.  As Robert Burns said, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” and sometimes all a busy person can do is make the best of it.   The more you understand your priorities, the more you can schedule and delegate, the better prepared you will be to readjust as needed.  And don’t forget the power of a sense of humour, as well as the ability to apologize if you’ve missed something or messed something up;  no one gets everything right all of the time.

Lately the word “busy” has gotten some bad press. Most of us have worked alongside people who are continuously overwhelmed and unable to finish their own tasks or help others, because their to-do pile has overwhelmed them like a swarm of bees.  That’s not the kind of “busy” that Mr. Franklin is referring to, of course – that’s chaos.  Don’t give those folks something important to do – you may not see it done well, or even at all.  Plus they will look so ruffled and sad that you’ll probably just take it back in a week, dust it off, and do it yourself anyway.

Franklin is talking about the kind of busy person who effectively achieves their goals, thinks of new ideas, tries them out, and keeps what works.  The kind of person who inspires the phrase “how does she do it all??” Someone who completes their work, runs their errands, and still creates time for life/kids/reading/helping/cooking/happy hour.  Not all in the same day sometimes, and not without the occasional calamity, but you get the idea!

How can you start taking some easy steps towards being a busy person who gets things done?

 

Working While Away: How to Find a Work/Life Balance

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Ahhhhh…there is nothing like taking a nice holiday during the summer break! Sun and good quality family time, seeing a new city perhaps, or just getting away to the cottage…there’s nothing like it! At least that’s what I tell myself as we are planning and organizing our holidays.  But guess what? Something happens…the days leading up to our departure start getting shorter and panic starts to set in…and oh my god… I’m going away and I have SOOOO much to do before I go and what the heck am I going to do about the stuff that can’t get done before I leave?!!

After this panic comes a period of guilt. I really shouldn’t be going away.  There is just too much going on right now:  you become a work machine trying to plow through as much as you can and then…the day comes… it’s time to get on the plane, or into the car, and now all you can do is just hang on for dear life!

While away, you spend your days trying to get shoddy wifi from the hotel or at some local café.  You want to spend time with your loved ones but you feel the need to just “check your email one more time”.  The push and pull of being away on vacation while trying to stay on top of work is a constant battle.

So is there a better way? How can you successfully take a well-deserved vacation and  still feel on top of things? And is it possible to truly “turn off”? I was just away for 3 weeks in July, and while I certainly don’t have all the answers, and in truth really fumbled my way at times through the new world of co-managing a business while taking time off, I’ve come up with a few suggestions I hope you’ll find useful.

  1. Communicate in advance that you will be off. If people know ahead of time that you will be away, they are more likely to leave you alone while you’re gone. If you know the dates of your trip in advance, I strongly recommend sticking a note at the bottom of your email signature that tells people about your upcoming vacation.  Be sure to notify your staff/colleagues at the same time. Giving everyone lots of notice never hurts and is a great way to avoid your absence coming as a shock to those around you. In addition to this note on your email signature, making sure to mention your vacation plans in client conversations is also a good policy.  There is nothing more frustrating for a client than to call you on your last day with an issue, only to be told you’re leaving for 3 weeks and can’t help them.
  1. Determine who your point person is while you’re gone + communicate that to everyone. It’s important to have a reliable point person who will handle all queries while you’re away. Maybe it’s more than  one person, depending on the nature of the task.  Make sure your point people are well informed about what’s required of them while you’re away, as well as your expectations in terms of troubleshooting.  Be sure to let clients know who they can rely on while you’re away. At Project House we have a big board that lists all of our current client tasks – for our team, we prepared for my vacation by talking through everything on my list and asking me loads of questions so they knew what I was working on, what to prepare for, and who they could call on if they needed support.
  1. Set up your out of office + voicemail. This is very important to do, so don’t forget! The last thing you want is for clients to be emailing you for 3 weeks and getting no response…they will think you’ve flaked out! Set an out of office reply that’s clear about how long you will gone and who to contact in your absence. Same goes for your voicemail.
  1. Turn off. Studies show that taking a vacation is good for your soul, for your mind, and just for recharging in general. It’s really important to take some undisturbed time to let your mind rest from the chaos of daily life.  With technology as it is today – we are being constantly bombarded from all sides with emails and reminders – I think it’s especially important to take the time to completely shut off your phone and laptop and just “be.” We get so little uninterrupted time to spend with family & friends, and even just with ourselves, these days.  Turn it off if you can – even for just 3 days at a time.  Allow your mind to drift to things outside of your day-to-day work tasks…allow yourself the time to contemplate the bigger picture of business, career, life, the future.  If you’re anything like me, when your mind is racing all day long, you get too little opportunity for this kind of “brain freedom.”
  1. Set work hours. If you have to work while you’re away, try to be strict about the hours you work so you don’t end up getting a bunch of crappy half-in-half-out family time. This is a tough one, but I really think it has merit.  If you say to yourself and your family (declare it to all), that you will work every day from 7am to 9am or from 8pm to 10pm, or whatever works for you, then the rest of the day can be left for quality family or rest time.  If you are constantly on your phone or laptop throughout the day, everyone gets the short end of the stick.  By setting consistent hours each day, both your family and your office can plan around your schedule and count on you during those times.
  1. Expect the unexpected. Life is unpredictable…you can’t account for every scenario no matter how organized you are. Make sure that your staff know where you’re staying and how to get a hold of you in the event of a crisis. Also be sure that staff know that you should and can be contacted if a crisis does come up, and be sure to communicate your definition of a crisis…for some it’s “don’t call me unless blood is spilled” and for others it’s “we’ve run out of printer toner”…your comfort level will be individual to you, but regardless of where it lies, be sure that your expectations are clear.

I lost my phone on our most recent trip, on the flight to Europe on our layover in Frankfurt.  While I was super upset and flustered at first, I have to admit that, upon reflection, I think it was a blessing.  I truly enjoyed my vacation much more than I would have.  I wasn’t constantly worried about getting wifi or checking my email.  Not having a camera was unfortunate, but it allowed me to really unplug.  While I don’t recommend losing your phone (that was a costly mistake!) I do encourage you to be bold and even consider leaving your phone at home.  I had my laptop, which meant I could get email once we got somewhere and I had time to sit down and do some work, but otherwise, I was able to be 100% checked in with my family.

Balance means something different for everyone, but it is worth striving for.  Give some of these ideas a try on your next trip – and let me know how they work for you or if you have other suggestions!

Happy Duran Duran Appreciation Day!

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Client Spotlight: Strathcona Community Centre Association

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Earlier this year we had the great privilege and pleasure of working with the Strathcona Community Centre Association, and in partnership with them we worked on a number of HR projects, including the creation of an Employee Handbook.

The Strathcona Community Centre is situated in one of Vancouver’s oldest residential neighbourhoods, and has been serving the community for over 40 years.

The area is comprised of a rich, diverse socio-economic and multicultural population. The community is challenged with issues such as poverty, crime, addictions, homelessness, affordable housing, unemployment and gentrification. In the midst of this, the community centre delivers a multitude of programs and services for all ages.  The Centre provides a safe place where the community can meet, share thoughts, explore new and different avenues of recreation, socialize and become involved.

Everyone at the Strathcona Community Centre works tirelessly and cares intensely about their community and the people who come through their doors each day.  We were thrilled to get to know their organization and their services, and honoured to help them with their projects.   We met with the Recreation Supervisor and the HR committee regularly over several months to learn about their programs, their customers, and their organization.  This enabled us to help them organize some of their documents and processes, and clarify and articulate their policies into a fresh new Handbook.

A great Employee Handbook is more than just a collection of rules and policies.  It shouldn’t be a dusty binder full of antiquated documents; if done well, it can be a living document, either printed or available online, that helps your employees settle in and better understand the company and how things work.  It can describe your vision and principles, explain your programs, describe how you will handle difficult situations, provide information about what you expect and need from your staff, and provide answers to questions before anyone needs to ask.  It can be a great tool for onboarding new employees and for talking about what matters to you in a way that reflects the tone and culture of your organization.  Adding unique photographs of your team, environment, customers, or product can also be a nice finishing touch – this document can be as fun, as polished, or as serious as you want your company to be.

 

Need some help pulling together some useful, simple, and well-crafted policies into a fresh Handbook? Please reach out to us at projecthouse(dot)ca!

Happy BC Day!

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