4 Productivity Tools That Will Give You Back Your Sanity

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4 Productivity Tools That Will Give You Back Your Sanity

Whether you’re working from home or the office, distractions happen, and they can be a productivity killer. Nearly everyone has an example of weeks that you look back on and wonder "What happened? I know I was busy . . " while still feeling as though you’ve accomplished nothing. With deadlines crashing down on your head and the constant demands of family and work, it’s important to be as productive as possible to maintain your sanity. These productivity tools are vetted by experts to help bring balance back to your life — while still getting things done.

1. Time Trackers

Even if you’re not a fan of tracking every task that comes across your desk, a time tracker can provide a valuable way to give yourself mental freedom from specific tasks. For instance, what if instead of tracking the time you’re doing something, you track the time when you’re not doing something — like checking email? Set a timer for three hours and (gasp!) close your email client completely. Turn your phone over on your desk, and turn off the ringer. For three hours, allow yourself to focus on something other than responding to others. You will be pleasantly surprised at how productive you’re able to be without the constant distractions caused by emails, text messages, and social media without feeling like you’ve been out of the loop for too long. Of course, you can always use time trackers in the traditional way, by setting estimates for time and tracking how long specific tasks will take. Either usage will help bring your productivity back into focus!

2. Take it to the Cloud

Cloud-based document and data storage platforms allow you to be productive regardless of your physical location — a critical need in today’s always-on business world. Google Drive, Dropbox, and Box are a few of the options that offer low-cost ways to sync your information between tablets, mobile phones, and laptops or desktops, so you’re never truly away from the office. More corporations are utilizing these cloud alternatives to traditional enterprise data storage due to the relatively inexpensive cost and ease of use for employees.

3. Expense Management

Mobile apps such as Expensify allow you to take a quick snap of receipts and classify them by project, something that is invaluable for today’s busy professional. Keeping track of receipts and ensuring that they get assigned to the right account is yet another of those small yet nagging tasks that can reduce your available mental space without a single return. Clear out the clutter mentally and physically when you use a digital expense management tool.

4. Email Productivity

Professional emails can be a hassle, from trying to remember to send something at just the right time to getting off the myriad of email lists that tend to stack up in your inbox. Tools such as Unroll.me will quickly unsubscribe you from a wide range of email lists in a few short seconds, while tools such as Boomerang allow you to schedule messages for delivery at a later date. This keeps your email from hiding at the bottom of an inbox that is stuffed full overnight.

Ultimately, these productivity tools will help you squeeze a few extra moments into your day by automating simple tasks such as unsubscribing from email lists and having the information at your fingertips when you need it. When you’re able to take these actions when you think of them, you’re clearing your mind for additional productivity — instead of having to maintain a mental database of open tasks to be completed. Take back your sanity by becoming more productive and regaining some of your focus!

4 Ways to Incorporate Humor at Work


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4 Ways to Incorporate Humor at Work

Nothing is more embarrassing than telling a joke and having it fall flat at work, but don’t let that stop you from adding appropriate humor to the workplace, as it can be a great way to reduce tension and improve overall relations.

Having fun with the people you spend at least 40 hours per week with can raise your mood and boost camaraderie throughout your office. Here are some of the top ways you can incorporate humor at work:

1. Hire for Personality and Cultural Fit

When you’re the hiring manager or simply someone able to have input into hiring processes, try to look for someone to join the team who approaches work seriously, and themselves lightly. This could come in the form of an easy smile, a little self-deprecating humor, or the ability to find the amusing side in everyday situations that others may consider stressful. When you have someone on your team who can inject some fun into the workplace, it gives others permission to crack a smile as well.

2. Encourage Silliness

Sure, you don’t want to be silly all the time as you’d get nothing done, but a little wackiness once in a while can break up an otherwise boring or tedious day. Send a cute animal meme or 30-second video to a small group of work friends and enjoy the smile on their face when they view it. If it’s not against your rules, post a humorous cartoon that has a positive message. It is important to be careful, however, as longer videos beyond two minutes or so sent to a large list of people can effectively kill productivity (which won’t make your boss happy at all!)

3. Keep it Professional

A great rule of thumb is that if you would be embarrassed having whatever you want to say plastered on a billboard — don’t say it! Same goes for the grandmother test. If you wouldn’t want your grandmother to hear what you’ve been saying, you probably should abstain. Don’t make fun of others even when it’s "just for fun," and keep teasing to a minimum. This especially holds true if you’re a supervisor or in another position of power. You may not realize that your good-natured poking fun at others can be taken much more seriously when there’s an imbalance of power.

4. Inspiring Others

You’re more approachable to others when you’re smiling, which may be one of the reasons that many leaders work hard on keeping a pleasant look on their face. When you work hard to uplift others with a pleasant word, even sharing amusing inspirational videos can provide you with some personal collateral to be used at a later time. It’s important to note that individuals who appropriately use humor at work are likely to be promoted more quickly and make more money, so there are definite reasons to putting some fun-loving vibes into the air!

Using humor appropriately at work can tighten the bond between co-workers, keep those creative juices flowing, and make the days fly by! However, you always have to balance the good times with ensuring you’re being as productive as possible on the job. Jokes and effective banter can improve your standing within the organization specifically because it is assumed that you are mature enough to understand the proper use of humor and that you’re relaxed and confident enough to call attention to yourself.

Why Educated Confidence Will Carry You Far In Business

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Why Educated Confidence Will Carry You Far In Business

To say that confidence is an important quality for a business leader to have is an understatement. At any given time, your employees are going to be looking to you to make decisions and provide insight. They need to know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you’re confident in the actions you’re taking. You need to know that you’ve given serious thought to the long, often difficult road ahead of you and that you’re making the right move for the right task at the right time. If people can see that you believe in yourself, in your business, and what you’ve worked so hard to build, they’ll start to believe in those things, too.

But something many people often don’t realize until it’s far too late is that "confidence" and "educated confidence" are NOT the same thing.

What is Educated Confidence?

Trust, belief, faith, conviction – these are all among the most essential ingredients that go into creating a confident leader. But one of the most important is also one of the ones that is rarely mentioned – humility. Humility allows you to acknowledge that even though you’re a leader, you’re still just one small cog in a much bigger machine. A living, breathing machine with a life of its own – one that is much more powerful than any one individual working within it, even when that person is yourself.

In many ways, educated confidence is all about slightly adjusting your perspective to account for your own limitations. You need to be confident in the fact that you’re not always going to have the right answer to every problem you face. And that’s okay – because you’re also confident in the people around you and you know that you’ll get through it together like you always do.

You need to be confident in the fact that you are going to make mistakes as a business leader – probably a lot of them, in fact. But this is something that you welcome because you’re also confident in your ability to learn the right lessons from these mistakes and strengthening yourself and your entire organization in the process.

It’s All About the Decisions

It has been said in the past that leadership essentially comes down to your ability to make decisions– but this is only one small part of a much larger story. It’s also about your ability to see those decisions through the lens of all possible consequences, both good and bad.

An overly self-confident leader often becomes one that people follow because their paychecks depend on it, not necessarily because they want to. We’ve all had these types of bosses – the people who are experts at delegating responsibility (read: barking orders) but who always seem to disappear when those proverbial chickens come home to roost.

A leader armed with the power of educated confidence, however, is someone that people follow because they just can’t help themselves. They acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers and they likely never will, but that’s okay – because "we’re all in this together." It’s the idea that just because you’re a leader doesn’t mean that you’re always right – and you wouldn’t have it any other way.

Educated confidence is that little voice inside your head that says "maybe I should get a second, or third, opinion on this, as this is definitely outside of my wheelhouse." It’s a voice that you shouldn’t try to stifle or tamp down, resist or ignore.

Instead, you need to give that educated, confident little voice a megaphone.

Conversational Marketing: Increasing Consumer Engagement


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Conversational Marketing: Increasing Consumer Engagement

As a business owner, you undoubtedly understand the importance of marketing. What you may not be familiar with, however, is which marketing techniques work best.

One marketing tactic that has proven itself to be of the utmost value regardless of the industry you are operating in is conversational marketing. Increasing customer engagement and boosting profit levels, this form of marketing has great potential.

The Ellen Degeneres 2014 Oscar selfie that largely boosted the popularity of the Samsung Galaxy phones is a great example. Samsung didn’t push out the photo everywhere. Instead, it marketed itself and the platforms it was shared because they included conversational engagement. The same can be accomplished across offline marketing platforms when print media is properly integrated.

What is conversational marketing?

Conversational marketing intertwines digital marketing mediums with marketing methods that include actual conversations, such as face-to-face or telephone marketing. With today’s internet applications, like Facebook Messenger, conversational marketing has become extremely simplified. The goal of conversational marketing is to make existing and prospective customers feel heard.

What is different about conversational marketing?

A key feature of conversational marketing that is different from most other forms is that it engages customers through one-on-one conversations. Both inbound and outbound marketing strategies are unified through conversation marketing because data is tracked and analyzed to produce targeted messages that create and promote consumer-specific offers.

Another notable aspect of conversational marketing is that it overcomes channel fragmentation. For example, traditional marketing platforms placed their focus on automated direct communications through outbound channels; mobile messaging, emailing, outbound telemarketing, etc. These automated messages were not producing engagement because they were not ‘real.’ With conversational marketing, though, inbound channels, including website chat tools, instant messaging, and call centers, use real people to carry out real conversations with consumers which greatly improves customer engagement.

Marketers have been challenged to take advantage of inbound interactions as a way to drive their marketing campaigns, and conversational marketing has served as a viable, effective, and cost-efficient strategy for achieving this goal. While outbound marketing tactics are limited in the number of customer interactions they can provide, conversational marketing increases customer response rates.

Developing Conversational Marketing Campaigns

An effective conversational marketing campaign allows businesses to capture consumer conversations and points of contact to develop the right message with the right offer, all the while using the right channel of communication. Developing this type of campaign means using a real-time recommendation engine that allows businesses to anticipate and prepare for consumer interactions before they take place.

Just like the popular 2014 Oscar selfie, your business needs to integrate conversational marketing techniques into its overall marketing strategy. Offline printing, including flyers, newsletters, and advertisements are a great way to accomplish this goal.

The Quarterly Audit:


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The Quarterly Audit: Why It’s Always Good to Give Your Print Collateral a Once-Over a Few Times a Year

An opportunity that far too many people don’t take advantage of is the idea of a quarterly audit. Don’t worry; it has nothing to do with your taxes. Instead, it’s a process that you should go through a few times a year that provides you a chance to re-assess and re-evaluate. It’s a time where you force yourself to stop and think "This print mailer was designed in January, and it worked great in January. It’s April, now. What needs to change?"

Stop and Smell the Roses

When performing an audit of your print marketing materials, make a list of everything that has changed since the last time you had the chance to re-evaluate things. How have your business goals shifted in the last few months? Have you accomplished more or less than you thought you were going to at this point? What does your average customer look like today, as opposed to three months ago? How have your campaigns been performing?

If you can provide business-specific answers to questions like these, you create for yourself a valuable context that you can then use to make the right, actionable decisions regarding things like design and distribution moving forward. What you’re doing is taking a process typically completed at the end of the year, looking backward and seeing what worked and what didn’t, and then forcing yourself to do it as often as you can.

Trends and Best Practices

Another reason why the idea of the quarterly audit is so important is that, by and large, the world of print marketing is changing rapidly. New technologies, techniques, tips and best practices are emerging all the time. Taking the time to go back over everything you’ve done so far a few times a year gives you a chance to incorporate all of this into your workflow as soon as you can.

Think about it this way: maybe you designed new buyer personas in January with an aim towards attracting a different type of customer. You’ve produced everything with those buyer personas in mind, trying to maintain a consistent voice across all collateral. If things aren’t working quite right and need some tweaking, would you rather know in April or wait until December?

In the end, what you’re doing is strengthening your foundation. Many people use January 1 as a great chance for a "fresh start." It’s a time where you stop and think about where you are, where you want to be, and how you’re going to get there. If you do this multiple times per year, however, it puts you in a much better position to be responsive to both internal and external changing factors. Above all else, it’s an opportunity to make sure that you’re still headed down the path that was important to you on January 1, if that path is still important to you at all.

The Hyphenation Zone

The Hyphenation Zone is the distance from the right margin within which a word may be hyphenated, usually around 1/5 to 1/10 of the measurement of a line so that a really ragged right edge is not created.

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Unless you’re setting extremely wide line lengths, no hyphenation is likely to result in a very loose rag (ragged edge) with lots of distracting white space.

Hyphenated words are sometimes considered a necessary evil in typography, but proper hyphenation allows for a better-looking, tighter or in the case of justified type, a more natural, even text.

The ending of two (or more) lines or type in a row should not be hyphenated to increase the ease of reading.

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their coun-
try for the quick brown dog jumped over the lazy good for noth-
ing dogs.

courtesy of Tom Crouser

What Happened to Summer? Back-to-School Marketing Starts Earlier Than Ever

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What Happened to Summer? Back-to-School Marketing Starts Earlier Than Ever

The temperature is soaring, steaks sizzle on the grill, and kids play in the pool, but not everyone is thinking summer. Back to school season is starting earlier than ever for big retailers and the impact trickles over into all aspects of marketing. Both Office Depot and Land’s End launch back to school campaigns at the start of summer – in some cases before school even ended in some parts of the country.

This is a change even from last year; according to AdAge, 2016 saw back to school marketing head into full swing around the middle of July. Time magazine cites the need for retailers to make as many revenues as possible during the highest spending periods as the reason Black Friday, Halloween, and Back to School promotions are being scheduled earlier than ever before.

When does Back to School Begin?

Big retailers working on the premise that earlier is better have begun pushing back-to-school marketing back each year. Back to school is big business for retailers, since it is worth about 78 billion; it is second only to the major holidays for revenues, according to AdAge.

How Early is Too Early?

Office Depot’s back-to-school advertising rolled out June 25 of this year, a full three weeks earlier than 2016’s July launch. Other retailers are following suit, but there is some consumer backlash against the early push. Lands’ End received public criticism on social media when their back-to-school catalog dropped while kids in many parts of the country were still in school.

"We got your #backtoschool catalog in the mail. Our kids still have two weeks of school left this year! #fail #marketing," tweeted Greg Magin.

@GregMagin helpfully tagged his rant with #fail, #backtoschool and #Marketing, so it was seen by far more than just his followers. This backlash from consumers shows that a too-early launch can backfire. Right now, the sweet spot for back-to-school marketing seems to be right after the 4th of July through the end of the month.

Back-to-school marketing is all about timing. Being aware of this pitfall, and of the enormous potential of this busy season, can help you make the most of Back to School season for your brand and ensure your organization has a visible presence during this often overlooked marketing opportunity.

Make Back to School Time Count for your Brand

Positioning your Back to School promotions in July and working to build not only sales but also awareness can help place you in front of consumers when they’re ready to outfit the kids for the next school year. Since most consumers begin searching online well before they part with actual money, building awareness ahead of this busy season can help you get the results you want without irritating consumers.

Social Media and Your Marketing Strategy

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When you are trying to reach a wide demographic for your business, you must get on social media. By developing a following on social media and learning how to use text messaging to get customers interested in your brand, you’ll be on your way to building up a solid customer base.

Do You Have Followers on Your Facebook Page?

Most businesses use their Facebook page to post links to informative blog posts on their website or to share relevant news about their industry in general. To gain followers, you will need to get people to share the posts that you create and to gain interest by advertising your page. You can also gain followers by creating printed marketing materials that provide information on how to find you on Facebook. Almost all of your printed marketing products should contain information on all of your social media accounts to encourage customers to sign up.

Utilizing an Opt-In Texting Campaign

Think about how you currently communicate with your customers. In any business, the ability to ask questions and to get those questions answered quickly is important. When you create an opt-in texting campaign, you build a list of subscribers that you can send marketing materials to through text messages. You can grow this list of subscribers by creating a short code and printing it on your marketing postcards. For example, "To learn more about our business, text the word SHOP to 12345." You can send text messages that point people to your social media pages and share links to your social media accounts that will allow them to sign up for your campaign.

Consider Trying Twitter

Twitter can be a very useful platform for your industry once you can gain an audience and you learn how to strategize hashtag phrases. If you’ve ever seen a person write a status on Facebook such as "I love my dog, #labsrule, #dogsarethebest, #familypet," these hashtags do more than confuse people who don’t know what they are. Hashtag use started on Twitter, and this is one way people follow industry news. People can search hashtags on Twitter. Anyone that types in "#labsrule," or any of the other hashtags written, will see the post written by the Twitter user that wrote the hashtag after their post.

Try to engage your customers by asking questions or sharing interesting news either through social media links or text messages. If customers start commenting on posts, keep the conversation going by responding. The more you can get your customers interested in your brand on social media, the larger the following you will create.

Improving Your Organizational Skills With Technology


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Improving Your Organizational Skills With Technology

If you’re the type of person who wants to improve your time management skills, there’s a good chance that what you really need to do is improve your organizational skills. We spend so much time each day trying to remember where we put that important memo, when that upcoming meeting got rescheduled to, or simply trying to get our heads around what obligations we have today. All of this is wheel-spinning certainly isn’t driving your productivity forward in the way you need.

Thankfully, modern technology can be a huge benefit in terms of improving your organizational skills. You just have to keep a few important things in mind.

If You Can Add A Digital Version, Do So

One of the most important ways to use technology to help improve your organizational skills involves finally embracing some of the “digital” versions of “hard copy” techniques you may be holding out on. Case in point: an astounding amount of American adults own a smartphone, a device that is literally more powerful than the equipment used to pull off the NASA moon landings in the 60s. Yet many are still only using them to send and receive calls, respond to emails and send text messages. These are communications benefits, not organizational ones.

As an example, some people still like using a paper desk or wall calendar not only because of the intimacy, but because nothing can really go wrong with it. You make an important appointment, you write it down on your calendar, end of story. That information is always there. However, there’s also a chance to go one step further.

Your paper calendar doesn’t travel with you – your smartphone does. Get in the habit of using both a paper calendar for the tactile quality it excels at AND a "Calendar" app for the organization and especially the travel benefits. If you make an entry into your “Calendar” app on your iPhone, that data is automatically synced to your iPad and MacBook Pro, too. The same is true of data you enter into your “Reminders” app, your “Notes” app, your… well, you get the point. Making a habit of keeping both the paper and the digital version of something in this case creates a "best of both worlds" scenario.

The Cloud Is Your Friend

Along the same lines, let’s get one thing straight: it’s time to move as much of your daily life into the cloud as possible. Cloud storage isn’t just a “virtual hard drive.” If you’re only thinking of the cloud like a digital version of something like a flash drive, you’re not even hitting the tip of the potential iceberg.

When you upload a document into the cloud, it’s instantly available on all of your devices. It can be shared with anyone – both other employees and clients – in a mouse click. Anyone can edit those documents and you have complete visibility over all changes and access permissions. It’s also protected from things like hard drive failure and even theft. Thanks to both the military-grade encryption that services like Dropbox use and techniques like two-factor authentication, your data has never been more secure or accessible at the same time.

The most important benefit of all is that you always know where your data is – available, end of story. You don’t have to worry about what you’re going to do if you can’t take your laptop on a plane with you because you can be just as productive and have access to all of the same information on your smartphone.

These are just a few of the simple ways you can use the technology you probably already have access to. Once you take the time to setup something like cloud-based storage, the hard part has already been done. You won’t have to spend an hour or more each morning trying to remember where you put this or that. You’ll just know. You won’t need to wish there were more hours in a day because it’ll be easier than ever to do more with the ones you already have.

Master the Light With Custom White Balance

Not so long ago, color photographs were developed and printed in a darkroom. Colors were adjusted using chemicals, graduated color filters, and hundreds of dollars worth of equipment. The process of developing and printing photographs was long and grueling. Fortunately, today, things are different. Film photography has become a fine art, and digital photography has taken the helm because of its quick and efficient turnaround. In the digital world, images can be edited, re-edited, and manipulated before they go to print. Instead of the enlargers and chemical baths found in traditional darkrooms, we now have the technology that gives us the post-processing power to tweak and change photographs to enhance them, sort of like a digital darkroom. Adobe Lightroom is an inexpensive post-processing program used by amateur and professional photographers across the globe to edit and refine images. It includes many great features, one of which is a powerful White Balance tool that allows you to make color-tint adjustments that will help normalize the color tones you just couldn’t land in-camera. What Is White Balance And Why Does It Matter? White Balance, which is measured in Kelvins, represents the temperature of light (cool or warm) recorded by your camera. Kelvins range from 1,500K (very warm) to 15,000K (very cool). It’s important to stay aware of your White Balance setting as it could save you hours of editing time later. Most cameras today have pre-programmed presets such as Tungsten, Shade, Flash, Florescent, and Cloudy that all record temperature differently and help you capture colors as accurately as possible. WHITE BALANCE COLOR CHART How Can I Make White Balance Changes In Lightroom? When things aren’t exactly what you’re looking for, and you need to make adjustments, there are three ways you can adjust White Balance in Lightroom: 1) Eyedropper tool Select the eyedropper tool from the Basics Panel and find an area in your image with light gray or neutral tones. Click that spot with the eyedropper tool and let Lightroom calculate the White Balance for you. Eyedropper tool GIF 2) White Balance presets (RAW images only) If your image is in RAW format, you’ll have a list of White Balance presets available to you through the Basics Panel. Using the White Balance drop down menu, select an option that best describes the lighting conditions you shot in. White Balance presents GIF 3) White Balance temperature and tint sliders The temperature and tint sliders are an advanced setting that allows you to manually adjust how warm or cool an image is, in addition to adjusting the tint between green and magenta. This setting is the most powerful option of the three. White Balance Temperature and Tint sliders GIF Go ahead and test the waters, and don’t worry if you’ve made a mistake with your settings. Lightroom is a non-destructive editing program, so you can always get back to square one if you’ve made changes that just don’t work well. Simply use the Reset button to remove all adjustments and return your settings to what they were when the image was captured, and you can start again.

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