31 January 2009

Housecleaning in Word 2007: Customizing your Dictionary

Something you should do every once in awhile is to clean up your dictionary in Word. You would be surprised how many misspelled words get in there by mistake; for example, instead of pressing Change you press Add to Dictionary when you are going through your SpellCheck.

Here is the way to change it in Word 2007:
  • Click on the Office button
  • At the bottom is a box called Word Options, click on that
  • Click on Proofing on the left-hand side
  • Choose Custom Dictionaries
  • Click on Edit Word List

The word list is in alphabetical order. Just scroll through the list and if you want to delete something, highlight it, press delete and continue as you have time. When you are done click OK to get out of it and your changes will be saved.

One of the best kept secrets in Word 2007 is the Word Options button.

24 January 2009

Some People see Roadblocks -- Others see Hurdles...

Did you ever notice that some people seem to see a problem as a roadblock and they just stop! They don't search for a solution, but they see it as a stop sign, instead of a yield sign. Then there are others who encounter a problem but rather than a roadblock, they see it as a hurdle to be overcome. It hinders them for a time, but they search for solutions and work to get over it.

What is a roadblock and how can we work towards a solution rather than come to a full stop?

A roadblock in the office is a problem that comes up and on first glance makes you think you are not going to be able to move forward. You may stop and feel you can't go any further, but is it really a roadblock? Have you searched for alternative answers or solutions? Have you spoken to your colleagues and brainstormed to try and find a solution? Is the clock on the wall deciding how much effort you will put into finding an answer? Or do you just not want to try? I have found that in most situations there is usually a way around it.

Why not start looking at your roadblock as a hurdle instead? You can see a hurdle in front of you, but you immediately start to look for ways around it or over it. You should view it as a momentary setback to be overcome.

If you have ever watched athletes in the Olympics run and jump over hurdles, it almost seems impossible as they are going so fast with what I think are rather high obstacles in front of them. They encounter the hurdle, but rather than stop, they keep going and without missing a beat, jump over it. If they thought about the hurdle and how high it was and how close together they were, that would be enough to send them running the other way, but they don't look at the obstacles in their way, they just see the finish line and consider what they will need to do to get there.

We can sometimes encounter situations in the office that are like that. We have a task that we need to finish and someone tells us it can't be done or there is no way that we will be able to accomplish it. It may seem like a roadblock, but is it really? Are you looking at the obstacle or at the finish line? There is usually an answer if you look for it or speak to others on your team or in your network of acquaintances.

This can work for the simplest problems or for larger ones.

  • The Pot Hole: Sometimes small problems can seem bigger than they really are. Do you have to get a courier out the door, but have missed the last courier run? Rather than letting this stop you, look at your options. There are always courier depots where you can go to drop off your package and it will still make the delivery deadline. On occasion I have jumped in a taxi and made the delivery myself. Many small things like this can be handled with a little creativity and shouldn't stop production.
  • The Speed Trap: Are you struggling to meet a deadline? Sometimes deadlines are exaggerated and if you talk to your boss you may find that the real deadline is further out, but if it can't be moved, why not look to your team members for help? Is there someone you can ask for assistance that can help you get the job done on time? Sometimes we feel we have to do everything ourselves, but there can be alternatives if we ask.
  • The Detour: Have you made a mistake and think that it is the end of the road for you? If it is with an outside contact, a phone call apologizing for your error and being open to whatever steps you need to take to make it right will go a long way to fixing it. The other person at the end of the line is human and knows what it is like to make a mistake. They will normally try to help you come up with a solution if you explain what happened. You never know, you may be able to return the favour when the shoe is on the other foot. The same holds true for your co-workers. Most times it is in their best interests to help you succeed and then the whole team will come out ahead.
  • Slow Moving Vehicle: Sometimes we make a simple problem into a complicated one. Stop and evaluate and see if there is an easier solution. You would be surprised how easy it is to fix some things. Someone I know had a simple task to complete, or so I thought, but she had complicated it so much that I had to say to her, "Why don't you just do a cut and paste." She looked at me rather sheepishly, wondering why she hadn't thought of it, and then went back and did the job. The same thing has happened to me and I shake my head and wonder why I didn't think of the easy solution?
  • Construction Ahead: Planning ahead helps you anticipate last minute things that might come up. Rather than being unprepared, keep a checklist of things you need to do to complete the task. A checklist, however, is only effective if it is kept updated and looked at often. Use your checklist and you will find it a great tool to keep you on the right track and help you get around those obstacles.

The next time it looks like a roadblock has stopped you in your tracks, think of it as a hurdle. Hurdles can be overcome. Be creative. Don't take no for an answer. Keep your eye on the goal and look for ways you can get there. If someone says, "Don't bother asking, they will just say no." Ask anyway. There is no harm in asking and it just might get you the answer you are looking for.

19 January 2009

Training On-line

Recently someone asked me a question about training on-line so I thought I would share the answer in a post.

The good thing about on-line courses, is anyone can do it from anywhere. I use a place based in Toronto, Canada called Last Minute Training. It works in the same way as last minute flights do. When it gets closer to the course date and it doesn't look like they will fill the seats, they offer the course at a cheaper price.

They can slot you into courses, either online or live classrooms that are happening tomorrow or later on. I have found them to be really helpful.

They can be contacted at: Louis@lastminutetraining.ca

The last online course I took was under $70 and was interactive using both the computer and a speaker phone for audio. It was a convenient alternative to a live classroom, but I still do appreciate the classroom setting and nothing can compare with the people you meet and discussions you can have with your classmates during a break.

10 Things = Frustration

  1. When one team member doesn’t want to play.
  2. Managing your workload from home when you don’t have everything you need.
  3. When e-mail gets complicated and you lose a critical e-mail in a subfolder.
  4. Checking your e-mail account after coming back from vacation.
  5. When the Receptionist, or a co-worker, transfers a call without letting you know they are sending it. You usually answer according to what you see on the display and say “Hi”, thinking it is an internal call, but they are transferring an outside call so you end up sounding unprofessional.
  6. Meeting documents: some people have it printed single sided and others double sided. It is very hard to follow along when not all members have the document printed the same way. It is comical watching everyone trying to sort out which way to hold the paper.
  7. E-mail address memory: when it's not who you want to send it to, but you press send anyway.
  8. Imposing recognition of birthdays on everyone in the office whether you want to or not.
  9. My default is black and white, but my printer's default is colour.
  10. A boss who procrastinates (I hope my boss is reading this)...

18 January 2009

"Mom, I'm sick!"

I love that commercial where the woman is obviously very sick and miserable, but she is trying to get ready for work. She hesitates between yes, she will go to work, to no she can't go in, until finally she just crashes fully dressed on her bed in no shape to go anywhere. Well, that is exactly how I felt last week. I was sick with a cold and flu and felt just plain awful. It hit me so suddenly on Sunday night with fits of sneezing that I thought at first it was allergies, but by morning it was a full-blown cold. I did the whole "should I stay or should I go now?" routine, but finally dragged myself out of the apartment and went to work because I had an all-day meeting to attend that I really needed to be at. Or so I thought...

Once I got to work I realized the error of my decision when I started getting chills and realized I had a fever as well. The members of my team of course didn't want to even be near me because of the germs I was spreading and I not only felt sick, but understandably rejected by my co-workers. Finally, my boss announced that they were taking a vote and were voting me off the island. I resisted for a minute and then when I just couldn't keep my head up one more minute, took my leave and went home. Three days later I re-surfaced wondering where the week had gone.

Should we go to work when we are sick? This cold and flu that I picked up had been going around my office for the last three weeks so I wasn't the only one who had come in when I was sick. It is a hard call to make. You don't want to stay home for a minor cold, but you don't want to spread germs either and in my case, it was more than just a cold, but a fever as well. You try to make the right decision as you are pondering in the morning if you can get yourself into work, but ultimately the decision seems to be made based not on wisdom, but on what work you have on your plate and what responsibilities you have to fulfill that day.

I had things to do that day so went into the office, but when all is said and done I ended up not being able to perform my duties and was out of commission for the next three days and guess what? The office did not fall apart. My work did get done eventually and everything was fine. I did cheat however and peeked remotely after the second day off sick just to keep in contact and put out a few fires, but basically I was on the couch with a big blanket, a box of kleenex and my comfort food when I am sick: gingerale, chicken and rice soup and fruit cocktail. I don't know if they really help or not, but when I was young that is what my mother would give me as she tucked me into bed and took care of me. I miss my mommy when I am sick...sometimes being an adult sucks.

When I finally went in on Thursday I did have a lot of catching up to do, but by Friday felt I was back on track. I think sometimes we feel we need to go in, at least the first day, just to show everyone that we are really sick. Afterall, it was a Monday and you know what Human Resources people say about those who take off on Mondays or Fridays, we might be just extending our weekend. Well, I proved to everyone I was really sick, but unfortunately left behind my germs and two other people have now had to go home sick because of it.

I am not sure if me staying home would have helped or not, but if you are sick, STAY HOME! You are not doing your office, or yourself any good and when you think about it, what are you going to accomplish if you are feeling so bad. Best to stay home and get better.

I realize some people don't get paid when they are off sick and I feel for them. It must be horrible to have to drag yourself in and push yourself when you really should be in bed. I do get paid sick leave however so am thankful that I have the option.

Am I going to work tomorrow? I think so, but maybe I will get up and start again with the question "should I stay or should I go now?

13 January 2009

Is it that time of the year already?

Can you believe we are already into a new year and will have to think about completing a performance appraisal again? As painful an exercise as this may be, I wouldn't downplay the performance appraisal. In some organizations raises are tied to how well you do and it is also a record that is kept on your personnel file.

One of the hardest questions for me on my performance appraisal is the one about my goals. I never know what to put down. Normally, I put something about needing to get my filing system up to date, but I think I may have missed the point when I have done that. Here are some things that might help you start thinking about what your goals could be:
  • Sometimes your goals are tied into your boss's goals. Think about what your boss needs to get done and how you can help him or her accomplish that and work that into your goals.
  • Think about some things that you need to get done and how you will do it, then set a goal to get it done.
  • Think about some things that you would like to get done and how you can accomplish it and put that down as a goal.

The next worse section is the self evaluation questions. I usually rate myself right down the middle. After all, I wouldn't want to rate myself too high or someone might think I think too highly of myself, but I don't want to rate myself too low or what would that look like? I think we should not underestimate the contribution we are making to our company's success and should evaluate ourselves accordingly. If you do evaluate yourself high, be prepared to explain why and whatever you do, work like you say and do everything to the best of your ability.

The section on key accomplishments is another area that stumps me. I work from day to day and sometimes what I did last month is old news and then I am off to my next task so I have a hard time remembering what I did throughout the year. What I have started doing is keeping a collection of notes and e-mails. When I receive a complimentary note from my boss or from a client, I save it so when it comes time to think back, I have a handy record of something I have done well and that helps me to remember what some of my key accomplishments are. We sometimes have a hard time acknowledging the things we do as something special so getting another person's perspective can help us see what we do in a different light.

I almost feel like laughing when it comes to the question about personal development -- who has time for that? But you shouldn't neglect taking care of your own development. We really don't have an excuse because it is becoming increasingly easy to take courses online. All you need is to put some time aside and close your door, or put some earphones on, and plug into your computer and learn. I have had great experiences learning online in interactive courses. As wonderful as online learning can be, going to a live conference or seminar with other assistants is something that you should try to do a few times a year. I think I am just not used to having to think about me. My job is so centered around my boss and helping him succeed that I forget about me and what I need for my career.

Maybe the performance appraisal won't be so bad after all. So, do I get my raise yet?

3 January 2009

P.S. I Love You

Is the P.S. passé? I come from a time when many people used the P.S. so it is no wonder in my e-mail messages I often put a P.S.

P.S. means post script. It is an afterthought. When I don't feel like composing a new sentence, but just thought of something and want to let the reader know about it, I put a P.S. and add it to the end of my letter or e-mail. The problem is, nobody seems to read it, especially in an e-mail.

I don't know how many times I have put a P.S. to let someone know something and then when I meet that person they ask me why I never answered them. "I did," I said, "I put it as a P.S. at the end of my e-mail." Oh, I never read that far they usually tell me.

Is it true? Do we not read past the name? I think people are just too busy and only skim over e-mails for the information they need and discard the rest.

The P.S. seems to have had a small comeback with the movie P.S. I Love You and I will continue to use it, but maybe if I really want to highlight something, I will put it right up front, especially in a work e-mail.

P.S. Don't forget to look for the P.S.
P.S.S. It's really not that hard to find.
P.S.S.S. If you have to P.S. this far you have missed the point of the P.S.


My boss read my blogpost and pointed out to me that he thought the correct way to write the post script is:


Of course, he sent me a link to prove his point. In it they wrote that PS meant post scriptum, therefore PPS would be post-post scriptum, which makes sense in a Latin sort of way.

P.S. Don't you hate it when your boss is right?

1 January 2009

Happy New Year! Now don't forget to put the correct year on your documents...

As we head into the New Year it will be easy to forget and put 2008 instead of 2009. After all, we've been doing it for a whole year now. An easy way to never go wrong is to insert the date from your computer. In Word, choose Insert, Date and Time and then highlight the date format you like and press OK. If there is a particular style that you like, then you should set it as your default. To do that, at the bottom of the same dialogue box is a Default button. Click on it and it will ask you if you are really sure you want this to be your default. Click Yes and then OK. If you change your mind later and decide you prefer another format, it is easy to go back and re-set the default in the same way as above.

You can also insert the date and get it to update automatically by clicking on Update Automatically in the Date and Time dialogue box. I only use this if I have a form or something that I always want the current date on it. It is not a good idea to use on a letter because once you open and print it, it will automatically update to today's date, which may not be what you want if you are using the letter as a history of when you sent it.

Until you remember on your own what year you are in, this is a good back up system.

Happy New Year everyone! All the best in 2009.