27 November 2008

Can you afford not to take a vacation?

I am going on vacation starting this Saturday and I need it badly. I am busy, busy this week preparing to leave because I don't want to leave any loose ends and I want to cover off on anything that might come up in my absence. I also know that when I come back I will have to work twice as hard to make up for the time that I am away... but I'm still going.

I think we all need to take a vacation from our jobs. A change of scenery and a change of conversation is good for us to recharge and just get away from it all from time to time. Talking about work all the time is not healthy for anyone.

On this vacation I will not be checking my work computer remotely. I am not taking a wireless phone with me and I am not going to talk about work with my friends where I am visiting. I can't wait! I was talking to someone about that this week and decided that if we talk to our friends about work while we are on holidays, then there is always the chance that they will want to talk about their work and oh no, I am not going there...

I enjoy my work, but there is only so much of it you can take. There is more to life than work.

I will be enjoying my time in Southern California where I am hoping for nice sunny, warm weather, but if it is cooler, I have a heated pool and a hot tub at the hotel I am staying at. Just give me a lounge chair and a book and I will be all set.

I always take a few days off after I return home from a vacation to get back slowly into the swing of things before jumping right back to work. That is also the time I will peek remotely to see what is going on at work. It will be a good time to clean up all the e-mails that will be in my Inbox. Oh dear, I even hate to think about that...but checking ahead of time will eliminate a lot of clutter when I return to the office. I can deal with most of the e-mails by simply pressing Delete, but some of them will need to be looked at and handled.

Some things I will definitely do before I leave is turn my Out of Office Assistant on in my e-mail account. You would be surprised how many people forget to do this simple thing, but how very important it is to let people know that you are not there and if their matter is urgent to give them another e-mail contact or telephone number to call. You should also do the same with your voicemail.

I will most likely work late tomorrow as well to clear my desk and have everything prepared for my boss for the time I am away. I also have to meet with the person who will be sitting in for me to get them up to speed on some things that might come up. Then and only then will I turn off my computer, breathe a sign of relief and finish my packing and wait for the alarm to go off that tells me it is time to get ready to go to the airport.

Oh yeah! I can't wait for my vacation...

22 November 2008

I got an e-slap on the wrist - Ouch!

Some e-mails can leave you with an impression that may or may not be what the sender meant. For instance, I recently received an e-mail and after reading it I felt the person had e-slapped me on the wrist for not following some procedure. The e-mail started out with "Firstly" and ended with "In the future." I am sure you are feeling my pain already...

E-mail has become the most widely used business communication tool and sometimes we are not very smart users of it. An e-mail like the one I received would have been better delivered face to face or by phone in order to get the tone of what the person was trying to communicate.

Why are we not speaking to each other anymore?

An e-mail can be quick and seem easier, but in the long run it can be more frustrating, send the wrong message and if you press Send too quickly it can cause misunderstandings. There are times that I really want a paper trail and e-mail is great for that, but now I stop myself at times when an e-mail string has been going back and forth and getting more complicated with each new e-mail. I stop the flow and pick up the phone. It is amazing how quickly a matter can be handled on the phone or in person.

I also think we are not as bold when speaking to someone in person. When you make eye contact with someone you are generally less inclined to lash out. With e-mail you do not have that personal touch so can write whatever is on your mind.

When you must send an e-mail...

I recently read a post that suggested e-mail did not require the same standards as letter writing and that you could get away with writing less formally by e-mail. Although I understand what she is saying, I don't necessarily agree. If you are writing an external business e-mail, then you should write it using the same care you would when writing a business letter. Spelling, grammar and punctuation should be paid attention to and you should keep in mind the tone of your communcation. Internal e-mails amongst co-workers should have a business tone to it as well, although less formal. The only time I would use an informal writing style would be when writing a personal e-mail to a friend that I know really well or family member (although I am sure in most cases they would prefer hearing from me, but e-mail at least makes a connection in the meantime).

At a recent meeting some assistants were complaining about all the e-mail in their Inbox and how frustrated they were getting trying to manage it all. I am sure we all have the same complaints. I know when I come back from a weekend or a vacation away from the office, I am bombarded with e-mails that I have to plough through. Usually hidden amongst the less important stuff are some really important and urgent e-mails from my boss. I have solved that problem by setting some rules in Outlook that send all my boss's e-mails directly to a folder on its own. However, I still have to go through all my other messages and clear them out of my Inbox at some point and it can be overwhelming at times.

Before sending an e-mail, think carefully about what you want to communicate and re-read it to make sure you are sending the right message. I would also suggest that you ask yourself if the message would come across better in person, especially when we are e-mailing co-workers who are probably in close proximity to where we sit. A good stretch to stop by someone's desk to ask them a question or a quick phone call can save a lot of time and avoid having to deal with another e-mail in your Inbox.

Try not to forget the art of conversation and communicating face to face in your office business dealings. A smile and a pleasant word can go a long way to building a strong team and good working relationships.


Why do we feel we have to immediately answer every e-mail that comes our way? Or, if we don't receive an immediate reply to our e-mail, why do we feel we need to send another one? When I have spoken to people who are extremely frustrated about the back and forth of e-mail, I have to wonder why they felt they needed to answer it so urgently in the first place. Perhaps we put a lot of the stress on ourselves because we feel that every e-mail has to be replied to immediately.

If you were quite disciplined and remembered to turn your out-of-office assistant on and off each time, you could put it on when you are too busy to answer e-mail and let people know that you will get back to them later in the day and if they need immediate assistance to telephone you. You would have to remember to turn it off however when you are back to business.
Sometimes you are in the office, but need a few uninterrupted hours and this would work well for that purpose. Sort of like closing your office door...
When you are away from the office you should always turn your out-of-office assistant on and refer people to someone else who can help. This will let people know you are not in the office, but that all is not lost because there is someone else who can assist them. The same can be said for voicemail. If you are not in, please let your callers know that and refer them to someone else who can help them in your absence.


Take a deep breath, relax and e-mail smart. Let's use the technology we have and make it work for us, not make work for us and please no e-slaps - they hurt!

16 November 2008

Writing when you don’t know what you’re talking about...

My boss tells me I should be able to write a letter or a report on something even if I don't know the subject that well. I used to call that BS when I was young, but maybe he has a point.

I wrote the article The Art of Minute Taking and I had only taken minutes a few times about 25 years ago. How did I do it? I interviewed my friend who is a minute taker. I asked her questions to prompt her and got her talking about minute taking while I took notes. At the end of it, I knew how to take minutes and could write about it. From writing that article I had confidence to take a job that required me taking minutes and it has turned out fine. What used to scare me, has now become something I can do. I will not say I am the perfect minute taker, but it is something I now have confidence in doing.

I have written many articles on my blog on subjects that I knew nothing about. I did do research however and read as many articles and books on the subject that I could and then I tackled the article and actually learned something while doing it. Writing on a subject you know nothing about is a good way to learn something about that particular topic. Being able to do that becomes helpful when you need to know the information for your job or some life experience. For instance, at one time I would not have been able to write about cystic fibrosis, but since my great nephew has been diagnosed with it, I have learned more than I ever wanted to know and yes, I could write an article about it.

I still have difficulty writing flowery letters with all the added fluff that I don't know about, but I am learning and in the end it does make the letter sound better.

A good way to learn letter writing and style is from someone who knows how to do it well. Read their letters and reports and see how they craft their words. There is usually a pattern. The opening is typically a general who you are statement. You then proceed into the purpose you are writing and what you need from them or want to tell them. You then want to end with something to tidy the letter up and end on a cordial note and let them know you appreciate the time it took them to read the letter.

I think once you learn the pattern it is simply a matter of filling in the blanks, but then again, I've just written an article that I know nothing about. See, it wasn't that hard after all now was it?

10 November 2008

We have a winner!

Well that didn't take long. The 10th person was someone by the first name of Tammy and once I get her address I will be sending her a copy of the book.

Congratulations Tammy!


9 November 2008


I am remiss. Just before my book was published I promised I would have a contest on my blog and someone could win a copy of my book. Here is how you can win:

The tenth person to e-mail me at pattyannrobb@rogers.com will receive a free copy of my book. Once I determine a winner, I will contact you to get your address so I can mail it to you.

Take care,


1 November 2008

It's Lonely in the Corner Office...

In my new job I sit in a corner office. I have never had my own office before and I can't say I like it, but I am getting used to it (sort of).

My boss and I share an office space. He actually has the real corner office, but we have an adjoining door. When he is in the office it is good, at least I have company. When he is away, it is very quiet and sometimes I just have to get up and walk around and visit someone or it feels like I am there by myself.

My company is moving to a new space with a more open concept and I am looking forward to it. I have always worked in an open concept and I like the interaction that goes on between the assistants.

I can interact where I am now, but I have to get up and go if I want to speak with someone and then when I get there I may find they are busy or on the phone so I have wasted my time. When you are in a cube you just stick your head up to speak to your neighbour and if you see they are on the phone, you go about doing something else until you hear they are free. Of course there is a down side to being able to do that. You have to be respectful of your neighbours. If you have ever worked in a cube you will know what I mean.

I have always liked to share and learn from my co-workers. I am good at some things, but not as confident in other things. For instance, I am horrible at collating. Where I used to work we had a Mailroom and I would plunk what I needed in a tray with a form to tell them how I wanted it to turn out and return to get it when it was finished. I liked that. Now I have to do it myself. Because I don't have the interaction that I had in the open space, I am not sure who to ask or who would know how to do it in a more efficient way. That is one of the advantages of the open concept. You see your co-workers at work and you can see their strengths. Most places that I have worked, people tend to work together and in an open concept I find the atmosphere lends itself to teamwork. You see a need and help out, or you see someone who does something really well and you say, hey can you help me out?

The disadvantage to the open concept is you or your neighbour can sometimes interrupt when you need some quiet time to get a job done. I appreciated my office and closed door one day last week when I had to get some minutes done and really needed to concentrate. It was wonderful to have that uninterrupted time to think and craft my words the way I wanted to.

There are advantages and disadvantages to either working environment, but I am looking forward to moving to our new open workspace and getting to know my neighbours.