Good For You

4 Ways You Can Introduce Technology to Your Current Job Description

integratingtechinyourjobLearning more about technology involves not only research but application. And I think that’s where a lot of people fall short in terms of increasing their tech skills.

The question is, if you already have a full time job, how are you supposed to increase your technology skills within it? Here are some ideas we’ve had about that (all things I’ve actually tried in less technological jobs than I have now!)

1) Propose a technological solution for a non-technological problem.
Let’s say you hear your boss mentioning the uptick in customer service phone calls related to the release of your latest product. You could offer to create an orientation video showing the product’s features or FAQ section for the website addressing specific concerns after interviewing several customer service representatives. Make sure you get permission from your supervisor before you do this (and get your actual work done!), but in demonstrating you can solve problems with technology, your boss will be much more interested in your next idea. And if what you do becomes a hit, you might find yourself with a modified job description!

When I used to work at a school, there was lots of technology but none of the teachers were using it. So rather than another memo, I started a monthly ‘Tech Thursday’ for the teachers. They could come after school and for an hour learn about something technical, like setting up the LCD projector or using iMovie. I’d try to make it fun, like giving out a prize to the person that could set up the LCD projector the fastest. School leadership was appreciative that I tried to help them tackle the issue and I got a once a month excuse to learn something new.

2) Do volunteer work with a technological slant.
Many jobs not only allow but compensate individuals for doing some kind of volunteer work. Consider a volunteer opportunity with a technological slant that is related to what you want to learn, like teaching a computer course at the assisted living center, running a robotics team at your local middle school, or redesigning the website of a local non-profit. This work will not only teach you your new skills but in teaching what you learn to others, you’ll solidify your knowledge.

In my old job at the newspaper, I volunteered at a local middle school starting a tech club called Zoey’s Room. I had to help the girls troubleshoot tech issues and had a lot of fun. On the days I did that, I just came in an hour early into work to get what I needed to done.

3) Find a technology mentor in your company.
Just because you work in the sales or accounting doesn’t mean you only have to associate with others in your department. Seek out a potential mentor in your company who has a more technical role, and offer to take them to lunch. When it becomes clear that you aren’t gunning for their job but simply want to learn more about, say, PHP programming, your new mentor will likely be excited about your interest. You can then figure out a structure that works well for you, whether it’s ‘learning sessions’ 30 minutes a week or collaborating on a company project together. Your employer will likely be excited about cross department collaboration and the potential that brings.

I’ve had many mentors since starting this business who are more tech savvy than myself. That said, a mentor relationship is one of give and take so I tried to use my skills to help my mentors out in return for their generosity with their time and knowledge. Like with Matt, I try to draft emails, manage projects and do other tasks to make his life easier while he teaches me about, say, advanced CSS.

4) Document what you learn.
Whether you record what you learn in a blog, on a Youtube channel, or even presentations you upload to Slideshare, documenting what you learn using technology not only increases your skills but allows the world outside your job to see you as an expert in your chosen technological field. This might turn into a new employment opportunity or simply a way to help others out not as far along in their learning process as you are. Either way, it’s good for you and the world. This blog started as a way, in part, to document what I was learning… and turned into something even more amazing than I could ever expect. But it wouldn’t have come my way if I wasn’t putting my ideas out there.

We live in a world where technology infiltrates almost every job… and if it doesn’t, there are easy ways for you to increase its role within your work. Get more tech in your work life, you’ll be smarter and happier for it.

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Conducting Your Own Annual Review

yourownannualreview(I was going to call this a ‘self audit’ but the word ‘audit’ seems to make people nervous and think of taxes!)

I think I can safely say all of us what to have the best life possible. But what we are all liable to do is coast, phone it in, or otherwise, not try to be better as individuals. And by be better, I’m not talking about necessarily losing weight or making more money (though those are fun). I’m talking about setting and regularly evaluating goals.

We’re all good at setting goals. It’s the evaluating part that we have to make ourselves do.

On the most basic level, we can all think of making New Year’s resolutions as an example of us striving to be better. Why don’t they work often? Because we aren’t evaluating ourselves. When was the last time you revisited your new years resolutions, found out why they were or weren’t working, and set new goals?

Businesses are regularly audited financially or otherwise. Employees are regularly evaluated by bosses. Students and professionals in some fields are asked to regularly take tests. Why don’t we evaluate ourselves personally? We should, right?

I’ve read several great resources if you are actually interested in doing this:

Now the thing these three resources have in common is you can do them yourself (other great evaluation tools involve having a team of people or accountability partner you regularly consult with). I don’t want not having someone in mind to stop you from doing this.

They all have a few things all these self evaluations have in common:

A somewhat time consuming initial brainstorming and narrowing process.

The Best Year Ever book has a whole chapter about basically conducting a 3-4 hour goal setting/evaluation workshop with yourself.

Point is, if you think you are going to get out of this in 20 minutes you are wrong. The brainstorming, narrowing, and evaluating are all necessary.

If you are a busy person, this is the step you’ll most want to skip over (myself included here-I have a hard time with anything I perceive as touchy feely and sucking up too many hours) but take the time for the brainstorming, ranking, and personal reflection necessary. You are setting yourself up for success here so let yourself do that!

Personal and business goals are involved.

Whether you are self employed or not, some of your vocational goals intersect with your personal life goals and vice versa. I was surprised to find how many personal things I do, from how I dress to who my friends are, effect my business life. So when you sit down to do this, be prepared to think of your life in a more holistic way than you would in a job evaluation and you’ll get a lot more out of it!

Establishing a way to measure progress that is a) regularly done and b) works for you.

Gretchen Rubin’s chart involves you checking in with your goal daily and simply giving yourself a checkmark (I did this) or not (I did not do this) for each resolution on each day. You might be more numbers oriented (scoring yourself 1 out of 10), you might more list/narrative orientated with a journal. (I work more this way and I have been noticing the months I haven’t written my notes in my little Google Doc on my goals are the months I have slacked.)

Regular check in and actually writing things down is key. So pick a time (daily, weekly, or monthly), find a format that works for you, and schedule it in.

Revisiting, re-evaluating, and preparing for year 2.

If you go into this thinking it’s ever going to be over, it’s probably best not to start. Every piece of literature detailing this personal evaluation process involves following up to the review/evaluation and moving forward (ie the equivalent of the big chunk of time you put in at the beginning being at the end as well, like neat little bookends).

One of my resolutions was to write personalized thank you notes every month to friends and clients as a way to more genuinely keep in touch than simply ‘liking’ their Facebook status. I have found handwriting notes a chore (and if you’ve ever seen my handwriting, you’ll know I struggle to do it neatly) so I have decided instead to stop liking statuses and instead leave engaging comments on peoples’ status updates. It takes more time but it is somewhere between the more thoughtful personal note step and the chore I perceive as writing letters.

Think of this larger evaluation as a very indepth check in and reworking (ie next year’s personal evaluation!)

Dwelling somewhat on the negative.

Most processes involve acknowledging what didn’t go well and why. Among the questions for the self evaluation portion of ‘Your Best Year Yet’ are “How do I limit myself and how can I stop?” and “What were my biggest disappointments?”  This is the WORST part because who likes being wrong or negative? But unless I visit what I failed at, I can’t get better I suppose.

Also these are literally 20% of the whole evaluation process at a maximum so the pain is relatively short lived. Don’t let it stop you!

Do I recommend a self evaluation? I absolutely do. Will you be more accountable to a self appointed board of directors, accountability partner, membership website or some other third party you check in with? I’m sure you will. But a self evaluation is a start of the conversation and can help you decide who to enlist for help, what next project to work on and lots of other things. Now that the whole wedding thing is behind me and we get ready to move into our slower season of work, I plan on doing this process in the next month to get ready for 2015 (doing it around Thanksgiving/Christmas is too chaotic for me- going to get a jump start!)





Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

8 Inspirational People Who Put The Time In

I love that we live in a video culture, not because I think I’m particularly photogenic but I’ve always thought photos and text captured only part of a reality. A video can really give you an idea of someone’s mannerisms, voice, poise, and process. A video can give you a really good idea of who someone is and what they are about. (That’s part of why we’re doing so many videos this year.)

In a world where everything seems instantaneous, it’s nice to remember that people have put time in to get good at something. The time lapse video phenomenon allows us to enjoy this process without watching paint dry (sometimes in a very literal sense.)

Watching these videos, a few things struck me:

1) It is possible to show improvement over time in a wide variety of disciplines, from drawing to dancing. I kind of wish I had video of myself working six or seven years ago. I bet I type faster, do more complex tasks, and seem much more relaxed. It would be cool to see that!
2) It’s not about looks. It’s contrary to think that we’re watching videos but it’s not about what any of these people look like: it’s about what they’ve accomplished. Even the guy who takes selfies as he walks along, we might notice his beard slowly growing but we more notice the passage of time and how far he’s come. I am not even sure what color his hair is, but I think it’s brown… though I do remember how far he walked and the variety of terrain he encountered.
3) There is the time it took to make the video… and the time it took to get good at the skills in making the video. So it’s one thing to understand that to create a full drag face can take 4 hours to accomplish but understanding shading, contouring, etc. took many many more hours than elapsed in the video. In watching these videos, it’s easy to understand we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

So here are a few time lapse videos (not of grass growing or people aging- ie stuff that would happen anyway) of people doing something.

The Girl Who Learned To Dance In One Year

This Guy Who Draws A Ball

This Popsicle Stick Mansion Builder

This Guy Who Walked Really Far

What This Person Does In Photoshop

This 30 Story Building Built in 15 Days (even if construction isn’t meant to last more than 30 years, as some commenters have implied, still impressive)

This Makeup Job

This Man Who Overcame A Lot To Not Only Walk But Do A Lot More

I don’t know about you but seeing what’s possible makes me not only aware I need to put my time in but happy to do it.

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

“100 Years of Solitude”: Countering Loneliness, Maintaining Sanity, and Keeping the Magic

Nicole’s well-deserved vacation coincided with my re-reading of 100 Years of Solitude  by Gabriel García Márquez. I guess you could say it was perfect timing: as I work alone for the first time in, well, ever, I’m reading the story of a family that is united in their all-encompassing solitude. This family embodies the notion of “you don’t have to be alone to be lonely“: while they all live and breathe and engage in dysfunctional family behavior, each individual exists in his own cloud of isolation, separate from the rest of the world.

photo (3)

While reading this novel, it’s difficult at times to keep track of all the family members. There are several generations of family members, and apparently they all have impressive life spans (excepting those who die of unnatural causes- this makes me appreciate Game of Thrones a little more). Úrsula, the family matriarch, lives to be well over one hundred (by the time of her death, no one knows her age-herself included). By the end of her life, she is described as being approximately the same size as a doll, with a raisin-y texture. I imagine she resembled whatever Benjamin Button looked like in his early life.

See what I mean?

See what I mean?

So, here we have this gigantic family, each member possesses his own unique story and personality traits (the Jose Arcadios tend to be reckless and impulsive, basically whirling dervishes, while the Aurelianos are reserved and introspective, a bit more brooding), they are all united in their solitude. This self-imposed solitude breeds a certain degree of selfishness. For instance, once Colonel Aureliano returns from years of war, his mother Úrsula reflects on his tendency to withdraw from the world:  ”

She realized that Colonel Aureliano Buendía had not lost his love for the family because he had been hardened by the war, as she had thought before, but that he had never loved anyone, not even his wife Remedios or the countless one-night women who had passed through his life, and much less his sons…She reached the conclusion that the son for whom she would have given her life was simply a man incapable of love. (248-9)

Seems pretty strong, coming from your own mother, huh? But, it brings up a good point- when you’re wrapped up in your own world, you tend to disconnect from other people, and in the case of the Colonel, your “IDGAF” level goes through the roof. Most of the characters are self-aware enough to realize that their solitude ultimately harmed others, but they wouldn’t change. (As a sidenote, my IDGAF levels were unaltered while Nicole was away. Woo!)

Besides following generations of the family, which I enjoy in a novel, 100 Years has some fascinating storytelling techniques. One technique is magic realism, a sneaky style of writing that describes something out of the ordinary in such a matter-of-fact manner that you can’t help but accept it. For instance, one of the characters is followed around by yellow butterflies everywhere, to the point where it annoys everyone except his lady-friend (the butterflies help her keep tabs on him). While you’re reading, you don’t think Alright, Gabe, nice try. Butterflies don’t follow people around, I buy none of this!  Instead, you think, Huh, that sounds lovely, but also inconvenient.  

With magic realism, the ordinary is given a little “extra.” One of my favorite parts of the novel is the brief moment when the first José Arcadio discovers ice: “‘It’s the largest diamond in the world.’ ‘No,’ the gypsy countered. ‘It’s ice.'” (17). Sure, he was just looking at a huge chunk of ice, but seeing the world through that lens of wonder and amazement, where a chuck of ice transforms into a diamond, well- that keeps life interesting.

Along this idea of reality, the novel toys with the idea of our collective experiences and perceptions. Have you ever played the “Remember when” game with a friend, only to find that you both remember a certain incident very differently? There are several instances of this throughout the novel, and it kind of messes with you, because the information you’re given isn’t enough to determine the True reality. Additionally, there are a few instances (like the outbreak of insomnia in the city) when the characters become confused about “what is real.” When I spent too much time alone, physically or mentally, and with the insomnia booster, staying in touch with reality can be a headache (yet another reason why it’s great to have Nicole back in the office).

An example of insomnia logic, when strange things become reality (or so you think).

An example of insomnia logic, when strange things become reality (or so you think).

I may have felt like I was in my own 100 years of solitude while Nicole was gone, but in reality it was more like 10 days. Maybe it seems like it’s been 100 years since you started reading this post (although, I sincerely hope not), and I could probably go on and on about this novel for the next 100 years, until I turn all old and raisin-y. Instead, I’m going to go out and be amazed by everyday things, and enjoy the company of other people. Solitude is refreshing, but only for so long.

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

What Running 20 Miles in the Middle of the Night Taught Me About Life

Many months ago, one of my friends jumped out of bed and proclaimed (with meaningful background music), “I’m going to go for a 100 mile run this summer!”

Actually, I’m not sure how it all went down, but I like to imagine it with a dramatic flair.

Once I determined that he was still sane, I agreed to help to run a fraction of it with him. After all, this is the person who convinced me a couple years ago that I could totally run a marathon, and has dragged me through a couple so far. So, I figured the least I could do was return the favor.

And that’s the story of the (first) time I volunteered to run 20 miles in the middle of the night on the Sunrise Trail. My friend started running around 4 p.m., and I joined in from midnight to 4 a.m. (aka The Graveyard Shift). Here are a few life lessons I learned along the way:

1) Sometimes, you need to readjust. Less than 2 miles in, I got vague pain in my head. No worries, I reassured myself, this is all new territory, you had a lot of caffeine today and are running at midnight. But by mile 5, this headache had grown to epic proportions.  I didn’t want to say anything, partially because of the searing pain and partially because I felt responsible for getting my friend through the next few hours of running. Don’t be a flake! screamed the voice in my head.

And then, we made a brief pitstop to adjust headlamps (this was my first time wearing one). Almost as soon as I took mine off, a surge of blood rushed back into my head. That’s right. My headache was the result of cutting off circulation to my own brain via headlamp.

A crude artistic rendition of the incident. Note: There was actually a bunny, and the stars were amazing.

A crude artistic rendition of the incident. Note: There was actually a bunny, and the stars were this amazing.

While this was, to say the least, uncomfortable, there’s a good life take-away: as you move about your day/life in general, if you feel like your head is about to explode (literally or figuratively), then something needs to change. The answer may not be as simple as oxygen deprivation, but once you find the solution, moving forward becomes a lot easier.

2) Trading passion for glory isn’t worth it (that’s right, Eye of the Tiger). So, the biggest question people had about the whole running 100 miles was “Why?” Well, my friend basically said, “Why NOT?” It amazed me that someone could be so passionate about, well, anything. The fact that there was no tangible prize at the end of this thing baffled me. He was just doing it for the sheer sake of doing it.

This reminded me how refreshing it is to do something you love free of ulterior motives. I’m guilty of getting a bit too competitive when I run, despite the knowledge that it’s bad for my mental well-being. In this undertaking, my friend reminded me (note: he has also told me this on many, many other occasions) that relying on external factors, be they medals, praise, a promotion, etc., isn’t a great reason to do something. Do it because it’s what you love to do, and let that be all.

3) It’s an adventure! Towards the end of my shift, neither one of us spoke unless necessary (me due to sleep deprivation, and my friend because he’d been running for almost 12 hours at this point). The only noises were our feet hitting dirt, some bullfrogs, and an owl. At one point, probably around 3 a.m., it was dark- as if all the light but our headlamps had been sucked in a vacuum. And then, the sun started to rise.

Perhaps delirious, I got inexplicably excited by this. We were running toward the sun! It was all an adventure! Life is an adventure!!! My brain was full of exclamation points.

This was definitely the song playing in my head.

This was definitely the song playing in my head.

At this point, I was reveling in the craziness of running 20 miles at midnight, and was struck with how awesome my surroundings were- the trees, the frogs, the flowers, the sky. Finding joy in the simple things genuinely makes the world seem like a better place, no matter where you are.

4) Never underestimate your friends. I know I’ve said this before, but I’m going to say it again: it’s comforting to know that other people will support you, no questions asked. Even if they think you’re a little off your rocker for wanting to run 100 miles in the heat of summer. I was just one of many who participated in this run, and there was a ton of support via Facebook. Sometimes, just showing up is enough. No matter what your goals are, it’s always good to have a support team.

5) Push your limits, but know when enough is enough. Ultimately, due to the heat and humidity, my friend decided to stop running after 85 miles. It was a smart decision, anddifficult to make. Setting goals and aspiring to do things you didn’t know you could do (running 85 miles, learning how to use Photoshop, teaching yourself how to breakdance) leads to personal growth (which you probably already knew), but the tricky part is balancing this with knowing when it’s time to tap out (and not viewing it as ‘giving up’). This is something that I struggle with, and don’t have a cookie-cutter answer for (maybe because it doesn’t exist).

I’m thankful that my friend asked me to be part of this run, and am so proud of what he accomplished. It was a tremendous feat, and it all happened because, quite simply, he wanted it to happen. How many times will you get to run the Sunrise Trail at midnight with a good friend? As many times as you want.

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

In my past 3-ish months at Breaking Even, there’s been a pretty incredible learning curve. I never thought I’d be writing blog posts, or doing anything related to internet/social media/marketing, but here I am. In fact, most of the people I know are doing something they never imagined they’d be doing, and it’s pretty inspiring.

Hot Rod, 2007

Hot Rod, 2007

These people who venture away from the well-trodden path of the familiar, into the unknown, weird, strange and most likely uncomfortable, seem to get the most out of life. I’ve been thinking about how my comfort zone affects my professional and personal growth, and had 3 general ideas:

  •  Newton’s First Law can be applied to the idea of comfort zones. This is the law of inertia: an object at rest will definitely stay at rest. For purposes of this post, we’ll assume the object in question is me, and rest is equivalent to my comfort zone. I would stay there in my little shame-cave of self-doubt and familiarity until the end of times, but luckily for me, the surrounding world is not static. We’re all getting pushed or nudged to break out of our zones. When life gives us opportunities, perhaps a job in a field we hadn’t previously considered, it’s fine to do a cost-benefit analysis, but don’t let discomfort be what holds you back. Spontaneous is cool, recklessness, not so much.
  • Times are A-Changin’: Adaptation is probably one of the most important survival skills in the wild (pretty sure Darwin said that, but my education re-routed from Biology to English after a year, so don’t quote me on it). It’s also necessary in the world of technology and media. Sure, I’d LOVE to cling to iOS 7 forever and ever, or my Facebook layout from 2009, but neither of those are possible. Keeping an open mind about change (especially the inevitable kind) makes life move a bit smoother. One coping mechanism for me involves changing my ‘tude from “I want it back the way it was before OR ELSE” to “Hey look, a new learning opportunity! How wonderful!” It doesn’t always work, but software (and everything) is going to continue updating- whether or not I’m comfortable with it.
  • You’ll Never Know If You Don’t Go: My biggest weak spot involves talking. Out loud. To people. Getting out of my comfort zone usually means using my voice. It’s something that I’ve been easing into at Breaking Even. During my first month, I agreed to tag along to a conference where Nicole was presenting, and felt waves of social anxiety upon realizing I’d have to interact with strangers. Our Tech Thursday videos used to stress me out, as well (not only do I have to talk  in front of a camera, I have to watch it later…eek). Since then, I’ve been trying to participate in more networking events (Business After Hours, local events, meetings, spontaneous activities with friends), to the point where I’m the “Yes Man” for social gatherings. Sure, I still have bouts of anxiety in social settings, but then I remember everyone else does, too.

There are some benefits to exploring life outside the comfort zone (such as increased creativity AND productivity), Now, I look at my comfort zone as a place to chill out and recharge between adventures. Looking forward to discovering what another 3 months will bring!


Food for thought

Food for thought

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.
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