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How I Plan to Gain More Free Time in the Summer Months

summer 2017

Given the Memorial Day holiday, I think just about everyone is thinking about the fun summer activities that lie ahead. I know I am! This is why I got to thinking about my plan for the summer to ensure I enjoy my most favorite months of the year. It’s too easy to stay on the same work routine and not take advantage of the warm weather and time with family. Being a creature of habit, I thought the best thing to do was to set some “boundaries” for my summer and come up with a new routine that will help me maximize my free time and benefit from my flexible work schedule throughout the coming months. Take a look!

End each weekend with a preview of the week ahead

In order to get more out of my work hours and maximize my free time, I’ve found it to be really helpful to end the weekend with a review of the upcoming week’s tasks and obligations. This gives me a good mental grasp on how much dedicated work time I’ll have, verses time that will be spent at meetings or events. I also compare this schedule with my husband’s to be sure we’re fully covered on family duties. There’s nothing quite as stressful as realizing you both need to be out of the house early without someone to run the kids to daycare!

Get up at the same time every day

This will be a challenging one, but one that will surely help to maximize my free time so I can enjoy the summer months. Every day of the week, including Saturday and Sunday, I plan to get up at 6am. Some days I may have a little helper join me who wakes up early, and some days I may get a cup of coffee and a head start on my inbox. No matter how I spent this extra hour of the morning, it will go to good use and put me in the best position for a less stressful day. On the weekends, this will be the only hour I dedicate to checking in on work – or I’ll use it to get in some exercise!

Make a plan – for both work and play

Just as it’s important to plan to get work done, it’s also important to block out time in your schedule to enjoy non-work related things. I’ll have an agenda for each day that outlines how I want to spend my time. This will likely involve a mix of some work tasks along with a nap in the sun on the back deck. On days I have one or more kid home with me, I will prioritize only what has to get done that day to keep me on top of my work tasks, the rest will be dedicated to family time!

Stay on a routine for monthly tasks

I’ve gotten on a good routine of looking at all projects I have to deliver on a monthly basis and dividing them into one of two categories: tasks to be delivered for the current month and tasks to be delivered for the coming month. The first category of tasks gets prioritized and completed between days 1 and 15 of the current month. The second category of tasks are put on the to-do list starting day 15 and completed no later than the end of the month. If you’re overwhelmed by your task list, you may need to start categorizing and prioritizing tasks so you have a better handle on what needs done now and what can wait.

Limit networking and social requests

For some, summer is the prime time to set networking meetings and attend social events to grow your business. But for me, I’d much rather spend my free time soaking up the sun with my kids. Because of this, I frequently decline such requests. I’ll tell the contact that we can set date for the fall, and if they’re really serious about meeting, they’ll comply. For those “serial networkers” that were likely going to be a waste of time anyway, they will forget to follow-up and fade away.

Zero out my inbox each evening

This takes a little commitment, but once it’s routine it will greatly streamline workflow. I practice this now, and plan to into the summer. Every evening, once the kids are in bed, I take up to 30 minutes to “zero out” my inbox. What this means is that I check in on any emails that may have come in since I closed up shop sometime in the afternoon, and I address them. Many emails can be read and deleted, others will need a response. If the response is quick, I give it. If it will take some time, I patch it into my work flow for tomorrow. If I anticipate needing more than one day to reply to a client, I first reply with an acknowledgement of the email and then let them know when to anticipate my full response. I have found this last tip to be the key to keeping clients happy by keeping them in the loop. It also prevents additional follow-up emails or phone calls asking when something will be completed.

With these tips, I hope to enjoy a slower paced summer without needing to cut back on any client work. With my extra free time, I plan to enjoy the warm weather, spend time with family and take a few long weekend trips to make some new memories. If this new routine produces favorable results, I just may never come back from my “summer” lifestyle!

How do you plan to manage your workload to enjoy this summer? Share your ideas by leaving a comment!

 
 

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How to Fully Unplug When on Vacation

slow down, relax, take it easy, keep calm, love, enjoy life, have fun and other motivational lifestyle reminders on colorful sticky notes

Whether you have planned a destination vacation or are opting for a “staycation” this year, giving yourself a few days of rest and relaxation is not only fun, it’s absolutely necessary!

For those of us that work virtually, we’re used to plugging in from anywhere which can lead to the temptation to get work done when we really should be relaxing. Can you relate? Then, take a look at these tips for how you can fully unplug and enjoy your vacation to its fullest.

Plan Ahead

Plan your time off well in advance and communicate early and often with clients and employees that you will not be doing any work during this time. Work ahead on projects that you would normally complete during this time off to minimize the amount of work on your plate when you return. Also, avoid scheduling meetings several days before and after your vacation to give you a buffer of dedicated work time to complete your most pressing tasks.

Manage Expectations About Work Communication

A great way to unplug without leaving emails or calls unanswered is to set up an automatic email response and voicemail. Be specific about when people can expect to hear back from you. You can choose to check emails just once per day to make yourself accessible for emergencies. Or you can choose to completely go offline for the week. No matter what you choose, let people know when they can reasonably expect to hear back from you. Clients are far more understanding of a lag in communication if they know you are out of the office. You may also want to designate another employee as the person to contact for urgent matters to give you full peace of mind to relax.

Commit to Your Vacation

The biggest obstacle a lot of us face when unplugging from work isn’t the separation from technology that we may all think, but rather it is the willingness to allow ourselves to fully embrace our time off. You have waited all year (maybe longer) for this break, so make sure you are just as committed to your vacation as you have been your work. Sleep in, move slow, read for fun, take a nap and strike up conversations that have absolutely nothing to do with work! It may feel weird at first, but if you can learn to “rewire” your thinking to a more relaxed state, you will feel calmer even once you return back to work.

Have you been able to fully unplug from work while on vacation this year? If so, comment below and share your tips!

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2016 in Business & Success, Life

 

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How to Take Advantage of Working From Home in the Summer

Working from home in the summer

Taking full advantage of working from home in the summer by taking client work out on the back deck.

If you’ve ever had the experience of working from home, you know there can be some unique challenges. However, there are also some pretty cool benefits, particularly during the summer months when working from home can allow you to get outside and enjoy the season as much as possible.

Here’s our guide for taking full advantage of the perks of working from home in the summer.

Take your work outside

Make sure to take advantage of the nice weather in the summer! Taking your work outside with you for even just a small part of the day, like checking emails on the porch, reading from a park bench or taking a phone call from an outdoor café, helps to recharge your focus. Better yet, being present in nature can even offer you some great inspiration!

Do work earlier or later in the day to carve out free time during the best daytime hours

Working from home often gives you more freedom and flexibility with your time. During the summer months you can take advantage of hitting popular attractions like a waterpark or amusement park when they tend to be less crowded. The key to finding time for these mini “day-cations” is to get your work done earlier or later in the day so you have free time during the best daytime hours.

Multi-task by picking an outdoor meeting location or taking a call from the park

As we mentioned in a previous point, taking a business call outside can give you that extra time in the sunshine. Whether you’re a single adult working from home just looking to get out and enjoy the summer days, or a work-from-home mom trying to entertain your kids while taking care of work, getting outside is a great way to multi-task!

Work hard and efficiently to maximize your free time to enjoy summer activities

It’s always important to work hard and efficiently to make the most of your time and earn the respect of your clients and customers. However, the summer months offer an additional incentive for maximizing free time – you can spend it doing fun things outside. This means giving your work your complete focus until the tasks are complete, and then fully enjoying the time you get to unplug!

Do you work from home? How do you take advantage of summer weather and activities with your flexible work schedule?

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2016 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Post-Vacation Panic: Tackling the Mountain of Emails

It feels great to be back!

I hope you enjoyed a relaxing long weekend and celebration of Labor Day. But I hope you haven’t enjoyed (too much) the small pause from the Bennis Inc Blog – because I’m excited to hit the ground running with some new posts I think you’ll really enjoy.

A two and a half week hiatus of travel is no joke. While I felt rested and energized from this prolonged time offline, I’m now facing the harsh reality that there’s a lot of work to be done. Even with emails being sent and phone calls being made from coast to coast when I could carve out some time, I felt more reactive than proactive. This is an odd place to be for an over-planner and an all-hours worker. It’s easy and tempting to allow this feeling to overwhelm me to the point of panicking or shutting down, but before I click “refresh” on my email, I’m going to take a deep breath and take a more strategic approach to this mountain of work.

My knee-jerk reaction when looking at a slew of new emails is to quickly click on each one, even just for a second, to first get rid of the awful illuminated look of an unread message. I then make a split section decision as to its priority. Both of these habits are dangerous. First, just because a message is “read” doesn’t mean its taken care of. Leaving a bunch of read but unanswered emails in your inbox will make you feel like you’ve accomplished something when really all you did was cover up the blinking red light. Second, it’s hard to tell the priority of a message by simply skimming it. Sometimes the most important information or question come at the very end. Deleting a message based on its first paragraph is…well, judging a book by its cover.

So instead my plan is to tackle this mountain step by step, email by email. I’ve been in the game long enough to know when I work most effectively – and it’s by focusing on just one project and seeing it through to completion before beginning another. My two and a half weeks of backlogged work is no different. I need to start at the bottom and handle each message one at a time. Whether this is a major task or a simple click of “delete” for junk mail, I gain nothing by trying to do it all at one. In fact, I only seem to lose time that way.

This brings me to my final post-vacation work strategy which is don’t think you need to do it all right now. I’m going to keep in mind that all of this work didn’t come in over night and so I should allow myself at least a reasonable time to catch up. Sure I’ll need to work double time, over time and in high octane mode to keep things moving and clients happy, but this doesn’t mean burn yourself out on your first day back.

So with that I’m feeling centered, focused and dare I say slightly excited to see what’s been going on while I’ve been away. I might be eating those words come Wednesday, but I’m about to find out…one email at a time.

jamaica vacation

And when stress hits, I’ll just remember this little slice of heaven where I felt so relaxed!

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2012 in Business & Success, Life

 

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A Short (And Needed) Break

The Bennis Inc Blog is on hold for a few weeks while I take some much needed time off to reorganize and refresh after a very hectic (but wonderful) month. While a small part of me will miss my weekly writings, I can’t say the surf, sun and sand won’t help to keep me occupied. Have a wonderful rest of August and look for some new topics coming your way in September!

 

vacation, beach, hammock, sun ocean

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2012 in Life

 

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“In Stitches” (a short story with a big influence)

I can still recall the feeling of the dewy grass between my toes. How it managed to turn my flip flops into slippery ice skates during mid July in Pennsylvania I’ll never quite understand. It was summer break and I couldn’t have been over the age of seven. During this time of year, my mother’s inevitably hectic mornings included yet one more to-do, dropping me off at my care-taker’s. She knew me well enough to know that without fail each morning would result in an excuse, a lie or a threat to get me out of going there. That is why the feeling of grass between my toes still conjures up the tight grasp of my mother’s hand. It was her silent way of tell me that no matter how slow my flip flop ice skates moved, I wasn’t getting out of this; I was going to Aunt Roni’s house.

Every child has that one place they despise going. They drag their feet, kick, scream and hold onto nearby doorways, pleading for their parents’ mercy. For some kids it was the doctor or dentist, perhaps even school or church, but for me, it was my Aunt Roni’s.

Aunt Roni was old. Her house was old. Her toys were old. Her television set was old. But worst of all, her rules were old. Aunt Roni was a neighbor two houses away who although there was no blood relation, my mother insisted I called “Aunt” out of respect. During the summer she was my care-taker while my mother was at work. It was during these impressionable summers that I was subjected to her old fashioned and outdated rules. For example, lunch was served at exactly twelve noon, regardless of what orders my stomach growled hours before. I was only allowed to watch television in thirty minute increments and was then forced to play outside, which most often resulted in me angrily pushing an empty swing or sitting arms crossed, sulking behind a tree. A kid couldn’t even indulge in a whole freeze pop! Instead, I had to watch Aunt Roni cut each popsicle in half and put it back in the freezer for “another day.” All of this aside, the rules that frustrated me, a very hyper and fast-paced child, the most were her rules about sewing.

I should mention that more than just my care-taker, my Aunt Roni doubled as a personal sewing instructor. Whether these sewing lessons were secretly arranged by my mother or just a new form of torture Aunt Roni invented is still unknown to me. In short, sewing wasn’t my bag. Many idle hours on the backyard swing set were spent pondering the reasons why anyone would want to sew. Just cutting a pattern out of fabric took more effort than going to a department store. To this day I’m still fairly certain that Aunt Roni spent those same hours pondering why anyone wouldn’t.

For the age of seven, I was a fairly proficient seamstress and earned many blue ribbons at the 4-H fairs. This particular summer I chose to make a tote bag. Straight lines, no zippers, I thought I had a pretty easy summer lined up. But like most of my fool-proof plans to get out of life easy with Aunt Roni, I was sorely mistaken.
I had spent the better part of June meticulously pinning each side of my tote bag together, hand-sewing on the pocket, and finally I was ready to add the handles. I felt Aunt Roni behind me, studying every stitch, looking for any stray thread or—heaven forbid—a sloppy seam. Just as I usually did in this position, I began to panic. With superhuman strength, my foot laid on the sewing machine pedal. The motor hummed with more horse power than most legal street cars, jumping to 40 beats per second, my heart rate not far behind. I jerked back, taking my bag with me, pulling it right under the hungry machine that chewed up the fabric and spit it out. In a crumpled heap, my bag and I laid on the floor, my emotions matching its appearance. As I was surveying the damage, I remembered Aunt Roni had seen it all.

She knew I had been too fast, too hasty with my work and this was the result. Without an ounce of apathy, she told me to tear out every stitch that ran through the center of my bag—by hand. If there was one thing I hated even more than putting the stitches in, it was ripping those same stitches out. I hung my head, thinking of what I would be doing for the next several hours. Aunt Roni looked at me and said, “For every stitch you tear out, you learn something new.” I can tell you that during that afternoon of intense seam-ripping, the only thing I learned was how much anger and frustration a seven year old could feel.

Throughout my childhood summers spent at Aunt Roni’s, I ripped out more stitches than I probably ever kept. It goes without saying that I learned a lot. I learned patience, respect and discipline. I learned that even the most daunting tasks can be made simple if you break them down. Nearly 16 years later, I have managed to make quite a few mistakes. But when the time comes to put aside my pride and rip out the stitches I’ve sewn, I know I’ll walk away with a life lesson and an even deeper love for my Aunt Roni.

Aunt Roni and me August 2010.

 This short story is dedicated to my dear Aunt Roni who over the course of our summers together became more than a care-taker. She became my grandmother and my guardian. She came into my life when I was just an infant and showered me with the tender and unconditional love you can only receive from someone who is placed in your life by God. I owe so much of who I am to those summers spent with my Aunt Roni. I can only wish to someday be this special and influential to someone else.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2011 in Life

 

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Last Glimpse of Summer

I’m taking a brief hiatus from blogging this week, but in the meantime enjoy some images of my last glimpse of summer before I inevitably springboard head-first into Autumn.

And I think after seeing these, you’ll understand my reasons for the blogging break….

The shoreline at Topsail Beach, NC

Patrick lives for beach vacations each year

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2011 in Life

 

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