Category: Patterns

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?


Creating Visual Stories That Resonate

These are my live blogged notes from the webinar Training Online: Creating Visual Stories That Resonate by Nancy Duarte. My side comments are in italics. Any errors, typos, and incomplete thoughts are mine, not Nancy’s. Check out Cammy Bean’s notes too.

She started with her personal story, told mostly with old photos on the slides and very little text

Story: likeable hero, encounters roadblocks, emerges transformed

Why are so many presentations bad? We use presentations to create reports–dense “slide-uments”

When you need to persuade, use a story

Every story should have a beginning, middle, and end, with a turning point to move between sections

The presenter is not the hero of the story: the audience is the hero. They are the ones who have the power and must decide to take action. You are the mentor (she showed Yoda on Luke’s back while talking about mentors)

Joseph Campbell story structure

  • Ordinary world
  • Call to adventure
  • Refusal of call
  • Meeting with the mentor–this is a turning point

Freytag’s dramatic story structure; has a shape.

She wondered if great presentations had a shape like this

  • What is
  • What could be (the gap between this and what is is the “call to adventure”)
  • Keep going back and forth between these two

An image of this shape is found in this summary of Duarte’s book

This shape can be used as an analysis tool She analyzed a 90-minute speech by Steve Jobs, who kept the audience riveted, laughing or clapping about every 30 seconds.

Jobs was passionate about his product and constantly marveled at it during the speech

STAR moment: Something They’ll Always Remember

Same kind of analysis for the I Have a Dream speech. Lots of pauses, more like poetry than a traditional speech. King had a rhythm to his speech.  Color coded analysis for the words: repetition; metaphor, visual words; familiar songs, scripture, literature; political references. He moved back and forth between what is and what could be at the phrase level at “I have a dream”; makes more excitement. Familiar references touch something that already resonates within the audience.

The stakes are higher now. It used to be that you could get away with crappy presentations because everyone else is crappy too. Now, there are books and best practices, and TED presentations set the bar higher. Twitter also sets the bar higher; the audience no longer has to suffer alone. They have a back channel and can revolt against a presenter. The audience can say cruel things. (example tweets from the disastrous #heweb09 keynote). Back channel can be good too; people may move to a good presentation they hear about on a back channel at a conference.

Don’t stay trapped in the roadblocks section of your own story. Push through and emerge transformed.

We need to find what we are passionate about to change the world.

Question: What do you do when you’re not fighting for human rights or a product that can’t be marveled at like the iphone?

Answer: some people really need to have passion and some don’t. Everyone needs to be passionate about something, but it may not be work related. People won’t invest in their communication skills if they aren’t passionate.

Question: How much time do we need to invest in our communication?

Answer: If you are given something you need to present in 3 days, it’s probably not high stakes. Categorize what is really important and what isn’t, and fight for the ones that are important. When you are launching your new 5-year vision, or making a big sale, you need to put a lot of time in.

Question: Going back to your “present in person” idea from the beginning, what about globally dispersed teams that don’t meet in person?

Answer: Plan and prepare. She stood up in front of pictures of people to practice so she would talk more like face to face in this online format. Your biggest competitor with virtual presentations is their inbox; if you aren’t more interesting than their inbox, they’ll be reading email. Think about getting their attention back. Break it into very small “Halloween candy size” bites to keep them engaged.

Question: You mentioned investing time in improving communications. What are ways people can invest in their skills?

Answer: Be a consumer of good information. You also need to practice it. They have workshops, other people do too–toastmasters

Question: Is there a time limit on keeping interest?

Answer: Depends on the speaker. Some can hold it for much longer. Emotionally charged content can engage people for longer.

Question: Who is your favorite storyteller?

Answer: Several favorites: Cheryl Sandberg (COO Facebook) is one

Question: Are there differences between people in how interested they are in stories? Are women more interested in stories than men?

Answer: Women may have a higher capacity for emotional content. There are stories as little anecdotes, overall themes, or story structure. You need to know your audience. Emotionally charged content may not work with biochemists. Everyone is human though, and everyone responds to story if it applies.

Question: How many slides should you use?

Answer: It depends. Keep one idea on a slide. If you have 5 ideas on a slide, the audience will read ahead and think you are slow. Slide count doesn’t really affect presentation length; if you click fast, you may have a lot of slides. This was about 75 slides for about 35 minutes of presentation.

Question: What do you do with SMEs who want to include everything in their presentation? How do you help them chunk content into smaller bits?

Answer: Slides are free. It’s not like you’re printing and more slides is more money to print. Sometimes a slide does need more information. They usually do printouts for dense information so they walk away with it rather than trying to cram it on a slide. Put a picture of the handout on the screen and tell people to look at the handout instead of looking at dense text on a slide.

Question: What is the greatest lesson you have learned from a webinar that didn’t go well?

Answer: Technology glitches. She had 25 people in the room, 200 online. It was distracting. She didn’t do a technical walkthrough first. Energy is really hard when you are the speaker and everyone else is muted. You have to keep your own energy very high.

Question: Back to the sailing analogy: how do we use the wind resistance idea to catch the audience’s attention?

Answer: The best way is to grab a few coworkers or the potential audience members. Let them think about ways people might resist. Get people who are comfortable being honest about resistance and reactions.

Question: How do your in person presentations differ from what you do in a webinar?

Answer: She really feeds on audience energy, but she tries to not have much gap. She describes things more visually when presenting online to make up for physical presence.

Question: How do you build this in written materials? Can we use this storytelling in emails or other communication?

Answer: Yes, this can work in other forms of persuasion. Her book resonate follows this form on every page, and then the book follows the form.

Question: Best practices for hybrid live/virtual audiences?

Answer: Make sure the technology works. Acknowledge that people who are calling in are humans too to make them not feel like they are outside looking in.

2009 Review

Happy New Year

It’s time for that annual ritual of looking back at the year. Unlike last year, this year I’m actually reviewing before the new year starts.

What did I do this year? A few things come to mind.

  • In January, we officially launched Sakai as our LMS, marking the end of a long process of choosing the right system and converting all our courses.
  • In April, I presented with my colleagues at the TCC conference on our LMS selection and implementation process.
  • In June, I found out that my job situation was not especially secure. Not coincidentally, June was the month I finally put together a portfolio of my work.
  • In July, my column on using wikis for ID process documentation was published in the eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions magazine–my first official published article.
  • In August, my husband and I closed on our first house. No more renting!
  • In December, I started a new job. It’s been a somewhat slow start, as I had no computer for the first two weeks, but hopefully I’ll have some more to write about soon.

These are my top posts according to the social signals measured by eLearning Learning:

  1. Blogging in a Walled Garden
  2. Why a Wiki?
  3. Google Wave in 10 Minutes
  4. Sakai 3 Development Process
  5. Google Wonder Wheel & Other Search Options
  6. TCC09: Podcasting with Section 508
  7. TCC09: Digital Storytelling in a Web 2.0 World
  8. LearnTrends: Microlearning
  9. LearnTrends: Personal Knowledge Management
  10. CCK09: Connectivism and Constructivism

If I was looking for evidence that live blogging during conferences and webinars provides value, I think this sums it up quite nicely. Half of my top posts by this measure are notes from presentations I attended.

By the number of views, my top posts are mostly related to instructional design careers. The posts from my original series on instructional design skills and how to get started in the field are still some of the most popular here, even though they are now over two years old. What Does an Instructional Designer Do? ranks pretty highly in the Google search results for “instructional designer,” currently #3 (behind Wikipedia & Indeed).

My top search terms are clearly focused on instructional design (with a bit of traffic to my March 2007 cyberbullying post):

instructional designer 2,148
instructional design jobs 836
instructional design certification 564
cyber bullying quotes 553
cyberbullying quotes 378
what is instructional design 355
what is an instructional designer 341
instructional designers 268
instructional design certificate 253
instructional designer skills 252
instructional design skills 217
what does an instructional designer do 207

Looking at just the numbers, my number of views didn’t increase dramatically in 2009. In 2008, I had about 61,000 total views; this year I had about 79,000. I went from about 160 daily views to 215. Those are respectable numbers; not outstanding, and certainly not enough to make me a big-name blogger or give me delusions of making a full-time living from my blog. But not bad.

I’m happy to see that my number of subscribers has more than doubled though. Figuring out how many RSS subscribers you have on a WordPress blog can be challenging, but adding everything up from my multiple feeds looks like I have over 1000 subscribers. That feels like a more relevant number to me than the number of views on the site. Subscribers are long-term readers, where many of my views are just search engine traffic from people who will never be back. Subscribers are people who have decided my blog provides (at least some) long-term value to them.

I don’t know what the new year will bring, but I’m looking forward to the challenges of 2010. Happy New Year everyone!

Image Credit: cc licensed flickr photo shared by uhhhlaine

CCK09: Connectivism and Constructivism


This was written as a comment on April Hayman’s post comparing Legos and Magnetix as metaphors for constructivism and connectivism. One of her readers, Plain_Gillian, said she was struggling to verbalize the difference between the two learning theories. My response is below, but you should go check out the original post and discussion there too.

I think the table comparing learning theories to connectivism is a good way to start. I admit though that even having gone through CCK08 and having done all this reading that I struggle to summarize connectivism in a sentence or two the way I could crystallize the point of constructivism.

If the idea of the difference between building knowledge with pieces and connecting ideas isn’t significant enough to really help you visualize it, think instead about how you would deal with a really, really complex overabundance of information. In the constructivist view, you would take little pieces out of that overabundance and build them into something new. If you’re thinking more social constructivist, you probably socially negotiate what’s important out of the river of information. But does either of those methods of learning really give you an overall picture of the trends or substance of something really big?

From a connectivist standpoint, the response to a huge amount of information isn’t to look at the individual pieces, but to look at the patterns. The human brain is designed to look for patterns, and that’s a big part of connectivist theory. If you analyze a large text sentence by sentence, deconstructing it and reconstructing a new analysis, that’s a constructivist response. If you analyze a large text with a word cloud to look for trends, that’s a connectivist approach.

Does that help at all? This isn’t all the aspects of the theory (which is part of why it’s hard to summarize in a sentence or two), but you might find it easier to think just about one part of it at a time. (And yes, that is sort of a constructivist approach to understanding connectivism.)

If you’re having trouble verbalizing it, then go with some other medium makes sense. If wrestling with these ideas inspires you to paint or draw or make a mind map or play with Play-Doh, then do that. Connectivism is a complex theory because it’s designed to work best for complex, rapidly changing knowledge. There isn’t a single best way to approach understanding it.

Image Credit:

Magnetix by Guapolo

On the Horizon

These are my liveblogged notes from Alan Levine,  Rachel Smith, and Cyprien Lomas’  webinar “What’s On Your Horizon?” about the 2009 Horizon Report. This webinar is part of the preview for the TCC 2009 conference. My comments are in italics. Please forgive any typos or awkward phrases; those are mine, not Alan’s, Rachel’s or anyone else’s.

Overview of the Horizon Report from Rachel Smith of NMC. Main focus has been higher ed, but they now do some specific reports: one for Australia/NZ, one for K-12.

Horizon project wiki has resources and shows the process. The goal of the Horizon Project is to look not just at when technology is viable, but when we’ll have about 20% adoption rates.


  • October: open up to the advisory board. Raw data. More than a list; descriptions, links. What time horizon, what’s important.
  • Vote for 12 (4 in each time horizon)
  • Short list goes to advisory board for “survivor voting” in late November
  • Down to 2 for each time horizon
  • Writers polish the raw materials
  • Distributed with a CC-license

Rachel Smith:  “The report isn’t really about predicting…it’s just a look at what is important at that moment.”

“Horizon Game”

What technology do you see used in some places that most organizations will use less than a year from now?

brainstorming: lots of wikis, blogs, social networking, audio/podcasts.

Also listed: virtual worlds, videoconferencing, voicethreads, geotagging, cell phones, flip cameras, digital storytelling, portfolios, multimedia

Other research questions:

  • What technologies are used in other industries and have a solid user base there that learning institutions should be looking at (2-3 years out)?
  • What emerging/experimental technologies should learning institutions to take notice of in 4-5 years?

Horizon Report

Trends and Challenges facing education


  • Increasing Globalization
  • Collective Intelligence, Ambiguity, Imprecision: With collective intelligence, multiple right answers are possible
  • Games as Learning Tools: Kids have always used games, but school hasn’t recognized play for learning
  • Visualization: Tools make it easier to understand information and relationships between concepts. Look at financial tools like Mint or Wesabe that make it easy to visualize your spending trends.
  • Mobile phones: Fast growth & innovation.

Good points in the chat:

Taylor Willingham [Texas]: More people have access to mobile phones than running water. (from SXSW interactive)

Catherine Green [AIR – Sacramento, CA]: Visualization tools could help move us toward more universal design for learning (UDL), assistive technology, supporting diff. learning preferences, LDs, etc.

Critical Challenges

  • So much information
  • Gaps between how content is used in school and how it’s used in the real world
  • Scholarship and research: how can academic systems reward people doing research in these areas?
  • Meaningful assessment & use of data
  • More expectation for higher ed to deliver to mobile devices

One Year or Less

Cyprien Lomas presenting on Mobiles.

  • If you look at a group of young people, almost all of them will have a phone. Phones are becoming much cheaper too.
  • Phone companies are pushing new features like watching TV.
  • If everyone has them, how can we get students to use them?
  • Phones with cameras can start to identify places in them
  • People need training to learn how to interact with everything on their phones when everything is immediately accessible
  • Payment systems for SMS are different in different countries–much more expensive in Canada

Rachel Smith on Cloud Computing

  • Companies have lots of computers and shift the load among all the computers
  • Easy to lease space from others if you can develop an application
  • Flickr isn’t on a single group of computers
  • Useful for education b/c applications that are comparable to installed software (like Google Docs)

Two to Three Years

Cyprien on “Geo-Everything

  • Like visiting a city after reading a novel set there and reliving the content by visiting the physical locations
  • Bring geotagged resources into your classroom
  • Effects on research
  • Example: sending students out with cameras and sharing geotagged images, mashup images with Google Maps
  • Less Serious Example on the iPhone: Urban Spoon that suggests restaurants based on where you are. What could you do for lessons if the content is based on where the student is?

Alan on “The Personal Web

  • The web used to be handed to you and you just looked at it that way. Now you can take it and look at it differently and remix it. We can personalize it to what’s important to us.
  • Includes things that make publishing easy (YouTube, Flickr)
  • Collaboration authoring tools (Google Docs, Flat World Knowledge)
  • Tagging tools
  • Pageflakes or Netvibes for project resource pages
  • Blogs for specific institutions
  • Personal Learning Environments/Personal Learning Networks

Four to Five Years

Rachel on Semantic Aware Applications

  • A search for “turkey” right now returns the country, bird, name calling. Semantic web would know which one you want.
  • Help people solve big problems by helping make connections
  • Easy to figure out that people are connected based on trails on the web
  • Right now, there’s a manual process of tagging or have software tag it (still cumbersome)
  • Applications that can detect it automatically would be best
  • Current applications deal with searching and asking questions (like “how many world leaders are over the age of 60?). Still in development.
  • A few applications emerging: TripIt lets you forward a confirmation email for travel and gives you a plain language itinerary with maps, tickets, local weather, etc. Combines all the info from your travel sources into one place and gives you the important parts.

Alan on Smart Objects

  • Any object that has a unique id
  • Can communicate with other objects
  • RFID, QR
  • A tire that can recognize when there’s a fault so you can replace it before it goes flat
  • Siftables:
  • HazMat suits that report the conditions experienced
  • Open source audio hardware

Comparing Horizons

  • Australia differs b/c mobile is fairly prevalent already, so next-gen mobile is a long-term trend
  • Cloud computing is 2-3 years for K-12, not less than 1
  • Mobiles are 2-3 years for K-12, not less than 1
  • K-12 is just generally behind a year or two from higher ed
  • Think about doing a mini-Horizon report at your own campus/institution. I wonder what would come up with if we did this with PLS. Such a wide range of facilitators–it would be good to see what they think is important. Doing this kind of process would probably get different results than a simple survey. Maybe discussions in the Facilitator Zone?

Report has been translated to Spanish, Catalan, Japanese, Chinese; would like more

How to Participate:


Q: From a self-described Luddite: What’s the unique pedagogical value of these tools? We’re like kids in a toy store that want one of everything.
A: True that not every technology should be used in every situation. Horizon Report isn’t trying to promote technology, but trying to help people understand without having to do the research by themselves. If technology doesn’t have a good tie to education, it’s whittled out of the process. Helps make people aware of what’s out there.

Image credit:

Is it just me, or is the horizon curved? by Not Quite a Photographr