Everyone Hates Your Out-of-Office Reply

It’s the end of summer, which means our inboxes are filled with the out-of-office replies from all those lucky folks on vacation while we’re still stuck at work. In the face of this, New York Magazine has listed the worst offenders of the vacation-reply list:

1. The Location-Brag
: An auto-responder that says, “I’m sunning myself on a pristine beach in Santorini and will have limited access to e-mail until Tuesday” might be an accurate reflection of your travel plans. It’s also going to make you look like an asshole.

2. The Seniority Show-off
: On a similar note, please do not conclude your away message by reminding others of the power you wield at work. (“If you need immediate assistance, please contact my executive assistant at kathleen@megacompany.com, or my associate executive assistant at tabitha@megacompany.com, or my executive assistant’s executive assistant at meredith@megacompany.com.”) We get it — you’re rich.

3. The Overly Complicated Reply Process
: If your auto-responder includes more than two ways to get in touch with you in an emergency, you’re doing it wrong. By the time you get to “If your message is urgent, contact me through awayfind.com/joeschmoe, then text ’50445′ to my Google Voice number, then shoot an e-mail to vacationjoe@gmail.com,” we’ve already given up. This is an out-of-office message, not a last will and testament.

 Read the rest over at their article, “The 7 Kinds of E-mail Vacation Auto-Responders Everyone Hates.”

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Are You in Motion or Are You Taking Action?

Motion designed by Nick Abrams from the Noun Project.

Motion designed by Nick Abrams from the Noun Project.

When dealing with clients and working with teams, it’s not uncommon to hear the phrase “get the ball rolling” when describing project progress. But are the phone calls, emails and scheduling of meetings actually considered work? A costly mistake for many is confusing the idea of being in motion with simply taking action. Our real job, the action, should be to produce the actual deliverable. While motion and action might sound similar, they’re not the same. In a recent blog post, entrepreneur and travel photographer James Clear distinguished the two as follows:

Motion is when you’re busy doing something, but that task will never produce an outcome by itself. Action, on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will get you a result.

There are many strategies for taking action, but two that have worked for Clear are:

1. Set a schedule for your actions.
2. Pick a date to shift you from motion to action.

Being in motion is not only an inevitable part of getting things done, it’s integral. But we can’t get lost in it. Clear offers a simple way to refocus by asking: “Are you doing something? Or are you just preparing to do it? Are you in motion? Or are you taking action?” Don’t get caught up measuring progress by steps you’ve completed. In the words of ten-time NCAA National Championship winning coach John Wooden, “Never mistake activity for achievement.” Instead, be relentlessly focused on the end-goal. Motion will never produce a final result. Action will. Read the rest of Clear’s blog on motion vs. action here.

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The Difference Between Projects and Processes

Designed by Kevin Laity for the Noun Project

Designed by Kevin Laity for the Noun Project

Starting a new project is an exciting experience that often requires new ways of thinking. However, when faced with multiple competing deadlines, we can be quick to treat a project like a process for the sake of efficiency. This could prove to be detrimental not only to the new project, but to existing processes and worse – to the overall growth of an enterprise. In Startup Leadership, author and professor Derek Lidow shares the dangers of confusing projects with processes:

Confusion between projects and process stifles growth and destroys value, causing a great frustration among many entrepreneurs…Whether their mission is to make money or to create social good, everything an enterprise creates is the largely the result of its projects and processes. 

Lidow summarizes the major differences between projects and processes and some important ways that they relate to one another: 

Projects

Processes

Have never done this before.

Do the same thing repeatively.

Goals are about creating something new or about implementing a change.

Goal is to create value by repeatively performing a task.

Project objectives and plans can be changed by whoever gives the project team its mandate and resources, provided the team also agrees.

Processes can be successfully changed only with significant planning and investment (a project is required to change a process).

Significant leadership is required to plan and execute a successful project.

Processes are managed, not led, unless they are to be changed.

Projects create change.

Processes resist change.

Projects and processes are completely different and Derek Lidow stresses that understanding their differences – and how they interrelate – is crucial to growth. In order to grow an enterprise properly, projects and processes must be used in balance.

Learn why Derek Lidow thinks real innovation comes from projects, in his Wall Street Journal article.

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How to Turn Creativity Into a Habit

lightningbolt

Lightning designed by Adam Whitcroft from the Noun Project

Creativity seems like a bolt of lightning that strikes almost completely at random. However, psychologist Robert Sternberg believes that’s not entirely true. On Fast Company, Sternberg explains that creativity can be made into a habit:

There are three basic factors that help turn creative thinking into a habit: opportunities to engage in it, encouragement to go after such opportunities, and rewards for doing so.

At a pragmatic level, this might mean finding a community of people who support and encourage your creative work….There is more, of course, to cultivating a habit of creativity than finding a community….Look for ways to see problems that other people don’t. Take risks that other people are afraid to take. Have the courage to defy the crowd and to stand up. Seek to overcome obstacles and challenges.

All it takes is a willingness to pursue creativity and, of course, the right environment to let it thrive. It’s all about persistence for many of us, he says. Read the full write-up on how to make creativity your new habit on Fast Company.

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When to Quit Your Job

HiRes

When’s the right time to quit a job if it leaves you feeling hopeless, exhausted, or like you’re wasting your time? How do you separate a day-to-day struggle from a larger problem? According to Chris Coleman, there are three clear stages for when it’s a good time to quit. Coleman tells us not only the stages, but also provides questions to ask yourself to see which stage you’re in, over on the CreativeMornings blog:

The turnover rate in creative jobs is much higher than the national average. A lot of this has to do with the “I want it now” mentality. “I deserve it.” “All my friends work at Google.” The moral of the story? Don’t leave until you have done the job. Ask yourself:

[Ask yourself the] question: Is there anyone here who will tell me the truth when I ask for feedback?

  • Most bosses hate to give feedback. If you want to know how you’re doing, ask.
  • Don’t settle for mamby-pamby answers. You’re looking for specificity and a neutral, open conversation.
  • If there’s no one who will tell you the truth, go.

Knowing when it’s time to go and when it’s time to suck it up (because you likely still have a lot left to learn) can be hard. Coleman’s three stages — from competence to judgement and finally to influence — provide us with some nice stepping stones. Best of all: her numerous example questions can help you identify which stage you’re at (and whether you really should call it quits).

Get all of the stages and valuable questions to ask yourself on the CreativeMornings blog.

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The Importance of the Daily Check-In

Question Designed by Rémy Médard for the Noun Project

Question Designed by Rémy Médard for the Noun Project

On LinkedIn, entrepreneur Joris Toonders shares why taking 15 minutes a day to ask yourself these four questions — two first thing in the morning and two just before bed at night — is exactly what we need to improve ourselves. Here are the first two:

1. What are my goals today?

Most people have goals in the long term, but don’t translate them to the short term. If you want to grow your business by 20 percent in the coming year, what are you doing today to reach that long term goal? Are you really doing the right things today to reach those goals?

2. What are my challenges today?

Successful people set themselves challenges every day. It’s a way of living. You have to challenge yourself every day, to get the most out of you and become better, faster and smarter…

Try it yourself by setting an alert on your phone or computer to remember to answer the two questions in the morning and the two at night. You’ll undoubtedly find yourself thinking a lot more diligently about how you spend your time (and feeling better about the work you do) as a result.

Read all of the thinking behind Toonders insight (and get all four daily questions you need to ask) right here.

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How to Set Goals Like Google

What’s the best way to set goals? Google Ventures Partner Rick Klau says the best goals center aroundh Objectives and Key Results (or OKRs). Over on the Google Ventures blog, Klau explains the pillars for exactly how to set worthwhile goals using OKRs:

• Objectives are ambitious, and should feel somewhat uncomfortable
• Key Results are measurable; they should be easy to grade with a number (at Google we use a 0 – 1.0 scale to grade each key result at the end of a quarter)
• OKRs are public; everyone in the company should be able to see what everyone else is working on (and how they did in the past)
• The “sweet spot” for an OKR grade is .6 – .7; if someone consistently gets 1.0, their OKRs aren’t ambitious enough.

Watch Klau’s presentation in the video below to see how Google came to use OKRs and why they’ve proven to be more powerful than simply setting an average, to-get-done goal. Or read Klau’s story of how he first learned about OKRs on Google Ventures.

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