Archive for the ‘stanford’ Category

think about office housekeeping for everyone’s sake

Friday, March 6th, 2015

iStock-Unfinished-Business-10If you follow any business publications, recently you’ve seen articles related to office housekeeping, brought to the forefront by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. I appreciate how their opinion piece in The New York Times brought this important issue about how women and men take on office housekeeping in different ways, with the burden often falling to the women. That said, many of the spin off pieces focus more on complaining about the situation or go into how housekeeping already falls disproportionately towards women at home, turning into a rant.

For me, thinking about office housework affects everyone on the job. At Stanford, the majority of faculty are men and the majority of women are staff (with the exception of top leadership, which is predominantly male). That means that in my role, gender is not always played out in the same way, yet the principle of particularly people burdened by housework clearly exists.

What is office housework? I’d describe it as tasks that must get done for the workplace to function and have a healthy environment. Typically, these things are not fun, interesting, challenging and most importantly, they don’t lead to promotions or organizationally visibility. On top  of your regularly scheduled programming, they can contribute to emotional exhaustion as well as increase your workload. I’ll share a quick list of examples:

  • training and onboarding new hires
  • cleaning the fridge or kitchen
  • mentoring others
  • reviewing colleagues materials or providing feedback
  • taking notes and minutes at meetings (as well as white boarding)
  • planning office parties
  • ordering food for meetings
  • committee work
  • scheduling
  • organizing department retreats

Now some of these responsibilities might actually fall into your job description, particularly if you play an administrative role on staff. Also, certain people in the office actually enjoy doing these things. Yet, once you’re known as someone who loves to show appreciation by planning parties, or perhaps you have excellent handwriting to take notes, or supposed you’re a pro at planning off-site retreats – you may find yourself stuck there. No one else volunteers, you over-volunteer at the expense of other valuable work you could be doing or your co-workers intentionally or unintentionally take advantage of your happy disposition to keep up the good work.

Both individual contributors and managers should examine how office housekeeping plays out in your department and organization. Keeping an eye on these responsibilities helps even out the playing field between your staff and you should track particular repetitive tasks to make sure they are equitably distributed. I’ll offer some strategies to consider to balance the office housekeeping:

  1.  Prioritize your own needs over that of the organization. This seems like a selfish way to start my list, yet owning your career requires a constant balance between you and your work. I’m not suggesting that you don’t offer up your time to take on office housekeeping – I possess the perspective that everyone should pitch in. That said, you can take on some tasks when you have a lesser workload, feel fulfilling or offer you a strategic angle. I’m guilty of taking on several extracurricular committees and serving on interview panels. Yet, I’m deliberate about these commitments, only taking on committees that offer personal value. When I sign up to help interview, it’s only for positions where I offer a unique perspective or plan to work with that person a lot.
  2. Rotate responsibilities! For regular mundane tasks like notes, planning parties, retreats, ordering food, etc. If they aren’t in someone’s job description, taking on a process to rotate duties easily shares the burden. At the Alumni Association, I’ve seen departments do this in an effective way, whether it’s our executive cabinet with note rotation or Travel/Study in how planning their annual retreat gets assigned to the newbies with a seasoned staff member guiding them on a rotation. If you want to ask for volunteers to find out who’s interested in planning something, have them email you instead of raising their hand in a meeting so that you can see all of the hands raised and ensure the same person isn’t taking on the same task over and over again.
  3. Say no, nicely or strategically. You can say no more than you think. Sometimes it’s easy enough as directly turning down an offer to help and other times, you could offer up a process suggestion (like rotating) or suggest another person for the job. At times, this could be interpreted as passing the buck, and at other times, you might be offering an opportunity for another person to gain exposure in a new area (particularly for things like committees, mentoring and interviewing)
  4. Make the housework glamorous. You can’t do this for everything – making coffee is making coffee. Yet, if you’re stuck taking notes or white boarding, you have the unique role of positioning the message and offering strategic next steps. With a retreat, you can turn something regular into a game-changing experience for team or focus on an area important to your work. With training or mentoring colleagues, you can gain allies and build influence across the organization.
  5. Track what’s happening. I mentioned this above and I’ll say it again for emphasis. Managers and individual contributors need to look at what’s happening and if you see patterns that bother you, bring them up. As a mid-level manager, I get asked to contribute in many, many ways, and if I didn’t keep an eye on my commitments, I can easily find myself in trouble. As a manager of staff, I have an amazing team that steps up a lot. When I see them offering too much time or a perspective that might not demonstrate their expertise or skills, I’m quick to bring this up in our 1-on-1 meetings. It’s important to acknowledge the kind of professional behaviors that help us either gain respect or move up in the organization – for women, and for everyone.

Read more on office housekeeping from these sources:

getting to 45

Friday, February 7th, 2014

45did you miss me, readers? it’s been a few months and the main reason for that is that my area of alumni education has become a priority in our organization, which has the gift of more work. it’s been difficult to do these things that give me energy like blogging, and in the new year i’ve been more focused on trying to get myself to yoga and zumba.

so i just turned 35 last month and when i’m talking about getting to 45, i’m referencing my ideal number of work hours a week, not my age. this fits into the 2014 resolution of working less (quantity, not quality!) i’d like to practice what i preach on work-life balance more and have more time to grow myself outside of work – do more crafts and find time for creativity. so how am i going to accomplish this feat? i think if i put some standards out on the world wide web here, it will make me more accountable.

stop myself before i say yes to everything. whenever there’s a new initiative or project, i almost cannot stop myself from raising my hand. i love to say yes! i’m getting better for a couple of reasons – one to allow other people to step up and gain new experiences and also to give myself a break. for example, i was asked to head up a brown bag series for a group of departments and knowing that it would involve less of my time if i had free reign on topics and took it on my own, i set those terms from the beginning. also, i reluctantly stepped down from our fun force to take on this new responsibility.

plan out vacations far ahead of time. last year, i still planned vacations, but they mostly happened around work trips and organized in a stressful manner at the last minute because i felt like i needed them. we also stayed pretty close by. in 2014, i started the year with a calendar highlighting off-limits dates because of work travel and i’ve proactively put some stakes in the ground (yosemite, pinnacles, grand canyon and new zealand!) having something to look forward to and knowing i’ve carved out this time for myself and my family already makes me happier at work each day.

speak up when projects feel under-resourced. working on this new organizational priority, i’m speaking up a lot when i’m feeling overwhelmed or if i can see the road ahead looks bleak with staffing. it’s just the beginning of the project, and i hope that raising my concerns early on will help relieve late work nights down the road. i’m currently hiring right now, which is a great sign for our team to expand with the work.

make it to evening exercise classes. i feel most productive in the afternoon, which makes exercise tricky. my position requires too many midday meetings for me to exercise at lunch time and so that leaves the evening. having a 6:05, 5:40 and 5:00 class three nights a week can sometimes be challenging to make, yet i’m committed to at least making two per week. i did not take yoga last quarter and my body clearly missed out on the quality of breath and relaxation that guided yoga provides. the physical and mental release helps me come to work the next morning a whole person. thanks to stanford VPN finally working well with linux, i can at least access shared folders.

make sure i preserve the time and well-being of my own staff. as a manager and mentor to others, i must practice what i preach. it’s important that i can protect my own staff from unreasonable demands to keep job happiness factor as high as possible. employees should approach their supervisors when work feels out of control, and it’s just as important for managers to pay attention to these kinds of things.

when it comes down to it, work is work and we have lives outside of our cubes. the work i do at stanford feels incredibly fulfilling to me, yet it is not all i am. who wouldn’t feel amazing putting together amazing experiences such as stanford+connects? in 2014, i’m committing to topping out my work hours at 45 per week when possible and i hope you keep me to it!

on likeability and having a yes attitude

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Regular readers of my blog might be surprised to see the word yes, since in a past post, I focused on saying no. It’s a reminder that there’s always a time and a place for everything! I came across two of these articles by Guy Kawasaki in the same week, so I knew it meant that I needed to cover the topic.

First, he focused on how to achieve likeability – mostly on accepting others and smiling. He starts with an Oscar Wilde quote, “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.” 

I met one of these happiness causers during my Stanford interview more than 8 years ago and we remain good friends to this day. If you work at Stanford, you might know who I’m talking about – NaSun Cho. When I first moved to California, I didn’t know many people. NaSun is known for taking new people under her wing and making introductions and connections to everyone she comes across. She embodies this idea of accepting others, always bringing out the best in people and finding commonalities. I’m glad we’ve remained close, as she’s a constant reminder of how that positive energy feels infectious.

I like to think of this idea as expecting the best from people. If a colleague misses a deadline, doesn’t return a phone call, doesn’t understand what you’re requesting from him/her…the best response is always to expect the best from your team. That moment where you choose how to respond to a misstep is very important in building relationships. We all have bad days and each of us makes a choice on how to respond in various situations, let’s make the choice to be positive.

Smiling is a no-brainer for me. I’m lucky because I tend to smile a lot when I’m nervous, uncertain, etc – it basically covers my bases!

In my organization, the yes attitude certainly means you’re more liked and perceived as someone willing to partner on new ideas and it signals you’re a team player. We’re a matrix organization and it’s easy to put up walls or act defensively as a default during times when you’re short on resources or the scope of an idea feels overwhelming.

I wouldn’t call myself a yes lady, but I strive to embody the idea of “yes, tell me more.” Of course, I can be cautious in the beginning, but when it comes to action, I try to maintain a positive attitude and not say no from the beginning. If you keep saying no, people will stop coming to you with ideas.

In his LinkedIn post on a Yes Attitude, Guy Kawasaki notes that, “A “yes” buys time, enables you to see more options, and builds rapport….By contrast, a “no” response stops everything. There’s no place to go, nothing to build on, and no further options. You never know what may come of a relationship, and you will never know if you don’t let it begin.”

So let’s all try to say “yes” more often this week.

consider a meeting checklist

Saturday, July 27th, 2013

I recently finished The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, which focuses on creating and implementing medical checklists for surgical procedures to increase success rates. It’s interesting timing since this week I attended a training on Leading Effective Meetings, essentially based around a checklist.

Although not life-saving, the meeting checklist is certainly time-saving – for yourself, your colleagues, and the organization as a whole. Here it is in full:

BEFORE

  • Do I really need to call a meeting?
  • Am I clear on the purpose of the meeting?
  • Have I thought through who needs to be there?
  • Have I considered the best time, place and other logistics?
  • Do I have a clear agenda?
  • Have I sent out effective meeting notifications?
  • Have I planned how I will lead the meeting step-by-step?
  • Have I planned how I will manage meeting “derailers?”

DURING

  • Am I following my step-by-step meeting plan?
  • Am I managing “derailers” to keep the meeting on track and on-time?
  •  Are decisions, action items and open issues being documented?

AFTER

  • Have minutes been distributed?
  • Have I followed up on my own commitments to meeting members?

Now that you have a snapshot of the meeting checklist, I’ll comment on a few relevant to my experience at Stanford. In the training, our facilitator stated that the average worker is in meetings 5.5 hours per week, so poorly run meetings can be a huge wasted expense for companies in terms of salary. I’ve time tracked an average work week for myself and I can be in meetings between 10-20 hours, depending on the time of year. I know you are now wondering how I get anything done, but let’s move onto some tips…

Thinking about the purpose of your meeting is so important.

It’s easy to be complacent and continue to attend standing meetings without wondering if they are still effective or why they exist. When I get invited to random meetings and I’m not sure why I’m there, I don’t hesitate to go back to the meeting organizer to find out the purpose. As an aside, how much time do you actually need for it? I have a regular meeting for reunions I attend, and I find we expand to fill the time allotted. Sometimes our 30 minute meetings feel much more focused and useful.

Who need to be there?

Have you ever attended a meeting and the clear decision maker is late or not present? It’s such a frustrating experience because the group can go nowhere without basic information from this key person…and it essentially leads to another meeting. It’s important to make sure that key stakeholders/decision makers are present for particular meetings. And if you have someone in the room just as an FYI, let him/her know it’s optional. I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t want an hour back.

Did you plan the meeting?

If I’m running a meeting, you had better believe that I put 10-45 minutes into planning that time wisely. A one-hour meeting with 6 people is 6 hours of organizational time. It’s worth the investment to consider your goals and it’s respectful to your colleagues’ time. It’s obvious to most people in the room when the meeting organizer hasn’t brought an agenda or clear outcomes to the table, and also frustrating.

Meeting Minutes

My two cents on minutes is that they are essential for project meetings and not in a long form. Honestly, if someone sends you two pages of notes, are you going to read them? And…if it’s an attachment and not in the body of the e-mail, forget about it – that’s an extra click! The best kinds of minutes come out within 48 hours and just include bulleted lists of decisions, topics discussed (overall) and action items with the assigned person. They shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes to type up, and brevity increased the chances that your meeting attendees will actually read them.

Follow up

After a meeting takes place, when I see co-workers actually follow up on their action items, that separates the wheat from the chaff in the workplace. It shouldn’t be impressive since that’s our job, but nowadays with overflowing work plates, getting deliverables to colleagues before a deadline can be a rarity. I usually have a side column on my agenda with my to dos. Some of those are from the meeting and others are just items that pop into my head when I’m in the room. At the end of the day, I make sure to tackle those items, add it to my calendar to block out time to work on it or write it down on my primary task list so it doesn’t fall off my radar.

Final thoughts

I talk a lot about meetings (since I’m in them all of the time!) It’s not that I don’t like them. I actually think they can be highly productive and brainstorming meetings are especially fun. I do get frustrated when lack of planning or purpose wastes the time and talents of people in the room. It’s great practice to scan over this checklist – especially when running large meetings – so we can all grow to love them a little bit more.

Are you a really amazing employee?

Friday, March 8th, 2013

I don’t think everyone should be amazing, since we all come to work each day with different perspectives about what that 40 or more hours means to each of us. That said, a recent post in Inc. on the 10 Things Really Amazing Employees Do got me thinking about the subject.  I like their list and there are 4 standouts for me that I try to exhibit:

  • Enthusiastically Learn All Aspects of Business
  • Demonstrate High Standards, With Low Maintenance
  • Grow Themselves, and Others
  • Stimulate Happiness

Learn it All. When you show up to work, putting in the time is a given, and striving to learn more about the current context and future direction of your industry is very important. For my job in particular, this means staying attuned to what’s happening at Stanford across the board from the student experience, major sports, university priorities and understanding my primary audience, faculty and their world. I regularly read university publications, look for Stanford in the news beyond, pore through every set of Faculty Senate notes and stay current with the makeup of the student and faculty bodies. Beyond Stanford, checking in with colleagues at other Ivy Plus institutions and keeping tabs on the latest in content and online learning is incredibly important. Knowing this background helps inform my work and honestly, it keeps me energized and full of purpose.

High Standards, Low Maintenance. I have incredibly high standards and find myself having to dial it back and pick and choose my battles. In managing staff, it’s very important to hope for the best and motivate others to maintain a similarly high level of excellence so you don’t have to micromanage their efforts. Despite the high standards, the low maintenance part is key. How many times have you been a part of a project where you aren’t the most senior person related to the decision – you do a huge amount of work and it can be derailed when it’s brought to decision makers? For those with certain expectations, especially leaders and decision makers, it’s paramount to articulate must haves from the get go so that others can be on the same page, or build in check-ins before others have gone down the wrong path.

Grow! It’s an expectation in management-level positions to grow others around you, but I’ve found it’s one of my favorite things about work. This doesn’t even have to be a formal mentor relationship, but taking the time to get advice from senior-level staff or peers can be invaluable. Asking for feedback in tough situations can only help your job to better, and let’s face it, people love to be asked for these kinds of things. Don’t devalue the impact of little things, like providing feedback to peers, or just being a listening ear when a colleague needs to vent or work through a difficult situation. Regular readers know from my blog that I am a voracious consumer of all things learning. The more professional and personal development you can do from productivity to technical skills to exercise/nutrition will all make you a better and happier person.

Exude Happiness. We work more than we sleep, more than we spend time with our loved ones…more than anything. In some ways, that means that work is life. I don’t say this in a negative way at all, but when you do the math around your day and factor in your commute, it’s a lot of time. You are valuable and you should enjoy what you do and why you’re doing it. If not, find something else. We all have some level of agency in choosing our careers, so find something you love and show up with a smile and ready to connect with colleagues and tackle projects. This isn’t only important for really amazing employees, but for everyone.

A Lesson from Improv: Accept All Offers

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

I haven’t been taking my own advice of breaking seemingly big things into smaller pieces. In the last month, I’ve gone to several influential trainings and talks ready to be blogged about. I had this lofty idea to combine them into one post, but I think that feat seemed so big I’ve never gotten around to it, so today I’ll just review one of the them.

In May, I went to a workshop by Dan Klein at Stanford entitled, Improvisation: Collaborative Creativity and the Art of Making Stuff Up. The experience was a bit of a game changer for me in that it’s shifted the ways I’m approaching my every day life. He reviewed some basic improv principles.

Our first exercises caused us to think about how often we say “no” or “yes, but,” which turns out to be a no in reality. This thinking made me reflect upon how many times I’ve heard “yes, but” in the workplace, especially right after someone brings up an issue or idea. We practiced some exercises where our job was not to be inspired, but to inspire our partner through building sentences. The message really resonated with me on being an active follower.

Around coming up with ideas and tackling problems, Dan had many catch phrases and words of wisdom including:

  • imagination is as easy as perception
  • raise the stakes. allow it to be important
  • don’t fight against the cat (when you’re trying not to think about something in particular and it’s all you can think about)
  • every exercise is a good excuse for a debrief
  • be average, be obvious
  • how do you signal status in your interactions

When he noted that this is where you end up:

Yes = adventure

No = safety

It makes the choice pretty clear that Yes is the way to go. It doesn’t mean you are always committing to the idea, but that you’re open to dialogue and newness. One of my favorite exercises we did was one designed for a group to constantly make mistakes when you’re ‘on stage.’ The idea was for us to go through messing up over and over again, failing cheerfully, and taking a bow. It was pretty fun to go through the motions and actually raise your voice with a “ta da!” for my actions. Improvisers love mistakes and think about how they can use them to their advantage. Of course, this also has implications for our daily work life.

Most impactful for me about the workshop was saying yes more often and accepting all offers from the world. When something falls into your lap personally or professionally, why not give it a chance and see what happens? Opening doors can only show you the possibilities life has to offer you. I challenge you all to think about accepting offers that come your way.

If you prefer a video recap of improv, watch Jane Lynch’s commencement address to Smith College.

Setting Intentions for a Better Day

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

Yesterday, I attended a BeWell class at Stanford on Emotional Intelligence by Dr. Fred Luskin. He’s famous for work on forgiveness and the science of happiness. If you like his work and want to dialogue about it, he’s taking questions over Twitter this week through the School of Medicine. The class was not what I expected, but instead the takeaway centered on having a better day and having more emotional control over your day.

We had to ask ourselves a good question – basically, “What would you have to experience in your afternoon to feel you had a successful day?” For me, it was finishing two top priority tasks. Fred also suggested it could be a more general item such as the following:

  • focusing on the good stuff
  • getting along with your co-workers
  • really listening actively to people in meetings
  • being a good team member
  • not getting angry about things
This exercise leads into the idea that we are happen and feel successful when our intention (or goal, choose the word that resonates with you), corresponds to your day. I totally buy this. I might have 20 things on my plate, but if I get 3 important things done that I know had to happen, I can still leave work at a reasonable hour and feeling good about the work I accomplished.

This simple concept ties into some prioritization work I’ve done on the job, where you look at a project and consider what’s a must have, a should have and a nice to have. At the end of the project, as long as the must haves are done, the overall feeling is of success.

The important work that we must do on the job is actually set that intention every day and follow through. I do this in a way by having my MS Outlook open in my calendar as opposed to my e-mail. This way, I start by seeing what’s ahead for the next 8 hours. Then, I take the time to write down 3 – 5 things I want to complete on my paper calendar and see what I can do. It doesn’t always happen, but I know what success means.

I like the idea of taking some days to focus on other more behavioral concepts to equal success for me.

Fred Luskin taught us that exercising self control and cultivating positivism are the cornerstones of emotional intelligence. He also stated appreciating what you have and reducing how much you complain goes a long way to making your day.

One of my favorite exercises we did was to imagine someone who makes us happy “in loving technicolor.” Even that expression was enough to make me smile!

renewing your energy and taking breaks

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011


since it looks like i’ve been on hiatus with this blog, my returning post is back to taking care of yourself – clearly something i’ve been avoiding. october is Reunion Homecoming at Stanford, which means about 9,000 alums return to campus and our staff is behind the scenes, making sure everything’s in order. with two new staff in our department, this also meant a lot of training and onboarding.

of course, i did what stress does to the body – anything to keep moving forward. not working smart. i dropped off of my exercise classes, worked late, got sick and then worked weekends. yuck. so i’m back to taking my own advice and incorporating all the things that help me balance my life and work. it’s my readjustment period, and it doesn’t mean i’m not as busy. in fact, the following weekend, we had another event in los angeles, but i still went to all 3 classes and took a vacation day the following week to give me that recovery time i needed. now i feel fresh and back to work with energy.

before all of this happened, i took a very relevant wellness class through stanford called Practical Ways To Do Great Work & Have a Life, too! by Dr. Linda Clever. she also wrote the fatigue prescription, which i believe contains many of these ideas. it’s hands down the best class i’ve taken on the subject. a couple of things really stood out as takeaways:

  • what does it for me every time? this is such a great concept to consider. when work and life feel out of control, what makes you smile, feel content, grounds you? do it! just making a list of these things felt powerful.
  • consider your own aspirations when making decisions. are you living a life that reflects your values? if not, do something about it – change your job or an aspect of it.
  • what can you stop doing that isn’t serving you well? complaining is a big thing that stood out to me. it doesn’t make you feel better and drags people around you down even more.
  • take time each week to refresh either your body or spirit. we spend so much time maintaining our cars with gas, water, air in tires. how come we don’t do this for ourselves as much? we need this time.
my biggest takeaway from the class was even better. although i do have some crazy busy times at work, when i take the time to reflect what i’m doing each day, i love the work i’m doing. i enjoy my co-workers and feel like i’m contributing to the mission of the alumni association. i’m doing smart work that energizes me. in a nutshell, i’m happy and living my life according to my values.  if that’s not an amazing takeaway from a 90 minute class, i don’t know what is!

working smart is also working healthy

Friday, July 8th, 2011

it’s summer time! this used to be my down time at work (3 years ago maybe?), but for some reason, the work has piled up. that aside, right after commencement ends, i take some time to seek out potential professional development opportunities and sign up for classes. as soon as that’s out of the way, i look at the personal development side.

starting last year, i started taking a different approach to thinking about training. it’s not just about skill development, but it’s also about making yourself a better worker, co-worker and leader – we can only do that if we’re operating like well-functioning, healthy human beings. i take a deep breath, think about my stress level and my health.

stay healthy!

according to consumerist, they agree that yes, your job is making you fat. so exercise is definitely a part of the equation. i’m pretty good about attending a weekly yoga class, and i just added zumba to my weekly routine to keep my spirits high. are you keeping your blood pressure down with some regular cardio?

it’s also no joke that in an office we are constantly sitting. it’s not great for our bodies. although i’m in so many meetings that i don’t sit for hours at a time, i still think about how to incorporate movement into my routine.

  • i ride my bike to work.
  • i recently purchased a stability ball to interchange with my desk chair obsessionally – why not get some core work in?
  • instead of sending an e-mail, why not throw in a face-to-face meeting and walk over to chat with a co-worker? if dropping by is not so kosher, just schedule a 15 minute meeting? this still gets you out of your seat
  • check out this health@google talk by kelly starrett entitled, deskbound: a love letter to your body. it’s an hour, but is chock full of good tips to think about all the sitting we do. i know i have my 20% engaged!
  • protect your time. i constantly get scheduled into lunch meetings and i’m met with the excuse that it’s the only available time for the group to meet. stand up for that personal time and don’t skip exercise classes that keep you sane.
  • don’t allow eating at your desk to be a regular practice. lunching with a friend or getting out to read in the sun for some time mid-day cannot be underestimated in vastly improving your day.

there’s some other things that i don’t regularly do, but i think they are excellent ideas:

  • schedule a walking meeting. why not? lunch meetings can also be productive.
  • take a couple moments out each day to do some deep breathing for 5 minutes – it works!
  • wisebread has a great post on finding your best work hours. we all know there are times when we feel incredibly productive – why not plan our days around them?
  • skip out on office snacks that give you a sugar high and leave you feeling the blahs
  • stop complaining and/or focusing on what’s wrong and instead appreciate what you have in your life – this is straight from fred luskin‘s talk on stress today that i took. we spent a couple minutes visualizing someone we appreciate. a bit like how my friend kristine tom always has us dedicate our yoga practice that day to someone we feel gratitude towards, it’s an immensely positive idea.
  • sign up for some health classes in the community, or if you’re at stanford, take advantage of the MANY healthy living classes available. even if the class isn’t amazing, it forces you to focus on yourself, which can only be good practice.

why are we so stressed at work?

the wall street journal calls the reason stretch jobs, and had a great article on ‘superjobs’: why you work more, enjoy it less. it’s a reality that with cutbacks, people at work are doing more for eliminated jobs. let’s face it that management might say the work gets reduced, but it’s not always the reality. they offer some great tips that i agree with:

  • cap your hours when you can. i used to bring quite a bit home on the weekends and decided that’s really my time. i’d rather stay late a couple nights during the week than give up my 2 days.
  • manage up. i’ve gradually taken some of this advice, as my cup runneth over. part of it has included me looking at my job and thinking of projects that i can cross-train another person on or get off of my plate. your manager only knows you’re overwhelmed if you share
  • utilize student workers/interns whenever you can. they are smart and can get a lot done.

the takeaway

don’t take it so seriously. continuous 50-60 (or more!) hour weeks will only lead others around you to expect the same continuous output. it’s most important you take care of yourself. why spent the majority of our lives in an office if you don’t enjoy it?

get your work environment under control and your state of mind/body in a good place so that when you’re in the office, you can be energized, productive, focused, challenged and most of all – happy!

here we go a-conferencing!

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Next week is our industry’s primary annual conference – the Ivy Plus Alumni Relations Conference. Cornell is hosting, and since I was snowed in last year while visiting, I’m looking forward to lovely weather and having more than two sets of clothes while there. In light of this upcoming visit, I wanted to post some suggestions about attending a conference – of course, some of these unique to being in a less-competitive industry like higher education.

99%, the think tank for Behance posted their 5 conference tips recently:

  • Separate the wisdom from the action.
  • Distill every talk down to one key takeaway.
  • Defy structure to mine the circumstantial.
  • Plan private gatherings with like-minded folks.
  • Process business cards for follow-up in real-time.

I think these are pretty good tips. Here’s a few best practices I like to follow, especially when there’s a group from your office all attending the same conference:

Prepare. Bring business cards, brush up on your numbers (for me, that means reminding myself about general statistics on our alumni population), and bring printed materials to share with others. If you have a successful program and you know others will be interested in learning more, bring some background material to have at your disposal.

Don’t skip out on any sessions. Work pays for conferences and it’s not a joyride. That sounds tough, but it’s true. You might have e-mails piling up or other work, but you need to put it aside and take advantage of all of the benefits of a good conference – great content, mingling with co-workers and networking with peers. Trying to squeeze in other work doesn’t allow you to get the most out of a conference.

Keep a running idea list for your organization. Conferences always give you some kind of notebook. I take notes during sessions, but I also keep a list on the back page of specific ideas I should consider for my own projects when I return. This puts all the ideas in one place and creates a set of action items or possibilities to think about relevant to your own work. If you have some involvement in organizing the conference in the future, it’s also a great place to list potential changes or additions to future meetings (maybe unique to my position, being in an events department).

Mingle with other people and spark up conversations. Professional conferences end up being a unique chance to bond with fellow co-workers. The challenge is in finding the right balance between sticking with your group and making sure to connect with others during your time there. I tend to gather with the Stanford folks at meal times (unless they are round tables around my professional area) and then sessions, sit next to people from other schools. If your organization has planned attendance thoughtfully, your organization should be spread out with not everyone attending the same session. Sometimes my best conference takeaways have been from lingering conversations after sessions or in the optional conference activities.

Write down all the conference followup with peers. How many times at a meeting have you said, “I’ll get back to you on that?” and how many times have you actually followed through? This happens a lot at conferences, so I keep a list of names and what I’m following up on a separate page of my notebook. Upon returning back to the Bay Area, I try to get to all of these follow-ups within a week. Your peers will appreciate it and you’ll be doing your best to keep the connection alive.

Speak up and share information. I’ve noticed co-workers in sessions sometimes withholding information and I don’t always understand that. Share and share alike is true, and the more knowledge you’re offering up, the more you’re likely to receive. In particular, if your industries are not competing, there’s nothing to lose.

Bring back wisdom to the office. The thing about conferences is that not everyone can attend. Usually 10-15% of our organization attend this Ivy Plus Alumni Relations Conference, and about half of these folks are regulars. Here’s a few things you can do to share:

  • Take time out of a staff meeting after you return to share some of your learnings, especially those relevant to your organization.
  • Connect your staff with other staff from institutions in similar roles
  • If there are LinkedIn groups, Facebook pages, listserves, etc – let your co-workers know so they can stay current as well.
  • Pass along readings, resources or other conference materials co-workers might find helpful.

Spreading the information will only make your organization as a whole better and stronger.