Surviving the Holiday Work Slump

Managing the stress amid deadlines and expectations is hard. This time of year is stressful; between the various holiday parties, family gatherings, and extra weekend activities, it can be difficult to stay focused on your work.

If you’ve been feeling sluggish and lacking focus, you’re not alone. According to Peakon, an HR data analysis company, 61 percent of individuals surveyed said they were distracted by the time Thanksgiving rolled around in November. By mid-December, most workers were simply checked out. Peakon also found that six in 10 workers said their productivity declined in the week before Christmas.

This means that for about a month, you’ve been dragging your feet to meet those deadlines AND meet with family and friends for those extra activities. Since the deadlines don’t just go away and your commitments during the holiday season only seem to increase, here are a few tips to survive the holiday work slump.

1) Aside from those big projects that require more time and detail, modify your schedule during the holidays . Some experts suggest that with a good night’s sleep you tend to have more energy in the morning. Perhaps if you go to bed early and wake up a few hours earlier to start work, you won’t feel so bad about closing up shop around 2 p.m. a few days a week.
2) Make a list and check it twice. Santa’s not the only one who has to do this. During the holidays, more than ever, it’s important to maximize your time –especially if you’re ending your work day earlier than is usual. Make a detailed list of the tasks you need to complete before ending your day –and check it twice before moving on to your holiday shopping list!
3) Be honest and communicate clearly with your clients, co-workers and/or boss. Chances are, everyone else is feeling the holiday work slump, too. For projects with soft deadlines, it might be best to push those out to the beginning of the new year. This will leave you more time to work on those urgent projects and perhaps you could even find the time to bake several dozen cookies for your mail carrier, hair stylist and whoever else could use some good cheer during the holiday season.
4) Carve out time for you to relax and enjoy the season. Between running around from one event to another, standing in line to purchase gifts, cleaning and organizing to host family and all the other items on your list, when you finally come up for air, the holiday season has passed you by and you can’t even remember what you did. Although it might seem nearly impossible to do, try to take some time to soak it all in. It could be just sitting by a fire drinking a cup of coffee or stepping outside to meditate for a few minutes. By taking a few minutes to relax, you might get the little push you need to overcome the holiday work slump.

ABOUT Arris Shabaglian

For more than a decade Arris has worked as a freelance writer, editor and communications consultant. She has also taught university level courses on the art of communication, public relations and journalism. Arris is a Pinterest addict who loves a good night’s sleep and a nice cup of coffee. She resides in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and three kids (hence the need for a nice cup of coffee).

Best of the Wordsmithie Blog: 2017

How is it the time of year to look back and reflect already? It feels like it was just yesterday that I was writing the best of Wordsmithie’s 2016 blogs! (I’m pretty sure I lamented this fact in 2016 about 2015, as well!) As they say, time waits for no man, and the velocity at which this year sped by is a clear testament to this saying. So, without further ado, our five best blogs of 2017!

We started out the year thinking about authenticity, and why its so badly needed in a world that is centered on curation. Instagram seems to curate people’s perfectly styled lives, Twitter seems to curate different streams of content- and don’t forget, we live in an era of “fake news” where its exhausting and sometimes terrifying trying to figure out what’s real, and what’s just noise. We discussed how to be authentic and honest while maintaining professionalism and integrity- a skill we think a few politicians could benefit from learning! A few months later, our resident amazing working mom and busiest women ever wrote about how she finds balance as she juggles her roles as freelancer, mother, wife, friend, daughter and more.

Later in the year we moved to move practical matters. Our most widely shared article this year was a how-to guide on font and typeface selection, which has certainly seen a revival in 2017 amongst designers. We followed up this piece with a blog about four SEO myths and the truth behind them, leaving long-held beliefs in the dust for more helpful tips to act upon. We finished up the year with a quick 101 on microlearning, which is particularly interesting if you’re considering creating an app, Udemy course or any other learning tool where users will be dripped bits of information slowly- but surely.

Until next year- I’m sure the time will just fly by!

ABOUT Khaleelah Jones

Khaleelah Jones is a digital marketing consultant who has worked with tech startups, educational institutions and non-profits on acquisition and engagement strategy, implementation and KPI modeling. When she’s not working, she can be found reading, writing, pontificating history, yoga-ing and making up verbs.

Financial Firms Still Need Good Copy

Not long ago I sat down in a meeting with a global bank and could see that many junior and mid-level staff were skeptical about the need for my services. Sure, people don’t read as much as they used to, but they still need signposting and, although we may not pay as much attention to writing as we did in the era before vlogs, instructional videos and the like, the written word is still the way to do that well.

The brief

We were tasked with creating copy to go with a bank’s new website. Sound easy? Beyond the difficulty of determining what calls to action would be the clearest- “Log In” v. “Click Here” need to be really clear if you’re trying to sign in to your bank account online for the first time- its difficult explaining complex ideas such as derivatives quickly and in an engaging manner. After two one-hour sessions with the client, we were able to understand what they wanted, and worked directly with the designer to feed back on some elements of the website design that would affect how things were read, and in what order.

The challenges

For some of us, reading about finance, even (or especially) our own personal financial situation, can be like watching paint dry: boring, boring, boring. Yet everyone needs to understand elements of finance, at least as it pertains to their own personal accounts. However, as with all financial firms, punchy copy has to be passed amongst the marketing and compliance teams, which can often lead to watered down language that is full of jargon and disclaimers. Our biggest challenge was finding a way to keep the copy short and engaging while acknowledging and including the language necessary for legal and compliance sign off. We are pros at what we do, however, and part of the fun is finding ways to weave in our engaging messaging that’s on brand and aligns with the client’s voice and needs. It took a few weeks but et voila! we found a way to make every stakeholder happy and still kept things short, sweet and to the point.

The outcome

It took about three months to create copy for 16 website pages. The process was iterative and collaborative, working with outside contractors and various internal departments. In the end, the client was happy and had a brand new site that was fresh, eye catching and clear. And when they client is happy, we’re happy.

Want to know more about how we can help your financial firm or company with great copy? Be in touch with us here.

ABOUT Khaleelah Jones

Khaleelah Jones is a digital marketing consultant who has worked with tech startups, educational institutions and non-profits on acquisition and engagement strategy, implementation and KPI modeling. When she’s not working, she can be found reading, writing, pontificating history, yoga-ing and making up verbs.

Microlearning: Your New Jam

For the past few years, online learning has shape-shifted a bit. E-learning platforms have become more personal, more nimble and more readily available on-the-go. Our more mobile workforce, flexible office space options, and, alas, disintegrating attention spans have also played a role in the shifting e-learning landscape. Finally, more and more people are conducting business via mobile device. As a result, there’s not much time, convenience or demand for content delivered to an entire department, company or industry via online training courses that requires people to sit for long periods of time ticking through multiple choice quizzes and reading long passages.

There has been a rise in the prevalence of apps and short videos that effectively deliver important material quickly. Engagement and retention come from games rather than quizzes, short texts rather than discussion forums and FaceTime rather than meeting platforms.

“Resources not courses”

Many people work remotely, and rely on quick answers to move projects forward, especially when deadlines loom large. Content for training purposes (like disseminating new HR policies or industry practices) must be presented in digestible chunks so learners can easily grab what they need to perform at their peak. Instructional designers can now spend valuable time crafting smart yet small lessons for text and video-based learning environments rather than creating behemoth courses and managing 24/7 chat rooms.

Other approaches that help facilitate microlearning include providing learners with small, structured blasts of material over a slightly extended period of time or as needed, content through brief videos and SMS-based instruction opportunities.

Assess and pilot new techniques

The days of just memorizing material to learn new concepts are essentially over. Research shows that training participants are truly engaged with real life challenges offering practical, convenient and visual components. The research also reveals that online training program participants are more likely to retain core information when it’s presented in a quick-hit yet potent manner.

As you take stock of your online training modes and goals, consider microlearning options for your teams. You could first inject texting short blasts of information for your people to use while on-the-go. Or, you could set up a YouTube channel with short (30 second to 2 minute) videos to creatively present core content. Before abandoning your company’s expensive online training platform, why not incorporate one of these new ways of learning into the curriculum? You’ll most likely discover more engagement and better results to accelerate your teams and projects.

ABOUT Eve Connell

Eve spends most billable hours writing, editing and helping professionals of all stripes with communication skills and leadership development. With degrees in French literature, philosophy, and linguistics, she also enjoys helping businesses and entrepreneurs develop their brands. Fancying herself a successful worm rancher, singer and flower arranger, Eve also lends her talent and expertise to several non-profit arts and educational organizations.

Typeface/Font* Selection: A Practical Guide

We could also call this post, “how to avoid being spoofed on Saturday Night Live.”

As evidenced by a recent SNL sketch which lampoons the font chosen for the movie Avatar, proper typeface selection—awareness of which was once generally considered limited to graphic designers like myself—has entered into the mainstream consciousness. That’s a good thing, and long overdue. However, that newfound attention also makes it more important than ever to make the right choices when it comes to choosing fonts.

We’ve all seen it. Odd, inappropriate or just downright puzzling font choices in the business world and beyond. For example, serious professional correspondence set in Comic Sans. A lighthearted advertising message made seemingly angry through the use of a font like Impact. Or, a feature film title set in what appears to be nothing more than a lazily chosen Microsoft system font, like Papyrus. Type can be powerful, evoking emotion and possessing the ability to enhance (or detract from) your message. And, while we might not know what the designers behind Avatar’s curious choice were thinking, many of the poor font choices we encounter day to day can be chalked up to how the average computer user now has almost endless font choice at their disposal but little actual typographical knowledge with which to guide them.

Volumes have been written about proper type selection. There are historical, cultural and practical aspects as well as many subjective considerations. It’s impossible, of course, to summarize it all in one brief blog post. There are, however, a few very basic considerations to keep in mind the next time you’re choosing typefaces for a project. Stick to the following and I will personally guarantee that you’ll avoid the shame and embarrassment that comes with being the subject of a Saturday Night Live sketch.

Suitability and context

When choosing a typeface for your project, carefully consider your audience and your message. Typefaces are atmospheric. Does your chosen typeface fit the mood of your message? Does it whisper? Does it scream? Does it repulse or engage? Is it derivative? Are there any negative associations with the typeface? Should it be bold? Would a serif or sans-serif font be better suited for your application?

Serif vs sans-serif—what’s the difference?

While there are numerous styles of type, the two most common variations are serif and sans-serif.

Serif typefaces, named for the serifs or small notches or lines at the letter’s corners, are often your best bet for body copy, particularly in printed materials. Many people find serif fonts easier to read, particularly for long passages, since the serifs can serve as virtual horizontal rules to guide your eye. Serif typefaces—like Courier and Times New Roman—tend to be considered more traditional, too; they’re what you’ll find most books set in and are what most word processing apps will default to.

Sans-serif typefaces, which lack the small flourishes described above, are often the right choice for headlines and shorter blocks of copy. Sans-serif typefaces, like Helvetica and Arial, are generally considered to be more modern, as well. Often sans-serif typefaces work better on-screen, too, as their relative simplicity allows for easier scaling and rendering.

Handwritten and script-style typefaces

You’ll also often encounter handwritten and script-style fonts, too, but, they aren’t really meant for the workplace. But, if they are utilized, they should never, ever, be set in all caps. There are few more egregious offenses that can be committed with type than a script font set in all caps.

General legibility

Are you using different type sizes and weights to express the hierarchy of information in your project? For body copy, 10 to 12-point type is generally a safe bet. Headlines can be made much larger, of course, but they should be sized in a way that they complement what they are introducing. Are you are using multiple typefaces within a project, and, if you are, do they harmonize with each other? Are you contrasting a serif type face with a sans-serif one? If not, are the two fonts distinct enough to each hold their own?

Why it matters

Ultimately, choosing the right typeface means that you are communicating in the most effective possible way. The right typeface can be as important to your message as the actual written content. And even the most rudimentary consideration of type choice will keep you one step ahead of your competition. And one step ahead of the producers of Avatar.

*Incidentally, while I use the terms typeface and font interchangeably here, technically, a typeface is a family of related fonts. A font is simply one particular variation or weight of a letterform within that type family.

ABOUT Ryan Bahrke

One of Wordsmithie’s senior designers, Ryan has more than 15 years of experience in creative direction and management, working with companies like Google, Quantcast, RSM, Navigant, Starbucks, and Ace Hotel. Ryan is the principal of Auslander Creative in Denver.