Michelle Bartonino Cre8 Day

“What is Cre8 Day and how can it make my team more productive?” Find out in this episode of Appfire Presents: The BEST Work Management Show by Appfire. Michelle Bartonico joins Appfire’s Kerry O’Shea Gorgone to explain how Cre8 Day can inspire your team to do their best work.

About the guest

Michelle Bartonico is a senior strategist and project manager at Trinity University. She is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP), completed the Google Project Management program, and the Search Engine Optimization specialization from UC Davis Continuing and Professional Education. Her book, Stakeholder Engagement Essentials You Always Wanted To Know, comes out January 25, 2023. Follow Michelle at mlbarto.medium.com for thoughts on project management, marketing, and higher education.

About the show

The BEST Work Management Show by Appfire features smart leaders sharing their secrets for optimizing business processes and increasing productivity. Get the goods on how they handle everything from setting up workflows to automating processes. Every episode is 10 minutes or less, packed with insights you can use right away to supercharge your team’s productivity.


For your convenience, here is the transcript of this episode:

What is Cre8 Day and how can it make my team more productive?

Kerry:  Today we’re going to talk about a new and very exciting idea called Cre8 Day and how it can help make your team more engaged and productive. To talk about that idea is Michelle Bartonico, senior strategist and project manager at Trinity University. 

She’s a certified project management professional, she completed the Google Project Management Program and the search engine optimization specialization from UC Davis Continuing Professional Education. Michelle has a book coming out on January 24th that’s available for preorder now called Stakeholder Engagement Essentials You Always Wanted to Know, so you can pick that up at VibrantPublishers.com. 

Michelle knows a lot about getting work done. Stick around because we are going to talk about Cre8 Day.

Michelle, what is Cre8 Day?

Michelle:  Cre8 Day is a concept that my counterpart and I came up with, probably four or five years ago at this point. It was in my former role, so it was when I was assistant vice president of marketing communications, so it was over the marketing communications office. We had a steady stream of work all the time, and it just felt daunting sometimes. In a room full of creative people, you wanted to make sure that they had some way to pull a resource valve and say I need imagination, I need creativity, I need to be engaged and feel like people care about me being able to continuously learn. That was something that was part of our team culture anyway, just lifelong learners and creatives. 

So, we came up with this idea called Cre8 Day. Every member of the team got to take, needed to take at least four hours, up to eight hours, once a month, of time for themselves to be creative.

Kerry:  Did it have to be all at once or could you do it a little at a time?

Michelle:  We liked them to do it all at once, so they would take a half day or they would take the full day. In our case, they would be on campus at the university. They would just have a little sign at their door that said, “I’m on a Cre8 Day,” or they would wear – hold on…

Kerry:  There’s a t-shirt.

Michelle:  Nothing says real like a t-shirt. They would have a t-shirt and they would wear it with pride and begin whatever they were going to do.

Kerry:  I want a Cre8 Day t-shirt. I have an Appfire t-shirt, which I also like.

Michelle:  This would be a nice add to your collection. 

People would do whatever was inspiring to them. For example, one person went to – again, we’re on a college campus, so that’s nice. One person took an old chair and went to the art department and refurbished the chair. Another person decided that they wanted to teach the entire office basic fundamentals of Photoshop, so they held a workshop and anybody else who wanted to take that time for Cre8 Day would work on that and learn from the master Photoshop person in our office.

It could be anything from scrapbooking to cleaning your office and reorganizing your office, which I think is very nice.

Kerry:  That is tempting. Studies have shown that decluttering can actually open up space for you to be creative, because some people feel hemmed in by clutter.

Michelle:  Yes. The space to do that, the space to clean your space, is what we were trying to offer. We really tried to weave it into the culture, all the way from recruitment of new team members through the entire lifespan of your time at Trinity. 

Kerry:  So, it didn’t have to be work-related, is that what I’m hearing? Obviously, refurbishing a chair is probably not work-related if you’re in marketing. But it could be.

Michelle:  It did not have to be work-related. We had someone who took the day to do a family scrapbooking album. It really was just something that was meaningful for you or that you wanted to try. Again, we’re on a college campus, so that’s always nice. Somebody went to the maker space and did some 3D printing, they wanted to figure out how to do it. It’s something that takes four hours, you can’t just go over for 30 minutes to look at something and hope you can do it the next day. 

We really wanted to give people who were more prone to wanting that tactile experience, we wanted them to be able to choose what they wanted to do. I took piano lessons from a member of the team who was willing to teach me piano once a month. That was something that I did. It was anything that was just inspiring to you and creative.

Kerry:  Do you still play?

Michelle:  No. But I have notes in my desk over there about how I’m supposed to be practicing and how I’m supposed to be playing, but I don’t. 

It was a great bonding experience with your team members, too.

Kerry:  If you did it with your team members, right? You could do it by yourself or you could it as a group if there was something a bunch of people wanted to do.

Michelle:  Yes.

Kerry:  What were you looking for out of it as a team leader? Did you want to help your team reclaim some of their creative juices, did you want to help them level up their skills if they wanted, was it just about morale which then feeds productivity, what was your objective with it?

Michelle:  I’ll say it’s definitely a little bit of all of the things that you mentioned. First and foremost, it was forcing people to take a break and reclaim their creativity by choosing what they wanted to do with that free time. The immediate byproduct of that was people were so engaged and, I think, appreciative that the company was willing to invest the time for them to reclaim that space that oftentimes they would end up doing things together. 

Oftentimes, they would practice skills. Or one person would go up to another team member and say, “Would you like to do a Cre8 Day with me? Would you be willing to teach me how to do InDesign?” They’d say sure. It ended up being so organic that sometimes it would be something really personal, but other times it would be just a new skill that they wanted to learn. 

It was so baked into the culture of lifelong learning that upstream Cre8 Day would be used as a recruitment tool for new employees, so even when we recruited people, in their onboarding packets we would give them a little sign and give them a shirt. It was an expectation that we cared about you being creative and you learning. People would just take it and run with it.

Kerry:  It has to be top-down, though, because I could definitely see people saying it’s a thing, but then making it difficult for you to actually do it when you wanted to do it, depending on what else was going on. How did you make it clear to everyone involved in supervising workflow that this was something to be prioritized?

Michelle:  That’s a great question. I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of some of that. Two ways. One, it was mandatory, as mandatory as you could make it. The expectation was that everybody in the department would take this. 

What we really wanted to strike balance of is we didn’t want it to seem like all the managers are taking Cre8 Day, so now crap is rolling downhill and now I have double work because they’re off that day. So, the expectation was also that in your weekly or biweekly team meetings with your direct reports, if you’ve noticed that they haven’t taken a Cre8 Day, ask them why, ask them what you can do to move hurdles for them so that they can actually take Cre8 Day. If you need to absorb some more work for that day so that they can take one next week, do it. 

So, it was a push and pull where we would take it, but also actively ask, “We’ve noticed you haven’t taken a Cre8 Day. Is there a particular reason for that? We really want you to take these. How can we make that happen for you?”

Kerry:  What do you need to get this off the ground? Let’s say you’re distributed, because a lot of people are right now, how can you get this started and make it work for a remote hybrid environment?

Michelle:  The first thing would be to articulate it, it’s a change at the heart of it, so what is the change and why is it happening, let everyone know what that is and make sure you have buy-in from your leadership team and your vice president or whoever is in charge of the full office, because they’re technically investing money in the time that you’re not spending “working.” So, all of that.

Of course, I’m going to just make an assumption that there’s some buy-in there. Once there is some buy-in, give people a hybrid of those digital and maybe more tangible tools. We also had things where out-of-offices had little animated unicorns and it would say, “We’re on a Cre8 Day. If you need me, here is my direct line or here is my G Chat. I am available, but I’m doing this, and this is what this is.” So, we used it as a way to also educate back the university. 

We definitely had quite a few people say, “What is this? I wish we could do something like that in our department.” 

Kerry:  You can.

Michelle:  What we would do is have it really branded at every touch point, so if somebody came in to us or if it was over Zoom, we would say, “I’m going to take a Cre8 Day tomorrow.” We would articulate that pretty clearly up front to help people not be in a bind if they needed something, and then we would also be available if there was an emergency, but oftentimes people just respected it.

Kerry:  I love this. I’m going to suggest that we do this. Although, Appfire honestly is so supportive of people’s work-life balance that any day could be Cre8 Day, which I love. 

If you’d like more episodes of The Best Work Management Show by Appfire, you can find those at Hub.Appfire.com. Michelle has also been a frequent guest on The Best Project Portfolio Management Show, which you can also find on the Hub. If you work on projects, get Michelle’s book coming out January 24, 2023. You can find that at VibrantPublishers.com.

Thanks for stopping by.

Last updated: 2023-01-24

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