Isolated iPhone

How to Break Your Smartphone Addiction (Without Giving Up Your Device)

When was the last time you intentionally left your smartphone at home? You probably don’t remember; I certainly don’t.

If you’re anything like the average American, you check your phone once every 12 minutes (or about 80 times a day), both for work and play. Don’t know the answer to a question? Google it. Got a work email after hours? Answer it now so you don’t have to worry about it tomorrow morning. Bored on the train? Play a game or watch a YouTube video. Want to know where your friends are? Pull up social media and find out.

We’ve become so used to having the world’s knowledge at our fingertips that we feel lost when we’re not using our mobile devices.

A while ago, I downloaded the Moment app to track my phone usage. On the first full day I used it, I had checked my phone 73 separate times for a total of 2 hours and 21 minutes of use, most of which occurred before and after I left the office. That’s 141 minutes glued to my phone; 141 minutes that I could have been reading a book, working on a craft, or going for a walk. But instead, I was distracted by emails, Instagram posts and black holes of random “related articles.” It’s a habit, and like any other habit, it can be unlearned and eventually broken.

While I am making a conscious effort to use my phone less and be more present and aware of my surroundings, I admit that sometimes I need a little help. Here are a few tricks that have helped me cut down on the impulse to constantly pick up my phone.

Turn off all email and social media notifications. 

I’m one of those people who needs to look at a notification as soon as it pops up. I need to know what was texted, emailed, retweeted, or liked. And that was a huge factor in how often I checked my phone.

For the last year or so, I’ve intentionally turned off notifications on email and social media. It sounds crazy, I know. But I make a point to check these apps a few times each throughout the day so I don’t miss anything. And you know what? It doesn’t take me that long to catch up. It’s rare that something is so important that it can’t wait until I have a few minutes here or there to look at it.

If something is truly urgent, my boss, coworkers, and freelance clients all have my phone number — they can call or text me, and I’ll know it’s something that requires my immediate attention.

Can’t bear to turn off email notifications altogether? Apps like BoomerangSaneBox and Inbox Pause help you filter and regulate your inbox better by controlling when messages come in.

Take advantage of airplane/do not disturb mode. 

Mobile devices allow you to set them to “airplane mode,” which blocks all incoming and outgoing data. If you don’t use this setting in everyday life (i.e. when you’re not on an airplane), you’re missing a valuable opportunity to enjoy a short stretch of notification-free time.

On occasions when you want to truly be present — family dinner, date night, the kids’ soccer game — just switch airplane mode on and put up a digital barrier. This is also useful when you’re trying to sleep and don’t want to be woken up by any random texts or emails you may get in the middle of the night.

Leave your phone in another room or face down.

Want a really easy way to stop obsessing over your notifications? Just don’t look at your screen.

When I work from home, I try to leave my phone on my nightstand or in my kitchen, away from my desk so I don’t get distracted throughout the workday. If I know I’m expecting a call, I’ll have it next to me, but facing down so I don’t see the screen light up with any other notifications that may come through.

Keeping your phone face down is a really good habit to get into when you’re with other people, too. You don’t want to be that rude friend who keeps texting other people when you’re trying to catch up over coffee, or that distracted person in a meeting who’s clearly not paying attention.

Acknowledge your “boredom” phone use. 

When there’s a legitimate reason to check your phone — an important email or text from a good friend, for instance — and it won’t interrupt something else that requires your full attention (especially driving!), go ahead, open up that notification. But it’s the times when you check your phone out of boredom, simply to scroll through Instagram photos and tweets or stalk a high school acquaintance’s Facebook profile, that really detract from living in the moment.

If you feel yourself itching to light up that home screen when there’s no notification waiting for you, take a minute and ask yourself why you want to check your phone. And if there’s no good reason, don’t do it. Find something else to do for a few minutes — fold laundry, pick up a magazine, clean out your fridge, etc. If you can learn to be comfortable with periods of mental silence, without a digital distraction, you might just break that compulsive need to look at your phone.

Image credit: Negative Space/Pexels.com

Home office setup

How to Actually Get Work Done When You Work from Home

Like many of today’s professionals, I work from home. A lot.

I do occasionally work remotely for my full-time job, but in most cases, I get in from the corporate office and walk right into my home office to start on side projects for my freelance clients.

Regardless of the tasks you’re doing, it takes a lot of discipline to get work done in your home, especially when the couch, the TV, the fridge, the laundry, the dog, etc. are all just a few steps away. You need to proactively create an environment that’s conducive to productivity, while drawing mental and physical boundaries between work and play.

While everyone’s ideal remote work conditions vary, here are a few general tips for making the most of your work-from-home time.

Create a space that’s just for work

Working from the couch or your bed may sound nice in theory, but in practice, these spaces are too “cozy” and relaxed to put you in the right mindset for productivity. I have a desk and office chair set up in the spare room of my apartment, and do my best to contain business-related tasks, calendars, notebooks, etc. to that space.

No space for a home office? Set up a small folding table in the living room and use it strictly for work, or work at the kitchen counter. Wherever you choose to set up shop, keep your “work” area clutter-free to minimize distractions (hello, dirty dishes and baskets of laundry).

You may also want to join a coworking space or head to a local coffee shop from time to time, just for a change of scenery.

Get dressed

Working from home equals working in your pajamas, right? Technically, yes, it could. But it’s not a good idea if you want to set boundaries between work time and lounge time.

Wearing comfortable clothes is a great perk when you’re home for the day, and there’s no need to dress in office attire. However, changing out of the clothes you wore to bed really does make a difference in how you approach your work (even if it’s just a pair of yoga pants and a different t-shirt).

Develop (and stick to) a schedule

When you don’t have a commute hanging over your head, you can justify starting your workday a little earlier or wrapping up a little later to accommodate any non-work things that pop up during the day. It’s fine to take a little time away from the “office” when you’re working from home — and you should, since people are generally more productive when they take frequent breaks. But make sure you set time limits for yourself and build these breaks into your daily schedule. If you don’t, you could end up stretching out your day without getting any real work accomplished.

Become a top-notch communicator

One of the biggest arguments against working from home is the idea that if you’re not physically in the office, the boss can’t keep tabs on you to make sure you’re actually doing your work. This isn’t necessarily true, and many managers have realized that trusting employees to complete their tasks no matter where they are creates a much more positive, productive work culture. However, that trust needs to be earned through your communication skills.

If you’re working from home for your employer, your boss should be able to get in touch with you during normal work hours, as they would if you were in an office. This could mean being available on an instant messaging platform, responding to emails quickly or checking your phone for calls and texts from co-workers. And don’t wait for your manager to hound you with messages — check in with them when you sign on and off for the day, or when you’re taking a break. No matter what method of communication you and your team agree upon, don’t let yourself become “out of sight, out of mind” when you work from home.

Working for yourself and setting your own hours? You should still be available for your clients when they try to reach you. While you don’t (and shouldn’t) have to be on-call 24/7, do your best to respond to emails, messages, and calls in a timely manner, and always communicate well ahead of time if you can’t meet an agreed-upon deadline. Your clients will appreciate it, and you’ll establish a reputation as a responsible, reliable freelancer.

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

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Business Presentation by energepic.com

How to Give a Great Business Presentation

Whether you’re giving a project update to the management team, leading a seminar, or a pitching a new client, you’re likely going to have to give a handful of business presentations during your career.

Unfortunately, most of these presentations just don’t land. They’re boring; not engaging enough; too long.

In an age of constant distractions and shrinking attention spans, it seems that giving an engaging presentation is an art that few have been able to master successfully. However, with a combination of powerful data and the right messaging strategy, you can hold your audience’s attention.

Here’s how to keep all eyes and ears on you during your next presentation.

Tell a story. 

Statistics and facts are important to any presentation, but without a good story behind them, your audience isn’t going to care about those charts and tables. An anecdote or story can provide context to your data and make listeners more receptive to it. But don’t tell stories just for the sake of telling them: Make sure they connect back to your main points.

Most importantly, don’t just read off of your slides. If your audience can get everything they need to know from the slideshow, you should have just emailed them your PowerPoint instead.

Be aware of your body language. 

Few things can ruin a great presentation like a nervous speaker. Public speaking is a common and understandable phobia, but it’s imperative to remain calm and in control of your body movements and tone of voice if you want to come across as a strong presenter. Connect with your audience by looking them in the eye, smiling, and relaxing your body. Try not to be too stiff, fiddle with your notes, or cling to the podium.

Practice. 

They say that practice makes perfect, and this is especially true for presentations. Go over the data you’re presenting and the notes you’ve written. If possible, test out your technology to make sure it works. Rehearse your speech in front of a test audience, and ask for feedback. The more prepared you are, the more likely you are to gracefully handle any unexpected hiccups, tangents, or audience questions.

Be yourself. 

The most important thing you can do is stay true to yourself. Know your strengths as a presenter and stick with what comes naturally to you. Humor can be a great way to engage an audience, but don’t try to make jokes if that’s not who you are. Remember, your audience is there to listen to you for your expertise. Rather than try to be the person you think they want, just give them your truest, best self.

A version of this article appeared on Fox Business.

Image credit: energepic.com via Pexels

Garbage can image by Steve Johnson/Pexels (CC0)

‘No, Thank You’ – The Art of Polite Professional Rejection

When I worked as a staff journalist and editor, I received dozens of story pitches per day. I regularly rejected 95 percent of them.

These types of cold pitches from external parties are overwhelmingly common in the media industry, but it’s certainly not unique to our field: Businesses work with all kinds of agencies and vendors to get things done, and everyone’s trying to sell something. More often than not, you’ll probably have to reject those offers.

There are three ways people typically decline requests:

  1. Ignore it.
  2. Respond with a “no” and move on.
  3. Briefly explain why they’re saying no, and if possible, offer a different way to work together.

I admit I use the first two response methods often enough, but whenever I can, I try to take the time to give helpful feedback. Does it take time and energy? Yes. But it also helps you improve both your professional reputation and your working relationships.

While ignoring an unwanted offer or request is certainly the easiest and most convenient course of action when it arrives, it actually creates more frustration in the long run. The person on the other end will almost certainly follow up, just in case it got lost in your inbox or accidentally went to your spam folder. Most people will get the hint and give up after a second or third ignored email, but you might earn a reputation as being unresponsive, unapproachable, or even rude.

Giving a simple “no” is certainly better, because you’re not leaving the other person hanging and wondering if you’re interested, but it’s not particularly helpful to either party. Without further feedback, your contact may keep making the same type of offer,rather than adjusting their strategy to find a more effective way to help you.

When you’re drowning in emails, it’s impossible to answer each and every person who contacts you. However, if you do decide to dish out a formal rejection, here are a few tips I’ve learned to soften the blow — and perhaps even benefit you in the end.

1. Be as honest as possible. 

Sometimes there’s a legitimate reason that you need to turn down a request: You don’t have time or room on your schedule, it conflicts with your company’s policies, etc. If that’s the case, let the other person know. But sometimes there really isn’t a “good” reason, other than the fact that you just don’t find the offer appealing. Making up an excuse to avoid offending someone, especially if that person has taken the time to research you and your company’s needs, might seem like the polite path, but honesty is usually the best policy. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “I’m not interested.”

2. Suggest an alternative solution. 

Just because you can’t or don’t want to accept this person’s specific offer as stated, doesn’t mean they can’t provide value in some other way. If there’s a different way for us to collaborate, or if I think a colleague might be more interested in the offer, I’ll say so. If not, I let the person know I plan to file the email away and add them to my contact list — you never know if they might be able to help you out down the road.

3. Let the person know what you’re looking for instead. 

If there’s no possible way for you and this person to work together at this time, consider sharing a bit more about your professional needs. This will (hopefully) help the person on the other end fine-tune their communications with you and only send you relevant information and offers in the future. Better yet, they may know someone else who can help you with your current needs and make an introduction.

If you find yourself giving out the same basic responses to similar types of requests, you can save yourself a few minutes by creating a file of “stock response” templates that can be customized to fit the situation. Just make sure you proofread and fill in all the right names and details!

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Image credit: Steve Johnson/Pexels (CC0)

Graduation ceremony via Pixabay/Pexels (CC0)

Career Advice for New Grads: What I Wish I Knew Before My First Job

Congratulations to the graduating class of 2018. For four (or more) years, you’ve poured your blood, sweat and tears into your studies and extracurricular activities, all in preparation for this day. Every all-nighter, every stress-inducing exam, every term paper will be worth it when you finally receive that long-awaited diploma, which has the potential to open the doors to your dream career.

This time six years ago, I was in your shoes. Days before graduation, I had officially accepted a full-time, entry-level job at a marketing company in midtown Manhattan. I fully believed I was ready to take my first steps into the “real world.”

I felt like I had the hang of working in an office from my part-time internships during college. How different could it be? I’d arrive at 9 a.m., sit down at my desk, do my work and go home eight hours later. I’d get a steady paycheck and paid vacation time, and make some great new friends. That’s what I thought, anyway.

I had a lot of expectations going into my first day on the job. Some of them turned out to be correct, but many of them were quickly shattered. The year that I spent at this company taught me a lot of valuable lessons — both about my career and life in general — that I took with me when I moved on to my next corporate job. Below are just a few of the things I would go back and tell my 21-year-old self, in the hopes that the newest members of the workforce can benefit from them. 

Work might follow you home.

Many first-time members of the workforce make the naïve assumption that work will end when you leave the office. This is how it was at my internships: I never had to worry about what happened once I walked out the door. But when you’re a full-time, salaried staff member, your responsibilities can and will extend outside the confines of your desk. With today’s cloud and mobile tech, people don’t follow the “9-to-5” mentality anymore. While you shouldn’t be expected to respond to your boss’s emails at midnight, there are going to be times when an after-hours emergency pops up, and you may need to be the one who deals with it.

… but don’t let work become your life. 

Just because you can work from anywhere at any time does not mean you should. Yes, you will have to stay late or come in early sometimes, or miss out on a social events because of a big project. But you’re an entry-level employee. You’re not running the company, and the company certainly isn’t paying you enough to spend every waking moment doing work. Set a time each night when you’ll stop checking your emails. If you’re working for a company that expects you to be on-call and working 24/7 (when you were hired for a 40-hour-a-week job), that’s not a place you want to stay at for too long.

You won’t earn everyone’s respect. 

Most of us know that respect in the workplace needs to be earned, especially as an entry-level employee. However, you also have to realize that there will be certain people in the office who will never respect you. They will never see you as anything more than a means to a corporate end, no matter how hard you work or how valuable your contributions are. Don’t fight it, and don’t lash out because of it. Find the ones who do respect you and stick with them.

Speak up about problems (but don’t gossip). 

If there’s a serious problem with the way your boss is running things, you need to speak up. Ask for a private meeting, or if you’re too afraid to approach your boss directly, bring it up to the next person in command. If you don’t say something, the situation will never change. What won’t help anything is gossiping with your fellow lower-level colleagues about how you’re planning to apply to other jobs just to get out. You never know who’s listening, or who will bring that second-hand news back to the boss.

Perception matters, so give 100 percent, even if there’s no reward. 

You’re not always going to get credit for the work you do. As frustrating as it is to receive little to no recognition for the hours you spent slaving over a project, don’t use that as an excuse to slack off and fade into the background. That’s something your bosses and colleagues will immediately notice, and it won’t do you any favors when it comes time for evaluations, promotions, or even future job recommendations. On the flip side, if you establish a reputation as someone who gets things done, solves problems, and eagerly accepts new challenges, you’ll be one of the first in line to climb the ladder.

Your job description will change as you go.

No position is static. When you first start working, your duties should at least resemble the ones listed in the job description. But as your skills develop and the company’s needs change, you may (and probably will) be asked to go in a different direction, take on more work, and tackle some new challenges. You shouldn’t feel stressed and overworked 24/7, but if the boss asks you to do something you weren’t necessarily hired to do, welcome the project as an opportunity to grow and learn. You never know if the experience will come in handy at a future job.

Make time to recharge and take care of yourself. 

Most full-time jobs come with the benefit of paid time off, and they’re there for you to use. Don’t avoid taking a vacation day because you’re afraid your boss will think less of you for taking a day off. Even taking a single day off every couple of months can help you recharge and keep you from burning out. If you’re running yourself into the ground by working nonstop, your performance and overall attitude will start to decline.

Have an exit strategy. 

Unless you hit the corporate jackpot and find a job where you can swiftly move up the ranks, it’s more than likely that your first job is just going to be a stepping stone to bigger, better things. There’s nothing wrong with that, and most companies have come to expect high turnover rates in their lower-level positions. Keep an eye on companies you might want to work for in the future, and network with other people in your industry — both great ways to begin planning your exit, even if you’re happy where you are for the moment.

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Stuck in a Career Rut? Here’s How to Get Out

No matter how much you love your job, there are days that make you wish you could walk out and never come back. Maybe it’s the extra work you’ve taken on since a key colleague quit, or an important project that’s not going quite as planned. Whatever the reason, just about anything in the world seems preferable to dragging yourself into the office right now.

It’s normal to feel like you’ve hit a stumbling block in your career every once in a while. You shouldn’t ignore this feeling, but you shouldn’t let it consume you either. Instead, take some time to analyze the situation. Then, figure out how to move past it.

If you’re ready to break through your career roadblock, ask yourself the following questions, and be honest with yourself when you answer.

Why do I feel stuck?

Pinpointing the real reasons for your slump is the first step to getting past it. For instance, rather than fixating on the feeling that your boss doesn’t like you, think about why you feel that way. Has your boss actually told you or someone else that they dislike you, or do you just feel that way because they rarely acknowledge your efforts, or keep piling work on your plate when you’re already busy? When you can nail down the larger issue(s), you can start thinking about ways to address it, rather than letting your emotions stew and cloud your perceptions.

Who can I talk to about it?

Depending on your circumstances and relationships with your supervisor and colleagues, you may be able to set up a meeting with the appropriate person and discuss the situation. Has a disagreement between you and a team member been causing hostility among the group? Try talking it out with them to see if there’s a way to resolve it. If you’re upset about being passed up for a promotion, ask to meet with your boss or HR to review your career path and find out what you can do to be considered next time. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing your problem with someone in the office, confide in a partner, friend, or family member and ask their advice.

What do I love about this job?

You may not be thrilled with your job right now, but try to think about the positive things you’ve gained during your time here, like the skills you’ve learned, exciting projects you’ve worked on, or the great rapport you’ve built with your colleagues. Remind yourself of something you love about your work and focus on that to help you power through any rough patches.

What can I do to boost my confidence at work?

When you feel really good about what you’re doing every day at work, it’s much easier to feel positive about your career. Whether it’s getting around to a minor task you’ve been putting off or sharing a great idea during a meeting, do at least one thing every day that makes you feel confident and accomplished. As that confidence builds, so will your job satisfaction, and you’ll be back at your peak before you know it.

Still feeling like your motivation at work has stalled? It might be time to look for another job — or even start a business of your own. Listen to your intuition and do what feels right; you shouldn’t force yourself to stay at a job you hate.

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Image credit: creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos (CC0)

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3 ‘Good’ Work Habits That Hurt You in the Long Run

We all want to get ahead in our careers. Whether you’re an employee hoping for a promotion or a freelancer trying to grow your client base, you probably don’t want to stay stuck where you are forever.

What can you do to increase your chances of moving up in the world? Proactively pitching ideas to your boss or client, taking on extra assignments, and putting in extra hours to deliver work ahead of deadline will all serve to establish you as a dedicated professional with unwavering work ethic. These practices make a good impression and can open up new opportunities for you. But proceed with caution: Going full-force, 24/7 will only burn you out, leaving you exhausted and unable to live up to the expectations you’ve set for yourself and the people you work for.

It’s good to go above and beyond, but you still need to maintain healthy boundaries so your performance doesn’t ultimately suffer. If you really want to get ahead, think twice before you form these seemingly helpful work habits that could actually hurt you in the long run.

1. Saying ‘yes’ to every project. 

In the workplace, volunteering to help your boss with a big project or offering to do something outside of your normal job duties makes you look great. However, raising your hand for every single additional project will only bog you down. Your boss and team members will come to rely on you to pick up any extra slack, which often means mean your regular work — the job you were actually hired to do — ends up falling by the wayside.

The same is true in the world of freelancing. You might want to accept every gig that comes your way, especially if you’re short on cash or need to pad your portfolio. But it’s not good to overload your calendar with tedious or difficult projects that don’t pay enough for the time you spend on them. Believe me, I’ve been there — and I’ve ended up having to “fire” a client or two for my own sanity.

In both situations, it’s best to be judicious with your time and only agree to work you know you can handle. It’s better to say no when you know you don’t have the time or skills, than agree to it and ultimately disappoint your boss or client with the end result.

2. Being available 24/7. 

Do you frequently put in 12-hour work days? Are you notorious for responding to emails immediately, even in the middle of the night?

If you’re trying to win favor by being available all the time, you might be setting yourself up for failure. It’s good to be responsive during the business day, but spending all your waking hours working (even if it’s just on your smartphone while you’re out and about) sets the expectation that you can always be reached, and once people realize that, they’ll never let you take a break.

It’s a bit easier to maintain boundaries when you’re an employee with a set work schedule (in fact, New York City recently proposed a law that would outlaw the requirement to respond to work-related communications after-hours). As a freelancer, you need to be proactive about defining and adhering to “office hours” for yourself, but either way, don’t let work dictate every single moment of your life.

If you’re worried about missing a work emergency, let your boss, co-workers or clients know up front that you stop checking emails after a certain time, but for truly urgent matters (key word: “truly” — as in, absolutely cannot wait until the next morning), they can contact you on your phone.

3. Forgoing a personal life in the name of work. 

We all know technology has blurred the lines between work and personal time. Sometimes, work will interrupt date night or family dinner. You might have to bail on a friend’s party for an important conference or networking event. However, continually skipping out on things like get-togethers, soccer games or even vacations in favor of work will take its toll on you and the people you’re close with. Even though your boss or client might be pleased with having such a committed worker, you need to decide if it’s worth potentially damaging your personal relationships because you missed these events.

Remember, getting ahead is all about balancing what’s good for business and what’s right for you. Not putting in enough effort could cost you a promotion or client deal, but sacrificing your personal life and health to get there might cost you your happiness.

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Image credit: creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos (CC0)

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How to Successfully Mix Personal and Professional Content on Social Media

In the early 2000s, when a pre-teen Nicole made her first foray into the digital world, the idea of “social media” as we know it wasn’t yet fully formed. We had AOL Instant Messenger, MySpace and LiveJournal — digital outlets for adolescent angst, safe from the prying eyes of adults. Facebook was still “college students only,” which meant that what happened at school, stayed at school. Above all else, most young adults on these networks went to great lengths to keep their digital presence on the down-low, lest their parents discover their accounts.

Times have obviously changed. Now, everybody’s on social media — not just your parents, but your friends’ parents, your former teachers, your childhood friends, your co-workers, your boss and maybe even your grandmother. This lack of boundaries has profoundly impacted how we choose to present ourselves on networks where our past, current and future employers see the same posts as the people we hang out with on the weekends.

Because your career and professional reputation are so linked to your networking activities, you want to establish yourself as someone who’s knowledgeable about their industry. But you also don’t want to seem like a robot who only posts about work. Especially for younger professionals, the ideal personal brand on social media offers a well-rounded view of an individual’s life, both in and out of the office.

If you’re looking to develop a single social presence that’s appropriate for all audiences, here are a few guidelines you can follow.

1. Know your network. 

Every social media channel is different and has its own best practices. You probably have accounts on multiple platforms, so it’s important to understand what makes each one unique and tweak your content, format and hashtags accordingly. A platform like LinkedIn, where people share articles and have group discussions, is primarily text-based. Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat, on the other hand, are all about images, and any captions or hashtags take a backseat to the photo itself. Words, pictures or a combination of both are all equally at home on Facebook and Twitter, but the main difference lies in each one’s brevity: A long paragraph is better suited to a Facebook post than a multi-tweet thread.

2. Look beyond self-promotion. 

A social media account that’s all about you can come across as narcissistic, and frankly, a little boring. Rather than only posting your own work, give others a chance to shine by sharing articles, infographics and photos from around the web. Be sure to give credit where it’s due and take time to tag the original sources, as well as one or two people you know who might be interested in it. This is not only courteous, but also serves as a way to spark a conversation. While we’re on the subject…

3. Engage with your connections. 

It’s called social media for a reason. People share content because they want others to engage with it, whether that’s in the form of likes, shares/retweets or direct responses. If you see something that resonates with you, let the sharer know. Following certain hashtags and participating in Twitter chats can be a great way to make new connections and find interesting content. If you find it difficult to keep up with the various groups of people you follow, try using filters and lists. You can also use a social media management tool like TweetDeck (my personal favorite) or Hootsuite to help you stay organized.

4. Think before you post. 

Be careful about how you address sensitive subjects with a mixed audience. For instance, in the current political climate, Facebook and Twitter have become soapboxes for many users’ opinions on politicians, legislation, etc. It’s great to stand up for what you believe in and show your support for social causes, but remember that not everyone who follows you shares your viewpoints. If you post a statement that’s highly polarizing and controversial, you may spark a debate that spirals out of control and ultimately diminishes your credibility.

Everyone has a right to share their thoughts, but before you send yours out, think about what your statement will add to (or subtract from) your public persona. Remember, just because you can post whatever you’re thinking, doesn’t mean you should.

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Image credit: creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos (CC0)

How to Beat Writer’s Block When Writing is Your Job

If you’ve ever had to put your thoughts into written words, you’ve probably suffered from writer’s block at some point. Even the best writers face an occasional lull in inspiration, but this can be especially tricky when you write for a living.

Although I’m no longer working as a full-time journalist, I still do a lot of writing every week for my freelance clients, and sometimes I feel like I’ve hit a wall. It’s like not being able to fall asleep when you know you have to wake up early the next day: You watch the time tick by, knowing that each minute you’re not sleeping (or, in this case, writing) is a minute wasted, and there’s going to be hell to pay in the morning.

As I’ve grown as a writer and as a professional, I’ve found a few helpful tricks to overcome the dread of a blank white screen. Here are four things you can do to power through your writer’s block:

1. Create an outline. 

If you have a mess of notes and research links that you can’t figure out how to turn into an article or post, create a rough outline with bullet points and sentence fragments. If you can at least organize the notes you have, you may be able to start envisioning it as a fully-formed piece.

One of my clients has me create an outline like this for every article I pitch, and I found it so helpful that I now do it for all my writing assignments. Having the “bones” of the article in place saves me a lot of time and energy when I revisit it later to begin writing.

2. Write out of order. 

A lot of writers tend to get stuck on their opening line or paragraph. Instead of wasting time thinking about how to start your piece, begin with something from the middle. Use a placeholder (like ‘X’ or ‘…’) for your intro and move onto the next paragraph. Sometimes having the core of your article in place can get the ball rolling and help you figure out what to say in the beginning. I’ll usually highlight my placeholder in the document so I don’t forget to come back to it before submitting the piece.

3. Work on other productive tasks. 

If you’re still struggling, put your writing aside and do something else on your to-do list. Tackle another short but productive task that you’ve been meaning to get to. Checking other things off your to-do list will take some of the pressure off when you revisit your writing. Be sure to set a time limit for these other tasks, too, if deadlines are a concern.

4. Write anything

If all else fails and you just need to get your piece written, get something – anything –down on the page. It doesn’t matter if it’s bad, or grammatically incorrect, or full of typos. Spit out a sentence and work backwards. I sometimes find that it’s easier to edit and rework a bad paragraph than craft a really good one on the first try.

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Image credit: publicdomainphotographs | Dreamstime Stock Photos (CC0)

How to Be a Great Twitter Chat Participant

If you’re an active Twitter user, you’ve likely come across — or maybe even participated in — a Twitter chat. These public, hashtagged conversations are usually hosted by a brand or industry expert, and invite followers and strangers alike to participate in a Q&A session around a specific topic. There’s chats about just about everything, from pop culture to media to finance (TweetReports.com maintains a thorough list of active weekly Twitter chats here, if you’re looking for one to join).

There are plenty of reasons to host and/or participate in a Twitter chat. For brands, it establishes them as an authority in their field. By asking fellow experts with large followings to co-host or join in, a company can encourage those individuals to reply or retweet relevant responses with its branded hashtag and expose it to a much wider audience. For individual participants with knowledge of or interest in the topic, a chat can connect them with other like-minded Twitter users.

I’ve participated in a handful of Twitter chats during my career, and it can be tricky to navigate what can sometimes be a confusing and chaotic stream of conversation. If you or your company are thinking about joining a chat, here are a few tips for making yourself stand out as an engaged, helpful participant.

1. Introduce yourself when you join. 

The main host will usually ask the co-hosts and participants to introduce themselves at the beginning of the chat. This helps users to follow along and understand where a person is coming from when they ask or respond to a question. Take this opportunity to share your interest in the conversation, and give a little shout-out to your brand.

2. Always add the hashtag and answer number. 

The whole point of a Twitter chat is to keep the conversation organized with the chat’s hashtag. If you forget to include it, your tweet will likely get lost and not make it to the appropriate audience. I love using TweetChat.com, which essentially turns a specific hashtag into a standalone chatroom. While you can follow an individual hashtag on Twitter’s website or third party programs like TweetDeck and HootSuite, TweetChat automatically includes the hashtag on the end of every tweet you send from the platform, and accounts for that when it displays your remaining characters.

Most Twitter chats are formatted Q1, Q2, Q3, etc. as the host asks the questions. To ensure your responses are properly tracked and seen, you should mark your tweets with the corresponding answer number when a question is asked (i.e., start your tweet with A1 when responding to Q1).

3. Add something unique to the conversation.

If you see a great question that you have a great answer for, it can be tempting to just spit it out immediately. But depending on the number of participants and the speed of their responses, you might just be adding to the noise with your answer.

Before you tweet, see what else has been said in response to that question. If someone else touched on something you wanted to say, reference that person and add your own contribution, for instance, “I agree with @SoAndSo, and also think that (…).” Make use of retweets and quote tweets if someone else’s response reflects your thoughts well enough.

4. Use self-promotional links sparingly.

It’s fine to include a link to your own website or article that perfectly answers one of the questions. It can shed more light on a subject than you can do in 280 characters, and as an added bonus, it will drive some traffic to your site. But if every tweet you contribute is another content link, people will start tuning you out for spamming the chat. Try to limit your use of links and instead try to formulate genuinely useful responses.

5. Thank the host(s) at the end.

At the end of the scheduled chat time, the host will usually send out a wrap-up tweet to close out the conversation. This is a signal for all participants to send in their final thoughts. When the host says it’s time to go, share a “thank you” tweet, tagging any relevant users you engaged with during the conversation. With any luck, you’ll have gained some knowledge and maybe a few new followers.

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Image credit: publicdomainphotograph | Dreamstime Stock Photos (CC0)