FutureMobile AppsPandemicProductivityProgrammingTechnologyWeb Development

Foundation is Panda Rose’s internal user-interface toolkit, which we built from the ground for rapid-development of rich, interactive applications spanning multiple platforms. Our initial targets were web-based single page applications and mobile iPhone and Android applications, and recent developments have allowed us to add Mac and Windows to that growing list.

Foundation integrates very closely with our internal backend framework, Kojo, and most who’ve worked with Foundation have encountered it in its conjoined form, Kojo-Foundation.

Our foundation has a bit less rebar and cement.

Standardised Technologies

We’ve rolled the first version out over the past couple years and achieved many of our objectives. The development cycle in Kojo-Foundation utilizes a core of well-standardised, well-understood web technologies: PHP, HTML and CSS, TypeScript and React. Our cross-platform environment allows all versions of an application to share common business logic and even presentational views, and our common toolkit of components allows the application to shape-shift into different environments. A straightforward plugin interface allows individual applications to easily expand the core, and the expansive reach of React Native means that no capability of iPhone or Android is out of reach.

The end goal: fully native applications that look and feel great on every platform, with a cycle of development and maintenance that is as straightforward as composing and updating simple web pages.

The Sequel

In 2020, however, we took a pause along with the rest of the world, and out of this we’ve produced a sequel.

The world of frontend development, driven by JavaScript and its derivatives, is notoriously dynamic and fast-changing (much to the displeasure of managers the world over) and much had changed over the course of our initial development cycle. Here we had a chance to reckon with those advancements and plot a course forward.

Further, over the past few years we’ve encountered many pain points in the modern web development toolkit. A toolkit which, to be sure, is wonderful, largely free of cost, and enables vast leaps of individual creativity, but also adds heaps of complexity to a toolkit which is, at its core, simple, intuitive, and eminently teachable to a broad audience. In short, the very qualities that introduced many of us to the creative potential of the web many years ago.

A Return to Simplicity

Simplicity is beautiful.

At the core of our effort is to return to that place of simplicity and rapid, accessible development, while taking on and making broadly accessible the many wonderful advancements of the past 20 years which enable us to do more and reach a broader audience than we’d ever have imagined, hacking together homepages in Notepad in 1999.

In the coming weeks, we will count the ways.

Link RoundupProductivitySEOWeb DevelopmentWordpress

There are a lot of lists out there about “20 Best Free Plugins!” and “Top Ten Essential WP Plugins!”, but you know what isn’t out there yet? A top list of Deborah’s favourite most handy plugins. Some of them may be found in some of the other lists out there, but some of them are a bit more random. So without further ado: Deborah’s Favourite Most Handy List of Plugins in 2020!

So here we go, in no particular order:

Classic Editor 

Johannes Gutenberg
Classic Editor: the editor that Johannes Gutenberg would have used.

This is probably on a lot of other lists out there. I have to be honest: I hate Gutenberg. In fact, I think the original Gutenberg is rolling in his grave at the thought that his name is being used for such an awful page builder. I’d rather just write everything manually than use Gutenberg, that’s how awkward it is. But thanks to sensible people out there, the Classic Editor plugin exists, to bring back the WYSIWYG editor. My life is made easier.

If you like, you can disable Gutenberg, or leave it enabled so that any other users who DO like Gutenberg (weirdos) can still use it. Conveniently, it opens automatically to the user’s last-used editor, so you don’t have to worry about repeatedly switching back and forth.

Schema & Schema Default Image 

Google structured data rich snippets results
All that fancy stuff like the sidebar there and whatnot? That’s because of structured data.

Schema is very simple and straightforward for getting your structured data markup in the right format, which makes your site look a lot better in Google search results. It’s helpful for your local SEO and great for people who are simply searching for you (or didn’t know they were searching for you).

The Schema Default Image plugin goes hand-in-hand with Schema, adding an option for you to designate a default image if your pages or posts don’t have a featured image, which is a nice little add-on.

Honeypot for Contact Form 7

It works on Winnie, and it’ll work on spammers.

Contact Form 7 is a great contact form plugin, but as with any contact form, you can end up getting a lot of spam. Thanks, but I don’t want to buy viagra from random Russian people, and neither do the clients for whom I build websites. I mean, I assume they don’t.

ReCAPTCHA is helpful in decreasing the spam, but I find when I implement CF7’s quiz feature AND the honeypot, it makes a huge difference! Overkill? Maybe. But nobody likes spam.

Header, Footer and Post Injections 

Get it? Header!

Sometimes you end up having to use a theme that makes it very difficult to plugin bits of code in the header or anywhere else, and you can get this done all in one place without having to use 5 different plugins. It’s also another one of those really straightforward plugins that is simple to use. It even takes into consideration accelerated mobile pages.

Code Snippets 

Code Snippets is a bit like Header, Footer, and Post Injections, but you can insert lines of code one at a time and enable and disable each of them as you please. It adds them to your theme’s functions.php file automatically. The graphical interface is nice, and allows you to add comments and tags for notes for yourself (or other admins). I don’t always need this plugin, but I’m really glad it exists!

Use Any Font 

Seriously, ANY font!

Ever have that one website you have to build where the client’s font ISN’T a Google font? That’s when this comes handy. You can upload one font for free and it converts it into a web font. Mind you, if you need more than one custom font, you’re going to have to pay, but usually I only need one custom font. It plays nicely with various editors and page builders too.

Disable admin notices individually

I can’t be the only one who gets tired the plethora of notifications in WordPress. It’s either “give us a rating!” or “upgrade to premium!” or “really useless information that takes up half the page!” and you have to click the little x to close them out every. single. time.

Notifications blocks
Dude. Nobody even cares.

Well, Disable admin notices individually solves that problem for you. You can dismiss a message permanently. And don’t worry, if you didn’t mean to dismiss one, you can go into the settings and un-dismiss the message. Additionally, different users and the messages they have dismissed are independent of each other — if I dismiss a message, another admin logging in will still see it until they also dismiss it.

WPFront Notification Bar

I’ve seen a lot of pages out there with a COVID-19 notification bar to alert site users to what their business is doing in response to COVID-19. If you want one of those that you can extensively customise, then this is the plugin for you. Of course, it’s not just for COVID alerts, but for any alert your heart desires. You can set cookies so that it doesn’t pop up for the same user for a certain length of time, or you can set it so it pops up every time. You can adjust colour, size, location, scroll, how it closes (or doesn’t close), and just about anything else you’d want to do. It’s an impressive little plugin if a notification bar is something that you need!

Redirection

This is not a political endorsement.

This plugin is great for handling 301 redirects. Some of our clients have ecommerce stores and rather than un-publishing a product, they’ll delete it for whatever reason. Of course, when they do that, I get the wonderful notification from Google Search Console telling me that we’ve got a 404, oh no! Redirection is great at handling and sorting out that problem so that users aren’t sent to an “oops! 404 page not found!” page. It can handle conditional redirects it even tracks errors.

Accelerated Mobile Pages

This plugin isn’t for every website, but if you write a lot of articles, recipes, or sell products through an ecommerce store, this plugin can make a huge difference. It puts all of your posts into an AMP format, a stripped down version of your post that is mobile-friendly and gives you a chance to show up in the Google News carousel. Since implementing AMP for a few of our clients, we’ve seen a huge upturn in traffic to those pages.

There are lots of upgrades you can purchase for this plugin, but the free version is more than enough to work for most of our clients. It’s worth mentioning here that there is a free plugin, AMP Contact FORM 7 – AMPCF7 to make Contact Form 7 work with AMP. It hasn’t been updated in two years, but it hasn’t failed me yet.

And have I mentioned yet that having your own ecommerce store can be far more beneficial than selling on third-party platforms? Indeed, you can boost your own store‘s SEO with this.

Contact Form 7 Database Addon – CFDB7

If you’re worried about missing contact emails or accidentally losing the data that people have submitted, this plugin is handy. It stores each contact form’s information in a database on your site. You can export it as a CSV file, delete individual entries (or all) if there are duplicates, and it requires no configuration at all.

Special Mentions

I think that a lot of lists cover these plugins, but it’s worth mentioning anyway without needing to go into detail.

Augoptimize – our favourite plugin for optimising image sizes, scripts, and generally speeding up a page. We use it in conjunction with a subscription to ShortPixel.

Wordfence – Excellent for website security. You’d be amazed at how often people try hacking pretty much ANY website.

Yoast SEO – The best tool for SEO!

What are your favourite handy WordPress plugins? Let me know in the comments!

BusinessCareersEducationMarketingProductivitySelf-ImprovementUncategorized

Two simple rules that will LITERALLY save you millions of dollars going to an Ivy League school for an MBA

While there is a massive amount all of us can learn about business from a MBA program, I have found that two lessons I’ve learned from my exposure to these programs have been incredibly fruitful in helping me manage strategy and tactics while growing a business and navigating through both good and difficult times.

Don’t be Married to Your Business

If you haven’t learned about the Sunk Cost Fallacy , I recommend you read over the linked site. Just open it in a new tab. It’s ok, I’ll be here when you get back.

Basic gist of this fallacy goes as follows “the more you invest in something, the harder it is for you to stop investing in it.” We are all guilty of this. That significant other you spent over a year longer than you should’ve trying to keep the relationship together when you knew it was long over. That degree you finished because “well, I’m already 50% of the way through it,” and then proceeded to follow an entirely different career path in which everything you learned has been tangential to your current life. Even the business you’ve been working on for years, but never got any traction with.

When you are working on a business plan, or developing a business, you will find only after you have invested a lot of time, sweat, money, blood and tears into it that, unfortunately, your original vision was not that good. At which point you have a sticky situation, should you keep investing in the idea, or is it time to spin things down? I have seen many, many people stick to an idea long past it’s sell-by date, and the history of business is littered with business folks who went to the grave still trying to get that “great idea” to start to pay off.

Here’s the thing, sometimes your idea does suck.

Yep, sometimes it just isn’t as great as it felt it would be once it is built, and all the polishing and reconfiguring of the original idea might make no difference at all. It just is not going to take off as it exists.

So what does that mean? Well, luckily there isn’t a holy covenant between you and your company or your business direction. It is not a mortal sin to decide to drop that original business idea. In fact, that is the sign of a good business person.

YouTube, originally started as a dating site. Yep. Their selling point was that you could upload videos of yourself so people could get to meet the “real you,” before deciding to date. At the time, it seemed like a great idea. Dating sites were hot and making money hand over fist. However, in a very short period of time, it was clear that it was not the brilliant idea the original creators thought it was. Now, they could’ve superglued themselves to the original idea and simply tried to polish it further, making the video interface cleaner, making the matching algorithm better, a whole list of minor perfunctory changes. They could’ve decided that they were married to the original idea, ’til death us do part.

But they were good business people, and decided instead to concentrate on what was working and what wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, they tried almost everything to get stuff working. They even went onto Craigslist and offered women $20 a video to join and upload videos. Still no one came forward. So they said, screw it, let’s let people upload anything they want, forget the dating aspect. The first video ever was this one. YouTube took off and they sold themselves to Google for 1.65bn. If they were married to the dating site idea, they likely would’ve gone out with a puff of smoke, but because they were willing to divorce themselves from that idea and see what else worked, Chen and the other original team are doing quite well for themselves today.

Stick to your Guns

In short, this rule means: Don’t give up so quickly, just change your tactics and keep trying. The fact you built the tech to begin with and the fact that you’ve invested so much in it means that there is something there. However, there are so many external factors that lead to your plan not working. In some cases, the market simply is not ready yet for your product. In other cases, the strategy you are using to sell you product is not properly targeted to the sector in which you would do best. In a surprising number of cases, it’s simply bad luck in finding the right investors, employees and clients. If you stick with it, you are more likely to succeed.

As my father always told me as a kid, “You miss every shot you don’t take.” I hear that some other great hockey player may have said this as well… Might’ve played for the Oilers for a while. Since they haven’t won a Stanley Cup in a long time, I’m guessing that’s why the name evades me, probably Kelly Buchberger. Kellys always have great ideas.

However, I can hear you all screaming at your phone: “Doesn’t this rule fundamentally contradict the previous rule?” Oh, I can see why would think that. The previous rule says that if something isn’t working, you shouldn’t continue to bury money into it. That’s the entire point of the sunk cost fallacy. However, I am not saying you continue doing something that is not working. I am saying you should look at what you have already done, learn from it, and adapt accordingly. Do not give up now that you have learned so much from lack of success. You should look at what you have built and then go, what can I do with what I have built.

You know what doesn’t work.

Which means that the category of possible actions that will work is smaller and easier to choose from. Sometimes the pivot is as major as what happened with YouTube, where the whole model was dropped, but the technology was kept. They stuck to their guns, the technology they had developed that worked and worked well. They got rid of what didn’t work, the original business idea. In the end they were very successful.

Take the chance, invest in the technology, build your ideas, but be willing to fail fast and pivot. If you are not getting traction with your current strategy, there is nothing wrong with changing tact. In fact, that is how most of largest businesses today have got to where they are.

BusinessProductivitySecurity & PrivacyTechnologyWeb Development

1 ways cloud computing benefits your business

From The Ground to The Cloud!

Cloud Computing is being adopted by large and small companies for their numerous benefits. As the technology grows, it will soon become the industry standard if it has not already. It’s affordable and stays up-to-date! It should be a part every small business’ success story and this post aims to shine some light on what the cloud is. Don’t let your business fall behind on this trend and reap the benefits of The Cloud today!

can't stop the signal
OK, not QUITE the same. But close enough.

What is Cloud Computing?

You might be asking “what is Cloud Computing” and “why should I care”? 

Cloud Computing is sort of like a car rental: You pay for as much as you use it, have the freedom to use it however you like (as long as it’s legal, of course), and it’s owned and managed by another company, not you. 

You are probably used to the idea of servers running in their own enclosed space, handling all your business’ mission-critical services such as databasing and website hosting.  As the name “Cloud Computing” suggests, all of the system resources that your services rely on are floating in a remote space and can grow or shrink based on the conditions that you set for it.

Cloud service providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Digital Ocean, Linodeetc allow you to rent a server with the latest hardware for a very affordable price. 

 

1. Affordable

Let’s begin with the #1 reason why a business owner should consider cloud computing: it’s affordable! Instead of paying thousands of dollars up front for a working server and hiring a team of professionals to set it up and maintain it, you pay a fraction of the price for a server that is already set upYou will still have to manage the software side of things thoughThey can start for as little as $5 monthly and you only pay more as you need stronger hardware. You probably would have paid roughly that much or more on a monthly basis just to cover the power usage, which also gets taken out of the equation if you run your server on the cloud. For the price of an on-premise setup, you might have a fully working cloud infrastructure for years to come.

Now you don’t need to lose entire paycheques before your business even gets a chance to take off!

2. Scales with Latest Hardware

As a small business you might not need a huge, powerful server. Starting out, you might only need a small machine to deliver your services to your customers. Your needs may grow as your company does and you can easily provision more resources when it does. Instead of starting with a powerful server, you can upgrade to one once you need it. On top of only paying for what you need, the hardware available will usually be up to date and you don’t have to worry about spending more money on updated hardware after a few years. 

3. High Availability 

Unlike owning a server on-premises, servers that host your virtual machines reside in data centers in a remote location. They often also have high bandwidth, making it easier for clients who are farther away to connect to your website or service, especially if it experiences high traffic that your local internet provider might not be able to handle. This is also important for being able to connect to your server to for managing problems or updates.  

Since servers are hosted in remote data centres, your service will be available to your major demographic even if they are halfway around the world!

 

What’s the Catch?

Are you interested in cloud computing yet? You can spend less money for a server located almost anywhere in the world. Your office might burn to the ground but your data will remain safe. These are only some of the many strengths of cloud computing and the barrier for entry is low, so you can try it out with very little risk.

There are some things to watch out for though. Contrary to the #1 reason for having a server hosted on the cloud, it is also very easy to accidentally over spend by renting a cloud service or resource that you do not need or use. Although you don’t have to worry about someone breaking into your office and stealing your hard drives, you still need to employ good security practices to minimize the odds of someone hacking into your server and ruining your business. 

If you are interested in cloud computing but are not interested in the setup process, or if you don’t have the technical skills needed to do it yourself you can always consult an IT company such as Panda Rose to take care of your set up process and manage it on an as-needed basis. 

BusinessMarketingProductivitySEOShoppingSocial MediaWeb Development

build your own ecommerce website, be your own boss

I’m going to spoil this whole blog by telling you the three reasons you should build your own eCommerce website in this very first sentence: eBay, Etsy, and Amazon. That’s it, there you have it, that’s why you should build your own eCommerce website.

I know what you’re thinking: “Deborah, you’ve gone completely bananas. I couldn’t possibly independently compete with those three!”

Brick laughing with a banana
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a little bit off my rocker.

Well I hate to break it to you folks, but I went completely bananas years ago. You should know that by now. But that’s completely aside from the point and unrelated to anything I’m saying here. Just let me continue, and stop mentally interrupting me, OK? Thanks.

Even when you list your products on those sites, you are still competing with all of them. But let’s take a closer look.

Amazon

Xena, Warrior Princess
Darn it you guys, STILL not that Amazon.

Of these big three sellers, Amazon.com was founded in 1994. Who even remembers having the internet in 1994? My family had an Apple computer back then, but eventually switched to a PC. I think we got dial-up in 1995:

beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep ccccccccchhhhhhh doooooo-dee-doo000-beepbeep-boop-beep-dooop cccccccchhhhhhhhhh

dial-up internet
You know what I’m talkin’ about.

. . . and then that sweet sound of connection. It wasn’t long before I discovered Amazon.com. It used to be all books, all the time, and soon after, I could also get CDs and DVDs, and better yet, I could soon buy them used from other sellers! I’ll admit, I have Amazon Prime membership in both the USA and Canada. As a buyer, Amazon is pretty great.

But what about as a seller?

Amazon is complicated. Their fees are high. You’ve got a huge amount of competition, including people who buy and bulk, which isn’t great if you’re a smaller business. Not only that, but you are also in direct competition with Amazon itself.

Take for example the issue of AmazonEssentials products. Despite claims to the contrary, Amazon employees have used what is supposed to be private information about independent sellers on the company’s platform to develop competing products, going directly against their own company’s policy.

Speaking of competing products, several major brands have refused to sell on Amazon because they don’t police the grey market well enough. One brand even preferred to sell exclusively on Walmart instead. Not to dis Walmart or anything (loyal shopper here), but I kinda think that says something.

people at walmart crashing balls
Am I a Person of Walmart? That’s for me to know and you to find out.

eBay

cat selling a cat in a box
I’ve tried this with my children, but apparently it’s “against the rules”.

Ah yes, the wild west of online sales. Or so it seemed to be back in those first few years. eBay was founded only a year after Amazon, in 1995. It started simple enough. The first sale was a broken laser pointer to a fellow who collected broken laser pointers, who would’ve thought? Initially, listing an item was free, but the founder’s internet services bill got too high, so he had to start charging a listing free, which people found pretty reasonable.

(As an aside, my first year of high school, my school’s principal, Tom Sawyer (yes, that legit was his name, no relation to the real fictional Tom Sawyer, though), was an expert at calling auctions. You know, that really fast-talking thing. Everybody in town would get him to do live auctions. Pretty amazing. eBay should have hired him for . . . something.)

Thousands of people have found success on eBay, but more and more, people have become increasingly frustrated. In the words of one former seller, “eBay sacrifices its sellers to its buyers”. I know that “the customer is always right” is a good general policy, but eBay appears to take this a bit too far. According to this same seller, “eBay ‘insures’ purchases by resolving all disputes in favor of the buyer, and then forcing the seller to cover the costs. Paypal helps them by seizing the seller’s funds.”

So eBay runs on a guilty-until-proven-innocent-system where the seller can almost never prove themselves innocent. It also leaves the seller open to buyer fraud.

guilty!
Even if you’re innocent, you’re still guilty.

eBay can limit your sales very arbitrarily, despite your good record (and bringing in lots of income to eBay itself). An ill-intentioned person can give a seller a bad review, a postal strike causing a delay in shipment, or any other little fluke can lead them to limit how much a seller is allowed to sell. One seller whose whole business. You are subject to eBay’s whims. You may feel like your own boss, but you are at the mercy of buyers and eBay’s poor customer service.

Etsy

Etsy, the newest to the market. Launched in 2005 on the east coast, it’s the indie girl’s heaven for vintage, handmade, and craft supplies. Yes, I’ve purchased all of the above on there. Etsy has been great for sellers of these things, but in recent years, Etsy’s policies have changed for the negative.

where do you even find a a gold coke straw? etsy.
Seems legit. In a not really legit sorta way.

Etsy is no longer friendly to small business, you are literally competing with huge shops in China. It’s sad really — you see someone has designed something creative and lovely, and within a few months, other people are copying that design and it’s all being shipped from China. Sure, maybe it was handmade, but do you really think the worker got fair pay for the work they did?

Not only that, but because of Etsy opening up their policy to this type of business, small business owners have faced lower sales volumes and increased competition due to the sheer volume of shop owners on the site, and it’s not exactly easy to differentiate your own shop from all the rest. You get a name and you get a logo. That’s about it. It’s very difficult to truly build your own brand.

On top of this, Etsy has their own weird SEO algorithms that work completely differently from most ordinary search engines, and at the same time, Etsy items don’t rank well in Google searches. And then there are the fees. They can arbitrarily hike the fees whenever they please, cutting into the profit margin of small businesses as well.

At the end of the day, is it really worth all this trouble?

Who are you really working for?

All three of these platforms make it somewhat easy to list your products in an online shop, but is it really worth it? How does it really benefit you as a business? Perhaps early on it might have been easy for people to search and find your products, but now they’re so over-saturated that it’s difficult for people to find you. You can’t truly build your own brand.

At the end of the day, with having to follow someone else’s ever-changing policies, very little control over how operations are run, and the inability to truly build your own brand while paying someone else fees, it sure sounds a lot like you’re doing a lot of work for someone else. You may have more flexibility than a typical job, but you’ve still got someone bossing you around.

But what else can a small business do?

Gosh, I’m sure glad you asked! The truth is, building your own eCommerce website isn’t that complicated. There are lots of options out there, though our two favourites are WooCommerce and Shopify. The great thing about your own site is you are in charge. You decide what your website will look like, your branding, everything. Nobody will tell you what kind of payments you will take, you get to decide that. You get to decide what shipping options you will offer, and where you will ship.

I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m pretty stubborn and don’t like being told what to do. I’m also a bit of a control freak, so being able to control every aspect of my business (or delegate to people whom I trust) is right up my alley. Both of these platforms offer countless tools to make it easy to do.

Zoolander like a boss
You can be really really really really really ridiculously good looking AND be your own boss at the SAME TIME.

How will people find me if I’m not on one of these big sites?

Google.

OK, that’s the easy answer, but not the only one. Look at it this way: you’re not just selling stuff, you’re building a brand. Do you have a Facebook page? Instagram? Most of these eCommerce platforms have integrations with both Facebook and Instagram (WooCommerce: Facebook, Instagram; Shopify: online sales channels).

Honestly, lots of the new stuff I discover is through social media, so build a following! Write blogs about your products, get other people to share your products and how great they are! Get in people’s heads. Build your brand. If you need any advice on SEO, social media, or digital marketing, talk with us. We are more than happy to help!

Back to Google though — this year they announced a new feature they are making available on their shopping search results. Currently their Google Shopping search results are all sponsored products, but this spring, in the US, they opened it up so that people could list their products for free (there would still be sponsored listings, a bit like regular search results).

This isn’t available in Canada yet, but one article suggests it will be quite soon for Canada, and another says that it will be global before the end of the year. I find this pretty exciting, as it’s another SEO opportunity for our eCommerce clients. It appears that already there are integrations for WooCommerce and Shopify.

OK, but what about the cost?

I’ll admit, there’s a bigger up-front cost with building a site yourself.

I take that back. Shopify isn’t all that bad, although they have monthly fees, because it is hosted, although the monthly fees might add up, but it comes with everything all-in-one full-meal-deal if that’s what you like. You can pay to have someone set it all up for you, have it match your branding and whatnot, or you can set it up yourself and you’ll probably get by either way. It’s a great option for someone who wants a store. Some pretty big brands use Shopify, including Hasbro, The Economist, Heinz, Crabtree & Evelyn, and Penguin Books.

WooCommerce is my favourite though. It’s a great option if you want a full website, more than just a shop. From what I understand the API is easier to work with, so if you like doing your own coding . . . stuff (sorry, I stick to html and css, disturbingly so), it’s a better option. I like that you can use their official plugins or third party plugins  to make it do whatever you darned-well please. Many-a-time a client has asked “but can you make it do this?” and I’ve said “of course we can!” then gone to one of our developers and said “so . . . they asked me if we can make it do this” to be told “weird but . . . I guess so?”

Why say no when it feels so good to say yes?
Right?!

As for cost, WooCommerce itself is free, though if you purchase it with a theme, it sometimes comes with other paid upgrades. There are paid and free plugins you can get for WooCommerce. Your main cost will be building the website, and then the monthly or annual fee of hosting it varies from provider to provider.

I may or may not be the Yes Girl, much to the chagrin of our CEO. (Sorry Kelly.)

Let’s do it!

So now that I’ve given you all the reasons why you really ought to have your own website instead of working for someone else, why don’t you give us a call, send us an email, or contact us through social media and let us help you get your business online! We can offer advice on what platform is best for you, or we can do all the work for you. Whatever level of service you need, we’re here for you.

Doctor Who: Just do it!
Don’t take my word for it. The good Doctor says you should too.
BusinessFuturePandemicProductivitySelf-ImprovementTechnology

I5 to downtown Seattle, puget sound, and Olympic mountains, photograph by Thatcher Kelley https://colorbent.com

I’m going to take a wild guess and say that probably most of you reading this right now have approximately a three-step daily commute these days. I mean, literally, you take three steps and you’re there. And if more than that, it’s probably still shorter than one minute, right? So what better time than now to talk about your commute to work?

OK, maybe I’m being a little ironic. Don’t you think?

And isn't it ironic, don't you think
#sorrynotsorry

No daily commute = no more pants!

But think about it. For those of you able to work from home right now, you may be at any of a number of stages of wondering if you might like to continue working from home once the rules are loosened around this pandemic. After all, you can roll out of bed, maybe change your clothes, and there you are, right at the office! You don’t even need any pants! Just this morning, I led a very public Zoom live broadcast with a nice blouse on top, and my pyjamas on the bottom. At the end of the day, I can just meander downstairs and hang out with the kids, or I can unlock my bedroom door and let them all burst into my bedroom while all yelling things at me at the same time. It’s convenient!

man video internet broadcast no pants
Pretty fancy live broadcast setup for a guy who isn’t even wearing any pants.

But have any of you noticed that maybe this non-commute isn’t totally ideal? And I’m not talking about just the working-at-home factor with kids or a spouse wandering into Zoom meetings and the temptation to eat an entire bag of chips because nobody else is looking. I’m talking strictly about commuting. The lines between work and home are blurred. Sometimes I work until late at night if my kids or husband don’t pull me away (like I’m doing right now, hahaha . . . ha . . . ha *ahem*). Some days I might work all day . . . and then keep working until I’m dragged away for supper (my awesome husband is the cook). I’m no expert, but this can’t be a good thing. Does this mean that I might NEED a commute to separate work from home?

The long commute

I’m sure you all know that a long commute isn’t a great. You know this because you’ve probably experienced it. Depending on various factors, it can be stressful and tiring, both physically and mentally. But did you know that a long commute can affect you negatively in more ways than that?

Researchers found that each extra minute of commuting time reduces both job AND leisure time satisfaction and increases strain and worsens mental health for workers, and multiple studies even suggest that commuting can be more stressful than actually working. 😮 In fact, an 20 additional minutes of commuting per day has the same negative effect on job satisfaction as receiving a 19% pay cut. Yikes.

It can be particularly stressful and dangerous during open season on the LA Freeway.

An employee’s long commute isn’t good news for an employer either. An employee who commutes a long distance is more likely to have a higher rate of absenteeism and more sick days, caused the extra stress on joints, or for those who take public transit, more time spent in close proximity to others.

With all of this in mind, one might also wonder, “so why isn’t a zero commute perfect?”

The importance of transition time

Well, as it turns out, a regular daily commute is a great time for preparing for your day before work and decompressing from your day after work. People often use their drive in to work to think about upcoming projects, meetings, events, and various other work-related things, and the people who do this also experience more work satisfaction as well.

I can personally speak to this — normally my commute is approximately 45-50 minutes long. Fortunately, it’s a reverse-commute, so I rarely hit bad traffic, and a lot of it is through the countryside with very little traffic. After living here for five years, I STILL haven’t found a radio station that I like, so I’ve turned to podcasts; educational podcasts as well as podcasts that offer insight into how I can improve myself.

Oprah: bees!!!
Did you know that the world record for most bees in a person’s mouth is 109? Well now you do.

I learn something new almost every day, either a piece of knowledge about how I might be able to improve how I work, or something about psychology and how I might adjust the way I work with other people, or just a fact about the world that is incredibly interesting. (If you’re wondering, some of my favourites include Hidden Brain, Something You Should Know, No Such Thing as a Fish, and 99% Invisible.) I can’t leave out the detail that such a long drive is exhausting. By the time I get home, I’m usually too tired to do anything.

Alternative transportation (this isn’t just about cars!)

“OK,” some of you might be asking, “what about the differences in modes of transportation?” Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. It turns out that people who walk and cycle are the happiest and most satisfied and even find that their commute is often the best part of their day. As for distance, the happiest are the walkers and cyclists who have a short distance to travel. And not only that, the behaviour improves their physical health and can enhance job performance.

Monty Python ministry of silly walks
I can only imagine how joyous and meaningful one’s life would be if one were to adopt a silly walk for his or her daily commute.

And what about those who ride public transit? They fall somewhere in the middle. Transit riders do experience stress, particularly if their bus is delayed or stuck in traffic (an occurrence that walkers and cyclists rarely need worry about), but when they have stressful days at work, their detachment from the commute actually helps them de-stress so by the time they are home, they have recovered from the stress and are ready for home life.

Why is this long commute such an issue anyway?

I know some of you might be sitting there saying, “well duh, just move closer to work!” which does seem to be an obvious solution, but like most things, life is not really that simple. Did you know that the average distance from home to work has increased over the last several decades? Now, this is information out of the US, but I’m going to bet that Canada isn’t that different. On average, US commute is about 50 minutes. Yeah. FIFTY MINUTES. Which surprises me and doesn’t surprise me at the same time.

As an aside, I’m a native of Seattle, and I knew many people who had commutes like that, and even longer. I asked my dad what his worst commute ever was, and he said it was from our home in Des Moines (south of Seattle) to Redmond (that’s where Microsoft lives). On a good day, that’s about a 40 minute drive. During rush hour it’s twice as long. And out there, rush hour starts at 6 AM and ends around 9:30 or 10:00 AM. So there’s no avoiding it.

kingdome implosion
Eventually, you start to feel a bit like the Kingdome by the end of the day.

Anyway, back to what I was saying, why don’t people just live closer to work? Well, the population has just about doubled, while homebuilding has decreased, leading to an increase in housing prices, especially in metropolitan neighbourhoods. Any jobs close to where people work are next to impossible to afford, and even if they are, they aren’t ideal for families. So affordable housing is pushed further and further away from centres of where people work. Enter: the long commute.

If 50 minutes is too long, and 0 minutes is too short, then what IS the ideal daily commute?

Good question, and I could be annoying and say that everybody’s ideal commute is going to be different from person to person, but I won’t do that to you. I mean, yes, the preceding statement is true, but you know that already. But interestingly, when a study in San Francisco asked people about their ideal commute times, they found the ideal daily commute was approximately 16 minutes.

luke skywalker in his hovercraft
I’m not sure I’m settled on my ideal length of commute, but this is definitely my ideal mode of transportation.

About one-third of the respondents said their ideal commute time would be 20 minutes or more, less than 2% said theirs would be ideally under 4 minutes, and only 1.2% desired a zero commute. However, nearly 52% preferred a commute at least 5 minutes longer than their (on average) 10-minute commute. Meanwhile, 42% of participants whose actual AND ideal trips were the same, their average commute time was 15 minutes.

So there you have it: your average commute time is probably somewhere around 15 or 16 minutes.

So what do I do now?

I mean, you can do whatever you want, really. But I recommend you take this information, and start planning for the future. Someday we’ll be able to leave our homes for work, but for now I’ll leave you with these tips:

  • If you remain at home with zero commute, consider a 15 minutes before and after work virtual commute, whether it’s a walk around the block, or sitting quietly with your eyes closed thinking about the upcoming day, or the day you have just finished.
  • If your commute feels too short, go ahead, leave a bit earlier in the morning and take the scenic route. I add five minutes to my drive just so I can avoid traffic and so I can drive the scenic way, and it’s well worth those five minutes.
  • If your commute is ideal and you are a happy person, then keep doing what you’re doing. You’re a rockstar!
  • If your commute is too long, then you’ve got a few things to think about:
  • Is it possible to move closer to work? Is your current job worth the drive? Would you consider getting a job closer to home? If the answer is yes, then try one of those, if the answer is no, then find ways to make your commute more enjoyable:
    • Find someone who lives near you and works near you to carpool with.
    • Turn off the radio and start listening to something that will really engage your brain and get it in gear for the day. Yup, that’s right. No music. (See my podcast suggestions above.)
    • Consider requesting to telecommute once or twice a week, just to give your body a break from the long drive.
  • If you ride public transit, keep your brain engaged. Prepare for the work day, listen to podcasts, or read a book.
  • Talk with the strangers around you. I know it seems like you might be annoying, but it turns out that most people are pretty happy when someone reaches out to talk with them. Don’t know how? Start with a classic, like commenting on the weather.
  • If you walk or bicycle to work, you’re probably already happy, and you probably shouldn’t distract yourself whilst doing so anyway, so you just keep being your happy self.
dog walking on hind legs down grocery aisle making decisions
There are so many things you can do to improve your life! So many choices! What will you do?!

You’re not alone

We all have our own commuter stories, so I asked some friends, family, and coworkers about theirs:

DeborahWorst: My worst commute might have been when I had to go to a chiropractor twice a week in Bothell. Because I didn’t want to deal with traffic, I scheduled my appointments extremely early. However, if I left just five minutes too late, my drive time was doubled. And then I had the commute from there to work (which was only a 15 minute drive from my home).
Best: When I worked at the same company as my dad for three years. I lived only a mile from my parents, so my dad and I carpooled, it was a reverse commute, and only 15 minutes. I loved having that good quality time with my dad.
-Deborah (me)

TimBest: I used to live a 5 minute drive away from the Safeway I used to work at. I’d start at 6:30am so there were no cars going there. And almost guaranteed no traffic on my way home.
Worst: Worst would’ve been going to and from Spruce Grove during the winter.
-Tim, systems administrator

StefenWorst: Worst was bussing from Edmonton to Spruce Grove about 5 years ago. Bus service has improved significantly since then — at the time, I’d get up at 4:30am to catch a connecting bus at 5, which would drop me off at the bus garage. There I’d wait half an hour for the one departing bus to leave for Spruce Grove, and if I missed it for some reason, there wasn’t another.
Best: Best was the 15 minute walk from my house to the office. Winter, summer, not too bad. Just enough time to collect my thoughts and plan the day.
-Stefen, developer

LeahBest: Best was a 10 minute drive during my summer job; I worked at the golf course, no traffic (or just small town traffic)
Worst: Worst commute is driving in the winter into Spruce Grove, the first like 25 minutes of my drive the roads NEVER get cleared if its snowed until the afternoon, so if it has snowed it’s always risky.
-Leah, social media specialist

KellyWorst: I had to take the streetcar or subway from [in Toronto] Dundas and Roncesvalles to Dundas and University… However, if I caught the streetcar or subway between the hours of 730-930 on the way in, I’d be standing the entire way and stopping constantly, turning what would be a 30 min commute to usually an hour and a half. If I caught the subway at those times, it’d be shoulder to shoulder the whole way in and super uncomfortable. On the way back was worse though. There was a shortturn about 10 blocks before my stop, and the streetcars never were marked for when they were shortturn or not. So regularly I’d catch the streetcar, be standing and uncomfortable the whole way, and then be dropped off in -20C weather 10 blocks short of my apartment, and have to wait for the streetcar that isn’t shortturning. If I tried to take the subway instead, it was worse than the morning. So I basically had to not leave until 630/7 at the earliest.
Best: Best commute was living downtown Toronto, literally a block from Panda Rose at our Dundas and McCaul location. Simply being able to walk and avoid public transit changed my quality of life immensely.
-Kelly, CEO

MaxineWorst: Worst commute was roughly 60 mins, first heading west to drop kids at dayhome and then back north to the office.
Best: Best commute was 15-20 mins to Spruce Grove Panda Rose office but won’t compare to the 30 second walk to my kitchen table as of late.
-Maxine, operations manager

GerardWorst: I used to commute up and down to university daily. It would take an hour drive to get to the city and then I would need to catch a bus from the park and ride area which would take another 20/30 mins. And if you got caught during traffic time between 8-10 in the morning or 4-6 in the evening you might as well add another hour on to the journey.
Best: Does the current situation count? Haha
-Gerard, developer

JoshWorst: Working at Metro East Base in Bellevue was the worst (only for 3 weeks). Having to be there at 5:30 or 6 AM. Traffic on I405.
Best: My favourite commutes were on my way in to work at NWCN in South Lake Union. The drive on the viaduct at sunset was epic.
And traffic was light.
-Josh, Deborah’s twin brother, public bus driver

Thatcher KelleyWorst: Culver City CA commuting from Whittier, CA. 1.5 hours each way 5 days a week.
Best: We were shooting at the airport and I lived in Seatac. But that was only a couple days.
-Thatcher, Deborah’s other brother, Digital Imaging Technician

PatWorst/Best: I don’t think I have had any worst commute. I guess when I worked at World Vision it was the furthest but reverse commute so not bad at all. I guess my best commute was when I worked from home. I drove from Des Moines to Burien, Des Moines to Des Moines, Des Moines to Federal Way (nice drive down along Redondo), Redwood City to Palo Alto. Really most were within 15-20 minutes and traffic not bad. I mean from Normandy Park to World Vision was always nice because it was reverse commute and I just listened to the radio the whole way. 20 minutes tops.
-Pat, Deborah’s mum, retired

Well look at that — the Boomer had perfect commutes her whole life. 😉 But seriously, her experience backs up the research!

EducationFuturePandemicProductivitySelf-ImprovementTechnology

Men with toilet paper headdresses: Post-Coronavirus males, displaying their hunter gatherer prowess in order to attract mates.

The title seems so simple, “how to survive a pandemic in 5 easy steps,” right? I’m sure the extroverts out there think I’m nuts. It’s true, as an introvert, this is my time to shine. I’ve never felt better. Working at home in front of my computer with my kids locked out of my bedroom has been like a dream! Sometimes I can work overtime and nobody gets annoyed at me for getting home late because . . . I’m already home! It’s a little like being back at university, but without six female housemates arguing over who should have done the dishes.

I’m only sorta surviving

To be fair, instead I get the eight-year-old picking my lock (I can hear him doing this as I type right now) and coming into my room and asking if I can purchase “violent games with lots of killing” for his iPad, and once he leaves, he leaves the door wide open, so that . . .

My four-year-old can come dancing in and announces, “I wish I still had hands!”. After a short, but strange conversation involving Elsa and unicorns, I tell her to go back downstairs to dad, but she forgets to lock the door, so that . . .

The two-year old can boisterously BURST into my room and joyously yell, “HI MOM!”, then say a few things that half make sense, try to get into several things she shouldn’t get into, climb on the bed, jump on it, come over to me and look up with her big blue eyes and ask me a question that also doesn’t make sense that ends with “mom??” and when I message dad to fetch her, she hides in my closet.

But they’re a lot cuter than my housemates were. So it’s OK. Anyway . . .

Please please please do more than just sit on your couch.

Knowing how to be by yourself in your home is, in and of itself, a great trait to have. Being able to entertain yourself is something we strongly encourage our own children to do — without TV, iPad, or phones. So why don’t we hold ourselves to the same standard?

Hobbies

I’ve got to be honest with you right now: watching Netflix is not a hobby. Sure, it can be an entertain way to pass an evening or a Sunday afternoon, but it’s going to turn your brain into mush. If you’re one of the many people who isn’t able to work from home, now is a great time to work on a hobby.

Pick up an old hobby

Is there an old hobby that you used to do that you miss doing? Just recently, I decided I’d try learning how to use a serger that I’ve had for two years, but was too intimidated to try. Unfortunately, the serger conquered me and I went back to using my sewing machine, and I ended up sewing some sweet clothes for my children for Easter.

I used to really enjoy doing seed bead work by hand, but because I’d spend about 2 hours a day commuting to and from work, I was too exhausted to do anything once I finally got the kids to bed. Now that I’m home all the time, I have a lot more energy!

I used to do beadwork before I had kids, and starting up this creative work again has been wonderful.

Is there a hobby you used to do? Something you did as a child, a young adult? Try picking that up again. You may rediscover your love for it. I know that every time I start sewing again, I’m reminded how much I truly enjoy it.

Learn a new hobby

Is there that hobby that you always wish you could do, but haven’t gotten up the nerve to try it yet? Now is the perfect time! And in this day and age, it’s incredibly easy to learn new things. There are countless youtube videos, blogs, and other resources for learning how to try out new hobbies. If you have a friend who does it already, you can video chat with them.

I enjoy knitting, but once got caught up on a particular stitch that I kept messing up, so I had a video chat with my husband’s aunt and she helped me figure it out. This weekend when I was trying to figure out my serger, I had a video chat with Pauline at Laberge Engraving (check them out!) while she tried to help me figure out what was going on with my machine. And of course there is the great Facebook network of brains!

Teach a hobby

My son has expressed an interest in sewing, so I’m helping him learn that as a new hobby, which I think is great — not only is it a fun hobby, but it’s a great skill to learn. It’s helpful that Walmart is still open — the tools and bits you might need for hobbies that you might want to pick up are available at Walmart.

Skills

I’ll admit that this is an impressive skill.

The topic of hobbies really leads me into the next topic: skills. Right now is also a good time to develop an old skill or learn a new one. If you’re not able to work from home, maybe now is a good time to try building on a skill that might be profitable now or in the near future. Do you know if you will still have a job when the world starts opening back up? What will business be like? The way we do business is already significantly different now. Having more and better skills will certainly improve your odds!

Practise a skill you already have

You might already have some great skills under your belt, but there’s always room for improvement. Do you know several programming languages? Learn a few more! Are you good at writing? Work on improving different writing styles. Are you generally good at repairing things? Break some of your household electrics and try to repair them (OK, maybe not this one.) If you’re already good at something, work hard at getting better at it. Don’t be complacent.

I don’t even have any good skills. You know like nunchuck skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills. Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills!
-Napoleon Dynamite

Improve upon and learn new skills

My husband has always been interested in hunting, but he has really developed this new skill during the quarantine. The nice thing about hunting is that he CAN leave the house, but he remains isolated. What’s even better? He’s developing his hunter-gatherer skills! He now brings home bunnies weekly.

Food for thought: take one of your hobbies and develop it into a useful skill that can be practically applied to your life! Me? I’ve taken my sewing skills and developed them into learning how to alter clothing — that was how I made my children’s easter outfits. I converted an old dress and blouse of mine into dresses for the girls and a bow tie for my son!

Cute little gremlins.

Education

As they say, knowledge is power, and I don’t know about you, but I like power. And I’m sure you think that sitting around watching documentaries on Netflix is educational, but I’m sorry, folks, but not every documentary is good, and Tiger King is not really educational.

However, there are scores of websites out there offering some pretty amazing free and significantly discounted educational courses right now. You can learn very serious things and very silly things. You can get a good education in something that will support that skill you are learning or developing!

I can hear it now though, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!” Ah, but you can. I once had a dog who was old and I taught her “go away”. Was that new? Yes. Was it a trick? I think so. It was certainly useful when she was annoying me begging for food at the dinner table.

Studies have shown that constantly learning through life is one of the best things you can do for your brain, so even when you’re not in pandemic mode, pursue learning!

Resources

Here are just a few sites you can check out:

Prepare for a new world

What world do we even live in now?

We will need some serious hunter-gatherer prowess when the world opens back up? I don’t know. We may need better Walmart prowess. But you know, unlike my hunter-gatherer husband, Walmart doesn’t sell bunny.

Tasty tasty Peter Rabbit

A new Renaissance?

In all seriousness, what do you think things will look like? We may still need to remain more isolated than we were before. People will have to be far more careful than they were before. What are new industries that can come out of this? How can YOU be a phoenix rising from the ashes?

Some say that the Renaissance occurred because of the Black Plague. Is it possible that we could have a new Renaissance come out of this global event? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves with optimism, because this is quite a serious war we are fighting here, but having hope for the future is important too.

Going social

You know what else you’re going to have to prepare for? Being social again. It might be a shock to the system. Make sure you have a plan so you don’t overdo it. Plan to see family, plan to see close friends, plan to reengage with society slowly but surely. You may be surprised to discover that there is something to this whole introvert thing.

Prepare for death

You might die. In fact, you will definitely die.

Not to be a downer, but it’s also possible that despite doing all these great things, you might die. It’s OK though, because everybody dies eventually, and the sooner you accept that and deal with the reality, the better. Once you have prepared yourself for death, you can better live a full and complete life.

Speaking for myself, I don’t particularly want to die, but I’ve come to terms with it. We talk about it with our children, so our children aren’t afraid to talk about it with us. We don’t need to hide from death, and we don’t hide it from our children.

The children issue

If you have children, give them some credit. They are capable of having these kinds of discussions. They can talk about death, disease, pandemics, and all these issues that we like to shelter them from. We can be honest with children and still shelter them at the same time. Don’t be afraid to tell them your concerns, but remind them how you will always do everything within your power to protect them.

There’s a lot of death in my family. (Don’t feel sorry for me.) Fun fact: this is exactly where I will be buried!

Be practical

It also doesn’t hurt to prepare for death in more practical terms. What will happen if you die? Will your family be burdened with the cost of dealing with your body, burial, and all that stuff? I’m speaking to myself on this one too! We’ve purchased our plots — we did so when we lost a baby 8 years ago, but beyond that, haha, good luck kiddos, you’re going to have to deal with everything else!

If there’s one thing that was particularly memory about my grandfather’s death (aside from him, you know, dying . . . with his jaw hanging open), was as soon as it happened we called Neptune Society and they took care of everything. We didn’t have to worry about anything. Well, I pushed his mouth back up and sorta tried to hold it there to see if it would stay closed. But aside from that.

Conclusion

So there you have it, there are your five simple steps of how to survive a pandemic. I think it can mostly be summed up as: don’t sit on your bum watching Netflix all day. DO SOMETHING.

EducationProductivitySelf-Improvement

high-five with cat

Well folks, that’s it. January has finally ended. And with that, most people’s resolve to meet their list of New Year’s Resolutions has also ended.

groundhog day
But hey! We survived Groundhog Day!

OK, maybe I’m jumping the gun a bit. It’s actually mid-February when most lose their resolve. But that’s not really the point here anyway.

The question is: WHY do people lose their resolve?

What are some of the things lots of people resolve to do on that Great Day of Resolution? According to Time.com, the Top 10 broken New Year’s Resolutions are:

  • Lose Weight and Get Fit
  • Quite Smoking
  • Learn Something New
  • Get Out of Debt and Save Money
  • Spend More Time with Family
  • Travel to New Places
  • Be Less Stressed
  • Volunteer
  • Drink Less

Do you see any problems with this list?

These resolutions are HUGE. They require major life changes.

Don’t get me wrong, I think these lofty goals are great, but trying to reach the height of that goal on day one is like trying to eat a 12-foot subway sandwich in one sitting. It’s just a really bad idea.

Seagull eating a starfish
Or this seagull trying to eat a massive starfish

It’s not impossible for one person to eat a 12-foot sandwich, though. How, you might ask? Well by taking one bite at a time, of course!

Now a more practical application: habits. In order to make a major change in your life, you need to create or change a habit. Trying to do that isn’t easy, but it can be done if you break it down into little tiny pieces. Let’s look one of the resolutions on the above list: Learn Something New.

Some people might jump to the conclusion that you should go out and sign up for a cake decorating course or take on reading a complex physics book and then force yourself to finish these regardless of whether you like to or not.

smoking lamb cake wreck
It’s OK, cake decorating isn’t for everyone.

But what if there’s a better way?

You want to learn something new, so why don’t you find a five-minute educational that you can listen to while you’re getting ready for work every day or before you turn the lights off for bed? Or how about you find a book full of interesting facts and read just one fact per day before bed? These are easy things to do and require very little effort, but they’re still steps on a journey of learning new things.

Gosh, this book would be a great start.

Every time you accomplish this task, give yourself a high-five, pat yourself on the pack, or any other kind of positive affirming message. Yes, I know this sounds cheesy, but it’s an important part of enforcing the good habit.

Do this daily and you’ll have created a new habit, and that itself the hardest part. Once you have the habit in place, you can increase the time you spend on it as you like.

high-five with cat
Don’t forget the high-five. It’s crucial.

There’s no timeline for doing this, you just move forward when you are ready, but you are still accomplishing a goal: learning something new.

I think at some point the 12-foot subway sandwich analogy breaks down, because no matter what, you’ll still (probably) never eat it all in one day, but I think you’re all smart enough to get what I mean.

submarine sandwich
It’s temping to try though, right?

If you want to read more about building better habits and breaking bad ones, check out this episode of Hidden Brain: Creatures of Habit: How Habits Shape Who We Are — And Who We Become. In fact, if learning something new DOES happen to be your New Year’s resolution, I recommend the whole Hidden Brain podcast series!

Mobile AppsProductivityTechnology

IPhone with apps

Mobile apps can make your life easier in a lot of ways.  Here are ten great apps I personally use to simplify and improve my life.

1. Feedly

feedly logo

Feedly is a news aggregator.  That means it allows you to see all the articles related to different topics or from different sources all in one place.  We’ve got ours set up to show us all the things related to Blogging, SEO, Social Media Marketing, etc.  Ultimately, which news aggregator you use is up to personal preference, but I find that Feedly is sleek and easy to use.  The fact that it’s also available on the web helps since I can always switch over to the desktop too.  The only downside is that since their logo is a rounded square with one corner missing, it drives me crazy.

2. Teams

Teams logo

Microsoft Teams is an alternative to texting, like Telegram, What’s App, and all of those, but in addition to chatting with contacts or groups of contacts, you can also set up teams where people can post and reply to updates and attach files.

3. Everhour

Everhour logo

Time tracking is obviously important.  Everhour makes the process simple and straightforward.  They have a free plan that allows up to 5 users though if you need more users or integrations you’ll have to go with one of their premium plans.  It works in your browser, as a browser extension, and as a mobile app, which means that you can track your time while you’re in or out of the office with a few clicks or taps.

4. 1Password

1Password logo

Did you forget your password again.  Well, it’s not too hard to remember it.  It’s one of the 1,000,000 passwords you use so that should be easy to remember.  Or you could just use 1Password.  If your phone has fingerprint detection capabilities you can fill in all your passwords just with your fingerprint.  And since you don’t have to worry about remembering your passwords (except for your 1password password.  Don’t lose that one.) you can go with those passwords that were written by 10000 monkeys on typewriters.

5. Kitchen Stories

Kitchen Stories logo

Kitchen stories is a cooking app with a major advantage.  In addition to the free recipes  in the app and added to it by users, it also includes free instructional videos on various cooking techniques making it easy to follow along while you cook.  I used it to learn how to make the perfect poached egg and now my eggs benedict is to die for.

6. Google Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive

Google Drive logoDropbox logoOneDrive logo

It’s hard to pick a favourite between the big three in cloud storage and file sharing.  Dropbox has the least free storage but it still has its benefits.  It would be a lot longer of a blog post if I went into which one you should go with and why.  I just think you should go with at least one of them.  That way you can easily access important files on any of your devices.

7. Overcast

Overcast logo

Apple’s built in podcast app is alright, I guess.  But Overcast is where it’s at.  It’s ridiculously easy to sort podcasts from newest to oldest, oldest to newest, or even sort the unplayed episodes one way and the other episodes another.  More importantly, since Apple removed their playlist feature, it’s easy to create playlists and smart playlists for yourself.  It’s only for IOS, but there are free apps out there that do similar things for Android if you can’t stand android’s built in podcast player.

8. Duolingo

Duolingo logo

I’m probably not telling you anything new for this one, but Duolingo is definitely one of the most fun ways to learn a language.  I’ve been doing their Russian course and I’ll probably try out their new Latin course too.  If you haven’t heard about Duolingo before, they are

9. Scannable

Scannable logo

A few years ago, the scanner attached to my printer stopped working.  While trying to repair it I discovered Scannable.  To this day, my printer’s scanner still doesn’t work.  Scannable is an app that allows you to scan documents using your phone’s camera.  You’d expect a low-quality scan, but I’ve been able to get better quality scans using Scannable than I get from the office printer.

10. Every Dollar

Every Dollar logo

My wife got me hooked on budgeting.  Our life is so much easier to manage now that we’ve budgeted it.  The app we used to help us manage that budget is Every Dollar.  If you’ve heard of Dave Ramsey, you’ve probably heard of Every Dollar since it’s his app.  It’s great.  It’s easier to use and gives a clearer picture of your budget in my opinion than Intuit’s Mint which is the most popular budgeting app.

 

By the way, the answer to the riddle in my last post Game-ing the System is: The man had the hiccups.  So the bartender pulled out the gun to scare his hiccups away.

EducationProductivityUncategorized

Rubik's Cube

Wolf pack
The big city was of course, the upstairs of grandma’s house

As children, we loved to play games.  Childhood is the age of games.  “Let’s play house,” “Let’s play a board game,” or “Let’s play family of wolves who are having trouble finding food because of the encroaching big city.”  Okay, maybe that last one was just me and my siblings…  The point is that children primarily learn through games.  The most effective way to get a child to learn something is to turn it into a game for them to play.

 

Eventually, we grow up.  Games are something that must be put away in favour of more somber pursuits.  They’re too unstructured for regular life, which requires rules and regulations to keep things running smoothly.

 

Monopoly money
What? No, that’s not monopoly money in my glass. Why do you ask?

But what if I told you that’s not quite true?  Games don’t have less rules than real life.  They just have different ones.  In real life, the rule is that in polite society we walk upright.  But in “family of wolves who are having trouble finding food etc….” the rule is that you walk on your hands and knees.  It’s a different rule but it’s still a rule.  Taking all my monopoly money and stuffing it into my coat is fine, if a bit strange, in regular day-to-day life, but when playing Monopoly it’s called cheating.

This cuts to the heart of why games are important.  They give us the ability to try out several approaches to a problem, also known as lateral thinking.  Lateral thinking is one of the most important tools for problem solving and sadly it’s one of the most overlooked, in part because our brains just aren’t naturally good at it.  Our brains love routine and lateral thinking forces them to step back from the rules we’re accustomed to so that we can see if there is another way to solve the problem.  Because we always do things a certain way, it’s easy to continue doing things that way, but when you play a game you have to step outside of that routine to embrace a new set of rules.

Of course, I’m not saying that you should get your boss to pay you to play Monopoly. Even if you don’t like board games, or card games, or word games, or any sort of game at all, you can still turn things into games.  Even work can be turned into a game.  If you take a goal or task you have to complete and make a game out of completing it in the most efficient way possible, in addition to the obvious benefit of work being a lot more fun, you can step outside of your work routine and look for what exactly you can do differently to boost your efficiency, since ultimately that’s what a game is.  “What’s the best way to do this thing as soon as possible.”  Whether the goal is bankrupting your opponents in Monopoly, getting more goals than your opponent in a game of hockey, or even figuring out the best way for your pretend wolves to get food from the fridge upstairs without getting caught, gaming teaches you how to achieve your goal with an (often) arbitrary set of rules and conventions.  It’s a quick jump to being able to use the same tools you build in the game world to achieve your goal with the rules and conventions of the real world.

I’ll leave you with this lateral thinking puzzle.  The answer will be in next week’s post, so try not to Google it until then.  A man walks into a bar and asks the barman for a glass of water.  The barman pulls out a gun and points it at the man.  The man says ‘Thank you’ and walks out.  Why?

BloggingMarketingProductivitySocial MediaUncategorized

So you’ve hired someone to manage your social media accounts. It takes time to manage so many accounts and see growth and that’s time you just don’t have as a business owner. While social media is widely used for sharing funny memes, and picture perfect content, your social media manager should be doing much more than that when it comes to their clients.

Marketing Objectives

marketing

You social media manager should know and ask about your marketing objectives and follow them. There could be many marketing objectives for your business and it’s important your social media manager is knowledgeable in all of them. This is after all what is going to make it worth it in the long run.

Tracking progress

Statistics

Keeping up with how many followers you gain each week or month is great but not all of these followers will be potential clients or customers. Tracking how many organic engagements you are getting, will give you a greater understanding on how your day to day strategy is working rather than being swayed by the big numbers your ad gets. While ads are great for exposure, the insights may not be as relevant. Ads show the number of impression your content is receiving, but did you know some ads count impressions where if one account has been shown the same ad 100 times this counts as 100 impressions. So while the big numbers may look great, the organic ones are where you want your social media manager to focus their energy on. Being smart on how you track your progress and statistics is just as important as the insights themselves.

Engagement

engagement

If your social media accounts aren’t active this may be a big concern. One of the biggest parts of hiring a social media manager is to get the activity on your account that you don’t have time for. This is a time consuming part of the job and extremely important. Just as importantly the content being published needs to be engaging to your audience. You social media manager should be researching and learning your audience and what interests them, as well as their needs and how your business can help them. Along with being active on your accounts, your social media manager should be keeping track of inquiries and directing them to the right people or resources within the company. If someone is inquiring about a service you offer they should make the initial contact with the customer, then direct them to the professionals in your business if they can’t answer the questions, or feel it’s better left to the experts in that area.

Scheduling & Calendars

calendar

Scheduling content is not just a trick of the trade, it’s necessary. This is how content can be posted at any and all times, based on your insights of optimal times to post. Keeping a calendar of content planning is a habit your social media manager should be doing. This is key to not only organization, but to have a plan for future content. Your social media should have a goal, and planning in advance helps you stay on track. A content calendar improves the efficiency of your social media specialist, so your content isn’t being left to the last minute, rushed to get out and susceptible to simple mistakes.

Content Curation

content

Content is another one of the biggest jobs for a social media manager. This is probably one of the main reasons you hired them in the first place. You didn’t have time to find or create content, and still don’t. Finding info to share that meets your audiences needs and interests is a very important part of a social media managers job. While your social media specialist doesn’t have to be a professional photographer, they should be creative in the kind of content and images to capture. They should also be somewhat photo savvy or have connections to a photographer they can work with, as making an attractive Instagram account etc. is part of their job. If your social media manager works remotely, they should at least be sending you content ideas that are easy enough for you to take yourself, or for a hired professional to take, and they should not be using only stock photos on your account.

Customized graphics

graphics

Part of branding is being recognizable. Your business colors are a big part of who you are, as is your brands voice, and logo. All these things should be used as much as possible. Don’t be stuck promoting others graphics, or words. Your social media manager should get creative and create a template that you can post quotes on, or promote sales. This helps increase brand awareness and makes your content original and shareable, let others promote your business and graphics not the other way around.

Trends

Trend

Your social media marketer should be keeping up with the latest trends for your industry and on social media. This also means keeping up with algorithms on social platforms. If video content is doing the best, your social media manager should be encouraging videos. If other businesses in your industry are active on Youtube, Pinterest, LinkedIn etc. then you should be too. Your social media manager should be keeping your business in the loop so you don’t miss out on opportunities to be seen and heard.

Research

Research

This may be overlooked by some social media mangers, and definitely shouldn’t be. Research should be done on your business, on the things you offer, and the people you are selling to or targeting. This is actually an important part of their job as well, if they don’t know what you offer and the people you are targeting, how will they be able to cater your content or ads to the exact people that want and need to see your business.

Social media managers are extremely important and helpful for your business. As social media is growing… and definitely not going away anytime soon, you will want your businesses social media presence to be made known. Your social media manager should be posting content that is relevant to your industry, they should be doing their homework on your business so they are sending out content that is appropriate to your industry. When done correctly, social media managers can help increase brand awareness, sales, grow digital presence, generate new leads, retain existing customers, along with so much more.

ProductivitySelf-ImprovementUncategorized

Habits to keep you organized at work

A tidy work place not only looks good but actually helps you stay focused and productive. We’ve all spent time looking for things that get lost in the mess, so keeping a tidy desk will help reduce clutter which in turn reduces stress. Did you know that a clean desk actually saves you time, spurs on creativity and communicates professionalism. That’s right, it might actually have more of a benefit than just looking neat. These are some ways I like to stay tidy in the workplace.

What I organize constantly:

My deskDesk

I have a specific place for my bags when I come into the office at the beginning of the day. I keep one water bottle or glass of water on my desk, during the day, there’s no need for more than that really (unless I’m drinking coffee, then you can find my coffee cup as well.) I keep only one pen, and one highlighter along with my daily planner on my desk. Anything that comes out of my desk goes back right after I’m finished with it. My biggest tip is to clean off your desk at the end of the day so you have a fresh start the next morning. Keeping only the things you need on your desk eliminates unnecessary clutter.

 

 

My daily planner

I like my day to be planned out in front of me on paper. Once a task is completed I check it off or highlight it. This helps me balance my work load throughout the day. At the end of the week I make a plan for the next week (so I don’t forget tasks over the weekend) and when I come in on Monday I eliminate the ‘Monday fog’ and have my day already planned for myself. I update my planner frequently during the week and balance out my work load if any new tasks arise.

My Computercomputer

Instead of keeping all tabs and programs open, I like to filter through the things I am absolutely finished with, save and close them. If I have a few things on the go I simply minimize the programs until I am actually working on them. This way I don’t tempt myself to jump back and forth between projects. But can focus on one thing at a time and close projects when they are completed. I go through my emails/voicemails (like most people) at the beginning of the day and throughout the day I reply to the ones that require my attention as well as delete any junk mail that may come through.

 

What I organize occasionally:

Files

My whiteboard

I have a whiteboard on the wall by my desk and this is where I jot down things that I need to look at daily. I don’t update this as often as some things are analytics, strategies and reminders. I do however make sure that when I jot down things on my whiteboard, since they will be there for a while, that I keep it looking neat and legible.

Computer Files

This is something I will admit that I need to be more organized with. I have a tendency to save documents or pictures in the ‘all files’ or ‘all pictures’ category. I do however still go through and move files and pictures into their correct places. Just like your paper documents this keeps the clutter out of your computer files.

Desk Drawers

Desk drawers are sometimes a dangerous place! If you want something off your desk it gets thrown into a drawer as fast as possible, out of sight out of mind right! Cleaning out your drawers may be more rewarding than you think! You may find your favorite pen that you were sure was lost to the darkness behind your desk. I’m curious what the craziest thing was that you found in your desk drawer you didn’t even know was there!

Organization bonus:

Since I am the social media specialist at the office, I definitely organize my social media accounts. Going through your social media and cleaning up old tweets, Facebook posts or Instagram photos is a great habit to get into. Keeps your accounts looking fresh and professional. Once a year I go through the accounts that I follow, and I unfollow accounts that no longer serve purpose to me, are spam, or accounts that hinder my mental well being.

 

Share some things you like to do to keep organized or if you have some tips for me leave a comment below!