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Tools and techniques that help speed up my writing.

My goal has been to write four e-Books  year, one newsletter a quarter, five tweets a week, one blog article a week, and as many “Special Reports” as possible in the time available. So far, I’m more or less on course – at least for the last few years.

I couldn’t do it without the help of a few tools and techniques such as the following.

Dragon Naturally Speaking. It’s not the only voice-activated software available; but it was the one I was weaned on and have seen it improve with each update. It more than compensates for my lack of typing skills and it keeps pace with my rapid speech.

Bibme.org. A website that allows me to compile a bibliography for my books and reports in minutes rather than hours. As long as I can recall the author’s name or the book title – or even a portion of it, it gives me a list of books from which to select the right one, and subsequently formats the complete bibliography for me.

Grammarly. An app that highlights poor grammar as well as typos and spelling mistakes, and reminds me that I am taking liberties by omitting pronouns, using slang words and awkward phrases. Of course I sometimes ignore it.

Pocket Dockets. Mini-notepads that I stash in a pocket of my coats, my computer bag, car glove box, and elsewhere so I am never without someplace to jot down ideas when I’m on the go. Sometimes they go missing for a few weeks, but I have yet to fail to retrieve them along with the ideas.

Leak-proof pens. Not only a time saver but an annoyance saver as well if you’re a frequent flyer. Wish I could have avoided all those blobs of ink on my books, clothes and traveling companions before fly-proof pens were invented.

Topical file folders. This is more a technique than a product – marking the chapter titles of my future books on hard copy and electronic folders – to house the articles torn from magazines and those cut and pasted from the Internet (for reference when writing the books and articles)

Morning walks. Another technique of generating ideas and actually composing articles, which are later combined to form books; walking in the fresh air and exercising both body and mind. I get my best ideas and clarity of thinking as I walk – determining how to express the idea in words. But it must be immediately followed by an opportunity to write it all down before it disappears.

The coffee shop effect. I agree with the results of the research that indicates the background noises of a coffee shop are ideal for both creativity and productivity. A one-hour or 90-minute stop at a coffee shop before returning home from my walk allows me to quickly put my thoughts in writing. Most of my articles and large portions of me books took form at a Tim Horton’s.

Most people have their own favorite techniques and habits that help them with their writing. Some might seem to waste time rather than save time; but for that person, it is effective. For instance, I do most of my writing longhand and then dictate what I have written, editing as I go. I also find a book to daunting a task to tackle so I simply write articles for each chapter, which I post on my blog website – and then expand each article into a chapter.  I also may have two or more books on the go at the same time, and perhaps only two of them may see the light of day and the other one becomes a series of articles only.

I also spend as much time extracting ideas and quotes from someone else’s book as I do actually reading the book. I feel I have wasted time reading a book if I don’t get something out of it that I can use later.

The important thing is to try different things and see what works best. Then you can develop your own routines and habits. Certainly not having to decide what to do next saves time.

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Print books are still alive and well.

Not only did I buy a Kindle for e-books, I downloaded the app for my PC, iPad, iPhone and android. I thought for sure we were heading for a world of digital when it came to books, magazines and newspapers.

I didn’t like the idea since I loved my hardcover books that I revisited frequently whenever I wrote an article, newsletter, report or book. I found it so easy to highlight passages, scribble notes in the margins – mainly ideas generated by the author’s remarks – and I used print books as references for the 20 odd e-books I authored for Bookboon.com.

But I didn’t want to be left behind in the oncoming digital age of speed. I was committed to at least keep my brain up to date even while my aging body advertised otherwise.

So I have hundreds of e-books on my various devices, which I still refer to when I travel – and in waiting rooms, airports and buses. Many of them, however, are simply duplicates of the print books I’m reading at the time.

You can imagine my surprise and sheer joy when I started reading reports of the recent decline in electronic book sales, and in spite of all the bookstore closures, print book sales had stopped declining.

I noticed it first in an Inc. article written by Glenn Leibowitz titled “7 reasons why e-book sales are falling – and print book sales are rising again.” According to the Wall Street Journal, sales of traditional print books rose by 5% in the U.S. the previous year, while sales of e-books plunged by 17%.

Another article posted by Dave Schumacher on June 20, 2017 reported that during the first nine months of 2016, e-book sales in the US declined by a dramatic 18.7% compared to the same period in 2015. Dollar sales fell to about $877 million while print books grew slightly to more than $1.6 billion.

Publishers weekly showed that hardcover print unit sales had held steady over the past five years while e-books declined – and that hardcover books outsold e-books in 2016 for the first time since 2011.

Of course an actual trend is not yet conclusive. One writer mentioned the popular adult colouring books that can’t be replicated in digital format, for example.

And what about the young people? Are they firmly committed to e-books – especially with their use by schools, and their ease of access and low cost? Well, I found a student report that surveyed other college students using SurveyMonkey. The sample size was only 300, but half the respondents said they buy in both formats, and a surprising 40% said they prefer reading print books.

Like me they like the convenience of having 1000 books at their fingertips. But also like me, they made remarks such as “I spend enough time on computers; I need a break; I like the feel of the pages” and so on.

Of course, as mentioned in last week’s blog, there are plenty of other advantages of the good old-fashioned, reliable, durable print books as well.

I don’t think e-books will keep declining. But neither will print books. Rather than one format taking over a bigger share of the market, I feel the two formats will both share in a bigger market as more people discover the joy – and wisdom – of reading.

At least I like to think so.

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The pros and cons of e-Books and Print books.

I summarized below some of the advantages of both eBooks and Print books. And there could be many others.

For example, printed books may offer a feeling of pride or prestige when you have an impressive library in your office or studio. In the same way, being an earlier adopter of the latest e-Reader, and showing off your latest technological acquisitions may boost your self-image and impress your friends and associates. Or curling up with a good book in front of the fireplace might bring comfort and relieve stress. Or maybe you prefer the smell, feel, and texture of a hardcover book.

But what about the disadvantages of each? Well, in most cases you could just say the advantage of one would be a disadvantage of the other. But what about the impact on your health and well-being?

Eyestrain is already mentioned below; but eBooks add more screen time to your life. In an average week in 2011, for instance, we spent about 28.5 hours watching TV and 2.8 hours watching Internet TV. Add the reading of digital books to that, in addition to weekly computer work, social media, electronic games and surfing websites, and there has to be more than just eyestrain occurring.

In fact, excessive screen time has been associated with sleep problems, headaches, lack of focus and reduced social skills. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no media use for children younger than 18 to 24 months old. Even six-year olds and older are urged to be limited to two hours a day.

It has also been suggested that comprehension and recall increase when reading Print books as opposed to e-Books.

In one survey on why people read Print books rather than e-Books, some did it to get a break from all the screen time they experienced during the day. They found it more relaxing.

One team at the Boston Consulting Group took a full day a week free of any connectivity at all, and found more enjoyment in their work, better communication among themselves, more learning, and a better product delivered to the client.

Whether you choose to read Print books or e-Books is a matter of personal preference; but when it comes to total screen time, moderation is the best policy.

Personally I read both; but prefer Print books. Since I read so many non-fiction books, and rarely read an entire book, I find it easier to skip, skim and search out specific information from a Print book than an e-Book. I usually buy any Amazon $1.99 Kindle specials that are relevant to my areas of interest for my iPad and iPhone and laptop. Combined with the habit of downloading many of the same e-Books that I have in print, I have a portable library no matter where I travel.

Advantages of e-books

Less expensive to purchase.

Interactive, and can link to dictionary, different translations, websites, and so on.

May have advantages for those with reading disabilities or sight problems since font size, brightness, and words per line can be adjusted.

Lighter and more portable. Can carry over 1000 books in the palm of your hand.

Easier to store, locate, organize the various books.

No shipping cost involved when ordering online.

Easier to travel with books. Require less space.

Advantages of print books.

More comfortable to read, easier on the eyes.

Easier to share, trade or loan.

More visually aesthetic, great for decorating, more attractive and tactile.

Easier on the eyes, less eye strain.

Able to write notes on pages in addition to highlighting.

Make more meaningful gifts.

Greater variety of topics and genres available.

Last longer, vintage books, historical, collectibles.

Easier to flip through the pages searching for information.

Facilitate visual sticky notes to bookmark pages.

In the next blog article I will discuss the future of Print books and E-books. Are we heading for a digital world when it comes to reading or will Print books be making a comeback?

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Add a little more music to your life.

In 2016 I wrote and posted here an article on the power of music that summarized over a dozen benefits of music. It included its beneficial impact on stress, creativity, pain, depression, healing, sleep, fatigue, memory, performance, blood pressure and more.

But music affects different areas of the brain in different ways. For example, sad music can make some people feel sad while not affecting others. A moderate noise level is the sweet spot for creativity while loud noises can impede creativity. Listening to music can drown out fatigue during low or moderate-intensity exercise, but not during high-intensity exercise, and so on.

With music, in some cases it’s a trial and error process of determining what works for you.

Music can actually distract us while driving – although most people believe otherwise. Studies have shown that it is safer not to listen to your favourite music. Drivers listening to their own choice of music made more mistakes and drove more aggressively. It would appear that unfamiliar or uninteresting music is better when it comes to driving safely.

Although the above comments indicate that music is not a panacea for health and happiness, research keeps revealing more and more advantages of introducing music into our lives at any age.

An article from New York Times magazine stated that “surrounding ourselves with music and an environment and décor from our younger years can help keep our attitudes young.

Ephraim P. Engleman, a noted rheumatologist who was still active before he died at 104, when interviewed for an article on aging in the January, 2015 issue of Reader’s Digest, claimed that “playing music is a real stimulus, and very, very good for the soul.”

Research has pointed to the astounding effects of learning an instrument; one study carried out by the Radiological Society of North America found that taking music lessons increases brain fibre connections in children, which is why music is such an important part of learning.

Doctors are recommending that older people learn to play a musical instrument to keep their brain young; much in the way that brain games enhance important skills such as problem solving and creativity, music, too, can keep the brain sharp, staving off memory loss and dementia.

Pat Martino was one of the most original of the jazz-based guitarists to emerge in the 1960s, made a remarkable comeback after brain surgery in 1980 to correct an aneurysm that caused him to lose his memory and completely forget how to play. It took years, but he regained his ability, partly by listening to his older records.

Music is used to rev up spectators at hockey games and other sporting events – so it might rev you up as well if you find life is not as exciting as it used to be.

And anything that helps develop cognitive reserve is worth some time.

 

 

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Cut costs to improve your bottom line.

Back in 2005, Angie Mohr, in her book, Managing Business Growth, claimed that 96% of all small businesses fail within 10 years. Today it isn’t much different. Brian Martucci, in an article posted in Small Business, states that according to Bloomberg, 8 out of 10 businesses fail within the first 18 months. Richard Legg, in his 2017 book, Hidden Profits, claims that business owners get so caught up in their business that they’re unable to work “on” their business.

As business owners, we must be able to step back from the business and keep tabs on what’s going on. We must spend more time managing the business and spending less time doing what the business does. Most business writers and consultants claim the major cause of business failure is “poor management. “ But according to Dun and Bradstreet, more than 85% of business failures are preventable.

I don’t think it’s so much poor management as it is a lack of management.

For example, if we can’t afford to take the time to learn and apply new ideas, attend workshops, read the latest books and keep up with the times – because we are so busy doing what we are in business to do – our business will soon be in trouble.

A major purpose of a Chamber of Commerce, for example, is to provide its members with information essential to growing strong businesses.  It would be wise for the members to take advantage of the learning opportunities, and to suggest other topics if the information does not meet their specific needs.

I know that one of my problems in running a business was my tendency to spend like crazy when times were good, and then try to cut corners and skimp when business was slow. It took a while to learn that cutting costs, not quality or service, was an ongoing activity that maintained a healthy bottom line, and avoided any cash flow problems when sales dipped.

Checking bank charges to ensure the best plan for your level of activity, switching to fluorescent light bulbs , which are said to use as much as 22% energy, printing on both sides of computer paper, hiring virtual freelancers from websites such as “Upwork,” finding a use for your by-products – there is no end to the possibilities for reducing costs.

It only requires a questioning attitude and the odd brainstorming session with yourself or others, and a commitment to not get so involved in doing the work that you don’t have time to manage the work.

Some of the ideas from my 30-page special “Promotion on a shoestring” report also reduce costs, such as using classified ads instead of display ads, sending out news releases to the media, trimming your product line, including sales pitches with product shipments, and offering downloadable products. In fact anything that increases sales indirectly reduces costs.

This Promotion on a Shoestring report is available for download for $4.95 CDN at our website. Click here for a detailed description of the report.