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Special Events Planners Need Vacations

Special events planners need vacations. I just returned from mine. Not just any vacation, this was an unplugged, disconnected, off the grid, tech-free week! No smartphone, e-mail, texting, Facebook, and no television. It was time well spent. My goal was to rest from the unrelenting pressures of constant event planning and the toxic continual bad news spewed 24/7 by omnipresent media. It took me several days to gear down, but it worked. Even after a full day back in the office, I still feel refreshed.

It’s hard to get away from technology, but I found the perfect place to do so, Big Bend National Park, one of the most remote places in the U.S., a destination that is far off the beaten path and is noted for its dark night sky, rugged landscape, great hiking, and bountiful wildlife. What’s more, I went with a group of strangers, thus leaving relationship politics and behavioral expectations behind. I spent eight days being myself, deliciously “in the moment,” concentrating on just what was in front of me. It was positively therapeutic.

Everyone needs a vacation, especially special events planners. CBS News recently listed event coordinators as number six on their top ten list of most stressful jobs noting, “Arranging meetings, conventions and events of any sort requires myriad organizational and people skills that can raise just about anyone’s blood pressure.”

https://www.cbsnews.com/media/the-10-most-stressful-jobs/

The fact is, most Americans don’t use their paid time off and even when we do, technology means that we are constantly checking in with the office. This is a mistake.

An interesting report by Project: Time Off called “The Tethered Vacation,” is chock full of observations and facts about why people don’t use their vacation time and the effects of pervasive technology when they do. The one I find most interesting is, “Employees who are more connected are not only taking less time off, they are also more stressed. More than half (51%) of those who check in frequently report stress in their home life, compared to 48 percent of those who check in occasionally and 36 percent who unplug on vacation.”

https://www.projecttimeoff.com/research/tethered-vacation

Bottom line: The constant interruption of smartphones and other technology actually makes us less effective, not only as worker, but in our interpersonal relationships. We all need a break, but taking one requires a commitment to yourself. Think of it this way, not using vacation means you are working for free. Event planners work many, many extra hours. Compounding that by giving back vacation time is like taking a salary reduction. Besides, giving your coworkers a break from you and refilling your creativity by immersing yourself in a different environment will yield benefits in productivity down the road. As people who devote much energy to taking care of guests and ensuring that they have a perfect experience, letting someone else take care of you is well-deserved and soothing. Vacation is an investment in yourself.

Whether or not you disconnect like I did, here are some ways to make your vacation a reality.

  1. Pick a date and make a deposit or purchase an airline ticket. Doing so means you are less likely to back out and also helps spread the cost over many months. Good times to get away in academia are after spring commencement, in early September after the initial rush to open a new academic year, after December commencement, anytime in January, and during spring break. Try scheduling vacation the same week that your boss will be away. It lessens the chance for “pop up” events that need last-minute attention.
  2. Plan to really get away. A “staycation,” that is, remaining at home, will not yield the same benefits as a complete change of scenery.
  3. Control your calendar. Diplomatically steer events away from your vacation week. Having a clear calendar while you are away will dramatically reduce your anxiety about being gone.
  4. Tell your friends, family, and colleagues that you want some down time and ask that they not contact you while away.
  5. Give yourself peace of mind by assembling a home based “first response team.” Arrange for friends and family to back you up to handle minor problems or field emergency calls. Designate someone to check on your elderly mom and to be the first point of contact in case of emergency.  Recruit someone that the vet can call if your dog gets sick while boarding.  Ask a neighbor to watch your house.
  6. As the date approaches, don’t remind coworkers that you will be away. Telling people as you are about to leave only encourages them to dump projects on which they’ve procrastinated onto your desk at the last moment.
  7. Trust your colleagues to manage events while you are off. You will have the chance to return the favor when they take their vacations.
  8. Remind yourself that taking a break will make you a more productive employee and energize you for events ahead.
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Yea, May! Commencement Time!

Yea, May! It’s the time of year when campus events planners have the end in sight and are looking forward to some time off. The academic year that began last August and that has since encompassed literally hundreds of events big and small, is about to wind up with the year’s biggest celebration: commencement!

Campus events planners often say to me “I don’t have anything to do with commencement.” But wait, we all do. Commencement is our reason for being, without graduating students, none of us would be employed. There would be no need for events to recruit students, re-connect alumni, or court donors.

Commencement (called “convocation” in Canada) is the year’s biggest celebration, a day of accomplishment and achievement celebrated by thousands of very happy people. For many, it will be one of the highlights of a lifetime. Why wouldn’t you want to be involved?

Orchestrating commencement requires a team of people with specialized knowledge and the capabilities to manage a large ceremony involving everyone from dignitaries to proud grandmothers. It’s worth learning how to do.

For one thing, adding commencement experience to your special events planner skill set adds value to your resume, is good for job security, and is attractive come promotion time. Even if diversifying into commencement and other academic ceremonies seems a far-off likelihood, I encourage you to get experience anyway by volunteering to help. While every campus has someone who is ultimately responsible for commencement, no campus has a permanent staff large enough to manage the ceremony without others. Volunteers are always needed and being one is a good way to try out commencement to see if you like it. Besides, volunteering for commencement may yield some return favors when you need assistance with major events. Beginners usually start by assisting with line-up, helping in the robing rooms, or facilitating post-ceremony receptions.

Commencement is a joyous day and it is always gratifying to watch the graduates and their proud families celebrate one of life’s major milestones. The positive energy and excitement never fails to rejuvenate my planner spirit and leaves me deeply satisfied.  Commencement brings closure to the year.

To learn more about commencement, check out the North American Association of Commencement Officers at http://naaco.org or plan to attend one of their regional meetings or annual conference.

To those of you who are already part of the proud commencement team, good luck with this spring’s ceremonies. I have posted answers to commencement FAQ in “Academic Protocol Fast Facts” under the Academic Ceremonies tab.