Executing at Gen Con and Other Conventions

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As we are only a week away from Gen Con as I write this, I want to touch on one aspect of convention planning that made a big difference in stress levels and accuracy: the Execution Document.

"Damn Adam, what happened to calling something a 'Plan'? That's harsh!"

And that's the point. The execution document is blunt, because it's vital stuff that needs to get done, and it needs to get done in a timely manner. Forgetting or delaying items on it may inconvenience other people (your staff, your volunteers, etc.) and they may have adverse effects on your business (having to spend more money because you missed an early re-booking deadline, for example.)

In brief, I'm going to cover the important parts of the Execution Document, and then provide you a sample one, which is a mishmash of our Execution Document from 2014 and 2015 Gen Con.

Start Early and End Late

The document must include necessary items that occur before the convention "” such as taking money out of the bank and depositing it afterwards. By including those items, you create logical starting and stopping steps, and each item should prompt further questions that are answered in the document (such a question might be "At the end of each day, who takes the money?" By knowing who deposits it in the bank at the end of the convention, we can work backwards to the answers and make sure they are included in the document.

However, I do not include things like ordering convention displays, business cards, etc "” you can choose to do this if you like, but as I'm the only person at our business that does that kind of thing currently, it would just bog down the document for everyone else.

Location, Time, and Person

Every event in the Execution Document must have a specific location tagged to it, a specific time for it to happen, and have a person assigned to it. It's possible to do this by creating a list of things that must happen in a certain location, but that list also must be broken down by time frames.

I am less strict about locations/times that pre-convention activities must be carried out (it doesn't matter where we print the booth schedule, for example), but even those items should have two out of three fulfilled.

One person is The Show Manager: the boss.

Names and Numbers

The phone numbers or other contact info for anyone mentioned in the document should be included in it.

The Binder

The binder contains all sorts of documentation you may need at the show: receipts, booth maps, planograms, as well as sheets to record books that are given out as comp copies, inventory reports, all that sort of stuff.


The more people that will be referring to the document and the less familiar they are with your inner workings, the more explicit your instructions need to be. Remember that some things aren't always obvious (for example, it's usually the convention center that handles electricity-related requests, but a different outlet often deals with furniture rentals!).

Include contact numbers and the location of vendors you may need to deal with in the document.

Explicit instructions and information also help prevent mistakes: if the booth guide says that you're expecting three packages to be shipped to your hotel, it means that someone probably won't walk away with only two packages after being assigned "collect all our shipments from the hotel."

Bonus true story: We had a pallet of books shipped to our hotel one year. In their haste to pick up their books, another publisher managed to snag our pallet and the hotel let them sign off with it! Thankfully it was a publisher who knew us and recognized the problem as soon as they got to their booth and started inventory. So they delivered the boxes to our booth, even before we arrived! But if they had known exactly how many pallets to pick up this would have not happened.

Include Travel Plans

Including travel plans keeps you aware of how many people you have around to do specific tasks, and how to organize those tasks.

Print the Document and Mark It Up

The show manager should have a printed copy of the document with them at all times, and they should physically mark off each item as it is completed. People assigned tasks on-the-fly should report back to the show manager when they have done so, and get another task.

Sample Execution Document

Here is a sample execution document: Sample Execution Document

Good luck with your convention setups, and I'll see you at Gen Con!

Speaking at PePcon in Chicago: June 15-18

I'm going to speaking at PePcon in Chicago this summer. This is the fifth Print + ePublishing Conference, hosted by the fine people that run InDesignSecrets and CreativePro. I've attended three of the four previous PePcons, and it's always a smoothly-run show with great speakers and a collaborative, sharing atmosphere. It attracts a pretty wide variety of designers and designer-related people: from government employees trying to efficiently make hundreds of forms that are accessible and meet up with tons of standards, to small newspaper people still working on bridging the paper/digital worlds, to automation experts, typeface designers, and more.

This year's Speakers List is a great one -- including Chris Kitchener, the lead product manager for InDesign; Deke McClelland, trainer extraordinaire (and a fine singer,, too...), and keynote speaker Lynda Weinman, co-founder of

And me? I'll be jamming out 20 minutes on automated production InDesign: from spreadsheets to InDesign to the printed page. I'll probably cover this talking about card game design, with a side trip to the fun of automating contracts (Everyone loves contracts!). And bonus, aside from InDesign, we'll only use free and/or Open Source tools.

If you're interested in attending PePcon, let me slide you this nice discount code to save $50: CH23B


I hope to see you there!

Smart Folders to fix Dropbox Limitation

I've complained several times since Dropbox updated their client that the new UI is lacking in one significant respect: the number of recent files shown is only 3, and that is not configurable in any way:

Dropbox 1

For someone who uses Dropbox for actual work, this is laughable—if we're away from our computer for a few hours, a dozen or more files could easily be uploaded or edited. Even if we don't have to take action on those files, it's good to stay up to date on what's going on.

If you're using OS X, the best way to do so is to set up a Smart Folder. Mine uses the following parameters:

Dropbox 2

Open the Finder and select your Dropbox folder, then hit File -> New Smart Folder.

Personally, I want to see anything updated in the last 24 hours, so I select the option of "Last Modified Date" and set it to "Within last 1 day." This also will display files that were created within the last day, as well.

Then click Save, and be sure that the "Add to Sidebar" option is ticked.

BTW, if you'd like to tell Dropbox that you want more recent files, I started a thread about this on their feature request forum a few months ago.

Any other things you do to make Dropbox more productive for you? Share 'em in the comments!

Removing TextEdit from OS X Mavericks

I have pretty strong feelings about the OS X app, TextEdit: I do not like it. It is not useful to me, I do not like text and rich text editors in the same application, and I never want to use it. I never want to accidentally open it. Any time it is opened, it is wasted time and added frustration.

If you like using it, this tip is not for you!

But if you want to delete it, you'll notice that OS X Mavericks gives you this error if you try and delete it (or some other apps, like Chess and Stickies) from the Finder:

Screen Shot 2014 03 13 at 5 13 59 PM

Mavericks, I am still the boss of you.

Open up Terminal (/Applications/Utilities/ and paste this command into it:

sudo rm -rf /Applications/

You'll be prompted for your password; this is the password that belongs to your admin account on your Mac. Type it in, hit the enter key, and TextEdit should be vanquished. The next time you update OS X, it might reinstall it.

My preferred text editor on OS X is TextWrangler. It's free and amazing.

Life Hack: Remove your Headphones and Say Hello

I'm travelling today; the typical jaunt of 4 airports and 3 flights to get from my hometown to one of my usual destinations: Chicago, for some business meetings. It's been a few years since I've spent any time in Chicago, and 5 full days in the city is simply too short.

But this post is about a life hack; one of those little things you can do to make everything just a little bit better. Many of us walk around with our nose buried in our cel phone or other portable electronic device, or attached to our MP3 player via headphones, or both. These devices are distracting and inhibit our ability to take in the outside world ... which can be a good thing, but it makes dealing with people you need to deal with that much more difficult, and it irritates those that you deal with.

So when I'm plugged into my headphones or dickering around with my iPod touch or Sony Reader, and I make it to the front of the line at the airport or bank or whatever, here is what I do:

  1. At 5-10 feet away, I start to put the device away entirely, or take my headphones out of my eyes. Both headphones end up tucked into the front of my shirt.
  2. As I step up to the person I need to speak with, I look them in the eye, smile, and say "Hello." If they ask me how I'm doing, I answer, and in turn, ask them how they are. After they tell me that how they're doing, I offer the appropriate "That's good to hear." or "Ouch, that's a pain. These lines do look brutal—hope that the rest of your shift is easier."
  3. Profit! Or Good Service! Maybe both? Why? It's easy: by putting away your electronic crap and taking off your headphones, you've acknowledged to the person that you need to be able to hear and pay attention to them, that they provide value to you. By greeting them nicely and having a short conversation, you've shown that they're a human, you're a human, and whatever business may happen next gets off on a better foot.

A side tip: If you're in a situation where things have gone poorly (You've missed a connecting flight, your luggage has been lost, your waitress was distracted and forgot to bring you your delicious cheesesticks, etc.) I've found the following style of phrase works out really well: "Actually, things are kind of lousy right now, and I would really like your help figuring out what I should do next." (or: "And this is what you can do to help fix it." Tell the person that you're in a bit of a bind, or a bad mood, but make it clear to them that it isn't their fault (unless it is) and that they can help you. Someone who wants to be helped is, shockingly, easier to help, and most people do like helping others, even if it's their job.

Instant Messaging Efficiency

Dan Benjamin at Hivelogic wrote a nice article about effectively using your "Away" message when instant messaging.

Here's two other things that I think is necessary for efficient IM communications

Ask Your Question, Don't Ask to Ask

Don't say hello and wait for someone to respond; just ask your question. Don't ever say "Hey, are you there?" or "Hey, can I ask you a question?" -- just ask it.

Situation 1:

Bob: Hey Adam?
[time lapse of 2 hours]
Adam: Sorry, what did you want?
[Bob is now AFK, time lapse of another hour.]
Bob: Hey, I was wondering how big the Gear chapter was?
Adam: It's 62 pages. [Total time lapse of 3 hours]

Situation 2:

Bob: Hey Adam, I need to know how big the gear chapter is.
[time lapse of 2 hours]
Adam: It's 62 pages. [No matter how long the time lapse is here before Bob reads my IM, I've fulfilled my commitment.]

Situation 2 is far preferable. If you know that the person isn't available, you may be better off sending an email or posting to whatever project management software you use -- but simply saying "hello" does not get work finished, no matter what communications tool you're using.

Use Auto-Away Sparingly

Some IM clients will set you as "automatically away" if you are idle for more than a certain period of user-definable time. In practice, I think this feature doesn't work, especially when the time is set low, as the defaults often are. I notice that a lot of people, even when they're working or otherwise busy, will notice that their IM client has set them to auto-away and instantly fiddle with their IM client to reset their status to Available -- resulting in the user "bouncing" around their friend's buddy lists.

If you want to use auto-away, I suggest setting it to a high value: at least an hour. That way it will work for you when you've been caught up in a long phone call or you fell asleep or got kidnapped by friends [or aliens!], but it won't get triggered when you're simply busy working.

Turn Your IM Client Off

I should probably do this more, at least with my business-related accounts: if you're going to be unavailable on IM for a period of time that is extreme [such as an entire daytime period during your co-worker's workday] -- turn your IM client right off. Seeing things like "(1d) Away" in my buddy list just frustrates me, like those people are wasting my screen real estate. I sort these people into a custom group, "Idlers," and minimize that group so I never see them unless I'm specifically looking for them.

RSB on Recently Viewed Mail Smart Folders

Daniel at Red Sweater Blog wrote an interesting post about using Mail's Smart Folders to create a Recently Viewed Mail Smart Folder -- seems like a pretty keen tip to me.

I'm giving it a try, and in addition to his Recently Viewed parameters, I'm also excluding it from a few mail folders that I'm unlikely to refer to as often, such as the folder where "Someone has replied to your topic/blog entry/etc" mail goes, and some mailing list folders.

Depending on how you filter and store email, that might not be necessary -- or it might be easier to tell it to only look for Recently Viewed mail in certain folders, as opposed to not in certain folders.

Windows for the Future

I have a Windows machine sitting on the other side of my room, safely segregated from my working desk. I use it for work purposes occasionally: to deal with legacy files and to test stuff in IE, plus I play a few games now and then, and I prefer to keep them compartmentalized away from my work machines. Sometimes I use VNC to connect to it so I can play online poker from my Powerbook

Before I started using Macs -- and, really, before I started using OS X -- I think I actually enjoyed fooling around with Windows, to a degree. There used to be some level of fun in installing new video drivers to make performance just a little bit better, and in running all sorts of little applications to tweak my computer. Once I learned that doing stuff with the computer was cooler than doing stuff to the computer, I began to resent the never-ending stream of maintenance that Windows seems to require: relatively frequent security updates, virus scans [and updating the software and definitions], spyware scans [and updating there, too], defragging, and as many hardcore users will say, a full reinstall roughly every year.

I don't have time for that. More importantly, I don't want to spend that much time doing "work" to maintain a computer that doesn't do much work for me -- time I spend twizzling with Windows is time I can't spend on something more profitable, constructive, or fun.

I bought the current Windows machine [a HP, it has an AMD processor, some RAM, and perhaps a very small donkey inside] in late 2004. I've been faithfully upgrading my virus scanner, my adware scanner, and I defrag it on a regular basis. I'm such a good little babysitter. I've never had a virus on that machine, never had "adware" more intrusive than a cookie, and all in all, the machine is still pretty stable [although slower than it used to be ... something about "using it" that seems to make it slower.]

As of now, though, I'm stopping. I've set the virus scanner to run once a month, and to check for updates on the same schedule. I'm not going to run spyware scanning software out of habit anymore -- only if I suspect Windows has become crudded up. I'll upgrade the software firewall if it stops working for some reason or if I run into some sort of incompatibility, but I'm not going to touch it otherwise. Defragging? No. Scandisk? Only if I have reason to suspect the hard drive is failing. Windows Updates? Once a month, no more. I've turned off auto-updating in Firefox -- the version I have works, and I have extensions installed that work. I'll update them once a month if there are updates available. I am not even bothering to check if I could install Vista on it.

I'm going to set this up on a schedule: first Saturday of every month is "the day I am allowed to spend an hour -- maybe two -- dorking with Windows."

At some point during the year I'm going to transfer as much of possible of the actual data on the drive onto an external drive, and back static data up onto DVDs. I'll keep the external drive powered off unless I'm actively using it.

With minimal babysitting and sane browsing habits, I think there's a fine chance of the computer staying relatively clean and useful for another year or two. At that point, it can go in the garbage and be replaced -- or not -- and I'll feel fine about discarding something that I have so little investment in, and no valuable data on.

Super-fast Mail Act-On

If you use Mail Act-On to apply filters to your mail within Apple's, and you use one of your rules much more than any other, here's a quick tip: assign the trigger key to the same key you use to invoke Mail Act-On. A quick double-tap of your chosen key can file mail 1.8 times faster than conventional Mail Act-On methods!

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