8 bad habits event planners should stop to save time

Time.  It’s the event planner’s most precious commodity and yet it is also one of the main challenges of organizing any type of event.  Most of us feel that we simply don’t have enough of it.  Yet somehow, we keep calm and carry on.  It’s no wonder event planning is ranked as the fifth most stressful job in the world! Working in events is not something that everyone is cut out to do.  Determination, experience, good communications and creativity are all essential skills for success in the job. But good time-management is even more important.

Many of us today use all sorts of technology tools that help save time in planning and managing events. From event management systems like Eventsforce to event apps, engagement tools, marketing automation, analytics and so on. No one can dispute the countless benefits these systems bring in terms of time management.  They help us to connect, perform, improve and leverage our resources – a lot faster than what was once imaginable.

But let’s not forget about the human factor. Effective time management is a personal thing too. And most of us don’t get it right all the time. Whether it’s procrastination, personal distractions or tasks that take up a lot more time than they should, there are many things that waste our time every day.  And wasted time means rushed deadlines, a work-life imbalance and more stress and anxiety.

Have a look at the eight things you need to stop doing now to make better use of your time:

1. Stop Complaining about Time

We’re all a little bit guilty here.  We talk to colleagues, partners and suppliers about how much work we need to do in so little time. If you’re in the habit of complaining about time, it may be time to break the habit. And the easiest way of breaking any bad habit is by replacing it with a new positive one. Instead of focusing on your lack of time, be more vocal about what you do have time for.  If you value your time, others will do the same and you’ll see that it will not only have a positive impact on your productivity but everyone else’s too.

2. Stop Quick Internet Breaks

How often do you get the itch to quickly check the news or have a look at your phone to check Twitter or Facebook in the middle of a task? According to Forbes.com, research has shown that it takes 15 consecutive minutes of focus before you can fully engage in a task.  After that, you fall into a euphoric state of increased productivity – which apparently makes you five times more productive that you otherwise would be. Taking a mini-break to surf the Internet pulls you out of this state, which means you’ll need another 15 minutes to get back into it.  You do this enough times, and you’ll go through a whole day without experiencing the focus you need to get the job done. If these mini surfing breaks are essential, give yourself set times to do them in.  You can also use a tool like Pocket, which can save your ‘finds’ to access and read later on at a time that won’t impact your work.

3. Stop Multi-Tasking!

This may sound like the last thing an event planner should do but multi-tasking is a real productivity killer. According to research at Stanford University, multitasking has been proven to be less productive than doing a single thing at a time.  Why?  Because our brains lack the capacity to perform more than one task at a time successfully.  We may think we’re multi-taskers, but what we’re actually doing is shifting back and forth from one task to another, such as writing an email, then doing a conference call, then back to email and so on.   The research also found that people who multi-tasked a lot and believed it boosted their performance, were actually worse at multi-tasking than those who liked to do a single thing at a time. It seems they had more trouble organizing their thoughts and filtering out irrelevant information – they were also slower at switching from one task to another!

4. Stop Responding to Emails as They Arrive

Emails can be the source of constant interruption and this will affect how well you work with the time you’ve got.  Put aside specific times for checking your email, such as first thing in the day, right before or after lunch or right at the end of the day.  Unless it’s urgent, avoid checking emails outside these set times as it will definitely distract you from your high-priority work, especially when things are busy. You can also use features in your email software that allow you to prioritize messages by sender – so you can set alerts for your important suppliers and vendors and save the rest for your allocated email time.  You can even set up an autoresponder that lets senders know when you’ll be checking emails again.


Learn how to save time, cut out admin work and do more with your event data with this FREE eBook from Event Industry News and Eventsforce: The Event Planner’s Guide to Data Integration.


5. Stop Putting Off Harder Tasks

You have to remember that our mental energy has limits.  When this energy is exhausted, time-management, productivity and the ability to make good decisions decline rapidly. When you put off tasks till late in the day (because they’re difficult, boring or intimidating), you are saving them for a time when you’re at your worst. Take on these tasks in the morning when your mind is fresh and you’ll spend less time getting it done.

6. Stop The Unrealistic To-Do Lists

Ticking things off your to-do list can feel good because it gives you a sense of accomplishment.  But is it really the most productive way of doing things?  Apparently not. We regularly underestimate how long something will take us and we forget to factor this in.  Setting unrealistic expectations with never-ending to-do lists can lead to frustration, exhaustion and a feeling that you’re not accomplishing anything. Prioritize your tasks from most important to least important and for each task on your list, figure out exactly how much time you need to get it done. If you set a deadline for yourself, then this will help you avoid procrastination and ultimately work more effectively in the time that you have.

7. Stop Unproductive Meetings

Meetings take up a big part of your time.  Sometimes you may even have meetings about meetings. Well, according to Forbes, ultra-productive people avoid meetings as much as humanly possible.  They know that a meeting will drag on forever if they let it, so whenever they have one, they inform everyone from the start that they’ll be sticking to the intended schedule.  This sets a clear limit that encourages everyone to be more focused and efficient with their time.  When you are running meetings with your colleagues or suppliers, take five minutes beforehand to decide what it is you want to achieve.  This will help you stay focused on your goals.   Take another five minutes afterwards to check the results.  You can also make better use of time by creating boundaries for these meetings, such as keeping laptops closed (unless needed), not checking phones and making sure everyone participates and provides an opinion at the end of the discussion.

8. Stop Saying Yes to Everything

Yes, it is mostly your responsibility and the work does need to be done.  But saying yes to everything will load up your plate to a point where it becomes unmanageable because there simply isn’t enough time.   Try to take on additional tasks when you know you have free time or that the task at hand will help you meet your goals.  Figure out what the task involves before you say ‘yes’ and you’ll avoid neglecting other tasks that may be more important.  If you feel it isn’t a priority, don’t be worried about saying ‘no’ – people tend to instinctively respect those who can say no.  And if you don’t like the confrontation, you could try saying something along these lines – ‘I’ll be able to work on it once I finish doing XXX’ or ‘It would be great if I could do this another time, as I would like to focus my energy on what I’m doing now to get the best results’.

Conclusion

Some of these bad habits may not be such a big deal, but they do add up.  As an exercise, track the time you spend doing different tasks using an app like Toggl.   Look at the time you and your team spend meeting venues and suppliers, dealing with emails, setting up event websites, managing registrations and attendee enquiries, copying data, reporting and so on. You don’t need to do it all the time – use a set timeframe for your exercise.  Knowing how much time you spend working on different tasks will put you in a better position to figure out what you’re doing right and where there’s ways to improve.

Are there any other bad habits you can add to this list?  Please share and let us know – we’d love to hear your comments.

Sources:
https://www.forbes.com/sites/travisbradberry/2017/01/31/eight-bad-habits-you-must-break-to-be-more-productive/2/#326994935a80
https://www.forbes.com/sites/lisaquast/2017/02/06/want-to-be-more-productive-stop-multi-tasking/#5360b75a55a6
https://www.forbes.com/sites/francesbooth/2014/08/28/30-time-management-tips/#676a6bfb75e5
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Listen to the people who are talking sense

If you haven’t come across Michael Heipel yet, please let me introduce you…

Michael tweets, blogs and posts about all sorts of stuff, including marketing, events, social media and technology and I like what he has to say. (Sometimes he even likes what I have to say which is great!)

Today I found his blog post about social media and events.  It’s a topic very close to me since I spend most of my time trying to pursuade clients to focus in on their content and then work out what media they are going to use to tell their audience about it, rather than creating a social media presence and working out what they are going to put on it.

I would reproduce what Michael has said here, but I think you should go and read it for yourself.  It makes a lot of sense.

hellen @missioncontrol

Social media doesn’t work for your event? Here’s 5 reasons to think twice…

While at the big industry events like EIBTM or IMEX, social networks and the impact they have on event marketing are widely discussed, I sense that a lot of event organizers and associations are still not sure about how to deal with the topic or how much resources to invest.

So you think you own me?

The previous post You’ve got to deliver what the audience really  wants has provoked discussion in a number of forums and the responses have made for interesting reading, not least because of the seeming inability to move on from old arguments.

So let’s look at the topic from a different angle, by considering two industries closely related to producing live events; so closely related in fact that you would consider them siblings; i.e. publishing and broadcasting.

In both of these industries, the key players are referred to as Media Owners. Because they own the medium through which the content is broadcast. And for years this is exactly what they have done; decided when, where and what information and entertainment their audiences or readerships were going to consume.  They have made and broken many a star, politician or company profit, simply through the editorial decisions they have taken which have influenced the masses.

Conference and exhibition organisers, be they commercial operations, industry bodies or associations, continue to believe that they must operate in a similar way.  Developing programmes of content that they perceive the audience wants, choosing speakers and selecting participating exhibitors (via an economic filter it is true) and presenting a finished product to the visitors at a time, date and venue over which the latter has no control.

Then along came the Internet and social media and the shift in power from owner to audience was seismic.

Because the concept of expertise ownership by a few large corporations doesn’t fit any more.  You can’t tell me what I should be watching, what information I need, or who I should be networking with.  You can’t stop me finding organisations who can’t afford to exhibit at your event or who haven’t got a charismatic speaker, because if their Search and SM strategies are good I can do this on my own.  And, you can’t stop me telling people, a lot of people, about the experience your organisation offers me, within minutes if I so choose.

So let’s bin the argument about virtual not replacing face-to-face; because we all know it won’t.  Let’s stop finding fault with virtual technologies, because frankly some of them are pretty amazing.  And let’s stop pretending that we still own audiences and industries because of the events we produce because we don’t. Let’s embrace the new to enhance the old rather than dismissing it as a fad that has nothing to do with us.

What we need to be doing, with or without the help of virtual technologies, is to work out how we build and maintain relationships with our communities; how we facilitate communication and collaboration between individuals both through a single live day and an online presence; and how we use the unfettered enthusiasm of our audiences to create a profitable business model for the future.

hellen @missioncontrol

Driving through the efficiency agenda

Clear road aheadWe’re going on an efficiency drive…

Just the phrase is guaranteed to send shivers down the spine of any employee or organisation.  And with justification as this has become the thinly-veiled way of saying “we need to make budgetary savings and the easiest way to do this is by cutting our largest expense” – i.e. the labour-force.

While fiscal pressures may mean that production needs to be cut back to match a shrinking order book, and consequently less manpower is required, but shouldn’t this be a last resort rather than a first?  If an organisation sheds valuable intellectual capital and/or the means to re-engineer its operation too quickly, can it ever recover its place in the market or reputation for delivery of excellence.

The dictionary definition of efficiency is that it is the state or quality of being efficient,  and interestingly the definition of this word suggests that efficiency is achieved more by interrogating systems and working patterns than simply slicing numbers off the bottom line.

ef·fi·cient/iˈfiSHənt/Adjective

(esp. of a system or machine) Achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense.
(of a person) Working in a well-organized and competent way.

Organisations that top the efficiency leagues come in all shapes and sizes, but a common denominator between them is that they also tend to top the best places to work lists as well.  Their employees feel involved and able to contribute to discussion and decision-making processes: the organisation benefits by being able to tap into a wealth of knowledge and experience that can deliver custom-fit best practice… and efficiency.

By moving from a top-down decision-making to a collaborative process, board-rooms can exploit the experience of all areas of their operation, allowing innovation to spring up from every quarter and be properly dissected and discussed.  The difficulty for large organisations (small ones really don’t have any excuse unless they have multiple office sites) is how to action this process effectively.

Large scale meetings don’t really fit the bill because: a) they are expensive; and b) only the people with the loudest voices get to contribute unless they are very carefully designed.  Enter the virtual business solution… companies like Cisco, HP, Kaiser Permanente and GE have been using this technology for some time now to enable effective communication that reduces time out of the office, carbon footprint and the timelag in disseminating a message to a large number of people while increasing knowledge, motivation and challenging the efficacy of existing working practices.

If ever there was an efficent way to drive the efficiency agenda – this is it.

It’s WHAT you know, not who you know, that is important

Data is probably the single most important asset available to the modern marketeer.  Online or offline, data helps you understand your audience, target appropriately, and evaluate what you have achieved.

Marc Michaels, Director of Direct Marketing and Evaluation, COI

For every organisation, there is an imperative to measure: be this HR statistics, i.e. attendance, satisfaction, billable hours; sales and marketing efforts vs returns; key customer behaviour; client satisfaction; website activity… you get the picture.  For publishing and events companies in particular data underpins almost everything they do, as well as being their most transferrable asset and how this data is managed and used is as important as the brands themselves.

Having established that data is incredibly valuable, and can really drive a business or organisation forward, how come most of it sits gathering dust at the bottom of a drawer or stored somewhere  on an individual’s hard-drive? Why do organisations make the same mistake over and over again, despite conducting annual satisfaction surveys or presenting monthly figures to the board?

Is part of the answer that once an organisation has collected some data they consider job done,  and haven’t established a clear mechanism for acting on the results?  Or is it because there is such a lag between collecting the data and delivering the results that by then the business has moved on and believes it is already addressing issues highlighted in the retrospective research (when in fact it isn’t)?

Of all these factors, time lag has to be the most important.  Receiving a visitor list a month after the event fails to capitalise on the momentum of a live experience; it leaves visitors wondering why you didn’t contact them earlier and your sales team have already moved onto something else.  Spotting a need to deliver another specialist session at a conference can only happen if you are either a) there in person and able to listen in to all of the chat; or b) able to view what everyone is talking about around a specific topic as it happens.

Even in the corporate sector, the ability to capture data about what is important to your staff or the customers they are talking to is nothing unless it is available in real time, in a format that can be interpreted easily and acted upon.

Virtual experience platforms go a long way towards achieving this.  Built correctly and with the right technology in place, they are able to tell you what your audience really wants to know, where they are going to find out about it, what they expect to receive, who they want to interact with them and how long they are willing to do it for.

Valuable information that is available instantly.

Overcoming human nature to deliver success

If the human brain performs best in situations of conflict and the human psyche thrives on competition, how do we reconcile this with the human race’s dependence on cooperation for survival?

Even organisations where we would expect individuals to work together for a singular common aim, such as healthcare, have been permeated by competitive tendencies, whether this be the personality of the major decision maker or in the tendering for the provision of services.  Will this human instinct to incentivise by prize ultimately lead to our demise?

Or could there be a better way?

If you were to take a look at The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies 2011  list, and spent some time drilling down into the narrative for some of the organisations, you will find some common themes:

  • Inspirational leadership
  • Employees who feel valued and that they have a voice
  • A common ownership of purpose
  • Excitement in the direction the organisation is taking
  • A sense that ‘doing it right’ is as important as the drive for profit

All of these boil down to just two key factors: listening and ownership.

But if you have 20,000 employees/associates/partners, how can you possibly deliver this?  How can you pick out the important bits from a multitude of conversations?  How can you ensure that people having the same conversation in different geographical locations are brought together?

Once upon a time it would have been nearly impossible.  Virtual technologies have changed the status quo.

Are virtual events too predictable? Three reasons to embrace randomness, unpredictability and the unexpected

Following on from yesterday’s post about taking a non-determinist approach, we are grateful to Ike Singh Kehal from Virtual Events Hub  for giving us permission to republish his very interesting blog post from 31st March.

Consistency is the best foundation for the unexpected

Over the last several years, virtual event companies have created reliable frameworks and systems to help their clients drive more leads and maximize event ROI. Unlike virtual worlds, such as Second Life, virtual event platform providers aimed to develop consistent and controllable experiences that their Enterprise customers could trust. This consistency of experience was critical to the development of the virtual events industry and without it online events might have been a non-starter.

At the same time, while consistency is a worthy goal, I sometimes think that it is holding us back from optimizing our online experiences for attendees.  Humans are not information consumption machines. They need to be entertained. They delight in the unexpected. And, they choose their friends emotionally, not rationally. For all of these reasons, virtual events will increasingly need to embrace randomness, unpredictability, and the unexpected if they are to win the hearts of attendees and not just the minds of event organizers.

Three reasons to embrace randomness, unpredictability, and the unexpected

Random reinforcement in game dynamics – Over the last 18 months, virtual event providers have started to embrace game dynamics as a way to encourage attendees to engage with event content and connect with each other.  But, for the most part, the dynamics that providers have focused on have been fairly linear: do X –> get 10 points –> win prizes. The problem with this approach is that, as anyone who took Psychology 101 will remember, fixed-ratio schedules (where a reward is given after a set number of actions), are not particularly good at driving behavior. A better approach would be to introduce a level of randomness into the system to keep customers engaged.  For example, in addition to earning points for set activities, attendees might occasionally encounter unexpected prizes that are not announced up front. Small unexpected prizes would drive individual satisfaction and engagement, while larger prizes would drive buzz within the attendee community.

Unpredictability in content and experiences – Every event manager knows that people love surprises. As a result, it is somewhat surprising that virtual events rarely embrace unpredictability in terms of content and other experiences. Why not organize a surprise session on a previously unannounced hot topic? Why not invite the most active attendees to a VIP chat session with an industry expert of company executive? What impact would random acts of kindness (small unexpected gifts) have on driving attendee satisfaction.  For more on the topic of why we need to make virtual events more fun, check out my previous article Bring On the Virtual Bar.

Unexpected relationship building – many companies are investing heavily in Social CRM as a way to connect attendees at virtual events. These systems identify other attendees that you might want to talk to, based on your profile. Over the next year, the trick will be to develop systems that merge the science of social CRM with the art of relationship building. In other words, we need to match people based on their interests, but, we need to make the process of meeting feel as organic and “real” as possible. For example, rather than just giving attendees a list of people with similar interests, we should use games and game dynamics to get people to work together to solve problems and interact with event content. Studies show that people tend to feel closer to people that they work with to solve problems and we should definitely leverage this to the benefit of attendees and event organizers alike.

Do you expect the unexpected?

 Over the last several years, the virtual events industry has been built on a platform of consistency. However, in order for virtual events to reach their full potential, we need to build experiences that give event organizers the control that they need and attendees with the surprises that they crave. Doing so will require event organizers to embrace randomness in game dynamics, unpredictability in content, and unexpected relationship building.