Category: Careers & Work

6 Tips for Staying Productive While Working Remotely

I’ve been working at least partially from home since 2006. I love it, but it does require some deliberate effort.  I find that I’m actually more productive working remotely than I am working in an office. Here’s how I do it.

6 Tips for Staying Productive While Working Remotely

1. Set a Schedule

I set an alarm and get up in the morning like I always have. I have a normal schedule of when I work, when I take lunch, and when I stop in the afternoon. That schedule is somewhat fluid, and I often work an hour or two late in the evening after my daughter is in bed. I find that having a baseline schedule, even a flexible one, makes it easier to separate my work and personal life.

While many employers worry that remote workers will be too distracted by home and not get anything done during the work day, I find the opposite is true for me. I find it easy to get sucked into email or work when I should be “off” in the evening.

2. Get Dressed

I get dressed in real clothes every day; if I stay in my pajamas I’m not motivated. I wear comfy clothes, but I know people who wear nicer clothes even working from home because it helps their mindset. I once worked with a woman who wore a suit every day working from home for years because it was how she could be most productive.

3. Seek a Change of Scenery

I work from Panera or a coffee shop once or twice a week because the change of scenery is helpful. In fact, if I’m running a little behind on a project and need a really solid day of work to get caught up, taking my laptop to work from another location for a few hours is often the jolt I need.

4. Plan Face-to-face Interaction

Working remotely can be isolating. I’m happier if I schedule lunches with friends or former coworkers. Once or twice a month is enough for me, but you need to find the right balance of interaction for your personal needs. That face-to-face interaction is important, even for introverts like me.

5. Pay Attention to Your Natural Rhythms

I pay attention to my natural rhythms. For example, I know I have an easier time writing in the mornings, so that’s when I do my heaviest work. I leave boring administrative tasks like invoices and accounting for the early afternoon when I hit the post-lunch slump.

I take a 20 minute nap nearly every afternoon. I learned years ago that I’m more productive with the nap than without. If I don’t get a nap, I at least take 5-10 minutes to close my eyes and meditate or do progressive muscle relaxation. You might not need that, but listen to your body and figure out what you do need. Maybe you need a walk in the afternoons or a few minutes outside in the mornings. Maybe your most productive time is after lunch, so you can schedule your heaviest work for that time.

6. Keep a To Do List

I use Remember the Milk for my daily to do list. I use Google Calendar for my schedule, and I use various spreadsheets for specific projects. I am always more productive when I have a prioritized list of my tasks to complete. Breaking larger tasks into smaller ones also helps keep me on track.

Your tips?

If you currently work remotely (or have in the past), what did you find helpful in maintaining your productivity?

 

Adapting Resumes from Teaching to Instructional Design

Current teachers who are looking to make a career change often ask me for advice on how to adapt their resume for instructional design. Teachers already have many relevant skills for instructional design, but they don’t always know how to convey that to employers.

Principles for Adapting Teaching Resumes

    • List writing, lesson planning, and content creation first: Switch the order in which you talk about your skills and accomplishments. Instead of starting with teaching and training (even though those are the skills you use the most), put creating lesson plans and curriculum first. Emphasize all the points about writing over the ones about being in the classroom.
    • Say more about lesson planning and curriculum creation: You can probably reduce how much detail you spend on the actual teaching and focus more on the lesson plan creation. In many respects, it’s more important that you created curriculum and lesson plans to meet objectives and give students opportunities to practice skills. The fact that you then taught those lessons you created is secondary.
    • Use active verbs: Use active verbs to describe how you “designed,” “created,” or “wrote” lesson plans and “developed” curriculum, activities, and handouts.
    • Include objectives and assessment: You may want to include how you wrote objectives and assessed student performance in meeting those objectives.
    • Mention collaborative development: Talk about collaborative work. Committees are OK, but collaborative curriculum design is better if you have that kind of experience.
    • De-emphasize or eliminate course info: If your current resume talks about specific courses you taught, de-emphasize or remove that.
    • Remove or reduce standards: If your current resume mentions specific state or national standards that you are meeting, remove or reduce that. I would remove them for most corporate work, but those standards might be relevant for some highly regulated industries or for higher ed jobs where you need to meet accreditation standards.

 

Adapting Resumes from Teaching to Instructional Design

Example Revision

As an example, let’s look at how my resume evolved over the years. My summary for my first teaching job was pretty much just a list of what I taught, and therefore not very effective.

Original Version

Music and Band Teacher

  • General Music: Kindergarten, 1st, 3rd, and 5th grades
  • 5th grade Beginner Band and small group lessons
  • Junior High Band
  • High School Band, High School Music Appreciation and High School Pep Band

First, I summarized all of that teaching into a single bullet point.

Revision 1

  • Taught General Music, Band, and Music Appreciation for Kindergarten through High School

Next, I added a bullet point about content I created. The new bullet point comes first

Revision 2

  • Designed curriculum for a pilot high school Music Appreciation class, including readings, review worksheets, quizzes, tests, and group projects for engaged learning
  • Taught General Music, Band, and Music Appreciation for Kindergarten through High School

I followed a similar process for my second teaching position.

Revision 3

Music, Band, and Choir Teacher 2000-2002

  • Developed curriculum in collaboration with other teachers in the Specials team to ensure consistency and alignment with long-term goals
  • Measured student achievement of objectives
  • Revised plans in response to assessment of student understanding
  • Adapted instructional materials to meet varied needs, including learning disabilities
  • Provided technical assistance to fellow teachers using Excel, Word, and PowerPoint
  • Taught General Music, Band, and Chorus classes for 5th through 8th Grade

Music and Band Teacher 1999-2000

  • Designed curriculum for a pilot high school Music Appreciation class, including readings, review worksheets, quizzes, tests, and group projects for engaged learning
  • Taught General Music, Band, and Music Appreciation for Kindergarten through High School

Some of the old versions of my resume listed other skills and tasks performed. Phrases like this might be helpful in resumes as well.

Researched best practices in education to continually improve teaching.

Designed and implemented curriculum for multiple classes for varied age and ability levels.

Assessed student understanding and adapted instructional materials to meet varied needs.

Translated long-term goals into daily objectives

Looking for more info?

Tools That Make Consulting Easier (And a Few More I Need)

Tools for ConsultingI have now been working as an independent consultant for over 5 years. These are the tools I use to run my business and work with clients. I’m a one-person business, so I need tools that let me manage the business side of things efficiently. This list is constantly evolving, and I have a list of solutions I need as well.

Collaboration and Communication

  • Zoom: Zoom is my preferred platform for video conferencing. I have used all the other major tools (WebEx, GoToMeeting, Adobe Connect, Google Hangouts, Skype, etc.), but Zoom works with the fewest technical challenges. It also includes the option for calling in on a phone rather than just VOIP, so you can get better quality audio. For $150/year, I can host unlimited high quality group video calls with up to 50 people.
  • Google Voice: I use Google Voice for my business phone number. This is a free service I can forward to my mobile and landline phones. I schedule my Google Voice number to go directly to voicemail outside of business hours .
  • Dropbox and Google Drive: I use both Dropbox and Google Drive to share files with clients, depending on the clients’ preference.

Stock Images

  • Storyblocks: Storyblocks (formerly Graphic Stock) is the source for many images for my blog posts and presentations. I use it sometimes for courses, depending on the content. It’s $149/year for unlimited downloads. I love it for backgrounds and basic images where I don’t have terribly specific needs.
  • Can Stock Photo: When I need more specific images for courses (e.g., a non-white male teacher talking to a female elementary student), I mostly use Can Stock Photo. Credits are fairly reasonably priced, and subscriptions are also an option.

Other Tools

  • Google Sheets: I use Google Spreadsheets to track my time, collect review feedback, and do light project management.
  • Remember The Milk: I manage my daily to-do list with Remember The Milk.
  • WordPress: This blog is on a free WordPress.com site; my business website and portfolio were built with  WordPress and hosted by Dreamhost.
  • Amazon: I use Amazon Affiliate links for my book reviews. I don’t make much income this way, but $250 a year is better than nothing.
  • HelloSign: I used to digitally sign contracts with Adobe Acrobat Pro (and sometimes still do if a client sends it), but mostly I use HelloSign for digital signatures. If you don’t sign documents often, you can do 3 signatures per month for free.

What I Need

I have a few needs for software currently. If you have found a great solution for these, let me know in the comments.

Update 2017: My original text is below so you can see what I was considering in 2016, but I have decided on Wave for accounting. I’m still using Google Sheets for project management, but with an add on called ProjectSheets.

  • Basic Accounting: I have been using QuickBooks Self-Employed for tracking expenses. I like how it automatically syncs with my accounts and makes it easy to categorize transactions. Unfortunately, the program repeatedly and spontaneously insists on adding my personal accounts as well. They also recently broke their mobile app so I can no longer categorize transactions on my phone. I’ve had enough glitches in the last few months that I don’t quite trust it anymore.
    Wave is the first one on my list to evaluate because it’s free. If I can do what I need with that, I don’t need to pay for something else. Several people have recommended Freshbooks, but it’s more expensive and I don’t think I’d use many of the features. Xero and FreeAgent have also been recommended. If you have experience with any of these, I’d love to hear about it.
  • Project Management: I currently manage projects in Google Sheets. It’s fast and simple to set up, and it shares perfectly with clients. This works OK for basic projects and small teams. It’s hard to visualize what’s happening though, and I’m starting to hit the limits of what I can really do. I’m starting to investigate other options now. I used Easy Projects with a past client, and that might work. I’ve heard positive reviews for MavenLink. There are some other free and low-cost options as well.

Your Tools?

What are your must-have tools? Any suggestions for accounting or project management?

As mentioned above, I use affiliate links on my blog. Several of the links above are affiliate or referral links. If you make a purchase after clicking these links, I get a small payment. Some of these links (including the Storyblocks  and Dreamhost links) also give you a discount.

Save

30+ Ideas for eLearning Portfolio Samples

Whether you’re working freelance or looking for a full-time job, you need a portfolio. What if you can’t use any samples of your existing work due to confidentiality or security requirements?

In some cases, it’s enough to remove logos and a few identifying details. In other cases, you can redo an existing activity with brand new content. For example, the Instructional Designer or eLearning Developer demo in my portfolio is based on an activity I originally created for a health care client. The mechanics of the interaction are the same, but the graphics and content are brand new.

For many people, the best solution is creating new content from scratch. For portfolio samples, you don’t generally need to create a full-blown, 60 minute course. Five minutes or less is usually enough. Most prospective employers or clients won’t watch longer than a few minutes anyway.

Target your desired audience. If you want a job creating soft skills training, create customer service samples. If you love software training, create that kind of samples. My portfolio only includes scenario-based learning because those are the kinds of projects I want.

Screenshot of portfolioIf you need to create samples, use the list below to jump start your brainstorming. None of these require much specialized knowledge; you should be able to write the content yourself with a little online research.

Soft Skills & Business Training

  1. Answering the phone, phone greetings
  2. Responding to customer objections
  3. Responding to angry customers
  4. Giving an elevator pitch
  5. Asking customers questions to understand their needs
  6. Interviewing for a job (you could break this down further–appropriate clothes, asking questions of the interviewer, research before the interview, answering common questions, etc.)
  7. Resume writing
  8. Time management
  9. Prioritizing tasks
  10. Providing constructive feedback to colleagues
  11. Evaluating online sources for credibility
  12. Providing workplace accommodations for disabilities
  13. Rules for accepting gifts from customers/clients
  14. Onboarding or orientation (make up a fake company and introduce new employees to the leadership team and company mission)
  15. Tips for managing scope creep in projects

Software Training

  1. Create pivot tables in Microsoft Excel
  2. Create a budget spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel (or Google Sheets)
  3. Merge comments from multiple reviewers in Word
  4. Customize the ribbon in any Microsoft Office program
  5. Use styles in Word for a consistent look
  6. Create handouts in PowerPoint
  7. Create folders to organize Outlook
  8. Use filters to be more efficient with email
  9. Edit out noise in Audacity
  10. Use brushes or filters in Photoshop
  11. Assign tasks to team members in a project management tool (Microsoft Project, Basecamp, etc.)
  12. Upload a course in an LMS (whichever system you know best)
  13. Saving links with Diigo, Evernote, or another tool
  14. Create consistent file naming conventions
  15. Any cool trick you know in Captivate, Storyline, or the eLearning development tool of your choice (this also shows your expertise with the tool)

Other Sources of Ideas

  1. The eLearning Heroes challenges are one way many people have successfully built portfolio samples.
  2. Check out the course lists on Udemy, Open Sesame, ed2go, Lynda, or similar sites. All of these can be inspiration for your own samples.
  3. You! What ideas do you have for portfolio samples? Leave a comment and share your thoughts so everyone can benefit.

More Resources

 

Consulting Isn’t My Backup Plan

Although I’ve been self-employed for almost 5 years, I’m still regularly contacted by recruiters about full-time positions. Most of them are polite and professional, and I often refer them to other colleagues who I know are looking for work. Once in a while though, I hear from someone who just doesn’t get it. For example, I received a message on LinkedIn from a recruiter we’ll call “B.” He said he had an opportunity for me but didn’t provide any other details. I replied that while I’m not looking for full-time work, I’d potentially be available for consulting if he had a problem I could solve.

He replied with this message. In case you’re wondering, no, this isn’t one of my fictionalized stories–every mistake you see in the message below is exactly as “B” wrote it.

This is a Direct Hire position, I am confused as if you are looking for consulting work, wouldnt you be interested in W2 contract?

Besides the lack of professionalism in his writing, “B” demonstrates an attitude I have unfortunately seen in several recruiters over the years. They assume that consulting is a “backup plan” I’m using to fill the gaps while I’m looking for a “real job.” They simply can’t fathom that anyone would choose to work for themselves.

Puppeteer controlling two businesspeople

Personally, I’d be hard pressed to go back to working in a “cubicle farm.” Working from home and setting my own schedule makes me more productive, along with giving me the flexibility to spend more time with my daughter. I cherish being able to pick which projects and clients I work with; I can turn down prospects where I’d just be an “order taker” or tweaking PowerPoints. I don’t have to accept unreasonably short timelines or woefully insufficient budgets. I can focus primarily on the scenario-based projects I find rewarding. I never have time to be bored because there’s so much variety and so much to learn.

Certainly sometimes people go out on their own because they’re forced to when a regular job ends. Some freelancers are truly working independently as a stopgap measure until they find another long-term job. It happens, but I wish recruiters wouldn’t assume that’s what everyone is doing—especially when they’ve been running their own company for multiple years like me.

Many consultants are like me. We prefer working on their own and aren’t motivated primarily by those external forces. In their article Secrets of Star Training Consultants, Saul Carliner and John Murray explain that the people they identified as “star consultants” in the field were mostly independent because they chose this path:

For the majority, however, the forces pushing the participants into private consulting were internal. Some expressed a desire to move beyond a certain work environment. One expressed an interest in earning more money. And the most experienced of the participants expressed a desire to improve the effectiveness of learning experiences.

If you’re a consultant, what would it take to get you to leave consulting and go back to full time work? Once you’ve cut the strings, is there anything that would convince you to go back?
Image credit: (c) Can Stock Photo