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When you wear many hats

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In just about every job I’ve ever had, I’ve been considered a “Jill of All Trades." Perhaps it’s because I’m not great at saying no. Or maybe it’s that I missed my calling as a circus juggler. For whatever reason, handling tasks of varying nature has always sort of been my “thing."

It can be tough to find an appropriate position when your skillset can be best described as “pretty good at a bunch of things, but not necessarily an expert in any of them.” Luckily in an AMC setting there are always tasks that fall into the we-have-somebody-that-handles-this-but-that-person-is-really-busy category, and I’m always incredibly happy to handle those miscellaneous tasks because I’m just that person. The following are a few of the traits that lend to being a successful assistant:

1. Accessibility – I subscribe to all of the inter-office messaging technology, rarely have my phone (equipped with work email notifications) out of sight, and can’t stand when I have unopened mail in my boxes. Thus, I’m probably going to see your request rather quickly and do my best to either help you, or let you know I’m not able so that you can seek out another resource.

2. Communication – By default, I speak way more than is necessary. So if you’re waiting to hear from me on a project, well…you probably aren’t waiting to hear from me, actually. I’ve likely updated you about six times to let you know where I’m at and approximately when I’ll be done.

3. Flexibility – Some days I’m printing, prepping and mailing out hundreds of membership invoices. Some days I’m planning taco parties for a board meeting. Office supply runs on my way into the office? Totally fine. Again, “NO” isn’t at the top of my vocabulary list. I like to be flexible and helpful.

4. Resourcefulness – I’m notorious for taking the “long route” when driving. Not because I like to be in the car for long periods of time, but because I’ll do anything to avoid stop-and-go traffic. The same applies to my work style. If I know a solution is within reach, and a deadline isn’t approaching too rapidly, I’ll use all of the resources available to me, even if that means taking longer to find what I’m looking for. More often than not, I’ll learn something useful along the way. (To be fair I will sometimes also use the interoffice messaging to get a super quick answer – colleagues are always the best resources!)

5. Positivity – Of course I have my bad days, but by and large I’m a glass half-full gal. If my tasks seem unmanageable, it’s in my nature to not succumb to the pressure. Even if I have to seek additional resources, I know I can get it done. Sometimes a negative attitude is the single detail that prevents a project from a successful completion. When the pressure is applied, a positive attitude truly goes a long way.

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Best of downtown Madison, according to AMPED

best of Madison

There are plenty of perks to an office located at the tip of one of Madison’s most vibrant streets: lively entertainment (some professional, some, well…not), fantastic scenery, and more food and drink options that you could ever imagine. Mathematically speaking, Madison no longer holds the title for most restaurants per capita in the United States, but that doesn’t mean that we are lacking in that department by any means. And we’re incredibly fortunate that many of the most spectacular spots in town are conveniently located just steps away from our office doors.

While we love to entertain our AMPED clients and boards at various places, I thought I’d take a moment to find out what we, the people of AMPED, like best in the heart of this sweet city we call home.

FOOD CART – Good Food
Specializing in freshly made, low-carb, (mostly) gluten and grain-free salads, wraps, and soups, Good Food was the landslide winner in this category. You can expect to wait in line upwards of 15 minutes to simply place your lunch order, even on the coldest of Wisconsin winter days. But it seems like everyone can agree that it’s well worth the wait, as Good Food has been repeatedly voted best food cart, not only by AMPED, but by the entire city.

COFFEE – Starbucks at MLK & Main
Coffee plays a pretty significant role in our day-to-day lives at AMPED and some of us can be rather particular when it comes to our daily cup(s) of joe. Some of us exclusively drink it iced, all year long, while others opt for steaming hot or change it up based on the weather. Some like to patronize the local shops, while others go for the consistency (and rewards) offered by the chains. That said, even with another nearby Starbucks in the category, this location reigned supreme. Special shout out to barista Greg, who can even distinguish our Emilys.

QUICK LUNCH – Ian’s Pizza
Maybe it’s the delightful smell of pizza dough tantalizing your nostrils as you walk by each morning, or maybe it’s the laid-back attitude of each Ian’s employee making you feel at home as you walk in the door, but Ian’s has a way of reeling you in, no matter how many times you tell yourself you won’t eat at Ian’s again this week. The really cool thing about Ian’s, is that if you have any willpower at all, you totally don’t have to eat pizza. You can instead opt for one of their salads, or even build your own. Some might even say it’s better than the pizza. That some would not include me.

HAPPY HOUR – The Old Fashioned
It shall remain a mystery whether this was voted the favorite due to the iconic namesake drink, or the divine fried cheese curds (with Tiger sauce, please!), but if you visit the Old Fashioned and leave without sampling both, you’re doing yourself a great disservice.

AFTER WORK OUTING – Concerts On the Square
Affectionately nicknamed COTS, this event is the one that most AMPED employees can always seem to fit into their schedules – even those who work remotely! What’s not to love about a balmy, mid-summer Wednesday night on the Capitol lawn, wining and dining with colleagues (and their families!) you’re happy to call friends?


And because my AMPED colleagues unanimously felt that a category was missing, I had to add one more:

BEST DONUTS – IT’S A TIE!
A Madison staple since 1996, Greenbush Bakery still has what it takes to go neck-and-neck with new kid on the donut block, Dough Baby. It’s always a good day when someone brings Greenbush donuts to share but who can resist a walk to the girl-powered, coconut oil-fried, monthly rotating menu fierceness of Dough Baby?!

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Convo: An app to keep staff connected in and outside the office

convo

We live in an app-dependent world these days. Whether it’s Doodle to help determine a meeting time, Evernote to help us remember what might otherwise be a fleeting thought, or Google Drive to give us instant access to our most important documents, we’re relying on apps more and more these days. On our desktops and mobile devices alike.

Apps help us stay organized, stay on task, and perhaps, most importantly, stay connected. While many social media platforms can provide a great distraction if used during the work day, there are other apps that help keep you connected to those who are most important during the workday…your coworkers! As someone who works remotely part of the time, I rely heavily on Convo to keep me in the loop about what’s happening back in the office while I’m away.

From important office-related news like phones being down for maintenance, to non-work, but equally important news like treats in the break-room, Convo provides a platform for relaying messages that make everyone feel they are in the office (minus the fact that they may be missing out on those treats if they’re working remotely, of course).

With a main page feed, similar to Facebook, Convo posts are public by default and may be seen by the entire staff. You can tag specific people to ensure they don’t miss your post, or make it only visible to specific people if it’s not necessary to include the whole team.

Additionally, you can create private, client-specific groups, adding only select people. The different groups are easily navigable on the Convo interface.

Convo chat allows you to communicate one-on-one with a coworker you might be assisting, or group chat if you need to have a conversation with a smaller team of coworkers.

Convo can be integrated with your company Facebook, Twitter, etc. so that all posts make it to each individual platform in real time.

Accessible on desktop and mobile, Convo doesn’t clutter up your email, keeps you connected, and can facilitate camaraderie, even with remote employees.

What apps is your association or AMC using to keep the whole team connected when, physically, they are not?

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Tips for avoiding the office illness

Hopefully this is just a little refresher course, but in case you're not sure how to best prevent falling victim to whatever's "going around," read on!

im sick

Don't share. As much as your coworkers might feel like family, it's probably best to keep the food sharing to a minimum during cold and flu season. As an alternative, you can offer individually-packaged serving sizes or a sanitary way to dole out the goods.

Sanitize. Sharing an office means sharing supplies, appliances, restrooms, common areas, etc. Do your part to keep these spaces clean by using antibacterial wipes or sprays after each use when you're sick, and otherwise daily to keep germs at bay. There are so many options on the market these days, including natural, plant-based products that promote overall wellness without the use of harsh chemicals.

Alternate meeting methods. If you're scheduled for a one-on-one with a coworker but you're ill, opt for a conference call to avoid sharing too many germs.

Vitamin C. While studies don't show significant evidence that Vitamin C actually prevents colds, it is said to help cold symptoms disappear more quickly. Rather than chugging sugar-laden orange juice once you're already sick (not-so-fun fact: the bacteria that makes us sick thrives on that sugar!), add some extra Vitamin C-filled foods to your diet during cold and flu season. Think brightly colored foods like kale, peppers, Brussels sprouts, and of course, oranges. Supplements like Emergen-C and Airborne can't hurt either!

Sneeze into your arm if you don't have a tissue nearby.

Stay hydrated.

Work from home if you must.

WASH. YOUR. HANDS.

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Little tips for saving lots of time

to do list

Where does the time go?

There are only so many hours in a day, and only so many of those hours should be spent working. Check out a few of these ways you can save time and make the most of your work day.

To-do list. I get it. I know it’s fun to write it out and check the boxes as you complete the tasks. But in the amount of time you spend writing out that list, you could easily have checked at least one item off of the list. Make a task list on your email calendar, or set reminders on your phone.

Signing documents. Save time and paper by adding an electronic signature to documents rather than printing, signing, scanning, etc.

Banking. Still making daily trips to the bank? Don’t! Call your bank to find out if they offer a remote deposit system.

Create accounts. Find yourself ordering from the same places frequently? Take the extra few minutes on the front end to set up an account so you don’t have to enter all of your information the next time. Many websites also store your order history so you can more easily re-order frequent purchases. Bonus: you might get promotional emails for creating an account.

…which leads me to my final tip…

Unroll.me. Those promotional emails, albeit useful, can sometimes get out of hand. Use this super simple service to help clean up your contacts and make sure you’re only receiving the emails you want to receive, thus saving time weeding through the bad to get to the good.

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Simple ideas for saving money in the office

ion water

Call me cheap, but I’m always looking for ways to save money at home. I tell my husband at least three times a year that we should cancel our cable subscription. He shuts down that suggestion immediately every time. And really, if I would just cancel my iced coffee “subscription” that would probably cover the cable bill, but I’m much more enjoyable when caffeinated, so that’s more for the benefit of those around me.

Since my money-saving tactics fall on deaf ears at home, I have tried to establish a few money-saving techniques into our day-to-day office management. Looking to save a few dollars yourself? Give these super simple ideas a try!

Water - We previously had a bottled water cooler system in the office, but as our employee numbers increased, so did the amount of water we were consuming. I made one phone call to our local Culligan dealer, met with a sales rep to review the options, and decided to go with a bottle-free system that is filtered right from our sink. The effort was minimal and it cut our monthly bill nearly in half.

Buy bulk/take advantage of sales – Unless you’re saving even more money by going completely paperless, there’s no reason not to take advantage of a sale on copy paper. Most holiday sales (ie: President’s Day, Columbus Day, etc.) last an entire week. Watch for retailer specials and buy heavily used office and cleaning supplies in bulk. If you have the space, stock up to avoid ordering supplies on the fly.

Mail – When sending packages, people immediately turn to UPS and FedEx, but often, shipping through the U.S. Postal Service is the most cost-effective option. Get some flat rate boxes, but don’t count on them to always be the cheapest. Sign up for a usps.com account and price out standard priority mail. You might be surprised at how cheap it is to get a package to its destination within two days.

Automatic withdrawals – Take a look at your financial statement at the end of the month. Any service or product that is paid via automatic withdrawal or is set to automatically re-order is worth a second glance. You might be surprised to see that your service fee has increased without your knowledge or you’re using far more of a product than you even realized.

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Setting mini goals to achieve the big ones

Kimmy Schmidt

Sometimes achieving a large goal is easier when broken up into smaller, more attainable goals. This is true both at work and in our personal lives. For instance, I have a daily goal of drinking at least half of my weight in ounces of water. I’m not about to tell you how many ounces that requires, but I will tell you that I start each day with a 32oz glass, and try to sip on it while I get ready for work each day. My goal is to finish that 32oz before I walk out the door. Because I tend to be rather rushed in the morning, that sometimes means chugging the whole thing just before I leave, but regardless, it’s done. One mini goal accomplished before I even leave the house.

On a perfect day, I’ll set up my workload in such a way that I’m able to set mini goals to get through the big projects that are ahead of me.

First, I prioritize. What needs to be done first? What can wait until tomorrow or later in the week, if necessary? Often it’s easiest to get the biggest task out of the way first. If it’s looming, staring at me all day, I just keep putting it off. I’ll think of a million excuses not to do it. But if I plan out my day, 10-30 minutes at a time, it’s a little easier to get through it all.

I jot down the things I need to get done, in the order they need to be done, and get to work. If email is involved, I first get rid of the junk. Once I’ve pared it down to what is actually relevant, I set my mini goal. 49 new emails? I make a goal to get through ten of them in 20 minutes or less. Of course, depending on the subject matter, you might want to allow yourself more or less time. Something realistic that will keep you focused on the task at hand, but not allow enough time for distraction. Once I’ve responded to the first ten; I get up to refill my water or go to the bathroom, even just look out the window for a couple minutes, and then come back to work on the next batch of ten. Before I know it, I’m through them all in what seems like no time at all because I took that dreaded block of time and broke it into smaller clumps, giving me small slivers of accomplishment periodically, thus influencing my productivity.

You can use this same method with different rewards too. Work on a project with complete focus until lunchtime, or don’t allow yourself that second cup of coffee until your inbox is clear. Even the most dreaded tasks, at work and at home, are easier to complete when divided up into smaller tasks. Or, as the wise, unbreakable, Kimmy Schmidt would say, “You can do anything for ten seconds! Then you just start on a new ten seconds.”

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"I’m right on top of that, Rose!" — On-the-fly resources

Being an assistant means that my day-to-day is never exactly the same. It means I get thrown random tasks and assignments almost daily and it means that my brain power is sometimes spread a little thin and I have to rely on alternate resources to help me figure things out. 

One of my first weeks on the job presented a situation where a letter needed to go out in that day’s mail, and since our mail had been picked up already, it meant I needed to find the nearest mailbox. Stat. I took off, letter in one hand, smart phone loading Google maps in search of nearest mailbox in the other. For a brief moment, I felt just like Sue Ellen Crandell from “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead” – and I loved it. "I'm right on top of that Rose!"

Unlike Sue Ellen, I don’t farm out my duties to an overly eager co-worker, but I do rely on my co-workers for help an awful lot. They are, by far, the best resource I have. That said, sometimes I simply enjoy figuring things out for myself. The following are my top three resources for when I need to complete a task “on the fly.”

Google
If you want to translate a paragraph from English to Spanish, I highly suggest you seek help elsewhere, but in many situations Google can be your very best friend. Need to book an off-site dinner reservation near an event venue? Google Maps. Want to put a face to the name of someone you’ve had only phone meetings with? Google Images. Honestly, when in doubt in nearly any situation… ASK THE GOOGLE! I’m not saying that you should believe everything you read on the Internet, or that every source you come across via Google is a reliable one, but it’s a starting point at the very least. Sometimes when my brain is completely blanking, I just need to enter a few words into the Google search bar, see some of the results, and my brain is right back on track.

Computer drives + search tool
In many situations the answers you’re looking for lie right within your computer drives. But since you likely didn’t set up those drives, and there can be folder upon folder containing countless files, it’s a good idea to become chummy with that search bar up in the right-hand corner. My search history tells me I tend to search for the same things over and over again. I could take this a step further and make a cheat sheet with locations of commonly searched documents too.

Speaking of which . . .

Cheat sheets
After repeatedly asking my colleagues the same questions time and again, I decided it was time to start make cheat sheets to reference. I have sheets for each client and they contain everything from links to commonly requested information, forwarding addresses for mail that comes here despite the intended not having “resided” here for quite some time, to names and a brief bio of industry partners for reference when they call sporadically. It’s easy to forget exactly who these partners are when you’re not in constant contact with them, so I love having a quick method of reminding myself of just who John Smith is when he calls. I’m constantly adding new information to these sheets and even removing something every so often when it seems it’s in my brain to stay.

I’m all about keeping it simple, so these basic tools work well for me, but in this app-happy world I’m sure there are numerous other resources that would work to help keep me on top of things. What works for you?

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Ch-Ch-Changes: Tips to smooth the transition to a new job

new-job

Adjusting to a new job is tough. Whether you’re making a career change after just a few months, or many years, transitioning into a new role can be downright scary. Changing jobs means meeting and trying to fit in with all new people, it means a new routine, perhaps a new schedule, a new commute, and obviously, a new set of tasks and expectations. 

I recently started at AMPED after more than ten years with my former company. I went from being a wealth of knowledge and someone who others relied for all the answers, to being the one who knows almost nothing. My commute time more than doubled, which means my alarm clock now goes off an hour earlier. I sit at a desk the majority of the time now, when previously I had a good mix of sitting and being on my feet.

These are all things that have taken some getting used to and I’m certainly no expert in the career change department, but looking back I realize that there are a few things that have really helped my transition go a bit more smoothly. The following are a few suggestions for you if a career change is in your future.

Practice your routine. In the days or weeks leading up to your first day at the new job, take some time to test out your new wake up time, commute, parking, etc. Even if you’re not able to try the drive at the time of day you’ll actually be commuting, do explore all the possible routes. Feeling confident in my new commute definitely helped calm some of my first-day nerves. Nobody wants to make a bad impression by being late on the first day so if you can squelch even an iota of that nervousness by not being concerned about getting lost, you’re in good shape!

Ask questions. You will undoubtedly get bombarded with information in the first days and weeks at your new gig. It will be entirely too much information to take in at once, but by engaging and asking questions, you may just retain a little more of that information than you would by listening alone. Likewise, nobody expects you to get everything right on the first try. If you’re feeling uneasy about a task you’ve been assigned, ask for help! Your co-workers are your best resources.

Accept invitations. It can be intimidating asking questions of those aforementioned co-workers if you don’t feel comfortable doing so. One of the best ways to get to know the people you’ll now be spending more time with than some of your own family, is by accepting their invitations. Whether they invite you to happy hour, or for a quick coffee run, it’s important to accept the invitation. Getting to know your co-workers outside of work can help you feel more at ease when you need their help back in the office.

Immerse yourself. Everyone learns differently, but in my experience, the best way to really “get it” is to fully immerse yourself. I was so scared to answer the phone for the first time, but I took comfort in the fact that the hold button was my new best friend. Any question that came in could be answered by someone in the office. And by fielding those questions and finding the appropriate person to answer them, I was learning something by listening to the response. Take the opportunity to listen in on conference calls, request that your co-workers copy you in on email responses so you can later use them as reference. Even if the information isn’t immediately relevant, it’s likely that you’ll benefit from it at a later time.

Stay positive. This is probably the hardest of all. Even after four months, I get frustrated when I don’t know how to do something, don’t know how to answer a member’s question, or mess up something that should be really easy. But it’s important to remind yourself that nobody figures it all out right away. The President probably gets lost on his way to the bathroom in his first few months in the White House, right? The bottom line is that we learn from mistakes, and we all make them. Beating yourself up over it just isn’t worth it. If you can manage to stay positive, even despite all of the inevitable mistakes you’ll make, you’ll be so much better off in the long run.

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