How to Accelerate Your Career by Building Better Habits

How to Accelerate Your Career by Building Better HabitsIn 1993, Eugene Pauly, a southern California resident, was urgently rushed to the hospital. Suffering from violent stomach pains and a soaring 105 degree temperature, Mr. Pauly eventually slipped into a coma for 10 days.

After waking, the doctors informed him that the medial temporal lobe of his brain had been decimated by viral encephalitis, resulting in severe short-term memory loss. Due to the malady, Eugene would no longer able to retain new information for more than a minute, though his memory of 30 years prior would still be perfectly functional.

As Eugene and his wife, Beverly, started to settle into their new life, dealing with his short-term memory loss and the incredible hardships that result because of it, they began a new daily routine of walking around the neighborhood block each morning.

One day Beverly went to find and prepare Eugene for their morning walk, but he had disappeared. She was frantic and immediately set out to find him. Where could he have gone? This man who couldn’t recall the names of their grandchildren or even remember where the kitchen was in their own home…

Beverly couldn’t find Eugene, though she searched and called his name. Fortunately, she didn’t have to. Fifteen minutes later, Eugene returned home having taken the walk all by himself.

In doing so, he proved something researchers and scientists had only been able to theorize about up until that point: habits and memory operate independently of one another.

And that’s what we want to talk about today: habits. We’ll draw heavily from Charles Duhigg’s book “The Power of Habit” as well as a few other trusted resources to illustrate the science behind how habits are built, how you can use this knowledge to build better, more productive habits, and specific habits you can attain to help you accelerate your career.

Ready? Let’s get started!

Your Brain on Habit

Have you ever sat down at your desk in the morning and realized that you don’t remember the drive to work at all? Or stood in the shower trying to recollect if you’ve already washed your hair or not? The shampoo bottle is open and you can feel the bubbles starting to stream down your face, you just can’t seem to recall the process at all…

Researchers estimate that as much as 40% to 45% of the decisions we make every day really aren’t decisions at all; they’re habits. And during these habits, brain activity drops significantly. That’s why we can complete an activity and simply “forget” what we’ve done a moment later.

That’s also why Eugene was able to complete his morning walk, though, he suffered from severe short-term memory loss. The human brain is constantly looking for ways to conserve energy. This results in the “chunking” of activities into automatic routines that can be completed on autopilot; unassisted by conscious memory.

Understanding this fact is the first step towards mastering your habits. And when you’ve mastered them, you’ll be able to accelerate your career and achieve the success you’re working towards.

The Habit Loop

In his book, “The Power of Habit,” Charles Duhigg outlines the three components of every habit:

The Cue – The cue is the trigger for a specific behavior to start
The Routine – The routine is the specific behavior itself, and
The Reward – The reward is what helps my brain remember the pattern for the future.

Most people focus on the routine when they talk about habits, but the cue and the reward are actually more crucial to the way habits function.

The Loop In Action

Ann Graybiel, a noted neurologist at MIT, has conducted many experiments on rats, while cataloging the activity that happens inside their brains. One such experiment involves inserting a rat inside a simple maze with a piece of chocolate at the end.

Despite sending hundreds rats through the maze 150 times each, the initial response from each animal is always the same: the rats will slowly wander up and down, see the chocolate and turn the other way, continue studying their environment…

Ultimately, it takes each rat an average of 13 minutes to finally eat the chocolate. But as the rats are re-inserted into the maze again and again, their completion time shrinks dramatically.

Now, why are we talking about rats? Because these rats perfectly illustrate the power of habits.

When Doctor Graybiel studied the neurological activity happening inside each animals brain, she found that it shrunk each time the rat was again inserted into the maze. The more accustomed a rat becomes to finding the chocolate, the less it actually thinks about the activity of running through the maze.

The human brain works the same way. When we develop habits, our brain begins to “turn off” and automatic responses take over. There is a cue that signals to the brain that the habit is starting. Then there is the routine, which is the actual habit. Finally, there is the reward which our brain registers as pleasurable and signals to our subconscious minds to continue the habit.

How to Build Better Habits

Fascinating, right? But you’re not here to learn about neurology or rats. Let’s discuss how you can harness these scientific findings to build better habits and achieve your goals!

Establish a Cue

We’ve explored the three components of every habit: cue, routine, reward. And if every habit begins with a cue, then it makes sense that the first step in developing better habits is to establish a specific cue that will trigger a desired routine.

For example, let’s say you’re interested in beginning a daily exercise regimen. A potential cue could be placing your athletic shoes by your bed each night. When you wake up the following morning and see them, your mind will automatically begin to think, “it’s time to go workout now.”

For whatever habit you wish to start, be sure to consistently establish a cue.

Reward Yourself

Having a cue, a reminder to do something, is great. But remember, habits aren’t related to memory. We’re not trying to develop better memories, but automatic responses. This is why the reward is so crucial.

Let’s return to our daily exercise example for just a moment. Every morning you wake up, see your running shoes (the cue) by your bed and go exercise. As a reward, you decided to eat a small piece of chocolate after every completed workout.

By giving yourself a reward you genuinely enjoy after completing a specific routine, you’ll begin to train your brain to want to complete the routine. Once the habit has been ingrained, you may not even need the original reward anymore!

Start Small

Oftentimes, when we think about developing better habits, we begin with the goal of making some drastic change to our lives. We want to market our business with a company blog so we decide to get in the habit of blogging every day. Or we read that Richard Branson exercises each morning before work so we decide we’ll do the same.

Unfortunately, it’s incredibly difficult to make gigantic life changes like these in one fell swoop. One trick to creating better habits that last is starting small. Make your new habit so easy you can’t fail!

For instance, instead of committing to exercise each morning like Richard Branson, what if you decided to exercise just once a week? That shouldn’t be too difficult, right? And in time you can increase the frequency of your workout till you’re exercising daily.

Identify “Keystone Habits”

According to Duhigg, a keystone habit is a habit that, when formed, will begin to positively affect numerous aspects of your work and life. For example, many people find that daily exercise also helps them eat healthier, increase productivity at work, sleep better and more.

Unfortunately, science has not yet uncovered a full-proof way to find keystone habits. But simple trial and error can get the job done in a pinch.

Analyze your life and and try to pinpoint certain behaviors that seem to have an overall positive effect on your day and wellbeing. Perhaps eating breakfast with your family before you all head your separate ways really lifts your spirits and in turn, you’re more amiable with customers, which increases sales and then…

You see how one habit can transform your entire life in multiple ways? Find your keystone habits and reap the rewards.

Overcoming Old Habits

We all have habits we’d love to break. Things we know aren’t good for us or are holding us back in some way. But sometimes overcoming these patterns seems impossible. Fortunately, we can use what we’ve learned about building new, better habits to also overcome old ones.

The first step is to stop constantly reminding yourself of the thing you’re trying to resist. If you want to break the habit of eating a handful of cookies before bed, don’t allow yourself to think about the pack of Oreo’s currently sitting in your pantry.

Next, you need to understand your cues. Remember, cues are the reminders that trigger habits. Identify the things that prompt an undesirable behavior. Then decide beforehand what your response to that cue will be.

For instance, maybe you discover you’re eating cookies at night because you’re hungry (cue.) It’s been a few hours since dinner and your stomach begins to growl so you raid the pantry for a quick bite to eat (routine.)

Now that you have this understanding, you can predetermine a different, positive response to this situation such as grabbing a bag of apple slices from the fridge instead. This satisfies your hunger (reward) without consuming unwanted calories.

Do you see how premeditating your cues and rewards can help you change even the strongest of bad habits?

Habits Worth Building

So far we’ve talked a lot about the science behind habits and how to both build and overcome them. Now, let’s quickly dive into a few specific habits you may want to consider adopting.

Wake Up Earlier

You don’t have to look very hard to find a correlation between early risers and success. Many of today’s leaders are adamant about rising before the sun including Apple CEO, Tim Cook; Shark Tank investor, Kevin O’Leary; and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson.

Waking up before the rest of the world will allow you to work with less distractions, a constant battle in today’s digital world. Studies also show that early risers are generally more productive, optimistic and efficient.

Exercise Regularly

We’ve mentioned exercise a few different times throughout this post. That’s because regular exercise is so beneficial. Obviously it will help you improve your health, lose weight, etc. But an active lifestyle has also been known to increase alertness and productivity, reduce stress and help participants sleep better at night.

Read Constantly

In regard to how he became so successful, famed investor Warren Buffett once said, “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

If there is one habit that seems almost universally practiced by the world’s top producers, it’s this one. But it’s important to note that reading “just anything” won’t necessarily get you where you want to go.

Rather, read for self-improvement, education and success rather than entertainment. There’s nothing wrong with reading novels. But unless you’re working to become a best selling author, those books probably won’t aid you in your quest to accelerate your career.

Don’t Multitask

Studies over the last few years have proven that multitasking actually decreases your levels of productivity. We know this, but we still can’t help but check email during team meetings, peruse the web while we watch TV and listen to music while we cook dinner.

Consider developing the habit of monotasking: the act of removing distractions and focusing on one task at a time.

Get Organized

Fostering the habit of organization can do wonders for your career. Lists, daily goal charts and company vision meetings all play a key role in helping you stay organized. But it doesn’t stop there. Many experts also suggest maintaining an organized, un-cluttered work space.

Step Away

As a goal oriented professional, it’s easy to overwork yourself — often without even realizing it. But the most successful people make a habit of enjoying things outside the office. They take up hobbies, go on vacation, relax with people they love.

Burnout is real and potentially very dangerous. So make it a habit to step away, relax and enjoy life. You’ll be glad you did.

Now It’s Your Turn

We’ve learned a lot about the power of habits since 1993 and Eugene Pauly’s struggle with short-term memory loss. We now know that memory and habit are unrelated. We also know that of the three habit components — cue, behavior and reward — the cue and reward play a much more significant role.

Use the information and practical tips in this article to harness the power of habit and accelerate your career. By establishing various cues that trigger specific behaviors and then rewarding yourself for successfully carrying out those actions, you’ll be able to develop desirable habits and achieve your goals much, much easier.

So now it’s your turn. What habits will you begin to build? Let us know in the comments!

New Year’s Resolutions Revisited: How to achieve your goals in 2018

New Year's Resolutions Revisited

It’s the middle of March. Daylight savings has begun, warmer weather is on its way and the world around us is beginning to bloom and come back to life. Things are looking up!

Unfortunately, this is also the time of year when many a new year’s resolution begins to fall by the wayside. Those things we were so excited about starting in January become harder to sustain and our resolve to read more, go to bed earlier, exercise more often, etc. is easily broken. This is completely understandable. With so much going on, it’s easy to regress back into old habits — sometimes without even realizing it.

But old habits aren’t going to get us where we want to go in business or in life. That’s why we made the resolutions in the first place, right? Something needed to change so that we could move forward.

In this post, we’ll help you reevaluate your resolutions and outline a few practical tactics you can use to get back on track with your new year goals. Ready to get started?

Take Time to Evaluate

First, you need to take a realistic look at yourself in regard to your resolutions. How well have you done so far? Be honest with yourself. If you’re like most people, the answer is probably along the lines of, “not as well as I would have hoped.”

If that’s you, don’t beat yourself up. What’s important is what you do from now on. Will you recommit to your goals or will you let another year go by without seeing the progress you’d like? Make the decision here and now.

One of the problems with new year’s resolutions is that we only make them once a year. It’s very hard to do things, especially things we’re not naturally inclined to do, without recommitting and reaffirming our desire to change on a regular basis.

If you decide that your goals are worth pursuing, evaluation is the next step. What you can do better? What aspect of reaching your goals has been the hardest to keep up with? Why do you think that is?

Perhaps your goals are too big. If so, make them smaller. We love to hear about people’s lofty ambitions; it’s inspiring! But set the bar too high and you’ll become discouraged. You might even give up if the daily grind is unreasonable.

Maybe your goals are too vague. If you’re having a hard time deciding whether or not you’re currently reaching your goals, you need to make them more specific. Every goal you set should be measurable. That way you can track your progress and optimizes your processes for greater success.

Formulate a Plan

Once you’ve taken an realistic look at yourself and where you want to go, it’s time to create a plan you can actually commit to. To do this, start with your goal and work backwards to where you currently are, identifying milestones along the way.

Here’s an example to illustrate what this might look like in a real world scenario:

Let’s say you own an automotive repair shop and your new year’s resolution was to begin using social media to market your services to the local community. After assessing your situation, you’ve realized that regularly posting on multiple social networks just isn’t realistic. So you’ve instead decided to focus all your efforts on YouTube.

You currently have a channel setup for your business with about a dozen followers. Working backwards from this point, you choose 100 followers, 20 tutorial videos and 12 live videos to be various milestones in your journey.

In order to meet these milestones and ultimately achieve your goals, you commit to recording a quick YouTube tutorial video every Tuesday, addressing various automotive related topics. You also plan to post one YouTube Live video a month answering any questions you might receive through comments on previous videos. Finally, by regularly engaging with the YouTube community and allocating a small monthly sum to promote your videos on the platform, you hope to grow your following from just a dozen people, to over 100.

This is the beginning of an actionable plan and you can modify this approach to suit your specific industry and goals!

Tactics to Keep You On Track

A strategy can’t be completed without specific tactics. Let’s dig into different ideas you can use to keep your new year’s resolutions and make this year your most productive one yet.

Use a Pen and Paper

There’s something powerful about writing your goals down on paper. In fact, studies show that you’re 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down on a regular basis. When you write your goals down, you gain clarity as to what it is you’re actually trying to achieve. Writing them down daily helps keep you excited and focused on the steps you need to take each day.

Don’t Go Alone

It’s been said that 60% of people abandon their new year’s resolutions within the first six months. We’re convinced that this number would be much lower if more people had some sort of accountability partner in place. By regularly connecting with a specific individual or group, you’ll receive the support you need to keep going. They can help motivate you when times get tough and encourage you to recommit if you run offcourse.

Remember Your Why

Why did you make your resolution in the first place? Keep that reason front and center in your mind. If your “why” is stronger than your “why not,” you’ll be able to push through when achieving your goals seems impossible.

Focus on the Right Things

It’s important to focus more on behaviors than outcomes. Or, put another way, focus on the journey, not the result. Let’s say one of your resolutions is to grow your email list to 1000+ subscribers this year. If all you ever focus on is that number, you may end up stressed and discouraged. But if you focus on creating better lead magnets,writing better emails, etc., your list will grow as a result.

Develop Your Environment

Jim Rohn, a celebrated motivational speaker and entrepreneur, famously said, “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” What does this mean in regard to your new year’s resolutions? It means that the people you surround yourself with have a profound effect on whether or not you’ll actually achieve your goals. Develop your environment by only associating (as far as you can help it) with people who support your ambitions and don’t put yourself in situations where your resolve will be tested.

Reward Yourself

It’s important to celebrate small wins and reward yourself along the way. Just make sure to plan out suitable rewards that aren’t in opposition to your goals. Meaning, don’t reward yourself for posting consistently to your company blog by taking the next month off. Appropriately celebrating small successes while you work towards bigger goals will keep you inspired and excited to press on.

Make Failure Difficult

The harder you make it to fail, the easier keeping your resolutions will be. A great example of this tactic in action comes from Kate Hanley. She decided she wanted to exercise more in the coming year. To help her achieve her goal, she bought a dog because she says, “now I’m pretty much forced to take a 20-30 minute walk at least twice a day,” Find ways to make breaking your resolutions more difficult and you’ll see more success.

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If you’ve had trouble keeping your new year’s resolutions, make the decision to recommit today! By assessing your current situation and the resolutions you’ve made, crafting a realistic strategy that will keep you on track and incorporating the various tactics we outlined in this article, you’ll be well on your way to achieving your goals this year!

Did we miss any tactics you’ve used in the past to help develop new habits and reach new goals? Let us know in the comments.

Visual Marketing Techniques For Your Business (Part 3)

visual marketing techniques p3
Ah, we made it to the final installment of our Visual Marketing series. If you missed part 1 and part 2, make sure to click through and read them as well.

In this series we’ve been discussing the importance of quality design and having an authentic visual representation of your business. Today we conclude by talking about simple videography tips you can use to create higher quality marketing videos, on your OWN, for your website, YouTube or other platform.

The need for quality video content has exploded in the last few years. Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg has even predicted that the content on his social network will be almost entirely video within the next 5 years.

And if your customers want more of it and industries are trending more and more towards video marketing in general, it makes sense to dive in now and learn a few tips to help separate your company’s video content efforts from the rest of the field!

Though learning these basic filming techniques may seem intimidating, the core priciple to keep in mind is the same as we’ve been talking about this whole series…

A good video; be it a Facebook Live broadcast, a whiteboard video for your website, or a YouTube ad promoting your business, conveys a feeling and a message. It helps your company better tell your “story” and share your values with customers.

Videography 101:
Remember, as a general rule of thumb, keep things simple and don’t bite off more than you can chew. For every ultra creative and artistic shot or technique, there’s a simple version that will often get the job done just as well with much less hassle.

Also, don’t feel obligated to purchase, or even rent, a high-end video camera, complicated piece of software, or the like. For most small business’ needs, the smartphone in your pocket and a free piece of video editing software will work just fine.

Basic Lighting Techniques
Good lighting is essential to the professionalism and ultimate success of your video. Your audience needs to be able to see what you’re trying to show them and different lighting techniques can invoke different moods or emotions.

A basic set of studio lights from Amazon can do wonders without breaking the bank, but the creative use of flashlights and house lamps can do the trick too. The biggest questions to ask yourself regarding lighting are:

  • Does the light flatter the subject?
  • Are there any shadows on the subject’s face?
  • Can the subject look where they’re supposed to without squinting?

If the light doesn’t flatter the subject, casts shadows on their face, or makes them squint when looking in the proper direction, you should probably adjust your lighting.

There are many basic lighting techniques filmmakers use, but the 3-point technique, composed of a key light, a fill light and a backlight, is a great place to start.

The key light is your brightest and most important light and should be positioned off to the side of your subject. The fill light should be placed off center of your subject as well, but on the opposite side of the key light and kept a bit dimmer. Finally, the backlight should be positioned behind and preferably above the subject, pointing at the back of their neck.
standard-lighting

Hitchcock’s Rule
“The size of an object in the frame should equal it’s importance in the story at that moment”
– Alfred Hitchcock

This means that the most important element in the scene your shooting, whether it’s a customer talking about their experience with your company or a shot of your new line of products, should fill the majority of the frame.

Simply put, make sure your audience sees and understands what’s most important by making it the biggest thing on the screen.

Keep It Steady
We’re not trying to give our viewers motion sickness… A video that bumps and jerks all over the place is hard to watch and very unprofessional. You’ll want to keep the camera as steady as possible, which can be easily done by using a tripod.

Also, keep in mind that while the zoom and pan features on your smartphone or camera are fun, overusing of them gets old fast and tends to look cheesy. Images typically lose quality when the zoom is used. Instead, try manually moving the camera closer to the subject/scene (preferably on a tripod with wheels to avoid the dreaded bumps and jerks mentioned previously).

Pictures With Sound
Always consider the audio quality of whatever you’re shooting… There’s nothing worse than thinking you’ve captured the perfect shot only to watch it back and realize the speaker’s voice is muffled and almost inaudible.

Attempt to film in quiet areas and if possible, consider using an external mic, positioned closer to the subject. If neither of these tips are possible, you can often get better results by cupping your hands around the microphone of your camera or smart phone and pointing it directly at the subject/scene.

If necessary, consider adjusting your shot to get the camera closer to the subject and capture higher quality audio.

Basic Video Editing Tips
This section really could be an entire post on its own, but we’ll keep it brief…

Always remember that when you’re editing video, you’re smack-dab in the middle of the storytelling process. What you decide to keep and cut affects the flow of the story and the feelings your viewer leaves with. Keep in mind the narrative and goal you’re trying to achieve while editing.

Have you ever tried watching a movie without sound? Not great, right? The truth is, the right music makes the imagery work together much better. There are plenty of sites that offer music, some free, some paid, but plan to use music that’s fits the mood and message you’re trying to convey. Also, look for instrumental music as lyrics can be distracting.

Finally, when choosing between different camera angles, err on the side of close ups and medium shots rather than wide shots as these tend to be more engaging.

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By following the above videography techniques as well as the design and photography tips we talked about in p.1 and p.2 of this series, you’ll be well on your way to visual content marketing stardom!

And if you happen to be interested in further developing your videography skills, digital learning sites like Skillshare and CreativeLive have many great classes you can explore.

 

Visual Marketing Techniques For Your Business (Part 2)

visual marketing techniques p2

Welcome to part 2 of our Visual Marketing series where we’re discussing the need to visually represent your business in an authentic manner, and how to do it. If you missed part 1 on design, go ahead and start there, we’ll be here when you get back.

Today we’re talking about digital photography. More specifically, we’re talking about some basic tips and techniques you can use to quickly up your photo game and better promote your business.

Despite the fact that most everyone has a camera in their pocket and access to a multitude of editing apps via the App or Google Play Store, many are unaware of even the most elementary photography basics. Just snapping a picture, throwing some Photoshop on it and calling it a day won’t get you very far when you consider that over 95 million photos are shared on Instagram alone every 24 hours. If you want to rise above the endless flood of competing images, you need a reliable strategy.

Whether you’re taking employee photos for your website or snapping a quick pic for your social media profiles, the quality and tone of your pictures says a lot about who you are as a business and helps you stand out in a crowded digital world.

Successful business owners and marketers understand how to tell their company’s “story” and engage their customer base through some basic tips and tricks of the photography trade.

And the good news is, these tips and tricks won’t require any major investment of time or money! You can still use your smartphone and favorite editing app. So here goes Photography 101…

Keep It Simple

A common photography pitfall is the tendency to overcomplicate the picture. But this only clutters up the image, makes it tough for your subject to stand out and tends to confuse the viewer.

Empty space, referred to as “negative space” by the pros, is nothing to be afraid of. In fact, countless awe-inspiring photos have consisted of just one interesting subject and a plain background.

These simple photos are also better suited for sharing on social sites like Instagram where they will, more often than not, be viewed on the small screen of a phone.

Painting With Light

Lighting is SO important! And the 2 different kinds of lighting, natural (i.e. the sun) and artificial (i.e. a lightbulb) as well as different positions and placements of the light will give your photos differing looks and feels…

No post on photography would be complete without a nod to “golden hour”, the holy grail of natural lighting conditions. The “golden hour” occurs about 1 hour after the sun rises and 1 hour before the sun sets each day. Because of the sun’s lower position in the sky at these times, the light is very flattering and you won’t have to worry about uncomely shadows when taking your pictures.

If you happen to be shooting indoors, you can still take advantage of natural light by positioning your subject near a window. But if it’s impractical or even impossible to shoot closer to a window, table lamps, flashlights, or, for the more ambitious, studio lights can help illuminate your photos as well.

Keep in mind that the direction and angle of the light, whether indoors or out, will impact the outcome of your photo. As a general rule of thumb, positioning the light source in front of the subject is great for portraits due to the even distribution of light, but positioning the light source behind the subject can make for some very creative silhouette images.

The Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is one of the quickest ways to take the quality of your photos from average to breathtaking. It’s also one of the easiest.

Imagine that there are 2 vertical and 2 horizontal lines dividing your picture into thirds and creating 9 equal sections. Basically, mentally visualize your image beneath a tic-tac-toe board.

moondigger.jpg
(Image created by User:Moondigger)

Where the vertical and horizontal lines meet is where you want the points of interest in your photograph to be. For example, if you were to take a picture of your friend, following the rule of thirds, you might position her face towards the upper right, where the upper horizontal line meets the vertical line on the right of our imaginary tic-tac-toe board, rather than in the middle.

When taking photos, determine the main points of interest and attempt to position them near one of the 4 imaginary intersections.

Shoot From Different Angles

Since most photos seem to be shot at chest level, you can create interesting images by changing the perspective from which you shoot. One of the easiest ways to do this is to simply crouch down and take the picture from a lower angle.

A couple benefits of shooting from a lower angle include the possibility of capturing interesting details in the foreground of your image; details that would have been lost were you standing when taking the photo, as well as your ability to frame your subject against the sky; an easy way to remove distractions and clutter from your pictures.

Use Filters

Yes, you can still use your beloved filter app! But choosing the right one can help your photo pop and get noticed.

First aim to choose filters that represent your brand… A cool-toned, dark filter for a company selling organic baby clothes might not be the best fit.

Also, if you plan to post your photos on Instagram, have a look at the current most popular filters. These are the ones customers enjoy seeing so, if it works with the message you’re trying to convey, slap it on there!

———-

Photography is a beautiful art form and now you have some tricks up your sleeve to make your pictures a bit more beautiful. Never underestimate the value of these tried and true principles! By employing them, you have a better chance of engaging your customers and standing out amongst the competitors in your industry.

If you’re interested in further developing your digital photography skills, learning sites like Skillshare and CreativeLive have many great classes you can explore.

Be sure to check out part 1 and part 3 of this series as well!

Visual Marketing Techniques For Your Business (Part 1)

Visual Marketing Techniques
Alice Achterhof

It’s become apparent over the last few years that quality design and an authentic visual representation of your business are essential to success. And it make sense… we live in a culture where what we see helps dictate what we think and feel.

Take Minnetonka, for example, a footwear brand specializing in handcrafted moccasins. Everything on their website, from the color scheme to the chosen fonts, screams comfort and make me feel like cozying up to a fire, hot cup of cocoa in hand, a pair of warm slippers hugging my feet.

The truth is, the “look” of your company is important. The design of your website, your product packaging and social media posts, even the uniforms worn by your employees all help tell your customers a “story” about what your business stands for, the quality of your products or services, and more.

But what if you have ZERO budget to hire a professional graphic artist? Or your favorite design firm is booked out for 3 months? Just because you’re a business owner or marketing guru doesn’t mean you can’t tackle various design tasks yourself when the need arises.

In this three-part article, we’ll learn the basics of visually marketing your company to the world by exploring a few key priciples of design, photography and videography.

By the end of this series, you’ll have the tools to confidently craft infographics, post more attractive Instagram photos and film more engaging YouTube videos – Even if you consider yourself “design-challenged” or “uncreative”.

Part 1 (this article) will focus on some basic design secrets, Part 2 will explore photography tips, and Part 3 will hone in on various videography techniques. Let’s dive in…

A Common Trap
First, I think it’s important to note that though professional designers generally use high-end tools like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, that doesn’t mean you need to use them too… These softwares are expensive and require a serious time commitment to learn how to use.

Thankfully, websites such as Canva, Pablo by Buffer and others offer amazing design tools to help you craft better social media posts, banner ads, posters, and more, for free!

Design 101
Professional graphic artists will tell you that design is composed of 7 elements: line, color, texture, size, shape, space and value. But as a business owner or marketer, that’s a bit more information than we’re looking for…

What we need are a few basic principles and ideas to help us create visual content that pleases our customers and better conveys our company values – without tearing our hair out in frustration.

What Inspires You?
Begin by gathering inspiration. Which websites, logos and brochures speak to you? Have you caught yourself looking at a competitor’s social feed and wishing yours was as creative and professional? This is where you should start!

Now, we’re not planning to make an exact replica of someone elses work; that’s called stealing. Rather, we’re trying to give ourselves a starting point. If we have a good idea of what we’re trying to create, we’ll have a much better chance of actually making it happen.

Also remember, your designs need to align with your company values… You wouldn’t expect to see a website for a men’s outdoor clothing store arrayed in shades of pink and purple. That probably wouldn’t relate to their customer base or tell their “story” in an authentic way. So gather inspiration from companies that sell to your customer base or hold similar values.

Observe and Analyze
After you’ve gathered some inspiring designs, ask yourself what it is you like about them. Is there something about the way they combined different fonts or chose to arrange certain elements on their latest infographic that captures your attention?

By analyzing what you like about an artist’s work, you’ll have a better idea of what you’re hoping to accomplish with your own designs.

Next, you need to keep in mind the basic design principles of alignment, color cohesion and readability…

Alignment
The human eye appreciates uniformity because it allows us to better make sense of what we’re looking at. Whether you’re designing a business card or captioning your latest Instagram post, do your best to keep your creations symmetrical and aim for proper alignment.

Color Cohesion
Would you wear brown pants, a yellow shirt and a red jacket? Hopefully your answer is no… The same holds true for design. Choose a couple (not 6 or 7) colors that compliment each other and stick with those.

Readability
If your design is hard to read or look at, you aren’t finished with it… The designs for your business should flow and easily convey information. Many times, aiming for a minimalist approach is a good bet so resist the urge to keep adding elements. Too much contrast is unpleasing to the eye.

The Rules of Hierarchy
Finally, respect the rules of hierarchy. This means you need to prioritize certain elements over others in your artistic works. What is the purpose of your latest infographic, Facebook header or banner ad? Are you hoping to inspire action, invoke a specific feeling, something else?

The artistic decisions you make need to reflect this purpose. If your latest design is supposed to create a somber, reflective mood, using bright colors is probably counterintuitive.

This is similar to what we were saying earlier in regard to designs that align with your company values, but takes it a step further… Not only should your designs connect with your unique customer base, but they should also accurately represent the feel and tone of that specific piece of marketing material.

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So that’s it; a few basic design tips to improve your visual marketing efforts and better connect with your customers. Though these tips alone won’t help you win any awards, they will drastically improve the quality of your designs, infographics and social media posts and that’s what we’re after.

If you’re interested in further developing your design skills, digital learning sites like Skillshare and CreativeLive have many great classes you can explore.

Be sure to check out part 2 and part 3 of this series as well!

What You Don’t Know About Multitasking…

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If you’ve read any kind of productivity advice over the last few years, you’re probably aware that, despite our propensity for it, multitasking limits the amount of work we can get done at any given time. In fact, recent studies have even shown that multitasking:

    • Can decrease productivity by up to 40%.
    • This loss of productivity costs businesses an estimated 450 million dollars annually.
    • Multitasking can temporarily reduce IQ levels by 15 points.

But that doesn’t stop us… In a here-today-gone-tomorrow world where everything should have been done yesterday, we can’t help but answer emails during conference calls, surf the internet while we watch TV, or listen to music while we’re cooking dinner.

The truth is, multitasking makes us feel more productive. A state of constant busyness tricks our minds into believing we’re getting more done than we actually are. But this is exactly why multitasking is so dangerous.

In this article, we’ll explore proven ways to increase productivity by avoiding multitasking as well as the best techniques to handle it when it simply can’t be helped.

Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work

Multitasking is a term that was first used in the 1960’s by the technology industry to describe a new computer function. But years later, we humans have adopted the phrase to describe the act of managing multiple activities at the same time.

What’s interesting, though, is that the human brain is actually incapable of multitasking in the true sense of the word… Yes, we can do two things at the same time; read a book and listen to music for example, but research has shown that our minds can’t concentrate on 2 tasks simultaneously.

Instead, our minds rapidly switch focus from one thing to the other. So when you’re secretly catching up on email during team meetings, you’re technically not multitasking, but rather “task switching” between the screen and the voice of whoever is speaking.

The problem lies in the fact that every time you switch tasks, your brain has to refocus, using more glucose: the primary source of energy in the human body. And the more energy you expend switching from task to task, the slower those shifts become and the more prone to errors you are.

In a nutshell, task switching (what we refer to as multitasking), overexerts our brains, killing productivity and making it extremely hard, if not impossible, to do our best work.

Increasing Productivity

With so much going on every day, staying productive is paramount. But if multitasking isn’t the answer, what is?

Start by monotasking; a newer term that refers to removing all distractions and putting all of one’s focus on a single task for an extended period of time. Basically, it’s the opposite of multitasking and it’s a skill that must be learned to begin producing at peak levels.

When you sit down to begin a project, put away your phone, log out of your email, eliminate whatever threatens to take your attention off of your work. How can you expect to do anything meaningful when your mind is constantly being bombarded by incoming calls and emails, meeting requests and social media updates?

Another key to increasing productivity is allowing your mind to rest. Consider planning out your free time in advance so your mind isn’t tempted to linger on the job. And when you’re not on the clock, allow yourself to indulge in the things that interest you; giving your brain a break and ensuring you’re ready to go the next morning.

Lastly, learn when you are most productive. For many people, this is first thing in the morning when the mind is fresh and distractions can be kept at a minimum. But everyone is different and you need to experiment to find your peak performance time. Once you find it, you need to protect it!

Too Much To Do?

I get it, sometimes there are too many things going on and distractions are unavoidable, metaphorical fires need to be put out, meetings can’t be rescheduled… Fortunately, when the need to multitask is forced upon you, there are a few things you can do to help.

Leading researchers have determined that, in certain scenarios, multitasking isn’t such a bad idea… Namely, when tasks align. This means that if each activity being performed uses a different part of the brain, multitasking can actually be beneficial. Exercising while watching TV is a good example. Are there any daily tasks that use different parts of the brain you can pair together to increase productivity?

Another way to preserve productivity when multitasking is unavoidable is to perform similar tasks at the same time. Consider planning all meetings for the same day, or tackling all your social media efforts for the week on Mondays. Even though your mind will still be switching focus from one aspect of the job to another, at least all your efforts will be in a similar wheelhouse giving you an advantage when multitasking is mandatory.

Finally, attempt to automate as many duties as possible. The best way to “multitask” is to have your computer fire off emails or tweets while you focus on something else entirely! There are many apps and technological solutions to automate different processes. I encourage you to look into a few of them.

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All in all, while multitasking is enticing and seemingly unavoidable, it’s actually hurting your productivity more than just about anything else.

It takes discipline to focus on just one task at a time, clear your mind when you’re out of the office and study your work habits to determine your peak performance time. But I have no doubt that when you commit to doing these things, you will not only get more done, but your work will also be of a higher quality.

And when multitasking is unavoidable, using the above tips will help preserve your levels of productivity and not leave you stressed and frazzled at the end of the day.

9 Effective Ways to Reduce Staff Burnout

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We’ve all felt it before…

The feeling that there’s just not enough hours in the day and we’re drowning in a sea of uncompleted tasks and ever growing to-do lists.

Unfortunately, these feelings are often just a part of life and nearly unavoidable in the workplace. But what happens when common stress becomes something more serious?

Burnout can affect anyone in any job or industry. In fact, some of your employees or coworkers may be experiencing symptoms of it right now…

As a leader at your company, whether you’re the CEO or an entry-level supervisor, it’s imperative that you’re able to recognize the signs of burnout in those who work under you and help remedy the situation before it escalates into a serious problem.

But What Exactly is Burnout?

Defined as:

“Exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.”

The term was first used by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in 1974. Today, according to The American Institute of Stress, over a quarter of the U.S. workforce says they’ve experienced the symptoms.

It’s important to note that while many people believe stress and burnout to be interchangeable terms, they are different…

Stress is the feeling of “too much” – too much to do, too much pressure, etc. But burnout is characterized by feelings of “not enough” or emptiness. Those affected become emotionally exhausted, cynical and feel a loss of purpose and motivation. In extreme cases, they may even begin to feel a loss of hope.

Recognizing The Symptoms

Burnout is often hard to recognize because it happens over time. But according to Psychology Today, there are noticeable symptoms:

  • Chronic Fatigue: This is more than a lack of energy, but a feeling of complete physical and mental exhaustion, sometimes accompanied by feelings of dread.
  • Depression: Symptoms of depression can range from occasional feelings of sadness at the beginning, to severely low self-esteem and feelings of being trapped.
  • Anger: What may start as occasional irritability can quickly escalate into unprovoked rage leading to loud arguments and outbursts
  • Detachment: This is the desire for isolation and can manifest itself in the workplace as tardiness, calling in sick without cause, or completely neglecting duties all together.
  • A Lack of Focus: An inability to focus, a shortened attention span, or frequent forgetfulness are possible symptoms.
  • Physical Conditions: Chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, or headaches can be indications as well. If any of your employees are experiencing such symptoms, they should be assessed by their doctor.

9 Steps To Decrease Team Burnout:

Now that we know what burnout looks like, what can we do to prevent it in the workplace?

Now that we know what burnout looks like, what can we do to prevent it in the workplace?

1. Discover The Cause:
First, you need to learn and understand what’s causing burnout in your employee(s)… Are they feeling overworked and underappreciated? Perhaps they don’t feel challenged by their duties or fairly compensated for the effort they put in.

Sometimes the cause is found in areas unrelated to the workplace. For example, tension in the home due to relationships, poor health of family members or continual financial struggles can lead to symptoms that may begin to seep into their job.

Encourage openness with your employees and in your workplace. The people who work for you should feel comfortable telling you what’s causing a dip in their productivity without the fear of rebuke or dismissal. Promote trust by allowing employees to be open about their mental, physical and emotional states.

2. Be Realistic:
You need to have realistic expectations. Even for superstar employees, there’s a limit to how much can be done in a single work day. And asking your employees to consistently put in overtime is not only unfair, but a sure path to severe mental fatigue.

Having realistic expectations is important to the health of your workplace and employees, but that in itself isn’t enough…

You also need to make sure that each employee clearly understand what you expect of them. If you don’t make this abundantly clear, they may think you expect more of them than you do and overwork themselves in order to please you and preserve their job.

3. Rest:
Related to our last point, do NOT require or expect employees to work in their off time. If you’re the founder of your company, you’ve poured so much of yourself into building your business: your time, energy, money… So it may be hard to imagine life outside of the office. But all work and no play can be quite unhealthy.

Encourage your employees to relax and pursue other interests in their off time. Support their individual dreams and goals. And while you’re at it, take some time off yourself! Hard work doesn’t mean constant work.

4. Working Environment:
The atmosphere you create is very important. Do your employees enjoy coming to work? Do they feel appreciated? If they don’t, their mental and emotional states may be at risk.

By creating an environment that fosters fun, creativity and community, you’ll also help develop a company culture of hard work and productivity. Happy employees work harder and get more done.

This should go without saying, but don’t micromanage your employees and NEVER guilt them into anything! They should feel free to accomplish their work without “the boss” hounding them or making them feel guilty for taking breaks.

5. Remember Your Why:
Another way to combat burnout in the workplace is to constantly reiterate to your team why you all do what you do. Remind your team of their passion for your product and customers and that the work they do is important.

Also, tell your team where you see the business in 3, 5, 10 years. Sharing your vision(s) with your employees not only helps them feel ownership of the project, but also gives them purpose.

6. Celebrate:
People get burned out when they feel like they aren’t getting any closer to their goals. By celebrating even the small wins, you and your team will taste success along the way and it will help propel you to the next goal.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to throw a party every time you get a new client or customer. But taking a moment to recognize success, big or small, will help your team feel productive and keep them motivated to achieve even greater things.

7. Education:
Teach your employees how to do their work well and provide them with the tools to succeed. Do they need to be educated on how your company handles specific scenarios? Is there a new software that will help your team secure more clients in less time?

Ensure your employees have the necessary resources so they can best accomplish the work that’s required of them. Repeated failure or mediocre work, especially when the employee feels helpless to correct it, will certainly take a toll on their mental and emotional health.

8. Team Building:
A strong team is essential to your company’s success and employees that enjoy being around each other are much more likely to do their best work and steer clear of burnout.

To help foster friendships between employees, consider a company retreat, signing you and your team up for a softball league, participating in local bike races, trying to escape the room or even just a night out on the town for dinner.

Building deeper relationships helps ensure your employees have more invested in the company than just a paycheck.

9. Be Mindful:
Keep an eye on those who work for you. If you start to see signs of burnout, have an open, honest discussion and work to remedy the situation immediately. It’s a lot less expensive to take care of your current employees than to find new ones.

Also, by educating your employees on the most common symptoms (the ones we talked about earlier) they’ll be able to help diagnose themselves.

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Burnout is increasingly common in the workplace and steps need to be taken to ensure a happy and productive workforce.

A company is only as good as its employees, so treat them with respect and create a positive working environment they can succeed in and enjoy coming to every day.

By being vigilant and aware of common burnout symptoms, you’ll increase employee loyalty and improve your business.