Author: Ben Rock

Last-Minute Gifts for Your Project Team

The Christmas holiday is a mere five days from now. And, if your company closes its offices the last week of the year, that only leaves you tonight to get any last-minute gifts for the project managers, collaborators, and contributors you work with.

Here are our recommendations for each of these people, based on their personality!

For the yoga enthusiast who doesn’t have time to leave the office:

The Manduka recycled foam yoga block is perfect for the fitness fan whose project schedule doesn’t allow them to get to the gym every day. It’s small enough to store in a drawer and can be used to sneak a workout into a shorter midday break.

For the insatiably curious person who wants to know what would happen if you fed Jurassic Park’s T-rex to Star Wars’ sarlacc:

Every team has at least one person who comes up with outlandish scenarios to solve equally outlandish problems—and oftentimes those solutions work! Randall Munroe’s What If? uses the scientific method to answer the ridiculous questions that we’re all too afraid to ask, making the perfect gift for the Wile E. Coyote in everyone’s team.

For the person who’s always forgetting an umbrella (or thinks it’s too much of a hassle):

Here in the Pacific Northwest, precipitation happens. Otter Wax makes your clothes naturally water repellent without damaging the fabric and is perfect for those quick jaunts to the corner coffee shop.

For the fresh face in your office who is learning the ropes:

With its stark words, this minimalist poster is a clear reminder for everyone from your newest teammate to your most senior colleague to be more productive.

For the person who wants the team to be happy and successful:

We’ve talked about The Happiness Advantage previously on the LiquidPlanner blog, but it truly does make a great gift for anyone who wants their project team to thrive. The book’s lessons on building strong social supports and environments of positivity and gratitude are even more appropriate at this time of year.

For anyone and everyone:

Finally, something homemade and from the heart will always be welcomed—and you can’t go wrong with cookies! This recipe was hugely successful when I made chocolate chip cookies for the LiquidPlanner office. If you know someone has food allergies in your office, you can easily find a gluten-free recipe, too.

What are your last-minute gift ideas for your coworkers and colleagues? Let us know in the comments!

The New Normal: Collaboration and Creativity Grow at LiquidPlanner with a New Work Culture

In the year since Todd Humphrey stepped in as CEO and brought Charles Seybold back as chief product officer at LiquidPlanner, the energy at our office has drastically changed.

“There’s more excitement in getting things done,” says customer success manager Allison Wilbur. “There’s more motivation to be the best we can be. We all have the power to make a difference and impact positive change. I feel empowered, ambitious, and inspired.”

Sales development team lead Brad Mason echoes Allison’s thoughts.

“I’m fired up!” he says, explaining how he went from feeling comfortable with the status quo to excited about the challenges of growth. “My days at LiquidPlanner are never the same. I’m challenged to think outside the box in order to become more efficient at my job, and I’m rewarded when I can make that happen. Over the past year, LiquidPlanner has changed from a complacent workplace split between two floors into a workplace family committed to each other and grinding hard to find success.”

Jon Snelling loves the return of the LiquidPlanner family.

“When I joined, the whole company could sit around a table,” the senior engineer says. “As we grew, that was lost a bit, but in the last year, it’s come back and then some. I’ve never seen us be such a strong, collaborating, cohesive, and powerful team as what we’ve become with Todd and Charles.

“In 2017, I got the sense that we all felt like we were trying to hold on,” he says. “In 2018, I think we feel like the team that’s about to break through to the next era.”

“Whatever it takes” has become a motto for all of us, not just the sales team. We embrace change—in our product, in our roles, in our strategies—because we believe evolution is necessary for us to achieve our mission.

“We haven’t been perfect in everything we’ve tried,” says Keiko Borkenhagen, senior program manager of education and training, “but we’re open to trying new things, making mistakes, and learning from those mistakes. The act of trying things has challenged our teams to change the way we communicate, operate, and collaborate for the better.”

The emphasis on learning, collaborating, and trying something new has created an environment that’s more energetic, dynamic, compassionate, and fun, while remaining the organized, focused, well-oiled machine LiquidPlanner always has been.

“As a leader on the team, learning how to give constructive feedback at the right time in the right way is more helpful to the team than just keeping my head down and doing my work,” she continues. “My day is now filled with lots of meetings with different teams collaborating on different problems and interfacing with customers regularly.”

“Our days are busy but amazing,” Jon says. “We work hard because we see where we’re going and are excited to get there.”

“Mixed in with that is plenty of fun,” Keiko says, “whether it’s reading hilarious dad jokes on Slack, getting a friendly greeting from one of the dogs in the office, or enjoying a coffee or lunch with a coworker.”

Another big change over the past year has been a sense of transparency when it comes to the overall health of the company.

“The proactive sharing of progress has been amazing,” Jon says. “The steps that we have made this year to take control of numbers has been incredible. It’s changed us to feeling like we are in the driver’s seat of our operations and future.”

“Knowing that we haven’t taken on $50 million, $100 million, or $150 million, means that individuals at any level can still have a big impact on the direction of the company,” says Brad.

That transparency has helped everyone be even more excited about what’s to come.

“I see us killing it with our product innovations and expanding on all of the things we’ve done right with the existing business,” says Allison.

At LiquidPlanner, we have built a community of dynamic, passionate, and supportive people.

“LiquidPlanner has a massive opportunity to leverage our refocus on product development and gain a large piece of the project management software market,” Brad echoes. “During 2019, we’ll be growing as a company, bring on new team members, showing increased sales, and we’ll be well on our way to changing the PM landscape.”

“We’ll be partnering with many more Fortune 500 companies, helping teams predictively manage their project timelines and risks, and collaborate more effectively,” Keiko says, “and we’ll have fun doing it!”

“We’re going to be a force to be reckoned with,” says Jon. “We have a path now; it’s one step at a time, but it’s just—wow!”

Find out more about Todd’s first year in his GeekWire feature.

Ditch the Scales: Why Work-Life Balance Doesn’t Work

Recently, I realized I occasionally pit work and life against each other in my mind, and these moments certainly don’t help my positivity during the week.

Instead of treating work and life like they are on opposite sides of a scale, I started to think about how the aspects of each can coexist harmoniously.

For example, being productive and efficient while taking breaks to recharge can increase your overall happiness at the workplace.

As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told Thrive Global, “If I’m happy at work, I’m better at home — a better husband and better father. And if I’m happy at home, I come into work more energized — a better employee and a better colleague.”

This cyclical nature shows that work and life are not two independent things; they are each affected by the other, interconnecting in numerous ways.

These connections happen at two levels: functional and emotional.

At the functional level, work provides income, which provides the basic requirements for life—food, clothing, and shelter. At the emotional level, work gives us a sense of worth and fulfillment while affecting stress levels.

Conversely, life—our families, relationships, hobbies, and health—can contribute to our physical and mental capabilities in our jobs.

While work-life balance is often thought of as weighing the two sides against each other on a scale, work-life harmony is more like an orchestra. During a symphony, different parts of the orchestra will be louder at different times, but the pieces all come together to create beautiful, harmonious music. Work-life harmony works in a similar way: different areas might need more attention at different times, but by focusing on those areas when they need it, you can create calmness in the others.

Steps to Achieving Work-Life Harmony

Because work and life are ever connected, we should be striving for work-life harmony to enjoy the best that both have to offer, and understanding some simple steps will get us there.

  1. Balance Is Impossible.The first step to on the path to work-life harmony is to realize that work-life balance is impossible to achieve. Sometimes the needs of your job will overwhelm the needs of your home; other times, the need of your home will overwhelm the needs of your job. The needs of work and life will very rarely be distributed equally.
  2. The Present Is Most Important.The second step to work-life harmony is to be present in the moment. When you’re at work, focus on the activity at hand; be productive, be efficient, and give it your all. When you’re at home or out with friends, don’t think about work; focus on the ones you care about (including yourself) and enjoy your time without worrying about what the next workday will bring.
  3. Physical Power Boosts Brain Power.The next step is to stay physically active. Regular aerobic exercise has been proven to increase verbal memory and learning. Physical activity also improves your mood, helps you sleep better, and reduces stress.
  4. Sleep Is Your Friend.The final step toward work-life harmony is to rest. Getting proper sleep is crucial to maintaining productivity and creativity. When you don’t get seven to eight hours of sleep regularly, your brain slows down its processing power and loses the ability to make new memories; your immune system is also weakened.

Other steps can also help you along the way, but as long as you feel good about what you’re doing, you’ll achieve work-life harmony.

Whether you work more to achieve a business goal or you focus your energies on yourself and family when needed, making the switch becomes effortless, no matter how busy you are, when you achieve that harmonious calm.

Eat Your Lunch: Why It’s Important to Take a Break at Work

I’m the first to admit that I work through lunch more often than I should. Usually so I can beat the traffic during my commute home.

Working through lunch doesn’t mean I skip lunch, however. Too many studies stress the importance of not skipping meals, and I don’t have time for mood swings, poor concentration, and increased stress.

For me, remembering to eat is not the problem.

Remembering to take a break is.

When I have felt overwhelmed by my workload at various times throughout my career, I have tried to power through in efforts to get things done; in turn, I found myself falling further behind and becoming even more overwhelmed.

Stepping away from my desk and taking a true lunch break at those moments would have forced me to reset, reevaluate, and reorganize my project and task lists, resulting in less stress and more productivity.

Now that I’m beginning to take regular lunch breaks, I’m noticing improvements in all areas.

Here are 5 reasons why it is important to take a lunch break (or any break) at work.

  1. Eating for a brain boost. I already mentioned studies on how eating lunch boosts mental and physical health, but blocking out a daily lunch break on your calendar will force you to step away from your desk and actually eat. Working lunches can also make you sick, and illness definitely doesn’t help when you’re trying to increase productivity.
  2. Preventing fatigue. Productive people take breaks, and even little breaks can work wonders. Microbreaks last 30 seconds to 5 minutes. Taking one 5-minute microbreak every hour can improve mental acuity by an average of 13 percent, can reduce fatigue by 50 percent, and can even eliminate pain in the forearms, wrists, and hands.
  3. Coming up with a (new) game plan. When you have a large project load and are feeling overwhelmed, disconnecting from work and getting out of the office to breathe for 20 to 30 minutes will reset your brain. When you return, you’ll have a fresh perspective, allowing you to reprioritize your tasks and projects based on urgency and importance. You could even bump a few of your favorite items to the top of the list to take a bit more of the edge off.
  4. Meditating for more. While taking a lunch break can be a great way to connect with coworkers and build a stronger team, lunching alone lets you dine without distraction. Turning off your phone during lunch and focusing solely on eating acts as a type of mindful meditation, which can decrease stress levels and blood pressure.
  5. Breaking for the weekend. By taking a regular lunch break, you’ll be more productive and experience less stress throughout the week. As a result, you’ll carry less of that workday stress home with you and experience more of the work-life harmony so many of us yearn for. You’ll be able to detach yourself from the workplace and truly enjoy your evenings and weekends without worrying about what will happen when you get to the office.

How often do you take a real lunch break? How does it maximize your workday productivity? Let us know in the comments!

Working for the Weekend: Increasing Productivity, Efficiency, and Profitability with a Four-Day Workweek

The dream of an extra day off each week is more plausible than you think.

More companies are investigating the idea of a four-day workweek after a New Zealand trusts firm found its employees were happier, more efficient, and more productive after its two-month trial of a 20-percent shorter week.

Andrew Barnes, CEO of Perpetual Guardian, implemented the trial after discovering research that showed the average British employee is productive only 2.5 hours per day while other studies showed this number ranged from 2 to 6 productive hours daily. Wondering what would happen if he gave his employees an extra day off each week to take care of all the problems that got in the way of their productivity, Barnes took a chance and announced a plan offering his employees Wednesdays and Fridays off so they could work a 32-hour week in exchange for the same productivity of a 40-hour week.

His risk paid off.

“Often there are lots of small inefficiencies which never get addressed in a company because they are just really too small for someone to focus their time on,” Barnes told the New York Times. “Now, because there was a prize—namely to have a day off—all of those things got addressed or got identified.”

Eliminating Inefficiencies Increases Productivity

According to American Online and, surveyors found the average employee wastes two hours each eight-hour workday, checking emails, texting friends and family, making personal calls, or surfing the web. Knowing they would receive the reward of an extra day off for eliminating these behaviors, the majority of these employees reported they would gladly give 100 percent of their focus to their jobs.

However, employees are not the only ones to blame for inefficiencies in the workplace; interoffice meetings, work-related interruptions, and other distractions also play a significant role in reducing productivity and efficiency.

Weekly stand-up meetings, a pillar of many startups and small businesses, are often too long, unnecessary, or both. By having a concrete agenda and by holding meetings to a maximum length of 30 minutes (no matter the amount of attendees), managers can ensure everyone stays on task and quickly gets to their day. Companies can also enforce a policy that meetings can only scheduled on a particular day of the week and that they can be booked for only 15 minutes to efficiently discuss the topic at hand.

In every office, employees will always have work-related questions. Rather than having a subject matter expert who is constantly interrupted, companies can create a pull-based communications strategy that provides wikis and other documentation, which is updated at regular intervals.

Eliminating these distractions might seem like eliminating interoffice friendships as well; however, at this point management and team members can work together to establish office hours or “interruptible time.” All employees can have a set of signals next to each desk to indicate that a person shouldn’t be interrupted. Also, by setting aside blocks of time on their schedules when employees will be checking email, returning phone calls, and other maintenance activities, businesses can create a company culture that lets everyone know it is okay to stop by someone’s desk and make lunch or happy hour plans, but to save the rest of the out-of-office chatter for those out-of-office times.

Fewer, yet More Productive, Hours Increase Profitability

“A contract should be about an agreed level of productivity,” Barnes said, when discussing payroll and hiring practices. He explained that, when hiring staff, supervisors should negotiate tasks to be performed, rather than basing contracts on hours spent in the office.

CEO Jason Fried supports this philosophy as his company, Basecamp, operates on a 32-hour, 4-day workweek from May to October. “Better work gets done in four days than in five,” he wrote in a New York Times op-ed.

Closing the office every Friday or having fewer staff members in the office two days a week can also save on utilities and other infrastructure expenses. Barnes noted significantly lower electricity bills during Perpetual Guardian’s two-month trial.

Because they have more time off to psychologically disconnect from work, employees experience less work-related fatigue and burnout, resulting in lower employee turnover and a significant decrease in expensive hiring costs. Employees are also less stressed, which reduces health care costs as well.

By having a 32-hour, 4-day workweek at their 40-hour salary, employees are found to be happier with their jobs, more productive and efficient, and give better customer service, resulting in lowered overhead costs, such as utilities and other expenses, and increased client and customer satisfaction, which garners greater profits.