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Many of you are getting ready for a well-deserved break over the holidays. While I’m not suggesting that you work during that break, it is a great time to take stock. With no crises or overflowing email inboxes to deal with, you actually have time to think and plan. (I fervently hope that’s the case for you!) if you find yourself with extra time and and idle mind, here are six suggestions for activities that will help prepare you to start 2018 with a new perspective:

1. Put yourself in the parent mindset

Parents of prospective students are often an afterthought in communication planning. We all know they are highly influential in the college decision process, but we often assume that they have similar interests and concerns as prospective students. But there are some key differences. Parents tend to be concerned about the safety of their students while on campus — and career outcomes when they leave campus. So take a look at your communications with a parent-mindset and identify where important updates can be made. 

2. View your website through someone else’s eyes

User experience testing doesn’t have to be complicated to be helpful. Ask a teenager or the parent of a teenager to help you understand how easy it is to find information on your website. Ask them to find a few key pieces of information and watch how they do it. Observe what makes them confused or frustrated. (It’s also a great distraction when family dinner discussions get heated: “Hey, Uncle Frank, can I get your opinion on our website?”)

3. Become a secret shopper

It’s likely that you’re already looking at what your key competitors are doing, but pick a few institutions that you’re not already following and fill out their inquiry forms. See how long it takes them to respond to you. See how they respond to you. See what you get in the mail, and how long it takes.

4. Make a list of your top 10 priorities for 2018

This is a great time for some strategic planning. Identify the top 10 must-have projects that you want to accomplish, or want your team to accomplish in 2018. For each one, identify a few key milestones with dates. Identify key resources needs and roadblocks (and plans to get around the roadblocks.)  Refer back to the list once a month throughout 2018.

5. Make a list of things you need to stop doing

It’s equally important to identify the things you want to stop doing in 2018. What are those things that don’t contribute to business results but that you and your team keep doing just because you’ve always done them? Identify a few things you can recommend not doing, and for each one, identify who you’ll need to get approval from to stop doing it. Then make a specific plan for getting approval.

6. Immerse yourself in something completely different

Read a book about higher ed, such as Jeff Selingo’s “There is Life After College.” Read a book not about higher ed, such as “A Gentleman in Moscow” (my current read.)  Try yoga. Take naps. Breathe. Do anything that you don’t get to do the other 51 weeks a year, when you’re getting a zillion emails even when you’re on vacation.

I hope your holidays are bright and joy-filled. See you in 2018!

Deborah Maue is the president of Higher Thinking, Inc., a consulting firm that helps higher education institutions achieve their goals through strategic planning, consumer branding, and organizational development.

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