Monday, July 26, 2010

Two Places at Once: How to Avoid Letting Telecommuting Split You in Half

One thing about telecommuting is that you open yourself up to dualities--especially if you're a telecommuting parent. On the most basic level, telecommuters find themselves in two places at once: usually they're both at home and in the office. Or they're at grocery store and in the office. Or they're on vacation and in the office.

For instance, I went to the local Barnes & Noble yesterday, because my six-year-old wanted to go (and because my wife and I love bookstores too). Plus, I thought I might have an opportunity to see my 2011 Poet's Market on the shelves (not yet, though you can order it online here). Anyway, I went there to relax, but I was in editing mode before we left the store. In fact, everyone had to wait on me to finish working before we could leave. That's telecommuting.

Of course, there are positives and negatives to this situation (for both the employers and the employees). For both parties to have the optimal situation, it's up to the telecommuters to do a few things for their own sanity and well being. Here's a short list I've compiled (still a work in progress):
  1. Get out of the house. Your house is most likely your office too. So, you need to get out of that place from time to time. Seriously. Plus, you need to get some Vitamin D (from the sun) for your health. After my first year of telecommuting, I had dangerously low levels of Vitamin D, because I'd essentially turned my home into a cave.
  2. Get out of the office. For most telecommuters, this is even harder than getting out of the house, especially if you have a smart phone or some other electronic doodad that lets you check your e-mail, social network, and shave all at the same time and from anywhere in the world. While your work may be part of your life, avoid letting it become your life.
  3. Exercise. I'm not saying that telecommuters should all be Olympic athletes, but we should be able to take advantage of some of that time in which we're not commuting to go for a 20-minute walk or dance to some music videos on YouTube or something.
  4. Communicate with HQ. Make sure you don't get stranded on a telecommuting island. Communicate with your co-workers. When you have questions, ask them immediately. Don't let them build into 20-question e-mail messages. Communication accomplishes two things: first, it reminds your co-workers you're there and being productive; second, it keeps you focused and in touch with what's happening at the company headquarters.
  5. Stay organized. If you can't keep your office clean, telecommuting may not be for you. Here's why: You are living where you work. So while you can keep personal and professional messes separate when you're working in the office, that is nearly impossible to do when your office is in the house. Organization is key.

If you have tips of your own, I'd love to hear them.


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Monday, July 19, 2010

Twitter Cheat Sheet for Telecommuters

Last year, I posted this Twitter cheat sheet for writers on my Writer's Digest Community blog, but Twitter is a useful tool for anyone trying to build a platform. Telecommuters--even if you're a salaried employee--should be working on their platform for two reasons: First, a strong platform makes you more attractive within your company; second, a strong platform makes you more attractive outside your company. In today's economy, you can't be too attractive. Seriously.

It's easy (and free) enough to create a Twitter account, but how can telecommuters take advantage of this social networking tool? What can they logically expect to gain from using it? What is a hashtag anyway? Well, hopefully, this cheat sheet will help.

First, let's look at some basic terminology:
  • Tweet = Any message sent out to everyone on Twitter. Unless you direct message (DM) someone, everything on Twitter is a Tweet and viewable by anyone.
  • RT = Retweet. Twitter just created a new RT-ing tool, so the ground may shift here, but the standard convention is to put an RT and cite the source before reposting something funny or useful that someone else has shared. For example, if I tweeted "Nouns are verbs waiting to happen," you could RT me this way: RT @robertleebrewer Nouns are verbs waiting to happen.
  • DM = Direct message. These are private and only between people who DM each other.
  • # = Hashtag. These are used in front a word (or set of letters) to allow people to easily communicate on a specific topic. For instance, I talk poetry with other poets every Tuesday on Twitter using the hashtag #poettues. Poets can click on the "poettues" after the hashtag (no space) or they can search on the term "poettues" in Twitter (right-hand toolbar).
  • ff = Follow Friday. This is a nice way to show support for other tweeters on Twitter. On Friday.

Second, here are 10 things you can do to optimize your use of Twitter:

  1. Use your real name if possible. Make it easy for people you know or meet to find you on Twitter.
  2. Add a profile picture. Preferably this will be a picture of you. People connect better with other people, not cartoons, book covers, logos, etc.
  3. Link to a website. Hopefully, you have a blog or website you can link to in your profile. If you don't have a website or blog, make one. Now. And then, link to it from your Twitter profile.
  4. Write your bio. Make this memorable in some way. You don't have to be funny or cute, but more power to you if you can do this and still make it relevant to who you are.
  5. Tweet regularly. It doesn't matter if you have only 2 followers (and one is your mom); you still need to tweet daily (or nearly daily) for Twitter to be effective. And remember: If you don't have anything original to add, you can always RT something funny or useful from someone else.
  6. Tweet relevant information. Don't be the person who tweets like this: "I am making a salad;" "I am eating a salad;" "That salad was good;" "I wonder what I'm going to eat next;" etc. These tweets are not interesting or relevant. However, if your salad eating experience rocked your world in a unique way, feel free to share: "Just ate the best salad ever. Who knew hot sauce and lettuce could co-exist?"
  7. Link and don't link. It's good to link to other places and share things you're doing or that you've found elsewhere. At the same time, if all you do is link, people may think you're just trying to sell them stuff all the time.
  8. Have a personality. Be yourself. You don't have to be overly cute, funny, smart, etc. Just be yourself and remember that Twitter is all about connecting people. So be a person.
  9. Follow those worth following. Just because you're being followed you don't have to return the follow. For instance, if some local restaurant starts following me, I'm not going to follow them back, because they aren't relevant to me or to my audience.
  10. Communicate with others. I once heard someone refer to Twitter as one big cocktail party, and it's true. Twitter is all about communication. If people talk to you or RT you, make sure you talk back and/or thank them. (Here's a secret: People like to feel involved and acknowledged. I like it; you like it; and so does everyone else.)

Third, here are some extra resources:

  • - This site allows you to enter your profile at any given time and find out how you're doing (according to them) in using Twitter effectively. Of course, the grade you receive is bound to not be perfect, but it is a good measuring stick.
  • - This site allows you to search for hashtags, run reports on them, get transcripts between specific time periods, and more.
  • Hootsuite - This is one of many tools that give the ability to Tweet and track your account without even going to Twitter. Many (maybe even most) people use these, though I'm still not a big fan, yet.
  • - This is one of many URL shortening services out there, which is very helpful when tweeting URL links, since they can easily eat into your 140-character limit on Twitter. This particular one makes it easy for you to track clicks, though I'm sure that's fairly standard.

And, of course, if you're not already, please follow me on Twitter: @robertleebrewer


Use Twitter to Boost Your Writing Income. (Click here to learn how.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Adapting to the Unexpected

I love being proactive. There's nothing more comfortable than having a plan, and few things feel better than to have that same plan work. However, things rarely go according to plan, so one of the most important qualities a person can develop is the ability to anticipate and react to the unexpected.

Only thing constant is change
I have no idea who coined this phrase, but it's used all the time in the media business. Change is the only constant. One thing about change: Changes are very hard to predict, which is why so many people are resistant to change--even when the changes make perfect sense.

The main reason most people resist change is that they have a plan or a way of doing something that has worked in the past. From an early age, we are taught to learn from our mistakes and do things the right way. Doing things the right way usually means following instructions. Changing the instructions is a big no-no (as in NO-NO).

So, how does a person adapt to change? Or better yet, use change as an opportunity to do things better than ever before?

Don't fight change
The best way to accept change is to accept that it's going to happen.

Example #1
As an editor, I've assigned several articles over the years. Not all of them have been completed on time; not all of them have been completed well; and not all of them have been completed. (Note: I've been very pleased with most of my freelancers, so these are the exceptions.) I get around this potential problem by building in a little wiggle room for deadlines and assigning pieces to several freelancers.

The deadline buffer helps with late pieces and pieces that need re-written. By assigning pieces to multiple freelancers, I minimize the impact that any one freelancer can have on the overall success of a project if he or she fails to complete the assignment.

While I want and expect everything to be turned in on time, these strategies help me deal with the very real possibility of the unexpected.

Let go of plans
In that example, I'm not fighting change, though I've still got a plan to follow that anticipates the very real possibility that the unexpected can happen. What about when plans are completely crushed? In these cases, you just have to let go of the plan immediately and make a new plan--or better yet, wing it.

Example #2
As a parent, I've had many plans ruined by weather. In fact, I never commit to any outdoor activity too far in advance with the boys until I have a pretty good idea what the weather is going to be like. This is dealing with the situation in the same way as Example #1. However, there are times when the unexpected happens at the last minute. For instance, someone gets sick (or injured); there's a pop-up thunderstorm; or, well, anything unexpected. What to do?

In these cases, I just abandon the original plan. Going to the science museum? Now, we can look up endangered species online and draw pictures of weird animals. Going to the pool? Break out the board games. The movies? We have a DVD player, and there's always popcorn hiding somewhere in our house. It's natural to expect a little kick back from the boys when we don't follow the original plan, but if I let go of the plan, they're bound to follow suit--eventually.

Here's the main thing to keep in mind with the unexpected:

Don't worry about why
If there is a simple solution to getting things back on track, then yes, knowing the why can help immediately. Also, it can prove useful (eventually) in avoiding making the same mistakes repeatedly. But often, people get stuck on worrying about why things aren't going according to plan to the point that it significantly stalls a project (or ruins a day). In these cases, don't worry about why? Instead, focus on what next?

Often, the best way to move forward is to move forward. If you keep your sights focused on what's next instead of stressing out about how to stick to your plan, your bound to find more professional and personal success--and you'll have a better time doing it.


Are you a telecommuting parent? I'd love to hear from you. Contact me via e-mail ( with the subject line: I'm a Telecommuting Parent. Maybe we can set up an interview or a guest post. If nothing else, we can talk shop.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A blog for parents who telecommute

Before you get too excited about this glorious new blog I've created, here are some questions you should ask yourself:
  • Do I telecommute?
  • Am I a parent?
  • Am I interested in telecommuting?
  • Am I interested in making babies (or at least raising them)?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, this blog may be for you. If you answered maybe to any of these questions, this blog may also be for you. If you answered no but are still reading this post, then you might as well stick around, because you don't have anything better to do.

Since this is the introductory post, I guess I should answer a few obvious questions.

Why this blog?
Recently, I was looking for information on telecommuting parenting issues, and I found a few random articles, but not much else. There was an obvious void, and it only takes literally less than 2 minutes to create a blogger account, so I decided to take the iniative and start filling that void.

There are a lot of issues facing telecommuting parents. After all, telecommuters have to deal with several issues--from staying on task to figuring out how to quit working (yes, that can become an issue). And then, parents have their issues--from dealing with summer break to keeping the kids happy, healthy and inspired.

If you add telecommuting and parenting together, it creates a whole new dynamic. Should the kids be in day care or not in day care? If not day care, how do I juggle kids and conference calls? How do I stay on task while changing diapers and helping with homework? When do I get to go outside? And so on...

This blog will hopefully deal with all these issues over time and more. I've got some great ideas on where to take things, but one method that has always served me well is to just let projects take me where they'll take me. So, let's see where this takes us.

Who am I?
If you're sold on the idea of the blog, you may still wonder why I am tackling this subject. So, here's a little about me. My name is Robert, and I have a wonderful (second) wife named Tammy. Between us (I'm also her second husband), we have four amazing little boys between the ages of one and eight. Also, I've been telecommuting for nearly two years as an editor for the Writer's Digest Writing Community.

So, I have a good understanding of both parenting and telecommuting (though I'm always learning more). One of my hopes is that this blog may help bring more telecommuting parents together, so that we can share tips, tricks, etc.

What's next?
I have sort of an outline of how I'd like to proceed with this blog. I think I'm going to shoot for at least two posts a week and just see what happens. It's a strategy that has worked well for me over the years.

Also, I encourage communication. If you have a topic you'd like to see covered, please leave a comment. I'll be reading them and will try to make sure this blog is as helpful as possible to other telecommuting parents like myself.

Interviews and guest posts
By the way, if you're a telecommuting parent who'd be interested in either an interview or guest post, please send me an e-mail at with the subject line: I'm a Telecommuting Parent