March 2016 archive

Happy Professors Series: From the Kennedy Space Center to the College Classroom

IMG_9949“Teaching college courses has been very exciting. I’m actually on a special assignment from my job in Public Affairs at the Kennedy Space Center, so teaching is a brand new experience for me. I didn’t have any specific expectations going into the classroom for the first time this semester, and I think what surprised me the most was how rewarding it has felt. Students want to go out into the world and make their mark for the future. Getting to share real life work experiences with these students and inspire them is such a tremendous opportunity.  I’ve found that one of the hidden treasures of teaching is learning from every student on so many levels.”

~ Lisa, first-year teacher and Kennedy Space Center liaison

3 Ways to Successfully Work from Home

IMG_0127I’ve known quite a few people who briefly experienced the joy of getting a job that allowed them to work from home, only to resort back to the office or classroom a short while later out of frustration.

Sounds strange, right? Isn’t ‘working from home’ supposed to be the goal in our modern lives?

If you’ve ever worked remotely, it might be easier to understand. There does tend to be a nagging temptation to go back to a schedule that’s set by someone else, and you might find that you actually miss that long commute, and walking past colleagues in the hallway (even the ones you weren’t crazy about- at least they were still people to interact with).

Working remotely can easily feel lonely, unstructured, and more overwhelming than being at ‘the office’ might feel, when you don’t have the right elements in place to make it work for you.

I have 100% been there, but I found some tricks to make working from home everything I dreamed it would be. These are the solutions I’ve found to the most common problems: laziness, lack of structure, and feelings of isolation.

  1. How to cure that lazy ‘working from home’ feeling: You must leave the house for one or two days a week.

For me, personally, I need to feel the pressure of being surrounded by people tapping away very seriously at their laptops- it makes me get right down to business. I do this to get into ‘work mode,’ to build my momentum for the week, and then I can hole up in my house for the next few days under a blanket and be equally as productive as those ‘coffee shop’ work days.

What works for me is leaving the house in the morning on Monday and Thursday, or Tuesday and Thursday, that way I accomplish an enormous number of tasks at the beginning of the week, that keeps me motivated when I physically work from home in the middle of the week,  leading to a huge sense of pride on Thursday when I only have to put in a few hours due to everything I already completed.

Side benefit: For those confused friends and family members who treat you as if you don’t have a job, now that you’re working remotely, getting out of the house will be a frequent reminder that you’re not available 24/7. It will also leave you with one less excuse to hang around your home in case something better comes up, and it will help you resist the urge to make filler plans to waste your time.

  1. How to create new structure: You must have a reason to get in your car and leave the house, other than to ‘go to work.’

Going to work is not an exciting reason to leave the house, and for me, it lead to procrastination and full days reading on my couch for pleasure (which might sound nice, but I only feel guilty about it in the end). Tip #1 about getting out of the house and working for a few hours might sound great, and it works like a charm, but what about when you trick yourself into wasting the day away without actually making it to that coffee shop? This is why you need to trick yourself in a different way; you need to make it easy for yourself to leave, by either meeting up with a friend, heading out to the gym, or running another type of errand that you look forward to.

I’m a homebody, so I could be content staying inside all day. However, I can’t resist a good chat with girlfriends, and also, as a former fitness instructor, working out at the gym has always been a hobby I indulge in when I have the time and energy. As a result, I have 1-2 days per week where a good hour-long chat (plus 6 hours of focused work) with a girlfriend who also works remotely, draws me out of hiding and keeps me plugging away (with spurts of good conversation and laughs periodically for continued motivation). I also have 1 day per week that I’ve carefully planned out, where I pack a bag in the morning with extra clothes, snacks, and my laptop, to hit the gym for an hour, and then head to one of the many coffee shops around the corner.

I’ll admit, about half the time I’m tempted to just go back home and relax after working out, but I remind myself of two things: 1) “You spent all that time packing a bag, and now you’re going to shamefully head home and empty it out after it went completely unused? That’s no good.” And/or I consider 2) “You’re going to feel pretty disappointed in how you spent the day if you go home now. If you just work for 2 hours and then go home, you’ll feel a thousand times better.”

Sometimes I stick to that meager 2 hours and I feel good about at least doing something and not giving into laziness, and sometimes 2 hours turns into 4 or more hours, which is a victory. Basically, remind yourself that this is a privilege and that you still have a responsibility to people to complete whatever tasks you’ve been given.

  • How to shake any feelings of loneliness: Find a way to be around people for a few hours during the week.

How often you’ll want to interact with people might depend on your personality type. I’m slightly more introverted than extroverted, so I do need to see people, but I can spend up to 3 days a week completely isolated and feel pretty great about it. For those times when you miss your old colleagues, take a class at the public library, or pick up a new hobby that requires you to attend a face-to-face class once a week. Personally, going to a coffee shop or the public library to work near other people is as much interaction as I need, but I also go to a few gym classes regularly to see some familiar faces, and I’ll make weekly plans with girlfriends for lunch and/or to work together.

Lastly, be sure to plan a ton of weekday evening and weekend activities! This is when most of your friends will be available, so make it count. Get your ‘people fix’ by planning activities outside with a variety of friends, that way you’ll be ready to get back to your new work routine on Monday without any regrets.

~

This might seem like an awful lot of work and structure to enjoy what should be the ‘ease’ of working from home. However, I feel this is somewhat similar to what Tim Ferriss had in mind when he wrote The 4-Hour Work Week.

Here are some new perks you’ll gain from following the 3 tips above:

Perk #1:

You’ll spend less time thinking about doing work and actually doing it, and when you’re working it’ll be more focused. In my life, this recently took me from 30-35 unfocused and overwhelming hours spread throughout the week and weekend (talk about procrastination and feeling miserable about it), down to 15-20 hours focused into 6-7 hours of work just 3 days a week (craziness, right?).

Perk #2:

Having saved your time and eliminated those extra days in the office, you now have a few days completely to yourself to do whatever makes you tick. In the past, I’ve spent full days where I learned songs on the guitar, wrote music, read books, wrote books, and recently I find myself spending 10 hours at a time learning about investing for the future. When you have something like a 9-5 job to contend with, it’s hard to give yourself that quality time to get into flow, so this is where working on your own schedule is a huge benefit. Currently I have 3 very focused work days, and during the rest of my time I excitedly study new areas of interest and spend time with amazing friends and family who are home on weekdays.

Perk #3:

You get to become the new boss! Once you’ve found out what type of schedule works best for you, and you feel you’re putting in the right type of work, during the right hours, while still feeling like this is all working in your favor, you’ll feel a huge sense of accomplishment. No more meetings, no need to fill your time with busy work, and minimal procrastination (no procrastination might be a bit of a stretch..).

You did it! This is the dream. Congratulations on successfully working from home.

~

Remember, your work shouldn’t be your entire life, so the more you can focus on the most pertinent items at the right time, the more you can spend time enjoying the things that truly matter in life.

Happy working, learning, and living.

How to Get Into the Travel Mindset: 3 Books to Read When You’re About to Hit the Road

DSC_5912Years ago I couldn’t read enough books about travel, specifically from the perspective of authors who would recount their journey living in foreign places for longer stretches of time. I eventually passed through that phase and moved on to others, although I find myself interested in rereading some of my old favorites to prepare for my upcoming trip to Thailand.

I decided that for the next two months, I’ll be taking myself out of work mode on occasion to reread these 3 books that always make me dream of living abroad:

Iceland India Interstate by Colin Wright: This book reads a bit like a very detailed (sometimes too detailed) journal, which I’ll admit is fun, especially when it’s written by a guy who lives like a local in a different country every 4 months.

Happier Than a Billionaire: Quitting My Job, Moving to Costa Rica, and Living the Zero Hour Work Week by Nadine Pisani: Excuse the cheesy title, her writing and antics and much better than the title implies!

Eat Pray Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert: There was too much hype surrounding this book for me to be interested when it came out, but when I found myself book-less at a rec center up in the mountains and this was part of their collection for visitors to read, I found myself hooked. It details such an amazing physical and mental journey, and yes, I’m rereading this one as well.
Happy living, learning, and growing!

3 Quick Tips for Increased Efficiency in Teaching Online

DSC_4024 copyWhile brainstorming what I should write about for the blog today, I decided the topic of ‘easy efficiency would be a something valuable to discuss.

If you’re an online instructor, there are little inconveniences that creep in throughout the semester that become frustrating (sometimes without it occurring to us that we could actually fix these irksome issues easily if we tried).

Having said that, here are the 3 ways I cut out a few hours of work a week:

  1. When students email you, have them respond to you on the email thread where your conversation has been taking place. Make it a regular practice and something that you mention to every student when an email conversation is started, so you’re not sifting back through old emails when they write to you again. This way you can remember what their situation is and what you may have said to them about it previously.
  2. If a student has a concern that you think might become a common question in your email inbox that day, send a classwide announcement immediately. Then when the influx of emails come in, you can tell other students to ‘see your recent announcement’ instead of explaining things all over again.
  3. At the beginning of the term, I send a classwide announcement stating that I will review any student’s written assignments in advance (to alleviate any problems that may arise as a result of a bad grade). This saves me a lot of guilt, and also makes my students surprisingly happy with whatever grade they end up receiving. Maybe this is just me, but I have quite a few students whose questions and worries about written papers that will be due during the course of the semester, and then email me after getting their grade back to complain that they weren’t clear on the directions. My solution is to to tell any concerned students before the paper is due that ‘if they send it to me as an attachment 72 hours before the deadline, I’ll review it and give them feedback so they can get the best grade possible.’ Keep in mind, only the dedicated students will take you up the offer, so you won’t be flooded with early papers to review; I typically only have 1 to 2 students approach me about this each semester.

The above tips may seem obvious to some, but they also might just be the ‘aha’ moment other instructors need to save some time and frustration from week to week.

Happy teaching!

7 Easy Steps to Write an eBook or Paperback in 6 Weeks

IMG_0150I’ve helped a few friends get through the book writing process with suggestions, emails, and phone calls, and they always say “You make it sound so easy! You should teach a course about this!”

There are plenty of articles and Udemy courses out there on the subject matter, but for the sake of sharing my own methods, I’ll break it down into 7 easy steps here:

  1. Get a notebook and jot down what you know about the topic. I have a thick notebook that I keep the various notes for all my books in. Whenever a new idea related to a book I’m working on pops into my head, I write it down. Once you get on a roll and have about 20 pages of your notebook filled, you’re ready to start the writing process.
  2. Organize the notes you’ve written. I typically separate my books into 3-5 large ‘parts,’ and each part has 3-5 ‘sections.’ Organizing a book this way will lead to less confusion as you’re trying to piece your ideas together. Be sure that the important ideas from your notebook are able to fit within the categories you’ve created (these will become the headings of various sections of your book); it’ll be like putting puzzle pieces together.
  3. Turn your notes into a book that’s an easy read. Many writers I’ve met, once they put their notes into the right sections, are able to turn two sentences worth of fleeting thoughts into 5-10 pages of book worthy, readable content. This is one of the rare lucky skills I also possess, but not everyone does. If you have a hard time, get that skeleton into place and do your best, then spend some time editing and working through ideas with a good friend or family member who’s a great writer.
  4. Write just enough content to make you feel comfortable. Your book does not have to be long (and your readers might not be interested in a very long book). I try to write around 80 Word doc pages per book (in Arial size 11 font, single spaced; that’s just my preference).
  5. Add 30-40 pages of extra content. I always include some pertinent blog posts from my website, and interviews with relevant people in my books to increase the content. As a reader, I enjoy hearing about other people’s journeys, and as a writer, I enjoy allowing special friends to share their journeys (it’s one of my favorite parts of putting a book together). The trick is to avoid phone interviews (then you have the pain of transcribing the interview, or having to pay a transcription service to transcribe it); I email my interview questions to about 20 friends/colleagues, who I’ve talked with in advance, and they simply send back their replies. It becomes a simple copy and paste job for me. Keep in mind, only about half of your interviewees will end up meeting the deadline (no matter how great a friend they are!), so err on the side of caution.
  6. Finalize your book (this includes finding a book cover, editing the content, and publishing it on Amazon). This is the hard part, or easy part, depending on how you want to go about it. I suggest going to Fiverr.com to do the 3 above-mentioned tasks. In the end, it might cost you $200-$300 dollars, but the freelancers on Fiverr.com are reliable and incredible. It might be worth avoiding the headache of reading eBooks on each of the topics, and then spending countless hours doing it yourself (note: this is always the most stressful part for me, and I dedicate about 40 hours a week for 2 weeks to ‘finalizing’ the book).
  7. Market your book. To market your book, read some eBooks on the topic, know who your audience is, be a guest speaker on some podcasts, write guest blog posts for various websites, and/or start your own blog. Be patient with the process.

In the end, your book might not become a bestseller, but you did it! How many people can say they wrote a book?

Realistically, with a little bit of persistence, you’ll be selling a few books each week for years to come. Not to mention, you might receive the occasional email from a reader across the country who thanks you for helping them during a hard time. How’s that for rewarding? I promise that sharing your message and making some small impact will make the whole process worth it.

Happy writing, and happy living!