Tips for Streamlining Your Processes


Author
Brandon Blackmer

Published
April 30, 2014


As a first year professional Hall Director, the one thing that I was so excited to do upon coming to a new institution was figuring out how all of the new processes and procedures worked, and how I could learn and grow from the changes that I would need to make to ensure that my work would mesh with the current organization.  To me, there is nothing more exciting than seeing how my work fits into or could fit into the work of the organization or department.  Although most of these ideas are related to Student Affairs and Residence Life, I am certain that there are cross-functional pieces that you can utilize to become more efficient at your job.  Before I explain why, let me give you some background about why I am so passionate about processes and procedures.

As an only child, I grew up creating a new way to do everything the first time that I tried it, without being able to see how someone before me had done it.  My father, who is a mechanical engineer, always encouraged me to “find the most efficient way to do something, because time is money, and you can’t waste your company’s money.”  When I started in the working world, the first goal that I had was to learn to work as quickly and accurately as possible, which in a sandwich shop, was a lot harder to do than you may think.  Regardless, over the past 11 years of being employed somewhere, I have learned that in order to be as efficient as you want to be, you sometimes have to rely on something other than yourself to truly succeed: Technology.

When I started in Student Affairs as an RA about 8 years ago, my supervisor was all about finding more efficient ways of doing things, and introduced me to the wonderful world of Google Documents.  From there, I have spiraled around finding new and exciting ways to make sure that I am doing my work as efficiently as possible.  Through two years of graduate school, I had the privilege of taking on many tasks to streamline our department’s paperwork and processes.  I was truly privileged to work with a group of people who were open to exploring new options and trying new things, and I had so much fun figuring out new ways of making Residence Life successful.

From creating documents online for RAs to utilize, to teaching students in our buildings to utilize online forms to check in and out of their rooms, you too can accomplish your end goal without spending the personnel time on the administrative piece, but rather spending time on the personal pieces of higher education.

I have 5 top ideas that will help you streamline your processes.

  1. Google Documents (http://docs.google.com) is one of the most widely used sources for online document storage, distribution, and collaboration. Did you know that you can set everyone up in the office on one document and have quick meetings across the world?  If a group of you are working on presenting a topic at a divisional meeting, you can collaborate online instead of in person.  Students can fill out forms surrounding Duty, hour logs, and more that are time-stamped and verified by their username.  You can have students check in and out of their room at their leisure, and provide them with all sorts of information through forms and documents.  In essence, Google Documents is a glorified administrative assistant for anybody, turning any normal document into whatever you need it to be for efficiency sake.
  2. Excel.  I love Excel.  There is so much you can do with an excel document.  From keeping records organized, to sorting and finding data, Excel is one of my best friends.  If you haven’t taken a course on Excel, I highly recommend it.  Did you know that you can separate a ‘last name, first name” column into two columns and from there create an individualized mail-merge to personalize your emails to students or staff?  We used excel (through Google Documents) to organize all of our applicants for our on-campus positions this year, and were able to pull quick information from all of the applications with a click and drag.  I know that some people feel that Excel has passed its prime, but I utilize it daily to keep track of everything in my building.
  3. Online Scheduling Software (outside of Outlook Calendar) is something that saves me daily.  I utilize Doodle (www.doodle.com) and Appointy  (www.appointy.com) as well as Sign Up Genius (www.signupgenius.com) to schedule duty, student meetings, and more.  It makes getting ahold of my schedule easier for my supervisees as well as students.  I cannot always control when I will be in my office or busy when a student stops by, but when they are a part of the process, they can feel like they are setting up an appointment to meet with me.  Also, there are often free reminders that they will receive 2 days before their meeting when they sign up for a time slot.  For example, we utilized Sign Up Genius this year to have our staff select interview times for their interviews.  It worked out very well, and freed up our administrative assistant to deal with the phones, conduct paperwork, and more.
  4. The Grab Tool or the Snipping Tool (the new “Print Screen”, I use the second one) on your computer can make the world of difference when you are trying to explain something to someone else.  If you need to be able to look at something when you’re thinking about it, but you don’t necessarily have it in front of you, someone can send you a “snip” of the article, website, budget transactions, etc. so that you can be kept in the loop.  Also, have you been trying to explain to someone over the phone exactly how to do something, but there are so many buttons that you’re not sure which one they are pressing?  Take a screen snip of the thing you are looking at, and you can often times draw an arrow or circle the correct button, then send it to your colleague so they know which one to push to do their task correctly.  Also, when you are training new employees about processes or online systems, a picture is worth a thousand words, and you can create top quality graphic directions in order to ease people’s transition in and out of the position.
  5. Finally, Survey Monkey (www.surveymonkey.com) or something similar for assessment is something that can aid you tremendously when it comes to providing numbers as backing for your financial position or success rates for anything.  Survey Monkey, although not free like many of the other technology tips, has greatly increased the ability to say that “what we do here is working effectively.”  That is priceless.  By using survey monkey to have our students evaluate all of our student staff members (RAs) and give feedback about their living environments, we can see our problem areas and effectively implement new ways of addressing deficiencies in our communities.  This is also a great way to anonymously (or not) ask your department or division for feedback, survey students or staff about a new initiative, help gage the effectiveness of the program someone in your office put on, and even better, process the numbers for you.  This is a huge time saver from having to worry about the paper forms that so many of us are used to, and we don’t have to sit and enter 40 sheets into Excel to get a nice copy of the data.

There are so many other ways in which you can effect change and create an efficient workplace through technology, but the most important thing to remember is that people have to be on board with the ideas of streamlining processes in order for it to truly be effective.  Make sure that you are doing things that work for your department and for your institution, because there is nothing worse than seeing how this new way of doing things, or this old way of doing things, loses the meaning behind the work we are doing.  I always encourage my peers and colleagues to try something on a small scale first, and if they have success in that endeavor, to share the pieces with the entire group in order to see where to go forward from there.

- Brandon Blackmer is a Hall Director at Xavier University


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