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Why I'm a fan of training manuals

manual video

Before I left my last job, I made sure to write a manual for my co-worker Cheryl. We had recently switched to new CRM software and she did not know how to generate certain reports on the new program. I included all my print outs and highlighted all the shortcuts I had learned. My goal was to save Cheryl the effort and time of learning from scratch. 

I was immediately put at ease on my first day of training at AMPED when Emily said, “I wrote a manual for you.”  A “kindred spirit!”, as Anne of Green Gables would say.

I have become a big fan of manuals, and here are a couple of best uses. 

Manuals for Yourself 
Emily already had a detailed manual for my initial duties, but as I have added new responsibilities, I have started writing my own manual anytime I learn something new. I try to write down every last step and detail as soon as possible and take screenshots for steps that I know will be tricky to describe accurately.

This would seem a basic principal, but many manuals I have read leave out a critical step. While importing data to a website recently, I followed the manual provided and could not understand why the import was not completed. It turns out that the manual did not include an important final step.

It might seem cumbersome to write up a manual right after training, but you will save yourself time in the end. I am always confident I will remember everything perfectly, but when it comes to tasks I perform only occasionally, my memory is too often vague, and I waste a lot of time retraining myself.

Video Manuals
Manuals do not have to be written. One of my first assignments at AMPED was a long-term database project for Tony. He wanted to know how many companies had renewed their membership after an email campaign. He also wanted to update contact information for future marketing lists.

He created a video for me using Camtasia, a video editing and screen recording program, to show me screen-by-screen the information he needed to be updated. The video was particularly helpful because the project was not urgent and something I worked on when I had time. I could rewatch the video to refresh my memory whenever I went back to it.

If Tony needs a similar report in the future and I am not available, he has the video ready to share without having to spend time retraining someone else.

Micro Video Manual for Frequent Problems on Website 
Another great use of a video manual is when members are having difficulty navigating a section of your website. I received a number of calls after registration opened for a recent annual meeting. Callers were having trouble finding their company on the initial registration page. This was an important step because there was a discount for multiple attendees from the same company. When I mentioned the problem to Tony, he recorded a short video using Camtasia to show how to properly search and select the company and posted it on the registration page. The number of phone calls decreased significantly after the video was posted.  

Next time you are training or training someone else, consider writing or videotaping a manual for the most efficient use of your time. 

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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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Moving on up… to the cloud

The cloud

When our onsite Microsoft Small Business server began nearing the end of its lifespan, we were faced with the question, Do we upgrade to a new server or move to the cloud? At first, I was completely against moving to the cloud—it was so expensive (I’m talking $20,000+ per year for some options!) and the idea of it seemed so abstract (Where is “the cloud,” anyway!?).

After working closely with our IT consultant, Nate Sperloen at Remachines, and many (many!) months of research and testing, we found that the Office Plan from Egnyte with a few customized upgrades (advanced security and synchronization) was perfect for AMPED and began our transition earlier this year. While the long-term costs are a bit more than upgrading to another onsite server, the costs are spread out over time instead of up-front and maintenance costs are basically eliminated.

Although there are definitely perks to having a local server, we’ve found that the benefits of moving to the cloud at this time were greater. We’ll always have the latest technology instead of a local server that is out-of-date pretty much as soon as we install it. We also now have more independence in our ability to manage the cloud server ourselves. In the past, we’ve relied on Nate to make changes to our server, add new employees, etc. With the cloud, the management is much more straight forward. The accessibility of our documents has also become more reliable — no more worrying about VPN connections or having to have someone reboot the server if things aren’t working properly. I love that it allows our employees to access data in a way that is most efficient for their work styles, whether that be a map drive, web access, or other applications.

Finding the right provider was a long process. Not only did we need to keep the needs of AMPED in mind, but also those of all our clients. Here are some things I learned along the way:

Find a good partner to help you through the process. Many smaller companies like AMPED don’t have an IT person on staff, but we are lucky enough to have great consultants. Make sure you have someone “in your corner” as you look through options and don’t just rely on the word of the sales person from each individual provider. This person will know your needs, be looking out for your best interests, and will understand the technical language and specs of each provider.

Know the right questions to ask. Many providers have different pricing options based on the features, so it’s vital that you take the time to figure out your “needs” vs your “wants” and what is important to you. Below are a few of the questions we found extremely important to ask.

  • How much storage is included? Is there a limit on file sizes?
  • What sort of security features are included? How is the data protected?
  • How do you access the data?
  • How easy is it to upgrade/switch to different plans? Is there a limit on the number of users? What different types of users are there?
  • How is the data backed up? How many versions of a document does it store? Can it also be backed up using a third party?
  • What sort of support is included? Will there be a single account manager assigned to us?

Test, test, test. All the providers we looked at offered free trials. Sign up for them! Test them both internally and externally. It’s impossible to know if something is going to work for your company without using it first. There were many providers we thought would work for us after listening to the sales pitch, but we found out otherwise once we began testing.

Make sure everyone is on board and plan for turbulence. Moving to the cloud is a huge change for many companies so there are likely to be “bumps” along the way and things that will work differently than they did before. Make sure everyone knows what changes are coming, the transition plan, and where to go for help.

In the end, I’ve learned that “the cloud” isn’t as scary as it sounds and have actually enjoyed all the research and getting to know the new system. Have you moved to the cloud yet? If so, do you have any additional advice for those thinking of moving to the cloud?

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How to be “in the moment” in a “to-do list” world

in the moment

In January I made a New Year’s resolution to be more “in the moment.” My goal is to appreciate and focus on the present and spend less time dwelling on the past or future events that I can’t control. Since we’re almost halfway through 2015 I thought it would be a good time to step back and evaluate my progress.

In general, I would say I’m doing a pretty good job sticking to this resolution. Some days are better than others and it is definitely an ongoing challenge, but I’ve been able to employ a few daily practices that help me follow through on my goal.

One thing I try to do every day is prioritize my “to-do list.” I’m one of those types who keep a written list. It’s usually pretty varied and almost always long. It’s easy to become overwhelmed when I think about everything I have written down. So, I don’t. Instead, I look for items that must be completed immediately. If something has a hard deadline or if I have a pre-arranged appointment or meeting I will make it my focus in that moment. There aren’t usually too many of these tasks in any given day so once they are completed I can move on to ones with softer deadlines. If I get through those, there are always more general tasks on my list. These types of tasks have a deadline of “I would love to get this done someday.”

To further encourage myself to stay in the moment I’ve been working on being flexible. I have kids. Not only are kids always in the moment, they are good at forcing us, as parents and caregivers, into their moment. When my toddler decides he’s hungry it means he’s hungry now, not in an hour from now when I planned to make lunch. I have to adapt accordingly. I know that plans can change in an instant and I have to be willing to temporarily set aside my carefully prioritized task list to deal with the situation at hand.

At the end of the day I usually do spend just a few minutes mentally reviewing the day’s accomplishments. I admit that I can be my own worst critic and feeling like I haven’t gotten through as much as I should can lead to a lot of self-doubt. So, on those days when I don’t feel as productive as I want to be, I try hard to maintain a realistic perspective and to be forgiving. Sometimes I need to remind myself that the world will not end just because I didn’t get through every email in my inbox or if there are still three loads of laundry to be folded. It just gives me somewhere to start tomorrow.

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4 tips for a smooth AMC-to-AMC client transition

transition
Last week, AMPED was excited to welcome in a new client: The Environmental Design Research Association. While our work officially began with them on April 15, there was a six-week transition period where my colleagues and I spent learning all that we possibly could to ensure a seamless hand-off. Here are a few things I found to be extremely important during this time:

1. Do your research: This seems self-explanatory, but it extends beyond reading their files or looking at their website. It includes monitoring their social media accounts regularly to see what content is posted and how often, reading their publications and blog posts, and reviewing any online community the client may have. All of these give perspective on the association and the level of involvement there is from staff, volunteers and members.

2. Communication: Over the span of the transition period, my colleagues and I listened in on or participated in over 30 conference calls with our new client and their old management team. These calls ranged from weekly check-in meetings regarding the upcoming annual meeting, to committee calls, to one-on-one calls to meet each individual board member. During this process, we utilized screen share technology, which ended up being an invaluable tool. This allowed our counterparts to visually walk us through the files and programs that the new client uses and made learning so much easier.

3. Have a checklist: In order to make sure certain operational tasks, like the transition of phone lines, files and financial accounts, are not lost during the bustle of the transition and are completed in a timely manner, create a checklist before the transition begins. AMPED had a well-developed checklist that was tailored for our new client and presented to them at our first meeting. This way, they knew exactly what to expect from our team during the transition. In addition, our counterparts also had a list that we could cross-reference. Having both lists kept us all accountable.

4. Stay positive: While we engaged ourselves as much as possible before the actual transition date, we continue to learn more about our client every day, and honestly, it can be a little overwhelming. Fortunately, the old management team is still willing to help and be a resource whenever we have questions. That support, plus our ability to maintain a positive and upbeat attitude makes the process more fun and less daunting!

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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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If I get hit by a bus . . .

Like many of my colleagues, I wear a variety of different “hats” for several of our clients at AMPED. Keeping track of these hats can be a bit hectic at times. Luckily, the person who I took over for when I started at AMPED kept very detailed notes of the tasks she performed and the instructions for performing them. Over time, I’ve added to these notes as my position has evolved, documenting each task by client. I call it my “If I get hit by a bus” binder. No—really—I do! 

regina-gets-hit-by-a-bus-o

At one point, it was a physical binder that I kept in my desk. I still have this binder to pull out and refer to quickly, but now my “binder” is various electronic documents that live on our server so it is easily accessible by any of my colleagues for reference. They are broken out by function and then by client. For example, my membership-related tasks are in one document, separated by client. My finance-related tasks are in another document.

While documenting everything does take a bit of time, it’s worth it in the end—here’s why:

For one, it makes my job a lot easier. There are various tasks that I only perform once a month or a couple times a year—remembering exactly how to do that task can be a time suck, so by having it documented step-by-step, I can quickly refer to it as needed. Bonus: once I have it documented in my “binder,” I copy and paste the instructions in to a recurring calendar item in my Outlook so it pops up when it is time to complete the task. So easy!

Secondly, it makes transitioning work or tasks to a new employee a breeze. By documenting a process, I can walk them through it once and then pass them the instructions to refer to as needed.

Lastly, there are two bus stops outside our office, so I really might get hit by a bus! If something does ever happen to me, I’ve taken the necessary steps to know that our clients will be in good hands.

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Make an effort to learn about your association's industry

learn about industryIn the course of my career I’ve worked with a variety of industry associations. I love the opportunity to learn about so many interesting and dynamic industries and anytime I begin work with a new association I try to learn as much as I can about the industry being represented. I’ve found that, not only is this an interesting learning opportunity on a personal level, but it actually makes my work with the association easier.

The first thing I did when I began working for AMPED was to attend an industry conference for one of our clients. It was an incredibly valuable experience and looking back I’m so glad I was able to take part. Not only was I able to meet many of the industry leaders I would be working with, but I gained first-hand knowledge of many of the issues important to the industry. Any opportunity to interact with the industry on a face-to-face basis is a worthwhile one!

Another great way to learn about an industry is to read. Working for an association I often find industry publications at my fingertips and I make it a point to at least skim them. This gives me a good idea of what’s going on and what is important to industry members at any given time. There are often great resources online as well. Familiarity with industry websites is incredibly helpful. Many of our associations host online discussion forums and it can be worthwhile to pay attention to questions and discussions that are posted.

So, how does all this education make the job of association management easier? In general, my experience has shown me that knowing something about the project I’m working on or the client I’m working with is a good thing. As an association management professional I am constantly aware that I am representing the industry I’m working with, so familiarity with that industry can only be beneficial. I’ve also found that members really do appreciate working with someone who is interested in their industry and the work they do.

Learning more about the industries I’m working with has always proved helpful on a number levels. It’s an activity that I find incredibly worthwhile and one that I will definitely continue in the future!

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Dos and Don’ts for Outlook Efficiency

Our team recently participated in a webinar detailing how to save yourself an hour every day using various tools in Outlook. It inspired me to review my very first blog post and see what else I’m doing to save myself time every day. I came up with these Dos and Don’ts to make sure you are saving time and not wasting it in Outlook.

DON’T duplicate efforts. There are so many great tools in Outlook—Inbox, Task List, Calendar—just make sure you aren’t over-using them. An example of overuse: keeping an item in your inbox, flagging it for follow up in your task list, and adding a calendar reminder to attend to the item. One of these methods will suffice on its own. Do you need to respond to the email? Keep it in your inbox. Is it something that needs action from you but not a response to that email? Copy it on to your calendar and delete it out of your inbox.

DO sort by date/conversation. This one is an absolute must. It keeps your inbox tidy by collapsing all messages from a single conversation in to a single item, keeping the most recent item on top, regardless of the sender. Bonus: it spares you from the embarrassment of not responding to the most recent email in a conversation. To set your inbox up to sort this way, select View > Date (Conversations) > check “Show as Conversations.”

Wiseman - Sorty by Date-Conversation

DON’T be afraid to delete emails. Guess what? When you delete an email, it does not go in to some deep, dark black hole of forgotten emails. Keep your inbox tidy so it can be your to-do list! Delete emails that you’ve attended to—you can always search through your “Deleted” folder later on if you need it.

DO use the “recurring” feature on your Calendar. There are so many tasks that I only need to do once a month or even once a year that I would completely forget about if they were not on my calendar. To speed things up, I use the “recurring” feature (Appointment > Recurrence). You can set it to recur daily, weekly, monthly or yearly. Within the weekly option, you can specify certain days of the week (MWF? Tues-Thurs?). For monthly, you can select a specific date (10th of the month) or week (second Friday of the month). Yearly has the same options.

Wiseman - Calendar Recurrence

DO use “Drafts” to save time. I find myself sending the same emails over and over: responding to questions about a specific event, detailing steps on how to access a certain portion of a website, etc. When I notice this happening, I save a draft of the email: open a new message, type or paste the message, close out, hit “Yes” to save changes —this saves it as a draft. The email is now in my draft folder for quick copy-and-paste access when I’m responding to an email.

Wiseman - Save changes

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Heavy lifting: Helping associations "move in"

moving-office

This past weekend, I helped my cousin and his wife pack up and move to a new house. It reminded me of how much work goes in to moving!

First, you have to pack up your old place and keep track of what items are going in to what boxes. Then, you have to haul it to the new place, unpack, make sure everything survived the move, and find new places for it all. On top of that, you need to change your address, forward your old mail and set up for internet, TV and phone service.
It was a lot of work—I was drained, both physically and mentally. That’s when I realized I would be coming to work Monday morning and starting a similar process: I’m currently taking the lead on transitioning on a new client! Thankfully, we’ve developed some tools, tips and tricks at AMPED to ensure that all transitions are a smooth one.

Transition Checklist
We’ve developed a really thorough Excel-based transition checklist that is constantly updated to ensure we are getting the needed information, files and materials from the incoming organization to keep them running. It also keeps us on track with getting them set up with phone and fax numbers, email addresses, new print materials, changes of address, etc. There are four main columns that identify the task, who is responsible for it (The new client? AMPED? If AMPED, which employee?), a due date, a place for notes and a completion check box. To make things even easier, we’ve filed each item under a larger category like Administration, Database/Membership, Meetings, and so on. As soon as we know we are bringing on a new client organization, we take the generic template and spend time customizing it to meet the needs of the incoming client, going through item by item to determine if it is relevant or if anything is missing. We make sure to share this with the client right away so that they have a chance to go through and identify missing items as well. 

Scope of Services
While this should be finalized in the negotiation process, it is important to go through usual services offered and those the organization is requesting to ensure they align. I like to paste the scope into Excel and add columns for staff assignments and questions/ notes.

Face Time
We find it extremely beneficial to sit down and have face to face meetings with either the current association staff or the transitioning AMC. If this is not possible, an e-conference like GoToMeeting works great. I set an agenda using the Scope of Services Excel document I mentioned before, adding a column for how much time should be dedicated to each item and highlighting the specific questions and processes I want to review. This ensures that every process and task that we will be doing for the organization is covered. It’s also an opportunity to learn more about how the organization is run and identify ways we can help make it more efficient.

Creating thorough documents like the ones I’ve discussed along with setting aside some face-to-face meeting time helps ensure all of our client transitions are painless and that nothing slips through the cracks. Now, if only I could be this organized for my next house move!

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Database management: It's all in the details

database

Take a second to think about all the ways information in a membership database is used: email communications, membership renewals, event management, certification records, merchandise purchases and statistics are just a few of the possibilities. An organization can use its membership database in numerous ways, but in order for a database to be truly useful it must be maintained. Keeping up with database management is a big job and shouldn’t be taken too lightly. Here are a few tips I always keep in mind when working on a database.

Attention to detail is a must. It might be tempting to rush through updates but typos can lead to missed communication opportunities and even lost revenue. I’m all for efficiency, but there is no point in having a database if the information is inaccurate. Taking a little extra time to make sure information is entered correctly is well worth the effort.

Format consistently. This is especially important if the database is used to generate items like membership directories or event registration lists. Abbreviations, address information and punctuation should all be entered in a consistent format. Otherwise, those lists and directories may end up looking unprofessional and unpolished. If multiple individuals are responsible for entering and updating records make sure everyone involved is aware of these formatting guidelines.

Keep up with database maintenance. On a busy day it’s easy to set database updates aside for another time, but in my experience it’s more practical to add or update records right away. If I absolutely can’t get to an update that day, I put it in a designated folder in my inbox. I have a calendar item set up reminding me to check that folder each morning.

The database will never be complete and can always be improved. Membership is always changing so database management is an ongoing project. As membership evolves, the database should too. Don’t be afraid to make changes to the database setup to better meet the needs of the organization. The database is a powerful resource but it must work for an organization!

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Five essential admin tips

keep-calm-and-always-prioritizeAnyone in an administrative position knows that an “administrator” can mean anything. There is no set job description. While there may be a set of tasks that you do daily, weekly or monthly, your job largely varies from day to day. That is certainly true with my position at AMPED. Although it is refreshing to constantly be doing new tasks, sometimes it’s difficult to keep everything straight. Here are some great tips I’ve learned to keep myself organized while getting everything done.

Make a list. Making a “to-do-list” may seem like an old fashioned notion, but I view it as a life saver, especially on my busy days. When you are working on a number of projects with various deadlines for different colleagues or clients, it is really easy to have things fall through the cracks. Writing out a list serves as a reminder for what jobs I need to complete on any given day. Additionally, crossing out an item on my list gives me a great sense of accomplishment!

Prioritize. When you have to work on more than one task for more than one client or co-worker, you need to know what tasks are most important and time-sensitive. It’s usually obvious which projects you should work on first; a task for an event tomorrow is far more urgent than a task for an event happening in six months. Be aware of your colleague’s deadlines so that you can set your own. This way, you will not only be able to prioritize your own projects, but also give your colleagues a realistic expectation of when you will complete a task.

Communicate. Communication is a lifelong skill that is helpful in any type of position. When a colleague or a client approaches you with a project, make sure that you have a solid understanding of what is expected of you and how that task is supposed to turn out. Ask questions and be thorough. While this may seem tedious and time consuming initially, it is better long-term. If you fully understand the project at the beginning, then you won’t have to redo or edit the project once you have completed it. Additionally, keep everyone updated on your progress. If something comes up that affects your timeline, make sure to share that with your colleague. Keeping an open dialogue always makes things easier for everyone involved.

Be realistic. Working in an administrative position can mean that many people are approaching you with many different projects. It is important to be honest about what you can complete in a timely fashion. I never want to tell a colleague “no” because I know how hard they work and how busy they are, but I also need to be realistic about what I can complete. If you’re already working on a few time-consuming projects and someone requests that you complete another by the end of the day, it’s time to be honest about what you can do. Make sure you aren’t taking on too much in too short a time-frame.

Work efficiently, but carefully. Getting things done quickly is essential, but completing something carefully is equally as important. Sloppy work not only reflects poorly on you, but also on your colleague or employer. Always make sure to take that extra time to double check your work. This will make you look like a key player in the workplace, making both clients and colleagues trust you.

While I have discovered these tips working as an administrative assistant, they are largely applicable to any type of position. Everyone is balancing busy schedules, so take some time to organize! Utilizing some of these tips in the workplace can help anyone stay organized and efficient while handling multiple tasks at once.

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14 web resources to keep you and your work relevant

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Everyone has websites, Twitter handles, blogs, news stations, magazines they follow to stay up-to-date and informed on topics important to them. And if you don’t, you should! Work resources are no different and there are so (too) many resources available to make your life easier and more efficient.

Here is a list of my top resources that keep me abreast of news in association management, how to manage work/life balance, and more. Have some of your own? Share them in the comments section at the bottom of this post. Want more? I have bookmarks and Twitter pages galore, just contact me.

Disclaimer: These are all my own recommendations, with no encouragement from the sources.

Bounce ideas off other associations in your area
A database of associations by country and state to learn more about those based in your community.
www.thepowerofa.org/asae-members

What’s happening in associations
Follow trending topics and learn from other association leaders.
www.associationtrends.com

Financial background on nonprofits
View nonprofit financial data, including Form 990s and more.
www.guidestar.org

The National Center for Charitable Statistics is also chock-full of important info dating back to 1989.
nccsweb.urban.org

Government per diem rates
Learn current and historical rates for each state as set by the U.S. General Services Administration.
http://gsa.gov/portal/category/100120

Event impact
Calculate the impact your event has on a host community.
www.destinationmarketing.org/topics/event-impact-calculator

Forms for volunteers
If you need to collect information from volunteers and require more functionality than SurveyMonkey can offer, check out FormSite.
fs24.formsite.com

Stuck in a rut
Two sites for helpful ideas on preparing publications of all types.
www.slideshare.net and http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/

Track packages
Slice can track package from all carriers with just the tracking number. Use the website or download the app. Bonus: the app sends push notifications to your devices so you know when the packages are out for delivery and waiting at the front desk.
www.slice.com

Junk mail management
Magazines, phone books and supply catalogs piling up at the office? There’s a way to stop them that’s easy and free!
www.catalogchoice.org

Choosing the seat with the most leg room
Figuring out which flight to take to the annual meeting is only half the battle. Use Seat Guru to help you choose the best seat, whether you need extra legroom, a power outlet, or to be one of the first off to make a quick connection.
www.seatguru.com

Worried about your grammar style?
Use Grammarly to quickly and accurately determine if your writing skills are up to snuff.
www.grammarly.com

Touch conversation starters
Some topics are just a challenge to bring up and there’s no getting around that. But you can learn how to effectively engage in the dialogue and hold crucial conversations with Vital Smarts.
www.vitalsmarts.com

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How do you foster creativity?

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The other day my three-year-old son ran up to me with his face and t-shirt covered in squiggly marker lines and exclaimed, “Momma, look what I made!” When I asked him why he had chosen his face and shirt as his canvas he shrugged and said, “I didn’t have any paper.”

I had to admit, this was a pretty imaginative solution to his lack of drawing paper and it got me thinking about creativity. In an increasingly busy life dictated by obligations, lists and tasks to complete, does creativity take a back seat? Would being more creative in my approach to a project lead to a more successful outcome? How could I incorporate more creativity into my daily routine without compromising too much on efficiency?

Creativity really can’t be planned but as I thought more about it I realized there were small things I could probably do to foster more creativity each day. This was emphasized a few mornings later. As I started out on my drive to work I found my commute brought to a halt by a big traffic back up. Rather than idle in that line of cars impatiently waiting for it to move, I took a deep breath, turned around and went a different way. To my surprise, I found myself at the office a few minutes earlier than usual! It was a small change to my usual routine and it actually gained me some time, teaching me that under the right circumstances, a creative approach can improve even the most minor of daily routines.

Encouraged by this first successful outcome, I am determined to continue my exploration of creativity’s impact on more of my projects and daily tasks and I’ll be sure to keep you posted!

I’m lucky to work with a group of very talented, innovative colleagues here at AMPED so I’ll certainly be looking to them for new ideas and inspiration. I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic as well! Do you feel like creativity often takes a back seat in our busy lives? Have you had the opportunity to take a more creative approach to a project lately? Anyone have a particularly creative way to get marker out of a t-shirt?

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Starting from Scratch: My transition to AMPED

Starting a new job is never easy. Learning new systems, names, job duties and everything else usually results in a state of utter confusion. Starting my new position as an assistant at AMPED was no exception. My first day was overwhelming; with five clients and being responsible for various tasks with each one, I was worried I would never be able to learn everything. However, with AMPED’s great staff and comfortable workplace, I felt at home right away.

Most of what I learned during my first few days initially seemed completely foreign to me. If you asked me to renew a membership, create a certification packet or even use the mail machine, you might as well have been speaking another language. I didn’t know how I was going to learn everything I needed to know promptly and well-enough to assist client needs.

Fortunately, I learned one very important lesson early on: I don’t need to know everything. The AMPED staff is more than willing to answer all my questions (and trust me, there are plenty) and teach me the skills I need to be successful in my position. I am no expert in half of the things I do, but I don’t have to be. Once I took the pressure off of myself to become all-knowing, I was able to relax and learn what I needed to know. Now things don’t seem so foreign at all. I am certainly still learning, but with a supportive team that is willing to teach me their ways, I am not as confused as I was at the start.

It’s clear that the AMPED team is committed to their work, but their respect for each other and positive attitudes make me look forward to coming into work every day.

AMPED’s workplace culture also made my transition easy. It’s clear that the AMPED team is committed to their work, but their respect for each other and positive attitudes make me look forward to coming into work every day. AMPED is casual when it can be and professional when it needs to be. The staff works hard and they go to great lengths to please their clients, but they genuinely enjoy working with each other daily. With a relatively small staff, they look forward to celebrating holidays, birthdays and other events around Madison together. Everyone was extremely welcoming from day one, which made my transition so much easier. I am fortunate to have found such excellent coworkers and always look forward to gathering with the staff.

In general, my transition into AMPED was great. While there were certainly many moments of confusion, I could not be happier to be a part of the team. I’ve now been in the office for about two months and although I am still learning, I am confident and comfortable in my environment. The things that felt so foreign to me during my first week are now tasks that I can complete quickly and easily. Being part of such a great company has been refreshing. I look forward to growing with AMPED, learning more about association management and seeing where the position takes me. It’s still true that starting a new job is not easy, but starting my position with AMPED was better than I could have imagined.

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Inboxes and emails and tasks…Oh my!!

Working with several different clients means working with several different inboxes. More inboxes means more emails. More emails means more tasks to keep track of! Over time, I’ve learned how to make my inbox work for me and not against me.

My number one rule: I use my inbox as a to-do list and don’t let items pile up. I’ve heard several time management gurus talk about closing your inbox and only checking emails at specific times. I don’t believe in this. Members want answers and they want answers now. This doesn’t mean I constantly have my inbox open reading and responding to emails, it means that I monitor the subject lines as they pop up at the bottom of my screen. If it looks like something that A) I can easily respond to in under two minutes or B) needs immediate attention, I take care of it and then delete it. The remaining emails are on my “to-do” list, whether they are items that I need more time to take care of or those that just didn’t need an immediate response.

Secondly, “Waiting for Response” folders are lifesavers. If I’m sending an email that requires the person to respond as part of an important task, I blind copy myself. When it comes back to me, I drop it into my “Waiting for Response” folder for the appropriate client (to save a step, I could even set up a rule that says, “If I’m blind copied on an email that I send, go to this folder”). This way, I have one folder with everything that I am waiting on people for—much easier than searching through my sent/deleted items or trying to remember it all. It also keeps things out of my inbox/to-do list. When I’ve received a sufficient answer, I delete it from the folder. If something is hanging around in the folder for more than a few days, I know exactly who I need to follow up with.

To ensure that I don’t forget about items in my “Waiting for Response” folders, I change the settings so that it shows how many total messages are in the folder and not just how many are unread.

Lastly, Outlook inboxes have standard columns such as “From,” “Subject,” Received,” and “Categories.” For the items that are left in my actual inbox/to-do list, I add a column for “Notes” to keep track of the status of the task or important things I need to remember. For example, a board member might send me a lengthy email, but there is really only one task I need to complete. I call that task out in my “Notes” column rather than having to re-read the entire email to remember what it was.

These are just some of the tips I use to keep my inbox squeaky clean and manageable. What tricks do you use?

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