Tags: work

Getting the Content Job Done with KISSmetrics’ Sean Work

Getting the Content Job Done with KISSmetrics’ Sean Work

Beyond • February 11, 2015

KISSmetrics has long had one of the best and most popular blogs we enjoy here at Benchmark Email. That is due in no small part to Sean Work. So, we had to have him on to pick his brain on a great content strategy. We also talked about how great of a tool KISSmetrics is and the importance of its analytics. We learned a lot and I’m sure you will too. Content, like that shared on the KISSmetrics blog, is more quality over quantity. It’s an important lesson to learn. Listen and enjoy and maybe pick up a new trick or two for your business’ blog. Sean’s inspirational book for this week: Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull


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Emails That Do Work: Spring Edition Part 1

Emails That Do Work: Spring Edition Part 1

Beyond • April 28, 2014

Spring has sprung for many, except for the few areas over east with pockets of snow (boo). The flowers bloom, the birds and the bees mingle, and businesses everywhere send out spring-themed emails to their faithful readers. Now that I’m done setting up this imaginary tea party, let’s sit down and chat about Emails That Do Work. Main Street Wine Bar The Main Street Wine Bar is based in Stahlstown, Pennsylvania. Right in the heart of the Laurel Highlands, this cozy bar features wines from around the world. The small and intimate restaurant specializes mainly in its hefty selection of wines, either by the glass or bottle. Menu items feature delicious small plates, hand tossed pizza, and main dishes that can easily be paired with any wine offered. Why it works: Proper Dress Code: This email is well themed. From its imagery down to the colors used for the bottom fold, a mere glance is more than enough to convey what type of business the email is from. The rich reds and the scenic graphic paired with small glimpses of half-filled wine glasses is creates a very relaxing aesthetic. Nothing turns off readers more than misleading or confusing content. It’s safe to recommend that your emails should establish at least a somewhat relevant environment for your subscribers to recognize and open. Inviting Format: Good emails don’t necessarily need to be anything more than simple. Main Street Wine Bar stays on point with nothing more than informative content. This is an invitation with details - anything else, the reader can definitely do without. When structuring an email layout, think of what the purpose of your email will be. In this case, the Main Street Wine Bar is inviting all recipients to a wine tasting event. The next step would be to consider the information necessary for these recipients to attend. Remember to keep the objective in mind before executing anything else. Escade Media Entertainment Group Since 2009, The Escade Media Entertainment Group (Escade) has been working to offer professional services to all clients. This innovative DJ booking agency has more than 10 years of experience within the music industry, acting as an international agents for a roster of aspiring artists and DJs worldwide Why it works: Balance: There is a lot of attention to balancing the vibrant, dynamic imagery with structure. Without compromising movement and visual appeal, Escade has managed to contain the excitement of the imagery with organization in layout. Regardless of what industry you’re working in, putting some thought into simple tactics like this will demonstrate the quality of your business. In this case, Escade has skillfully balanced structure with creativity by presenting bold and intensive imagery in their emails while making it an easy read. Functional Folds: The folds of your email each serve a different purpose and therefore, hold different value. What do I mean by “folds”? The term “above the fold” refers to the upper half of the front page of the newspaper. Applying this to what we know today (ahem, the Internet), this term has now evolved into what we know now as content being “above the scroll”. Escade keeps this good practice in mind with their current email. Splaying out the main headline with louder imagery in the top fold was no accident. If emails have real estate value, anything “above the fold” or “above the scroll” is considered to be the highest priority. Important content is prominently displayed to ensure that the main message is visible to all users on a default as soon as the page loads. Small Business Expo Small Business Expo is the largest networking event, trade show and conference for small business owners. Hosted in seven of the Nation’s largest small business cities, Small Business Expo offers more than 5,000 registrants, 25 workshops, and 150 exhibitors in each market. Speaking of which, Benchmark is an active sponsor. Come visit us at a city near you if you can! Why it works: Brand Mentions: See the list of logos in the bottom of the email? Cross promotion is a great way for your business to form and develop relationships with other businesses. Competition is always key, but never forget potential allies that can do a great deal of work in brand awareness. Many SMBs are now working to form partner/affiliate programs and integrations with other businesses. Not all businesses can afford some of the larger sources of branding and promotion. Those who can usually hire ad agencies to execute media buys, outdoor and guerilla advertising, viral web campaigns, the whole nine yards. They lie in wait, hidden in the metaphorical business grass waiting to pounce during their multi-million dollar Superbowl ad time slot. For the rest of us, building a great foundation through lasting business relationships will simply have to do (because it works). Links: Emails that promote upcoming events, like this one, need to also offer the user ways to contact, share or sign up for the organization’s event. Small Business Expo provides social media sharing links to make it easy for their subscribers to share or sign up. Removing these options may not seem like a big deal, but the extra click or spare minutes your readers take to look for the information themselves can cost you more than you will know. A sign up, perhaps?


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Emails That Do Work: April Part 2

Emails That Do Work: April Part 2

Beyond • April 11, 2014

Hello, and welcome to another month of Emails That Do Work! At this point, I feel like I should have a gameshow slogan following the intro of this series. “Welcome to Emails That Do Work! Where emails...that do work...actually...” I’ll need some time to sit on this before improvising a cut-throat slogan. For those of you who are new to this series, I go into our Benchmark Community every month to pull emails from actual Benchmark users. I write highlights on useful practices and how this can be applied to your own email campaigns. Sam Mickail’s CUT Steak House At a quick glance, I found myself salivating over the imagery before I even bothered to look into the text. What is Sam Mickail’s CUT Steak House? Besides the obvious answer (steak house), it is a place where Sam Mickail can infuse a little international twist with the traditional method of preparing and cooking steak. Born in Cairo, raised in France, and trained in Switzerland, Mickail makes good use of his global experiences when it comes to his colorful cuisine.     Why it works: Delicious Presentation: When you’re in the food business, email like it! Food, unlike most products and services, require a different kind of TLC when it is being photographed. Lighting and freshness are key. And do your research - what color schemes are appetizing, and what kind of shots are you willing to present to your audience? In this particular email, Mickail presents himself in the top fold. This personalizes the restaurant, and creates ownership for the chef. After all, it IS Sam Mickail’s CUT Steak House, and not just CUT Steak House alone. Stomachs grumble as we move down to the bottom half of the email, where more-than-static images of their menu items burst out in a colorful frenzy. Remember, the menu is the main selling point! Give it the credit it deserves by creating movement with dynamic shots and colorful garnishments. Your readers will crave for more. Using REAL Imagery: Stock images are out. And if you still think they’re in, then you’re not investing enough in creating your own content. Remember that content is just as important in your marketing efforts to reach out to prospective customers as it is to get in touch with them. Increase your email readership and opens by changing up your content, both in copy and imagery. What I especially liked about this email is the FOOD, but wait...is this just a generic ad to promote the biz? Absolutely not. It’s a weekly special, and that implies a weekly update. These food pics are not a quick buy from a stock photo website. They are the main course--no, the meat of this email (pardon my bad puns). And because of this, the copy on this email is purely description, leaving the featured specials to do the promoting. SoundTree Media SoundTree Media is a music and entertainment company that mainly focuses on independent music marketing. They aspire to invest efforts on promoting independent artists and music to develop partnerships. Their goals lie in strengthening the “alternative entertainment and cultural ecosystem in the country,” through the means of artist management, composing editorials, festivals/events planning and organization, music marketing, and programming.     Why it works:   Layout is Unique, yet Organized: SoundTree’s email is a great example of applying creativity without sacrificing structure. Far different than the usual stacked layout (which is still clean and professional), the use of diagonal lines to segment the content creates a lot of dynamic flow and movement. Readers will find their eyes traveling in diagonal staggered “S” direction all the way down the page. This layout is something you don’t see every day, but that doesn’t make it any less effective. Color Schemes That Flow: It’s always easier said than done when it comes to choosing a good color scheme. SoundTree’s use of color works in several different ways. For one, the existing colors are complimentary. Instead of forcing different colors together to compete for the spotlight, the mellow colors all cancel each other out to make the content easier to read and focus on. Your email’s color scheme should be like backstage help - it allows your emails to function by guiding the reader’s eyes without having too much attention on itself. Royal LePage Realty in Parksville Royal LePage Realty in Parksville (Royal LePage) is a realty firm with its real estate sales territory in the British Colombia. Their team of realtors live and work in the Oceanside area and focus mainly on residential home sales and leasing.   Why it works: Simple and Professional: Blue is the main go-to color when it comes to marketing and branding your business professionally, mainly because blues are pegged for projecting trustworthy and reliable impressions. This doesn’t mean that every business should be branded and plastered in blue. If it’s not in your industry to do so, then don’t. Royal LePage keeps a very easy template going since their listings are the main featured content. These are simple to swap out on a regular basis, leaving the rest of the template to fill in the blank areas with secondary marketing offers. As seen in the lower fold of the email, Royal LePage wastes no time promoting subscriptions to get Vancouver Island market updates.   Detailed CTAs: Not only do they promote readership subscriptions, but they also offer a brief description on what the user will receive by clicking on their CTA (their call-to-action). If I hadn’t mentioned this before, a call-to-action is a banner, button, or a type of graphic with the sole purpose of prompting the user to click and continue down a funnel. As a business, you want your readers to take action on something. Whether it’s to opt in on marketing and promotional efforts or to purchase something right on the spot, you want your users to interact with your business in some way. This stirs up engagement and develops a relationship that leads you one step closer to your audience’s brand loyalty. In this case, Royal LePage explains in the lower left corner of their email what users will receive when they subscribe to market updates. This is a wise move. You don’t want to give your customers something completely irrelevant after they decide to click on your CTA button. Not only will they click out of it, but they might be left with a bad impression of your brand.


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Emails That Do Work: April Part 1

Emails That Do Work: April Part 1

Beyond • April 10, 2014

Here’s to another around of Emails That Do Work! Every month, I dive into the Benchmark Community to review and select a few emails that are putting good practices to great use. Keep these tips in mind when you’re preparing your next email campaign. Success starts when improvement shows! More Than Sound More Than Sound (MTS) creates and publishes high-quality tools to develop emotionally intelligent leadership and mindfulness. Their production expands from a line of podcasts, articles, blogs, publications, and video courses to offer tips and coaching on mastering the art of both subjects. Based on the nature of their business and their email campaigns (such as the one we’re reviewing today), we can safely say that MTS understands how to communicate effectively to their subscribers.     Why it works: Engaging Imagery: It’s very rare to see graphics that stray anywhere far from the usual stock photos. I was quite impressed by how MTS incorporated their promotional product into their imagery. Even at a glance, we can immediately segment the entire email into three portions - the purple intro and description, the yellow imagery, and an off-topic suggested read of “Understanding the Science of Moods at Work”. The friendly interaction between the people in the graphics and the product immediately communicates two messages: (1) that this book is for everyone, and (2) that someone at MTS took the time to create a visual to engage readers. Rather than to slap a few stock images that could maybe fit into the context of the email message, MTS took ownership in branding their imagery. Complementing Colors: Yes, complementing with an E, not an I...although these colors also do compliment each other as well. When selecting colors to use in creating your email template, take the time to make sure they look good next to each other. In this case, MTS opted for lighter colors that are easy on the eyes. As noted before, the colors also help segment the email into separate portions. Notice how the colors populate about 90% of the email without overwhelming the eyes. The opaqueness fills the page but doesn’t remove the spotlight from the content. You’re probably wondering what influenced the choice of colors within the email. Purple and yellow? Seems a strange pair to use, right? Take a look again. This email is a promotion for a newly released book. What colors are used on the book cover? Yes, there you have it. And that’s where we begin to make the connection of the subtle circular patterns behind the content. The colors and graphics are inspired by the featured product. Pretty neat, huh? SARAR The SARAR Group is a menswear business with over 60 years of experience in the industry. Based in Eskisehir in Turkey, the headquarters now comprise of three modern menswear factories located right next to each other. About 40% of the factory’s output is exported to the U.S., Germany, Holland, Italy, Iceland and the United Arab Emirates.     Why it works: To The Point: This email conveys SARAR’s message in the blink of an eye. That’s a good thing, because many people tend to ramble in emails. This practice works well to engage your readers, and it’s worth the extra time that it might take to cut content out. What may seem less of a read could also mean a boost in readership. Squeezing anything and everything you’d want to say to a reader onto an email is wasted effort. Your subscribers will get lost trying to decipher what the main point of your message is, and will most likely forget about it altogether. That is, if they even get to reading the entire thing. One good habit to make your own, as SARAR has successfully done, is to cut down content. When in doubt, leave it out! Call Out Actions: If we take the email and read the red text, what do we get? “ONE WEEK ONLY (02/17 MON - 02/23 SUN)”, “(Except shoes and accessories)”, and “FREE”. Without even glancing at the rest of the content, we already know that there is a limited time event that excludes a few line of products, and that they are offering a deal in which the buyer gets something free. The red is eye-catching and encourages readers to take action, even if they don’t necessarily know what they need to take action on. If they’re interested, they’ll take the time fill in the blanks by reading the white text. Red is a very powerful color, especially when placed next to whites and blacks. It signals most readers to stop, or pause. SARAR puts into practice what most effective emails do - grab your reader’s attention first, and say what you have to say immediately after. QNAP QNAP, Inc. is branded as the “Quality Network Appliance Provider” and aims to deliver comprehensive offerings of network attached storage and network video recorder solutions. The business integrates technologies and designs to effectively improve business efficiency on file sharing, virtualization applications, storage management and surveillance for other businesses.   Why it works: Content Structure and Layout: As someone who designs the landing pages for our acquisitions team here at Benchmark, I see QNAP’s email design ringing pretty close to home. Try to answer the 5 Ws when you’re developing your email campaign - Who, What, Where, When and Why. Of course, depending on your points, you may be able to eliminate a few Ws out of irrelevancy. In QNAP’s case, the When is left out because there isn’t a date or time of any significance to provide for the readers. The Who is answered by their logo in the top right. The What gets a bit more obvious (hint: it’s the large storage unit pictured in the dead center of the email). The Where is offered as link to redirect interested buyers to view locations that carry the featured product. The Why, though, should always be prevalent. Why do you want your readers to take action? Why do they want the What that you’re offering? This question can be disguised as product features, as QNAP has effectively done with bullet points below the storage unit (you know, that aforementioned storage unit with three small men interacting with it). Social Media Sharing (and Other Options): So you’ve sold your readers on why they should pursue your offer. What now? Put yourself in the customer’s chair. Is the product simple enough to decide on right then and there? Or does your product or service have more information to offer? If so, DON’T include it all on your email. An interested reader will pursue more details, so make it easier for them to find it. In the orange footer section at the bottom of QNAP’s email, there are options to view more information on the product, retailer locations, and an option to contact QNAP for anything else. Social media sharing buttons never hurt an email. If anything, they offer consumers to create a bridge of communication that will extend the lifespan of their relationship with the business. It also shows that QNAP has great web presence, making them more accessible and trustworthy than a business that fails to provide those channels.


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Brainswarming: A Work Hack for Better Brainstorming

Brainswarming: A Work Hack for Better Brainstorming

Beyond • April 9, 2014

We can safely sweep aside the meetings and failed attempts at brainstorming, where a call for ideas is often met with awkward silence. Aside from the fact that you can’t expect a flood of ideas from employees who are otherwise taught to stifle their creativity and individualism, you also can’t expect creativity to flow like an on/off tap. You can, however, create an environment that discourages groupthink. Groupthink, or the practice of thinking and making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility, is a crippling condition that plagues most brainstorming sessions – simply because team members are otherwise conditioned accept their circumstances. In such an environment, there is little to motivate employees to offer dissenting opinion or contrary ideas if they’re otherwise stripped of their workplace autonomy. Clearly, your first team pow-wow should be about injecting autonomy back into your team. After that, you can try hacks for better brainstorming sessions. Unfortunately, conventional thinking concentrates on physical changes. Yet there’s only so much communal spaces and open floor plans can achieve when it comes to better brainstorming methods. Enter “the 10th man.” World War Z, the epic Zombie movie with Brad Pitt, introduced a novel idea called the “10th man”. The 10th man was sort of a devil’s advocate. His role was to contest majority opinion. So for example, if 9 out of 10 leaders all agreed that the sky was blue, then the duty of the tenth man was the question a blue sky. It’s brilliant and I wish more industries would adopt the practice. So in honor of the “10th man”, I introduce a blog by Harvard Business Review titled “Why You Should Stop Brainstorming.” The article, written by idea-generator Tony McCaffrey, argues that “no study has proven that brainstorming works well, even thought it has been the go-to method for idea generation since 1953.” The process of sharing of ideas at a time, by talking, is (per McCaffrey) seen as rather inefficient. Other problems in traditional brainstorming sessions include a tendency for extroverts to dominate introverts – even when a skilled facilitator is available to mediate the session. As an alternative, McCaffrey and his colleagues introduce a process called Brainswarming. Using insects as an illustration for more effective communication, McCaffrey notes how ants for example use signals in their environment as problem solving cues for their colony. Conversely, people can also leave signals (their ideas) for others to use without coercing or intimidating the unspoken chain of communication. This model reduces internal power struggles. In Brainswarming, goals travel downward into sub-goals while resources are combined to grow upward; solutions emerge naturally at the intersection of the two. In a real life application, McCaffrey proposes a problem faced by a power company. The goal was to remove ice from power lines. The known resources (at the bottom, growing upwards) included ladders, workers, and poles. The bottom-up thinkers were asked to consider how these resources could be used and to think of new resources if applicable. Meanwhile, top-down thinkers were asked to start refining the goal, which led to sub-goals including: shake lines, prevent ice from forming, and/or warm lines. The group was then asked not to speak, but to instead quietly drum up solutions. The process of breaking goals downward while building resources upward led to a natural meeting of the minds. For example, the goal to remove ice broke down partially to shaking lines, which broke down again to using loud sounds to shake the lines – meanwhile bottom up resources grew to include sonic guns, an idea that connected with using loud sounds. The Brainswarming session yielded up to a 115 ideas in 15 minutes, versus 100 ideas over the course of one hour. McCaffrey believes that the switch from talking to writing on a structured graph a strong contributing factor to a rich problem-solving thought catalog.


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4 Sensible Tips For Finding a Work-From-Home Alternative

4 Sensible Tips For Finding a Work-From-Home Alternative

Beyond • April 2, 2014

So, you’ve been working from home for days on end and it seems like all you’ve been looking at is a computer, a desk and maybe the green grass (or asphalt) outside your window. Call it cabin fever, homeworker-itis, or whatever clever name you come up with, when you feel antsy, it’s time to go out and work somewhere else. Unless your beach or pool has Wi-Fi___33, you’re going to have to go for something more…conventional. Coffee houses, libraries or even restaurants are good bets, and here’s how to successfully churn out the work in these oft-crowded places: 1. Case the joint Before you set up your tech in another place, spend at least a few hours gauging the remote worker culture. Who do you see? People in business suits or college students? What’s the Wi-Fi like? Fast enough or almost unbearably slow? What’s the climate like? Freezing cold or too warm for your liking? If you can find a Goldilocks place where most of your needs are met, test out this new place the next time you work.   2. Organize tasks based on the environment If you work remotely, you probably have to a) answer emails, b) make Skype or phone calls, c) read, or d) watch videos (instructional, of course). In a loud place like Starbucks, or even the quiet space of a library, watching videos and voice calls will probably be out of the question. Instead, do your phone calls from home, and save the other stuff for your local haunt. Make sure to invest in quality earbuds or a noise-cancelling headset as well.   3. Bring money At most coffee shops and eateries, you’re not going to see a sign stating that buying drinks or food buys you time. Instead, if you park it without paying for something every few hours, you’re going to get dirty looks, passive aggressive hints, and other clues that the staff wants you out. Don’t go broke, but make sure you bring money to buy something every so often. Also, it never hurts to nicely ask an employee what they expect from you if you’re going to work for hours on end. If the price is too high, you’re just going to have to leave.   4. Find an outlet It’s a fact: eventually your laptop, tablet or phone is going to die without external power. So when you first walk in the door to your potential work-from-home alternative, make a beeline for the nearest outlet. In an ideal situation, you can find an open outlet next to a table, chair or even couch. However, if the only open outlet would force you to sit on a dirty floor, or all the outlets are covered, you’ll have to find another place to go. In my experience, putting all your eggs in one basket by having only one place you can work outside the house always ends up badly. Instead, have two or three places you can go, and if your first choice fails, you can still have a massively productive day away from your usual domain.


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Business Innovation: Why “Work-Play” is a Winning Strategy

Business Innovation: Why “Work-Play” is a Winning Strategy

Beyond • April 2, 2014

To quote Amelia Earheart, “Whether you are flying the Atlantic or selling sausages or building a skyscraper or driving a truck, your greatest power comes from the fact that you want tremendously to do that very thing, and do it well.” That idea touches on a theory by the late William J. Reilly, a career counselor who in 1949 penned How to Avoid Work – a work that underscores the value of doing what you love. The book came at a ripe time where in a decade teetering at the precipice of Mad Men, too many people were “caught in the hamster wheel of unfulfilling work.” A futurist far ahead of his time, Reilly broke down perceptions barricading work from play. He asserted how “most have the ridiculous notion that anything they do which produces an income is work – and that anything they do outside ‘working’ hours is play. There is no logic to that.” Sixty five years later, the conversation is more relevant today than ever before during the last century. We’re immersed in a society that thrives on creativity. We foster it and reward successfully harnessed creative intuition. Emerging technologies, including start-up culture and even shifting sociopolitical trends exploring how we live and why we do what we do, reinforce these trends. I recently wrote another blog post here called “The Creativity-Productivity Paradox” that showed how this type of thinking is actually getting rewarded in business, noting that start-up and new media businesses able to successfully build playful work environments have been duly privy to record-breaking success. The success isn’t just reserved for traditional companies either. Let’s take a look at two examples. The first is TED Talks, and the other is Oxford University. The underlying difference between these two idea tanks is that TED talk ideas circulate more virally and are more often referenced than just about any Oxford lecture you can recall. Sure, Oxford has the prestige but TED does the one thing Oxford never could: it plays. The Economist recently looked at how Ted revolutionized the ideas industry, adding that “TED has done more to advance the art of lecturing in a decade than Oxford University has done in a thousand years.” Oxford, on the other hand, takes itself very seriously. Let’s shift back to brick and mortar companies to take a look at how play is integrated in a physical environment. Take Innocean for example – a global advertising agency that emphasizes branded content, the company’s own stomping grounds mirror a perfection pairing of work and play. Understanding that forward thinking work environments welcome the feeling of community within a place of business, Innocean has clearly invested considerable thought in kindling a lifestyle in the office. You won’t find rows of cubicles but you will find work spaces that offer natural opportunities to collaborate. As conveyed by on their website, there’s a presence that “conveys a spirit of optimism, creativity and freedom.” For a business that thrives on creativity, Innocean scores big points in walking the talk. The results speak for themselves. Not only do they have an impressive client roster, they’re key speakers at every event and conference that matters – including the recent SXSW. Like anyone how loves their job, you can bet their team members feel like they get to play everyday. Innocean is part of a rising group of firms that recognize the role of “play” in “work”. Essentially, that’s what it comes down to. Our misgivings about play arise from century-old prevailing work-place attitudes that equivocated play with goofing off. Goofing off is goofing off; but play is experimental and innovative with paired with a strong work ethic that understand creative discipline. A struggle with integrating play comes from a need to control work environments. There’s a strong undercurrent of fear that doesn’t want to risk losing control when play is introduced. Yet, some of histories greatest discoveries came from play, including penicillin, which was discovered by accident during a scientist’s “off hours creating petri dish sculptures out of bacteria.” The takeaway rule here is that even if you can’t structure a physical environment that promotes play, you can offer employees a set number of on-the-clock hours for experimentation – which is essentially what play boils down to.


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Playlist: St. Patrick’s Day

Playlist: St. Patrick’s Day

Beyond • March 17, 2014

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! They say everyone is Irish on St. Patty’s Day, but in truth nearly every artist on this playlist actually is. There’s a few other Irish themed tracks thrown in for good measure (and the spirit of everyone being Irish today). Culturally, commercially, sometimes it’s just fun to all agree on a hearty celebration. Hope you wore green today and can avoid some pinches. Whether it’s work or play, here’s some songs to help you enjoy your St. Patrick’s Day. “Where the Streets Have No Name” - U2 “Nothing Compares 2 U” - Sinead O’Connor “Zombie” - The Cranberries “Drunken Lullabies” - Flogging Molly “Irish Celebration (P Smoov Remix)” - Macklemore & Ryan Lewis “I’m Shipping Up To Boston” - Dropkick Murhpys “Irish Blood, English Heart” - Morrissey “Hall of Fame” - The Script f. will.i.am “Follow Me Up to Carlow” - Young Dubliners “Another Irish Drinking Song” - Minions


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Remote Control: 3 Ways To Make Visits To The Office Super Successful

Remote Control: 3 Ways To Make Visits To The Office Super Successful

Beyond • March 5, 2014

Without question, working from home is an incredible experience. You can craft amazing ideas on a flexible schedule, and deliver truly groundbreaking work from the comfort of your couch, whether you’re answering customer service emails or intensely writing code. Like handwriting skills or phone number memorization, working from home can kill something you really need: Social skills. If you’re going into an office once a week, once a month or even once every quarter, here’s how to make your visits fun, productive and social. 1. Have some barn time With a sister who is an avid equestrian, I’ve learned that before and after each riding lesson, horse owners love to socialize. The casual name for this is “barn time”, and horse enthusiasts spend this period waxing poetic about their latest trail ride or discussing Rustin Cohle’s philosophy-talk on True Detective. At work, set aside barn time to talk to your co-workers. Take a break, talk comics and laugh over a funny video. This will not only recharge your social batteries, but improve your work relationships. 2. Bring your ideas One thing I truly miss about working from home is collaboration. You can spend all the Skype time in the world planning out a project, but there’s something invigorating about sitting across from someone as you strategize as a team. Before you come into the office, bring a list of suggestions and ideas for whatever you’re working on and set a time to discuss your plans. Make the list collaboration-friendly, meet with your counterparts, and plan out how you can collectively make things better. 3. Meet someone for lunch Whenever I work at the office, I’m tempted to power through lunch while sitting at my desk. Is this more productive? Yes. Is it helpful? No. Skip the Top Ramen and can of Diet Coke and go out to eat with your co-workers. You don’t have to take a two-hour mega-lunch complete with appetizers, entrée and dessert, but spend enough time to have a good, inexpensive, light-hearted meal with the people on the other side of your emails. I freely admit that when I’m in the office, I sometimes get far less work done than when I’m working from home. However, enjoying the company of co-workers not only keeps me happy and grounded, it improves how well I work with my team down the line.


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Remote Control: 4 Ways To Kill Computer-Related Eye Problems

Remote Control: 4 Ways To Kill Computer-Related Eye Problems

Beyond • February 5, 2014

Picture this: I had just spent 10 hours staring at a computer screen. It was time to wind down, so I left my home office, I picked up my Xbox controller and started a game of Halo multiplayer. My eyes were trashed and enemies zipped across the screen like fuzzy, colored blobs, but I was confident I could divide friend from foe. So when I saw an enemy vehicle race toward me, I did what I always do: Obnoxiously launch rockets, put down my controller, and lean back, smugly, listening to the sweet, sweet sound of crunching metal and the BOOM of massive, fire-y explosions. Instead of kudos from teammates for wiping out several members of the opposing team, a pre-teen’s voice invaded my mic. At the approximate volume of a 747 taking off, my young teammate unloaded a massive string of foul curse words and personal threats against me, my family AND my dog. My aim was true, but my eyes had fooled me. There weren’t any enemies in the vehicle - there was only him, and boy was he was mad. Although that scenario is nothing like, say, actually using a rocket launcher on a real-life vehicle, or thinking that raccoon in your kitchen is your pet, staring at a computer screen day after day can do terrible things to your eyes. Here are some tips on protecting and preserving your eyesight in the digital age: Invest in computer or gaming glasses Why do our eyes hurt after staring at a computer all day? Two things: blue light and focusing on a fixed distance. If you have the cash, several companies offer prescription and non-prescription glasses with amber-hued lenses that cut back on glare and blue light, reducing eye-strain. As someone who uses Gunnar-brand glasses whenever I remember to do so, I can assure you they are a worthwhile investment. Use an app to adjust your screen’s brightness Is it natural to be bathed in blue, flickering light when it’s still dark outside? Absolutely not. F.lux, one of my favorite apps, adjusts the light (and color) on your screen based on the time of day. For instance, in the morning, F.lux makes the light from your screen look like sunlight. When the sun sets, F.lux changes the color and brightness to look like indoor light. While F.lux isn’t the answer to all your problems, it delivers a proper, natural adjustment to your environment – especially when you’re burning the midnight oil. Exercise your eyes every 20 minutes Whenever I hear the words “eye exercises” I think of cheesy 1950s calisthenics. But after doing eye exercises for months and seeing serious results, I’m finally comfortable ditching that association. Start by palming your eyes. Warm up your hands, close your eyes, and cover them lightly with your hands. Do this for a few minutes, take a break, and do it again. Another tip? Look at items in the distance. If you can’t get outside or near a window, look at the objects furthest from you. Spend several minutes focusing on distant spots, and your eyes will feel rested again. Place your monitor at least an arm’s length away One of the biggest mistakes telecommuters (or office workers) make is working too close to a computer screen. Mobile phone users do equally bad things, straining their eyes to watch movies, send text messages, or just read posts in their Facebook stream. So, what is the optimal distance for a computer screen? An arm’s length or more. If this is a problem, bump up the font on your docs and web pages. The same goes for mobile phones. If you can, hold your phone at least 12 inches away from your face, and even further if possible. Recent studies show an alarming increase in Computer Vision Syndrome, the official name for problems caused by screen-watching overload. If you spend way too much time looking at screens all day – whether you toil away at home or under the fluorescent lights of an office – use these tips to keep your eyes fresh throughout the day and into the night.


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