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_ Normally I'm quite excited for the holidays as it is an excellent opportunity to catch up on the backlog of work and get a head start on the new year. In addition to watching Christmas specials on TV, up until a few weeks ago, I thought that I would use the next few weeks to get myself organized so I can begin January in a solid place. I'm pleased to announce that this will not be the case this year and as I publish this post, I will turn off my computer and cellphone for an entire week.  

2012 will be as exciting as it will be challenging. The body and mind need to be in tip top shape to be able to proactive deliver on our vision while weathering the inevitable storms.

I returned to Toronto yesterday morning from a productive and energizing trip in New York. Sadly halfway through my trip I felt my body starting telling me that it was done working on overdrive and was ready to slow down. Surely enough, I lost my voice today which resulted in a day of cancelled meetings and feeling awful. I wished I listened to my own advice on making a conscience decision to take care of yourself on a regular, sustained basis - and not temporarily.

Regardless, I am excited to unplug and use the following week to rest, recover and rejuvenate. There will always be work to do and the holidays are a great opportunity to relax (as no one should really expect you to work anyways!)

On behalf of the entire SoJo team, I want to wish you a very happy holiday season. Spend this time with your family and friends, take time for yourself to do activities that bring you joy and happiness, enjoy all the baked goods and delicious food, and most importantly -- be fully present as you unwind and relax. 2012 will be an eventful year as we help you bring your ideas to life, so we expect you to start the new year fully prepared.

 
 
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_ Overwhelming is the one word I use to describe the past two weeks. I am overwhelmed reacting to the backlog of activities and overwhelmed trying to decide in which direction SoJo needs to proactively move forward.

Reactive mode-
November forced the team to be in laser fine focus mode. The key priority was to get the private beta ready in time for our launch, which resulted in me deferring all non-launch related items on hold until after the launch. Now that my head is out of the sand, it is not only overwhelming resuming a normal schedule, but more so, dealing with the backlog of correspondences for almost an entire month. This reactive mode of feeling the pressure to stay on top of my inbox stresses me and builds up negative energy. The feeling is one comparable to having a dumbbell tied to your ankle, which impedes me from moving forward and also makes for an un-enjoyable experience all around.

Proactive mode-
The launch has provided us with an incredible amount of momentum. Since starting SoJo, this has to be the single largest boost in energy. Knowing that we have some fairly ambitious goals ahead of us, there is a huge desire to capitalize on this momentum and run through our action items. There is temptation to implement feedback immediately from our users. We have so much good content that we want to put online everyday, however need to build up the editorial team to deal with the backlog. This momentum can also be used to our advantage when building new partnerships. This influx in positive energy places desires to push forward in so many different directions.

Striking the balance-
Feeling as though I have 100 different balls in the air creates a helpless feeling of not being in control of any one of those balls. Reconciling conflicting priorities is a challenge that I struggle with constantly. The last two weeks feel like a daze. Its feels as though a waterfall of ideas, emotions, pressure, expectations and work are now flowing through constantly.

Last night while talking about our launch, an advisor told me:
"You have to let this momentum ride you. Don't feel pressured to have answers, have a plan or respond to everything immediately. You've worked hard to get to this point, and in in order to progress further you need to listen. Use this time to listen, hear what people are saying and use that feedback to inform your next steps."

So on his advice, I will try to take a step back and listen. I'm still not entirely sure what that means, but I do know that getting overwhelmed is not a good way to proceed forward. We have nothing but possibilities to look forward to and it would be a shame to crowd all this positive momentum with negative energy and stress.

 
 
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_Over the past week, I sent over 300 emails to my personal and professional networks announcing SoJo's launch. Keeping my network engaged in the successes and major milestones of SoJo is important for building and maintaining relationships, in addition to my personal support. Within only a few days of sending out emails to potential partners, announcing SoJo's launch, I've received an overwhelming response from organizations excited to start conversations with us.

When building a relationship with someone, sending a personalized email instead of a BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) goes a long way. Sure it is easier to place all contacts in the BCC field and send out all of the messages in one go, however it is also quite impersonal on the receiving end. Previously, I used to copy and paste the same message and send individually addressed emails to everyone on my mailing list, as I value the importance of that extra personal touch. Time is a premium and with a couple hundred messages -- individually sent emails did not seem like a smart option.

Through this need, I discovered mail merge. Mail merge is a tool that allows you to place all of your contacts in a spreadsheet and it automatically sends a custom email to each person. With mail merge I was able to setup several custom messages, organized my mailing list based on their interest/connection to SoJo and in a few clicks saved myself many, many hours of onerous labour from having to individually send out each message. Mail merge is an example of a tool that has helped me work smarter, not harder.

Disclaimer:
I realize that you may have received a "personalized" email from me in the last few days. You now know that it is actually a software that sent you that email, and perhaps you feel a little less important.
Please note that this is not the case and I hope you appreciate my honesty and transparency!

How to Mail Merge
Gmail / Google Applications - Follow the instructions here
Microsoft Outlook - Detailed instructions are provided in the Help section

 
 
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_Between launching our product on Saturday and announcing its launch this morning, the past 5 days have been overwhelming with attention, praise, congratulatory remarks, acknowledgement, love, excitement and positive energy. Over a year in the making SoJo is finally out in the open. Vulnerable to criticism and attacks, but more importantly - it is now an accessible resource which will serve as an integral support to youth in their journeys of making our world a better place.

Direct feedback for our public Beta has been fairly positive; the depth of the content and the overall user-experience. SoJo is only a representation of the individuals behind it: our team. SoJo operates as a virtual team, and I am often asked why we endure the barriers that come with virtual communication and collaboration. My answer is simple: We have the best people on our team. Geographic boundaries should not serve as a barrier to working with the most qualified and well suited individuals.

Our current team worked around the clock for the past few weeks gearing up for the launch. Initial team members invested themselves in SoJo's vision when there were more cynics than cheerleaders around us. Everyone who has been involved with SoJo has been vital in building the foundation of this organization and without them this launch would not have been possible, let alone be as successful as it was.

In addition to the positive feedback from our users (whose opinions give fuel to our fire), the hard work, creative talents and intellect of our team has also been externally validated.  This morning The National Post featured SoJo. (Click here to view the article). To receive national press coverage for a beta launch, that too, a social enterprise led entirely by a young team is huge! I'm equally excited to see our article placed in the Business Section, placing a new precedence that social change and business are not mutually exclusive.

Here's to celebrating and acknowledging a brilliant team who has made SoJo what it is today, and who will be integral in iterating and improving SoJo moving forward.