5 Steps You Can Take to Get Out of the Office This Summer

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A special guest post from Sarah Kurtz McKinnon

Editor's note: This is a guest post from Sarah Kurtz McKinnon from Kurtz McKinnon Creative. If you haven't read her stuff on summer camp, it's probably time you should. She's getting her MBA after 6 years of successful camp directing at Ann Arbor YMCA Camp Al-Gon-Quian in Northern Michigan, and brings a totally fresh and unique perspective to running camp. She's available for consultations in a lot of different aspects of running camp. Check her out! ~ James

Setting new kinds of goals for this summer - becoming proactive camp directors

This time of year, we are all (hopefully) leading our staff in goal-setting sessions. We are also (hopefully) doing the same exercises along with our staff! A goal I seem to always set at the beginning of the summer is to “get out of the office.” It’s easy to get stuck behind the computer, on the phone, or buried in piles of paperwork for an upcoming ACA visit. A camp director who is out and about, however, is a more effective camp director — one who is proactive instead of reactive. We all want to be present, approachable and knowledgeable when it comes to our camps. So, let’s get out of the office. If you are planning to set a goal to be as present as possible on camp this summer, here are five ways that you can help yourself make that happen:

Get a FitBit or other fitness monitor.

Charles, my assistant director last summer, started wearing a FitBit* device. This little machine tracked all of his steps, active minutes and calories burned throughout each day. Most people set their goal number of steps at 10,000, but Charles, being the good and active guy that he is, set a goal at 20,000. Me, being the good and competitive gal that I am, just had to order one as well to see if I could measure up to him. When my FitBit came in the mail, it was enlightening! It was a daily reality check to see how many steps I was taking each day. Days when I was holed up in the office were very few steps. Come 3 p.m., I could check the FitBit and really see where I had been and what I had been doing throughout the day. Charles and I would push each other to get more and more steps and thus be out of the office more and more. And the FitBit gave us a tangible way to track our physical activity.

Added bonus: We all know the effects of camp food and a dormant lifestyle. The FitBit has the special benefit of helping you keep off the extra pounds and still enjoy grilled cheese day to the fullest. Yet another reason to get off of that golf cart!!

Boomer was such a popular pooch that an 8 year old camper made an exclusive dog club in honor of him and the other camp dog, Ojib. My attendance, of course, was mandatory!

2. Get a dog (or something else that is cool)!

As the director, and presumably one of the older and more intimidating members of the camp staff, it can sometimes feel weird and awkward to approach campers. At my previous camp, I served as a counselor and a leadership team member for several years before becoming the director. However, as the years went on, I felt less connected from the campers. My dog (well, actually my parents’ dog…long story), Boomer, was the ultimate wingman. Maybe wingman is not exactly the right word…but you know what I mean. We had all sorts of adventures together getting to know campers—going on walks, learning new tricks, performing in the talent show. He is even an expert (better than many human staff) at conquering homesickness and even anxiety attacks. What I’m saying here is to have some sort of conversation starter—something that can almost be a “crutch” or an excuse to get outside. Maybe you’re not going to find a perfect, angelic dog like Boomer (no bias here). But maybe you have something else that kids really would like to talk with you about or that can be a great conversation starter—you’re great at painting faces, coaching baseball, or juggling. You have a knack for telling stories, an eye for photography or a magnificent collection of odd sports games (try Spikeball, Kubb or KanJam!). Whatever it is, these little tools can be great ways to get those relationships and conversations going—and make getting out of the office not just easier but super-fun.

3. Maintain those certs

I was a waterfront gal as a counselor and decided to maintain my lifeguard cert as I joined our administrative team. This was key for several reasons: First, I knew that I could properly supervise our waterfront director and waterfront activities. Second, I could jump in and help when needed at some waterfront activities. Whether for waterfront, climbing wall or woodshop, maintaining qualifications is a great excuse to get out of the office and help in an activity hour in a time of need. If I carve out some time during the day to lifeguard at free swim or cover a canoeing class 1-2 times a week, I am helping out my staff and having an excuse to be present and engaged. I also have a chance to demonstrate the skills I want my staff to use in activities and observe them in action. And, the kids and staff need me! It won’t be easy to bail, so out of the office I go.

4. Set some limits to your office activities

It can be easy to get sucked into the black hole of sitting behind your computer or smartphone and waiting for the next email or call…it’s hard to resist the feeling that you have to respond right away! I challenge that notion. If something is critical, the person needing your attention can call the office, and the office can notify you on your walkie-talkie or whatever system your camp uses to communicate across the site. In a true emergency, you should be able to respond in seconds. No need to sit by the office phone. For emails, a half-day turnaround time is more than appropriate. I would suggest dividing your email/phone time into three sections of the day: wake up a bit early and do emails before breakfast. Spend another half hour or so at rest hour with emails and phone messages, and perhaps another half hour in the evening. Rather than constant interruptions, you have a schedule. Parents and others can expect your response at this given schedule, and you can make sure you have some limits to your communication times.

5. Delegate and Assess

When I first became the director of Camp Al-Gon-Quian, my leadership team and I assessed things that were taking up the director’s time and taking them away from being present on camp. We determined if they were things that were necessary for the director to do, or if they were things that could be delegated. For example, the director team had a tradition of packing campout boxes each Wednesday for the overnight campouts. This took 4-5 hours of indoor time and, although was a nice thing for camp and could be fun with the right playlist, it was ultimately not a priority. We were able to add a member to the kitchen crew and delegate that task back to them. We also had the mentality that a director needed to be in the office at all times to answer the phone or respond to any issues. This was solved in two ways: First, with four members of the administrative team, we divided the day into four sections. Each director had one section to cover the office. This way, the remaining directors could plan to be out and about during the other three sections. Second, we later hired a senior counselors who acted as our office manager. A seasoned staff member and excellent communicator, she worked in the office during activity hours to further free up our schedule. It was great.

Ask yourself: “Where am I spending my time?”

1453278_596449467056926_647813378_nWhere is your office? Sometimes directors are squirrelled away in an area that is far from central camp, so making the trek down to hang out during free time or meals is easily skipped. I like to see directors who have at least a seasonal office near the epicenter of their camp—an office that is even partially outdoors or full of a lot of windows so even if he or she has to be in the office, he or she is still present on camp.

Where do you eat meals? I hope you and other non-cabin staff have a table in the dining hall. Better yet, have an assigned table, but move it around a lot to see and hear what things are going on all over your camp. Or, be a special guest with someone’s cabin, or share dessert with them. The more frequently you do this, the more natural it becomes.

Have you made it to all the activity areas lately? What about a far-flung horseback riding barn or teen outpost? Keep a chart if you must. A steady rotation and honest self-assessment will show you what gaps you have in your goal.

What are some activities that are easy for me to skip but I could attend and enjoy? For me, these were things like morning assembly (where we sing camp songs and do announcements), evening activities that I could still participate in (who doesn’t love a game of capture the flag?) and bedtime. Later on in my camp career, I started walking throughout the girls’ side of camp each night to say general good-nights and see what was up with evening devotions. I saw some magical camp moments in those little walks, heard about campers’ days, saw the counselors work through a myriad of tough conversations, and strengthened my presence on camp as an adult who cares about everyone in our camp family. Those moments were much more well spent than the nights I spent messing around on the computer or otherwise being disconnected from the spirit of camp. They were ones that I would not trade for the world.

Thanks for the post, Sarah! Again - for more of Sarah, head over to her website, where she offers a ton of valuable and free ideas on how to do camp even better. Have a great summer! ~ James

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