I recently earned some sabbatical time away from my work here at Adobe. But rather than spend that time on a beach sipping fruity beverages and soaking up sun, I decided to take a road-trip. For three weeks we travelled over 6000 miles and across 18 states in the South of the USA. Approximately 4 of those days were spent driving. I experienced amazing things, including Broadway in Nashville, sunrises over Myrtle Beach, the French Quarter on a Friday evening, snorkeling with dolphins and rays in Florida, Texas BBQ, and the rabid basketball fans in Oklahoma City. What does all this have to do with digital analytics and digital media? At first glance not much. But the biggest surprise of my trip was the lessons I learned that do have application to my work, and digital analytics. At the risk of being obvious to the better balanced, allow me to share of few of my insights with you.
1. Relaxation and Reconnection
Stepping away from work turned out to be one of the best things I have done for my job. I relaxed, reconnected with friends and family and allowed my mind to think about something other than the challenges of work. Now that I have returned, I have a new perspective on those challenges, new ideas, new energy, and the wisdom to let go of what I can’t solve today. As I’ve talked with others who have taken sabbaticals, I hear similar perspectives. Not all of us can just pack up and leave, but I would recommend that you give yourself a small window, a weekend, an extra night to move away from a problem and come back with a fresh perspective. Obvious? Yes but I had allowed myself to ignore the importance of some relaxation. Interestingly, the balance issue for women and also men has come to the forefront in recent weeks, starting with Facebooks Sheryl Sandberg’s comments. Read more about it here and here. Bottom line: to be more productive don’t neglect your personal time.
2. Be Patient While Expecting Progress
With all respect to my Kansas friends, driving through certain stretches of the Sunflower state can seem endless. But then again, when you are in a car for 15 hours in one day, driving across anywhere can seem endless. I learned quickly that fidgeting, complaining, or getting frustrated didn’t make the miles pass by any faster. Sometimes you just have to be patient. We did eventually reach our destination, and I learned to look for the little signs beyond the odomedeter that indicated progress. For example, my windshield started getting plastered with bugs at one point and I noticed “Hey, I’m in Gainesville FL already!”
Similiarly, your organizational goals and objectives may feel distant but if you work at it, signs of progress will materialize. I worked with a client recently responsible for a massive Business Intelligence initiative that impacted several large disparate groups and hundreds of end users. Like the endless miles on my road trip, the sponsor felt the project drag on day after endless day. But we worked diligently to properly educate other groups on the benefits that the new digital information would bring to their business and steadily raised awareness. Over time, progress was made and more and more signs of progress were manifest. Bottom line: know when to be patient but also expect progress at the same time.
3. To Get, Give
One of my favorite moments of any trip is that point when I can I review all my pictures after I return home. As I eagerly looked my travel pictures, I realized some of our best images came from some unknown stranger. You know the drill. You need a group picture but don’t want one of the group left out, so you ask some bystander to take it for you. Ironically, many of those best pictures would never have happened if I didn’t open my mouth-not to ask but to offer to take someone else’s picture. Almost without fail, they would return the kind gesture by offering to take our picture as well. As the trip progressed I realized that the best way to get someone out of a desired picture spot (the perfect one in front of the Disney castle or on the pier) is to give that person what he/she wants. Is that coveted implementation change tied up with the development team? Are creative assets backlogged and holding up your next test? Do you need movement from your exec sponsor or digital director? Offer to help! Assist with a project. Pitch in with an idea. Simply empathize with that colleague if you can do nothing else, although I’ll bet you can. Bottom line: Everyone needs to get things done, so offer to help, and you will be surprised how often that movement will benefit your goals as well.
4. Be Prepared
In some ways, navigating a busy Disneyworld or Universal Studios can be like planning the Normandy invasion. I studied maps read reviews and even used two apps that allowed me to plan in advance (WDW Waits and Disney Parks are fantastic apps). We were stocked up with waters, personal fans and snacks. I knew what the crowds would do and zigged as everyone else zagged. The planning paid off and we experienced what we wanted in a reasonable and mostly hastle free way. What a difference planning can make! When is that app slated to be released? What are the plans with the site redesign and how will that affect you and your constituents? Take the time to be a few steps ahead rather than rushing headlong into the daily to-do list. Reasonable preparation can pay off even if you aren’t directly responsible for the project. You can save yourself the agony of being the last in line or help your team lead avoid that fate for the entire group.
5. But Be Flexible
I had big plans to hike Mt Bonnell in Austin, but it started raining, and then pouring (not a common thing in Austin these days). What to do? We ended up in a high school gym watching the annual spring review. Fortunately we weren’t so attached to our schedule or we would have missed one of the best high school concerts I have ever seen thanks to the wonderful talent at Westlake High School. Is it raining? Heck, lets hit that water ride rather than the roller coaster we planned. Road closed? Let’s check out this other town and see what the local food is like. Likewise, perhaps the VP postponed your big digital sales training. Is that your opportunity to work on the social marketing project you needed to tackle? Perhaps you can build that ad sales dashboard that seems to have taken up permanent residence on your to-do list. Plans and preparedness are important, but you might miss something great if you aren’t willing to adapt.
6. It’s the Journey
Finally, let’s wrap with an overused but oh so true cliché: it really is the journey. You don’t have to love what you do all the time. I hated parts of my trip such as packing the car or dealing with tired people after a long hot day. But you should get joy and satisfaction from your work. I hope you like the actual data analysis part of your project not just the final PowerPoint presentation. Hopefully you enjoy finding great testing ideas equally as much as reviewing the results. Where you are going won’t ultimately be important if you don’t enjoy going there. I travelled many places and experienced amazing things with friends and family. Ultimately I did want to get back home, but it’s the getting there that makes the trip worth it in the first place.