Misc. Helpful Advice

Library Lady Jane: the Grammar Guru Grants an Interview!

Library Lady JaneIf you write anything at all and you haven’t heard of or followed Library Lady Jane (aka, Jane the Librarian), start getting to know and follow her now. She’s a guru of grammar and a darn nice lady too! We’ve admired her work for quite some time, so we decided to connect with her and see if she’d grant us an interview. To our great delight, she did!

Edit911: Where did you get your love of grammar?

Jane: I got my love of language from my Mom, and from constant reading, another love that was bequeathed by her and pretty much every member of my extended family.  Mom demanded perfect grammar and regular precision of vocabulary, and I loved being able to get it right.  When she saw that, she had me read books on language really early; I remember reading The Mother Tongue: English and how it got that way, by Bill Bryson, some time around fifth grade.

 

Edit911: Why do you think so many people have so much trouble with grammar?

Jane: People have difficulty with grammar because they hear it spoken and see it written imperfectly far too often, and they don’t have good models to imitate.  Grammar is taught in very dry ways, and grammar in school would never have interested me in the slightest if it hadn’t been a key to decoding formulas I already knew from reading great books from a young age.

 

Edit911: What advice would you give people who want to improve their grammar?

Jane: If you want to improve your grammar, read your own writing aloud.  Yes, it can be painful, but you will surprise yourself with what you catch if you add the sound of your own voice to the process of revision.  Also, read more.  Read good, well-written, entertaining books when you have the chance.

 

Edit911: Do you have a favorite grammar book and grammar website?

Jane: My favorite grammar book is The Elements of Style, affectionately referred to as “the Strunk and White.”  It’s the only physical book I find myself reaching for for reference purposes on a semi-regular basis.  I don’t have a particular favorite website, but I find myself agreeing with Grammar Girl a great deal of the time. I very rarely use only one resource for grammar or language questions, though, because when such questions arise they are often points that language experts have some disagreement on, or they’re points of definition of use and grammar terminology, so it is necessary to compare several resources.  Google is my best friend for that kind of inquiry; it definitely helps to have mastered some advanced searching techniques.

 

Edit911: What else would you like our clients and visitors to know about you and your work?

Jane: I’m just a librarian with a passion for language!  I got started working with Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal) because I sent him a fan email about four years ago and offered to help him with proofreading, and that led to the creation of the semicolon comic (“How to Use a Semicolon“).  We’ve never met in real life.  He sends me comics, and I proofread them to the best of my ability and aim for a fast turnaround, because he often wants to publish as quickly as possible.  Sometimes we collaborate a bit more closely on the text, especially when he is focusing on points of grammar, but we’re not perfect. I’ve overlooked some mistakes that make me cringe now, and wow, the internet is an unforgiving audience for that kind of thing.

How To Use A Semicolon The Oatmeal

Jane has some additional advice: if you want to improve your own writing, or if you have a document that needs another set of eyes, I would encourage you to seek out resources that you might have at your disposal that you may not have considered.  Are you in college or graduate school?  Utilize the writing center on campus. I worked at Auburn University’s writing center for almost three years while I was in school there.  Out of school?  Try the public library. As a public reference librarian, I helped people with papers, resumes, even contracts occasionally, for free.

And, if you have a longer document that absolutely has to be right, it is worth it to pay for professional editing and proofreading services.  I have seen important documents that were poorly edited because someone didn’t want to pay an experienced professional for their time and expertise, and that only reflects poorly on you, the initial author.  Don’t skimp for this kind of service!

Thanks for your wise words and friendly exchange, Jane! You can follow Jane on Twitter @libraryladyjane

Managing Your Time When Working from Home

Home based careers have a lot to offer those who want more freedom in their daily lives. This independence presents its own problems, but the challenges can be met by following a few simple guidelines for effective time management while working from home.

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As I write this article, it’s one o’clock Saturday morning. The deadline for submission is hours away and now I’m wishing that I had a regular nine to five job in the city. I’d be in bed right now. I shouldn’t have to spend my weekends this way, but this is all my fault. I chose to work from home under my own schedule.

I take heart by the hope that if the weather is good on Monday morning, while everyone else is commuting, I can jump on the bike and ride to the beach. Later, I can enjoy a leisurely coffee at the bistro mulling over the direction of my next article. When and how I work is entirely up to me.

Today’s technology makes home-based work an attractive possibility for many. It is efficient, flexible, and fulfilling. But it also has its pitfalls, such as loneliness, tunnel vision, lack of accountability and domestic distractions. Perhaps the biggest challenge to working from home is time management, whether you tend to be lazy or are inclined to overwork. Here are some suggestions to make the most of your time in a home office.

Set Family Boundaries

Being close at hand to family members while at work means that you are making yourself available to them at a moment’s notice should they want your attention. It also makes them accessible to you for even the slightest reason (or excuse!). Presumably this is one reason why you chose to work at home, but it can become your worst time thief unless everyone has a clear understanding of what issues merit intentional interruption.

To guard against unintentional interruptions or distractions, the “open space concept” is not a good idea. Unless you live alone, you must have a separate work space that can be dedicated exclusively to the job while you are “on duty.” Make it clear that you are not being rude if the door is closed; you simply have left for work.

Log Your Time

For the workaholic, a home based career can be the fastest route to burnout. Extending your work hours is as easy as walking a few steps down the hall. Checking email before your morning shower, reading a report over lunch, making a phone call during a commercial break on TV, or scheduling tomorrow’s tasks before bed – all of these add up to overtime without the extra pay.

As an experiment, try keeping a work diary of every hour you spend working for a week. Make sure to log even the 15 minutes you stole right after supper. Chances are when you review your record you will have far exceeded a 40 hour work week. What is more, you will likely discover that you worked more than five days in seven.

Does the time spent in various activities reflect their importance? Are you spending more time on favorite parts of the job than on the onerous ones? What tasks regularly fall through the cracks or typically get deferred until the last possible moment? Are you being realistic as you forecast completion dates?

Design A Schedule 

Once you have an idea of how you are spending your time, draft a schedule that is realistic and reflects the priorities of your profession. Because your workplace is also your home, your schedule needs to be fully integrated to strike a healthy balance for your mind, body and spirit. Everybody needs time out for rest and recreation. Be intentional about protecting your down time as much as your “billable hours.”

Be Flexible

For many people, the main reason to work from the home is the flexibility it allows. So, to suggest clear boundaries and a comprehensive schedule may seem contradictory. However, the more you plan, the better you can adapt when unexpected circumstances arise. Because you are working from home, you potentially have twenty-four hours in every day to allocate instead of eight. This makes last minute changes much easier to accommodate.

Increasing Your Attention Span

By Dr. Kevin

Attention spans are shrinking in today’s information rich technology of sensory overload. In response, the market has introduced pills, drinks, and powders that claim to increase your powers of concentration. But there are also lifestyle and work habit changes you can make to increase your attention span naturally. 

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Actor Robert Redford once said of a colleague, “He has the attention span of a lightning bolt.” I winced at that observation, thinking he could have easily been describing me. I’m lucky if I can write a single sentence before fighting the urge to starting another game of solitaire.

Behavioural scientists have known for decades that the upper range of the average adult attention span is 20 minutes when listening to a speaker. But, in recent years we have been conditioned to have an even shorter focus. Television programming works with eight-minute spans. Multi-media options and lightening fast access to information on the computer force internet searches to narrow their window of opportunity to about 30 seconds. How can we condition our minds to follow through on a train of thought to reach its conclusion?

Some people turn to stimulants or dietary supplements to boost the power of concentration. But there are simple changes in lifestyle and work habits we can make that can increase our attention span naturally. In addition to sleeping well, eating healthy, and getting enough exercise, here are some specific strategies for improving attention span.

Feed Your Focus

Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), which can occur when otherwise healthy individuals neglect to eat, can slow the speed at which people process information and shorten their attention span. After the overnight fast and lack of glucose in the body, it is important to eat a breakfast rich in both carbohydrates and proteins. The sugars can quickly make your mind sharp, and the complex carbohydrates and proteins will sustain energy to think for extended periods.

The health effects of synthetic food additives on certain people were documented 30 years ago by the late Dr. Benjamin Feingold in his book Why Your Child is Hyperactive. Since then, researchers have consistently corroborated that food additives exacerbate the symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Many with the disorder who switch to a diet free from artificial colorings, sweeteners, and preservatives can experience major improvements in attention.

In addition, ensure that your diet includes enough vitamins and minerals. Deficiency of magnesium, for example, can lead to fidgeting, anxious restlessness, and learning difficulties. As well, the B-complex vitamins (including folic acid and choline), omega 3 fatty acids, and zinc are all linked to the maintenance of a healthy attention span.

 

Practice Meditation

Studies have shown that meditation is even more effective than sleep in improving attention span. For example, in a 2005 study, Bruce O’Hara, associate professor of biology at the University of Kentucky had college students either meditate, sleep or watch TV. The form of meditation was deceptively simple: it involved focusing on an image or sound or on one’s breathing.

O’Hara then tested all the students for what psychologists call psychomotor vigilance, asking them to hit a button when a light flashed on a screen. Those who had been taught to meditate performed 10% better—”a huge jump, statistically speaking,” says O’Hara. Those who snoozed did significantly worse. “What it means,” O’Hara theorizes, “is that meditation may restore synapses, much like sleep but without the initial grogginess.”

 

Control Your TV Watching

Between the constant commercial interruptions and the ever-present remote control that allows constant channel surfing, television breeds an appetite for distraction. When you want to watch, consider pre-recording episodes or renting movies so that you can enjoy the program without breaks.

 

Read Books

Reading definitely increases your attention span. Have you ever noticed that if you find an interesting novel to read, you may turn the pages for five or six hours regardless of the activity around you? These marathon reading sessions increase the stamina of your attention span for other tasks that require extended focus.

 

Exercise Your Observation Skills

Exercising your memory and your observation skills is a great way to build your attention span. Try this “picture game”- study a picture for about a minute. Then, look away and recall as much of the picture as you can. Try to visualize and place objects in the image of your mind. As you practice this regularly, your attention span and power of recall in daily events will grow.

 

Limit Internet Use

You may have heard the quip, “The attention span of a computer is as long as its electrical cord.” Actually, you don’t have to unplug the machine to break a train of thought. All it takes is an impulsive click of the mouse. This is not good news for those of us who go on-line to inform and shape our thinking.

To avoid having the attention span of a computer, consider saving articles of significance and logging off the Internet to read them. You may even find it helpful to print important documents and leave your workstation to digest their content. This reduces the temptation to jump between websites competing for your interest.

These lifestyle and work habits can all help increase attention span. Of course, your powers of concentration will have ebbs and flows at the best of times. When this happens, don’t be afraid to take a complete break. It will refresh your mind in a way that simply switching to another task cannot.

Why Grammar Matters on Personal Blogs

Personal blogs — why grammar matters!

For those of us who have a personal blog, we know there is a much satisfaction in sharing our ideas. We spend time planning and writing our blog and we look forward to receiving likes and comments. Some of our blogs may be focused on a “cause” while others may just be a means of sharing life events with many people.

How much time do you spend editing your blog for proper grammar? Does it matter if you write things like “well” when you actually mean “good?” Will it impact your blog or readership if you interchange the words “there,” “they’re,” or “their?” It might surprise you how these grammatical errors might just impact your life.

Here are three ways that poor grammar might be impacting your world.

  1. Many jobseekers and career climbers are unaware that poor grammar is holding back their careers. Numerous online resources are reminding people that companies may not hire people who use poor grammar. Employers will take the time to look beyond your resume and cover letter. They now look at your online history and if your blog presents poor grammar or spelling issues this might be a deciding factor as to why you do not get the job. An employer might call into question your perfectly crafted resume and cover letter if they find other written documents with poor grammar – they will wonder which person they might hire. (Impact of poor grammar – Not Hired)
  2. Likewise, if you are competing for a promotion, your personal blog might be reviewed and quietly used as a reason to not promote you. Promotions often come with a need for increased verbal and written communication and these are skills that most employers do not have time to teach. If you present poor grammar outside of work, employers may worry that you will slip into bad habits while at work. (Impact of poor grammar – Not Promoted)
  3. Documents and blogs that you write in defense of a cause need to be properly edited and formatted. Poorly edited or formatted letters sent in support of your cause will receive less attention. Those who read these documents do not want to decipher what you are trying to say. (Impact of poor grammar – Your impassioned plea for your “Cause” is ignored)

So take a few minutes on that personal blog to make sure the grammar is correct. In the business world, it is very important to have a strong command of English grammar rules and be able to express your thoughts and ideas clearly using the written word. Maybe have one of your blog posts edited by someone who knows the difference between the proper use of “your” and “you’re.”

Grammar does matter, and people do notice.

Do you need a sabbatical?

By Dr. Kevin

Are you feeling burnt out? Do your day-to-day responsibilities at work stand in the way of a goal you have for your life? Perhaps a sabbatical is just the ticket for you. Once the privilege of tenured professors, the sabbatical is now spreading into the corporate world as a means of keeping employees happy, healthy, and productive.

Computer giant Cisco Systems in San Jose, California, experienced a surprising response when it created a pilot sabbatical program six years ago. Employees who accepted a two-thirds pay cut were offered a chance to volunteer for a year in the non-profit sector. Cisco expected 20 or 25 employees to sign up, but 300 made application. In its first year, 80 people were granted the sabbatical and Cisco has now added this program permanently to its benefits package. They are not alone. In 2006, nearly half of Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work for in America” offered paid sabbatical programs.

The concept of a sabbatical originated more than two thousand years ago as evidenced in the Bible. The Old Testament directs the Hebrew people to let their fields lie fallow every seventh (sabbatical) year in order to give the land and its people rest and maintain maximum productivity (Exodus 23:10-11 and Leviticus 25:3-4). Similarly, Deuteronomy 15:12-14 stipulates that Hebrew slaves were to be freed from service after six years. What is more, their owners were to send them on their way with a generous share of provisions to live on.

The modern practice of granting sabbaticals can be traced back to the 19th century. According to Kenneth Zahorski, in his book The Sabbatical Mentor, in 1888 Harvard University recruited noted philologist Charles Lanman from Johns Hopkins University by offering him every seventh year off with pay. The practice spread quickly in academia and the church. The purpose for the sabbatical was to afford professors and clergy the opportunity to travel, pursue research, reassess direction, renew one’s spirit, and accomplish goals that were not possible within the bounds of normal career routines.

Of course, the benefits of a sabbatical can apply to any vocation and the option has spread, particularly among companies that rely on their employees to generate ideas or expend emotional energy. In general,  publishing, high technology, advertising, consulting, social service and counselling agencies are more sabbatical-friendly than natural resource, manufacturing or finance firms.

Professional “sabbatical coach” Clive Prout describes four main reasons why people take sabbaticals (www.thesabbaticalcoach.com):

Exploring Self and Purpose  – Perhaps the most fundamental motivation for a sabbatical, time free from work allows deep contemplation to answer the question “What gives meaning and purpose to my life?”

Changing Track – Some people sense that their current career path has run its course and in order to avoid stagnation and death of the soul, they can use a sabbatical to redirect their vocation.

Rejuvenation – Other people know that they are on the right track in their life. However, because they are highly motivated, they are prone to overwork and burn out. For this group the sabbatical is an opportunity for renewal. They can return to their life’s work reenergized and ready for more.

Escape – Feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, many people seize the opportunity for a sabbatical simply to relieve stress. They have no plan to sustain themselves when they return to the grind that has worn them down, nor do they follow any strategy to make lasting changes in their professional or personal lives.

Besides the personal benefits, the sabbatical also benefits the company and the colleagues of the individual taking the time away. Having a sabbatical policy aids the employer in both recruitment and retention of qualified employees who are seeking more than simply a high salary. Upon return from a sabbatical, the employee often brings new direction, greater creativity, fresh energy and increased loyalty. While veterans of many years are away on sabbatical, junior colleagues who fill in get the chance to expand their skills, demonstrate their talents and earn greater confidence from others. In this sense, the sabbatical becomes a developmental opportunity for all.

Even if your employer does not have a sabbatical policy in place, it may be possible for you to arrange paid leave if you plan ahead. Some businesses and education boards offer self-funded sabbaticals. In these situations, employees have a portion of their income withheld over several years. They are then able to use these savings to fund extended time off. The employer continues to provide health, insurance and pension benefits during the sabbatical.

So, write that book. Sail around the world. Volunteer on a short-term mission. Learn a new language. Explore a different culture. Nurture your soul. Refresh your spirit. Regain your health.

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