How to get past the template monster

3 years ago, in a former job...

"Can you please make an implementation plan for the new communication tool?" was the question I got from my manager. Not used to writing this kind of stuff, I opened an existing plan, copied it, and started to try to make it right for my project.

After a while the words started to dance before my eyes because I just wasn’t able to fit my thoughts into the format on my screen. Feeling a bit stupid I just tried to write something in every chapter and at some point I was writing sentences I myself didn’t even understand. The formats were really strict and following the project planning principles was not a choice but a command. It took me ages to write the plan, the quality was horrible and worst of alI I didn’t think the plan could be executed the way I wrote it. Because I wasn’t confident about it I postponed formalising it and handing it over to my manager, which made me even more ashamed.

What happened to my ideas, my creativity, my common sense even? Somehow, I was paralyzed by the system. A week later I ran into a colleague I had worked with very intensively. We exchanged a quick ’How are you?’ ‘Fine, and you?’ courtesy sentence just before entering different meeting rooms. A day later he wrote me an email asking how I was, because he thought I looked quite tense.

I started my reply by telling him how much I hated the principles and the format of the plan that I was trying to write. But my colleague didn’t stop by just listening to my complaints, he also asked me about the purpose of the plan. I then started explaining about the new tool and how great it was because of the huge advantages for the employees. And about the cool and creative ways in which we wanted to invite people to use it. I got so enthusiastic about our ideas that the words just came and I didn’t have to think about it.

What happened next...

On that day taught myself a little trick. When I have to write something official for work, I just start typing an email to somebody I really like and trust. I just explain in an easy going manner what my project, plan or assignment is about to this person. When I think the friend is able to understand what I wrote, I look for the right format and add the necessary information according to the pre set headings. The email I never really send by the way, but this way of working just takes off the pressure for me.

If you have a social network in your company like Workplace by Facebook or Yammer there is one last thing I want to encourage you to do. After you’ve written your informal email, SHARE this first try-out with your direct colleagues! This can feel quite vulnerable if you do this for the first time, but hey, a new era has already begun. We’re here to learn from each other and your colleague may just have that little idea that makes your plan or story 10 times better! I am about to share the draft of this blog with my colleagues now…

If you find this interesting and would like to learn more tricks to make your work better and easier, get in touch.

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