Design a Productive and Stress-Free Home Office in 6 Easy Steps

Design a productive and stress-free home office in 6 easy steps (with pictures):
1. Make your cable clutter disappear.
2. Get the biggest desk you can fit in your office.
3. Make a peripherals playpen.
4. Use multiple monitors.
5. Store documents and tools in filing cabinets and sorters.
6. Keep frequently-used tools in a desktop swivel organizer.

A year ago my home office was a mess.

It was full of clutter. It didn’t have the tools and supplies I needed. I felt overwhelmed just walking into it.

One day I decided enough is enough. I resolved to create a workspace that would help me:

  1. Easily find stuff.
  2. Work quickly and easily.
  3. Feel relaxed and in control.

Below are the 6 steps I followed to transform my office from chaos to order, from a stress-inducing mess to a workspace that’s functional and comfortable.

These steps worked for me and they can work for you too.

1. Make Your Cable Clutter Disappear

It would have looked prettier if I had used cable ties instead. But I didn’t have any and I was curious to see if the duct tape would hold. Well that was a year ago and all I can say now is “God bless duct tape.”

2. Get the Biggest Desk You Can Fit in Your Office

I started with just one Ikea Fredrik desk. But one day I came home with 4 pages of hand-written notes. I wanted to lay the pages side-by-side so I could refer to them while I typed some follow-up emails.

But I didn’t have room on my single desk so I bought a second Fredrik and placed it beside my first one:

Then I gave myself another few feet of desk space by buying some shelving board from Home Depot.

3. Make a Peripherals Playpen

I wanted peripherals like my headset, voice recorder and thumb drive to be within reach of my chair but I didn’t want them to clutter my desk space.

I tied most of the cables so that they’re not sprawling everywhere. But you might want to keep the USB cable and wall charger for your phone at full length if you need to use your phone while it’s charging.

4. Use Multiple Monitors

You just don’t have time to constantly resize windows and compare them as you squint at a tiny laptop screen.

The extra monitors help me complete most tasks about one-third faster.

You can buy a second monitor for about $165 and set it up in 3 steps.

5. Store Documents and Tools in Filing Cabinets and Sorters

The sheer number of papers, tools and supplies that you can neatly organize inside a filing cabinet is amazing for how little space it takes up on your floor. And cabinets rock when it comes to fast storage and easy retrieval.

I recommend you get 1 hanging-folders cabinet and 1 sliding-tray cabinet.

The cabinet with the hanging folders and envelopes works best for storing anything that isn’t a standard-sized sheet of paper:

Use the sliding-tray cabinet for standard-size paper documents. But try putting your folders in the top drawer and supplies like tape, CDs and batteries in the bottom drawer:

But what about the paper documents you use most frequently? If you look through the same folders every week, it’s a pain to find and resort them alphabetically each time.

I keep documents related to projects I regularly work on in file sorters that I got at Staples:

6. Keep Frequently-Used Tools in a Desktop Swivel Organizer.

I’m right handed so I keep my desktop swivel organizer within reach on my right.

It’s got everything I use most often, like scissors, markers, ear plugs, staple remover and even a tape measure.

You Can Do It!

I had a blast designing my new office and I wish I’d done it sooner.

I found that creating an effective workspace that increases productivity and reduces stress is about doing  3 simple things:

  1. Get the furnishings, equipment and supplies you need.
  2. Regularly purge your clutter.
  3. Keep things organized: “Everything has a place. Everything in its place.”

An Innovative Resume Template that Includes Testimonials

Download this resume template to showcase:
1. Your top 6 skills.
2. Two supporting points per skill.
3. Two supporting testimonials per skill.

A client recently recommend me to a Vice President (VP) that was hiring for her business.

After the VP glanced at my resume, the VP said “I have no idea what this guy does.”

Fortunately my client came to my rescue:

“I know his resume sucks. But he doesn’t! Let me tell you about him.”

Because my client endorsed my work, the VP contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in discussing the position. I got lucky. Because if my client hadn’t vouched for me, the VP wouldn’t have been interested just based on my resume.

Is Your Resume Working for You?

The incident made me realize that if I’m not introduced to a hiring manager then I have a problem: My resume sometimes does a lousy job of generating interest in me.

To tackle the problem, I made a functional resume — but with a few twists that I haven’t seen before. Here’s my new format:

  • My top 6 skills, each written as a headline that shows the benefit of the skill.
  • 2 supporting points per skill.
  • 2 supporting testimonials per skill.

Testimonials are important because they build your credibility and authority. What others say about you is more believable than what you say about yourself.

The testimonials work best if you prove that they’re real by listing the link to them on your LinkedIn profile.

Feel free to download this template and use it yourself. Here’s my new resume (I removed my contact information from the header) in Microsoft Word format:

Let me know if you find this format helpful. And if you still think it sucks, let me know that, too. But please tell me why you think so.

And best wishes to you for your career and job search.

P.S. I believe that Nick Corcodilos and Seth Godin are right when they say that you should first do remarkable work and nourish your relationships rather than just use your resume as a crutch during your job search. 

3 Tips to Make your Ideas Sticky

3 tips (from the book Made to Stick) to make your ideas sticky so that people remember them and take action:
1. Make your ideas simple.
2. Make your ideas concrete.
3. Make your ideas into a story.

Good evening everyone. I hope you all had a great Christmas holiday. Do you know what I did this holiday?

While you might have been relaxing — putting your feet up, sipping eggnog mixed with brandy and bourbon — I was hunched over my computer, slogging away. I was taking 20 pages of notes about an intriguing book that I was reading.

It’s called Made to Stick and it’s written by two brothers, Chip and Dan Heath. Has anyone read it?

Great, that’s less than half of us.

My last speech was about 3 ways that watching TED Talks can improve our speaking.

And after I read Made to Stick, I noticed something about one of my favorite TED presenters, Seth Godin.

So tonight I’d like to share these 3 tips with you:

  1. Make your ideas simple.
  2. Make your ideas concrete.
  3. Make your ideas into a story.

Have you ever listened to a Toastmasters speech and wondered,

What was that about?

Well, people can’t remember all of the details of your speeches. But these tips can help you make a few of your key ideas stick.

I tried to use these tips to create this presentation. And after I shared this talk with my girlfriend, she was able to easily tell me the gist of it in her own words. So I think these tips are helping me and I hope they’ll help you, too.

1. Make Your Ideas Simple

The first tip is to make your ideas simple.

Have you ever heard a CEO say that her company’s goal is to:

“Maximize shareholder value”?

But what does that mean? It’s abstract. It’s hard to understand. It can mean different things to different people.

Compare that to the strategy of the the former CEO of Southwest Airlines. He said:

We are THE low-fare airline.

Tracy from Marketing walks into his office and says,

Our surveys show that our passengers might enjoy a light entree on the Houston to Las Vegas flight. All we offer is peanuts. I think a chicken Caesar salad would be popular.

The CEO retorts,

Tracy, will adding that chicken Caesar salad help make us the THE low-fare airline from Houston to Las Vegas? Because if it doesn’t, we’re not serving any damn chicken salad.

“We are THE low-fare airline” is a simple but profound idea. And it’s guided the actions of Southwest employees for over 30 years.

2. Make Your Ideas Concrete

The second tip is to make your ideas concrete.

A new software company sets a goal to create:

The next great search engine.

Within the start-up are 2 programmers. They have nearly identical knowledge and they sit in neighbouring cubicles.

To one programmer, “the next great search engine” means completeness – your search should return everything relevant.

But to the second programmer it means speed – you search should get pretty good results very fast.

Imagine these 2 programmers are soccer teammates: the first progammer is aiming for the goal on the left side of the field and the second programmer is aiming for the goal on the right side.

Their efforts aren’t aligned because their goal isn’t concrete.

Compare their abstract goal with Boeing’s concrete goal for creating the 727 airplane in the 1960s.

Boeing’s goal was not to build:

The best passenger plane in the world.

Their goal was to build a plane that met 3 specific requirements:

  1. Seat 131 passengers.
  2. Fly nonstop from Miami to New York City.
  3. Land on Runway 4-22 at La Guardia.

Is there anything in those 3 points that you could misinterpret? They’re totally concrete, aren’t they?

And that concrete goal coordinated the actions of thousands of experts from engineering to manufacturing to create the 727.

3. Make Your Ideas into a Story

The third tip is to make your ideas into a story.

Stories are usually the only thing that inspire people to take action.

I’m in the gym the other day and I’m listening to an audio book about the Dell computer company. And the book says that a key to Dell’s success is it’s great customer service.

But the book doesn’t give me any examples or stories.

So I didn’t learn anything. Telling me “good customer service is important” is useless. It’s not like I thought that bad customer service was the way to go.

Compare that to the stories at FedEx.

In one story during a winter storm in Vancouver, a tractor trailer is blocking the road going to the airport. A FedEX driver and a ramp agent try every possible alternate route to the airport. But they’re surrounded by traffic jams.

So they step out of the truck, load the last packages into their arms, and they personally carry every package the last mile to the airport for an on-time departure.

In another story in New York, a delivery truck breaks down and the replacement van is running late. The FedEx driver delivers a few packages on foot, but then she fears that she’ll never finish her deliveries on time.

So she persuades a driver from a competitor to drive her to the last few deliveries.

When Dell says that they have great service, it’s too abstract. We don’t know what they actually do for customers.

But when FedEx tells these stories, we know that their drivers don’t see their jobs as merely driving a truck from 9 to 5 and then going home. They see their jobs as doing whatever it takes to ensure that you get your package on time.

3 Tips to Make Your Ideas Stick

Let’s recap the 3 tips to make your ideas stick:

  1. Simple: “We are THE low cost airline.” It’s a short but profound idea that guides behavior.
  2. Concrete: The 3 concrete requirements for the Boeing 727. The goal was understood by everybody.
  3. Story: During a storm, a FedEx driver walking a mile to personally carry your package to the airport. This story inspires other drivers to do the same.

I’ve only shared 3 of the 6 tips from Made to Stick. If you’d like to hear the other 3, just come talk to me. And I definitely encourage you to get the book.

It’s helped Seth Godin, it’s helped me, and I think it’s a must-read for anyone interested in communication.

Thank you.


Mount your Computer Monitors to Save Desk Space

A monitor mount lifts your computer displays above your desk so that you can:
1. Use as many monitors as you need.
2. Make use of all of your desk space.

A second monitor can increase your productivity and save you time.

But what if you don’t have space for an extra monitor?

You have 2 options:

  1. Get a bigger desk.
  2. Get a monitor mount.

There are 2 kinds of monitor mounts:

  1. Wall mounts.
  2. Desk mounts.

Let’s look at each:

Wall Mounts

Which Mount is Better?

The desk mount has the following advantages:

  1. You don’t have to put holes in your wall to use it.
  2. It’s portable if you need to move it from desk to desk.
  3. It much more affordable.

The desk mount picture above is the Monoprice 3-Way-Adjustable Tilting DUAL Desk-Mount Bracket for LCD.

It’s $38.40 and it has received rave reviews.

I’ve never used a mount. But if I do get one, I’ll get the Monoprice one. It’s proven its value to many users. 

6 Resources that Will Improve Your Writing

6 of the best resources for writers:
– 3 Books (1 for basics, 1 for reference, and 1 for sticky writing).
– 2 Websites (1 for web writing and 1 for content marketing).
– 1 App (a dictionary).

[Insert here the blah-blah intro text that nobody reads.]

1. The Basics of Writing: Elements of Style

Elements of Style is the best guide for learning the fundamentals of writing.

The only problem with Elements of Style is that it’s too short to stand alone as an all-encompassing tutorial or reference guide. For that you’ll need:

2. The Best Reference Guide: Garner’s Modern American Usage

If Garner says it then it is so.

Don’t let the mammoth length of Modern American Usage deter you: you read it 1 essay at a time or you look up 1 word at a time.

It’s like a friend you call on in times of need. You grab it quickly to find something. But then you become engrossed in the book’s insight and charm and you read beyond what you’d intended to look-up.

You might expect a reference guide to be boring and stuffy but Garner’s wry sense of humor jumps off the page.

3. The Fastest Dictionary: Google Dictionary

Google Dictionary is the fastest way to look-up a word.

If you prefer Firefox, get Dictionary Search. Then just right-click on a word to look-it-up.

The best written and most comprehensive dictionary is the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. I own it but I don’t recommend it because it’s a pain to use.

4. Writing Usable Content for the Web: Jakob Nielsen

Nielsen’s writing for the web articles show you how to format your web writing so that people can find and use your information.

My 10 Simple Tips to Get More People to Read Your Writing is grounded in Nielsen’s research.

5. Writing Sticky Content that is Memorable and Persuasive: Made to Stick

Made to Stick is filled with examples to make your ideas:

  • Concrete (So people understand).
  • Credible (So people believe).
  • Emotional (So people care).
  • In a story format (So people act).

6. Writing Compelling Content that is your Advertising: Copyblogger

You can use content marketing to promote yourself, your business or your ideas.

The popular articles listed on Copyblogger’s homepage are great examples of writing that:

  1. Is useful to readers.
  2. Builds the credibility and authority of the authors.

These are my favorite writing resources. What are some of yours? 

Web Writing Must be Simple, Short and Scannable

Web content must be:
1. Simple to grasp. (Or it won’t be read.)
2. Short and to the point. (Users are ruthlessly impatient.)
3. Scannable. (Users skim to find what they want.)

To communicate effectively over the web, you need to format your message to fit the medium.

And since the web is different from mediums such as TV or books, you must write your content in a different way for the web.

This article answers 3 questions:

  1. How is the web different from TV and books?
  2. Why is “simple, short, and scannable” content effective for the web?
  3. How do you make your content simple, short, and scannable?

1. How is the web different from TV and Books?

TV and books are passive mediums. People leisurely absorb their content over long periods of time.

The web is an interactive medium. Web users actively engage web content over short periods of time.

We lean back to watch TV or read a book. We lean forward to search the web.

People use the web like a phone book or dictionary: They rifle through it, looking for what they need. They don’t want to read. They want to quickly find something so they can return to what they were doing.

2. Why is “Simple, Short, and Scannable” Effective for the Web?


You should adopt a simple writing style because:

    • The easier your writing is to understand, the more likely readers are to plow through your words.
    • Users don’t like doing hard work. They prefer effortless reading.
    • About 40% of web users have low literacy, but even highly-literate readers prefer straightforward information.


You should write content that is short and to the point because:

    • People ruthlessly abandon long-winded sites. They mainly want to skim highlights.
    • Your page is competing with millions of others. On average, users scan a page for only 33 seconds. They quickly move between pages.
    • We assume that most communication is useless and we tune it out. We’ve been burned too many times for enduring mind-numbing wads of verbiage — either corporate jargon or blogger stream-of-consciousness ramblings.


You should format your content so that people can easily scan it because:

    • 79% of web users don’t read; they scan.
    • Users are often on a specific mission: They’re hunting for an answer or trying to buy something.
    • People need to know what they’re getting into before they dive in. Scannable content highlights what they’re interested in and lures them in.

3. How do you make your writing Simple, Short and Scannable?

Here’s a 10-point checklist for your web content. 

10 Simple Tips to Get More People to Read Your Writing

10 ways to format content for the web. Follow these simple design tips to instantly get more people to read your content.

Your web content must be simple, short and scannable.

Use these 10 design tips to break big, uninterrupted blocks of text into bite-sized pieces that are inviting and easy to digest.

1. Write Short Articles

People spend about 46 seconds on a 600-word article. That’s reality.

You must fragment your content into nuggets that users can assimilate in a two-minute visit to your site.

Divide in-depth content into a series of posts.

2. Write in a Simple Manner

Write like you talk. (But then edit ruthlessly.)

There are millions of other web pages competing for your reader’s attention. If your writing is difficult to understand, the user will leave your site to find one that is easier to comprehend.

About 40% of web users have low literacy. And everyone prefers language that is direct, plain and concise.

The hallmark of a great stylist is the ability to take a difficult idea and express it as simply as possible. ~Bryan Garner.

3. State Your Conclusion First

Write a summary of your article at the top of your page and make assertions in the subheads.

Then support your assertions in the body of your content.

This structure is called the inverted pyramid and it helps scanners to move from point to point before they decide where they’d like to dive in deeper.

4. Use Subheads that Make Assertions

Subheads divide your content into digestible pieces.

People scan web pages in an F-shaped pattern. Your subheads will help them catch the sections they’re interested in.

Use subheads that make assertions — e.g., “Write Short Articles,” not “My Thoughts on Article Length.”

5. Use Short Paragraphs

Write paragraphs with no more than 3 or 4 sentences — anything longer is daunting and begs to be skipped.

Use short sentences, too.

A wall of text is deadly for an interactive experience. Intimidating. Boring. Painful to read. ~Jakob Nielsen.

6. Use Images and Image Captions

Images provide visual evidence for your assertions and they can help users learn up to 27% more:

7. Highlight Important Words and Phrases

I usually bold important text. But you can also use:

  • Italics.
  • Colors.
  • Typefaces.

And colored text boxes, etc.

8. Use Lists

Lists work because they make a specific promise to your reader. I’ve promised to give you 10 tips that will get more people to read your writing.

My list captured your attention and kept you reading.

Writing in bullet-point lists might also help you to be pithier.

9. Use Links and Footnotes

Use internal links back to your own content to keep people on your site and reading your best material.

Use external links to show that you’ve researched your topic and that you’ve acknowledged other experts.

Links and footnotes ((The footnotes plugin that I’m using is WP-Footnotes.)) shield users from overwhelming detail while providing more information to those who need it.

10. Use Headlines that Describe the Content and Emphasize the Benefits

This is the most important tip.

On average, only 2 out of 10 people will click on a headline. If they don’t click on your headline, they’ll never read your article.

Your headline must:

  1. Meaningfully describe the content. (People don’t click on links that they don’t understand.)
  2. Provide the benefits of reading the content.

Copyblogger has the best series on how to write magnetic headlines.

What methods do you use to engage people to read your content?


5 Personal Benefits of Volunteering

You can gain 5 benefits from volunteering. Volunteer to benefit others and yourself. “Selfish” volunteers actually volunteer more than purely “altruistic” volunteers.


Psychologist Mark Snyder was surprised to find that nearly 1 of every 3 adults in the United States regularly volunteers:


I was struck by how much easier it was to come up with reasons why people shouldn’t volunteer than why they should. It’s time consuming, it’s stressful, it takes time away from your job or family or leisure.

What propels so many people to donate their time and energy?

The 5 Reasons that People Volunteer

Snyder and his colleagues identified 5 motivations for volunteering:

  1. Values: To satisfy personal values or humanitarian concerns.
  2. Community concern: To help a community such as a neighborhood or ethnic group to which you feel attached.
  3. Esteem enhancement: To feel better about yourself or to escape other pressures.
  4. Understanding: To gain a better understanding of other people, cultures or places.
  5. Personal development: To challenge yourself, to meet new people and to make new friends, or to further your career.

Volunteer for Something that Matches Your Motivations

  • Younger volunteers usually volunteer for career-related reasons.
  • Older volunteers usually volunteer to satisfy their abstract values such as “good citizenship” and “contributing to their communities.”

People whose experiences best matched their motivations were more satisfied with the experience. Those same people also said that they’d be more likely to continue volunteering.

Snyder’s team found that people who have more seemingly “selfish” motivations — esteem enhancement, personal development and understanding — are more likely to stick with a volunteering organization longer than people with more “other focused” motivations, such as values.

The most committed, productive, and long-term volunteers seem to be those whose volunteer experience satisfies a personal agenda:

Volunteers do best at helping others when in the process of helping, they help themselves, too.

Snyder agrees that volunteering benefits both the volunteer and others:

Volunteering can have an altruistic component, reflecting a true concern for the welfare of others, but also an egoistic component, in that the volunteer receives clear benefits to the self. It’s better to see the two feeding each other, rather than being in competition.

If you’d like to volunteer, do something that you’ll love, something that is personally rewarding. Ask yourself:

  • What activity would you like to try doing?
  • Which people would you like to meet?
  • What industry would you like to learn about?
  • What skill do you want to improve?

The more motivated you are, the more rewarding the experience will be, and the more you’ll contribute to the recipients of your volunteering.

Where Should You Volunteer?

Personally, I’ve experienced 5 benefits from volunteering with Junior Achievement.

For teenagers, here are 20 ways to help other people (and yourself) by volunteering.

The video belows shows how we all volunteer daily, even by just holding a door for someone. It explores why now is a great time to volunteer.


Be an Expert: Write Articles, Not Blog Posts

To become an expert on a topic, write original, helpful, and research-driven articles about the topic.


Jakob Nielsen, “the guru of web page usability,” criticized commodity bloggers who write superficial posts. He advised experts and would-be experts alike that:

To demonstrate [your] world-class expertise, avoid quickly written, shallow postings. Instead, invest your time in thorough, value-added content that attracts paying customers.

Nielsen’s advice is solid. But his article seems to be written for people who are the “#1 expert among the 1,000 people with websites in their field.”

But what about the other 999 of us who want to contribute to our fields? What about those of us who want to become recognized experts?

That’s what this article is about:

To become an expert, avoid hastily written, superficial posts that parrot others. Instead, write original, helpful, and expertise-driven articles.

Wait, didn’t I just parrot Nielsen? Read the rest and you decide.

This article answers three questions:

  1. What is the difference between superficial posts and expert articles?
  2. Why should you only write expert articles?
  3. How can you write expert articles if you’re not yet an expert?

1. What is the Difference Between Superficial Posts and Expert Articles?

Here’s a superficial post:

Joe Blow wrote a cool piece about blah blah blah. You should check it out. It’s good.

Actually, that post is not so bad because at least it’s short. And it might even provide a helpful link.

But it’s neither original nor expert: The author doesn’t share any of his own ideas or knowledge.

Here’s an expert article: 8 Incredibly Simple Ways to Get More People to Read Your Content by Pamela Wilson.

Her article shows how you should write if you want people to actually read your writing.

In her article, Wilson is:

  1. Original: She shares her own ideas.
  2. Helpful: She provides useful tips that you can use immediately.
  3. Expertise driven: She couldn’t have written this article without the knowledge she had gained from other experts and from her own experience.

2. Why Should You Only Write Expert Articles?

Because you want to be an expert — and experts write expert articles. You don’t become an expert by dashing off posts that lack profundity.

Do you believe that it’s a grandiose ambition to want to be recognized as an authority in your field? I think that it’s a common aspiration among bloggers.

Let’s say you write a post about “5 ways to be a better leader.” Do you want people to regard it as the trivial ramblings of a dilettante, or as the helpful insights of a knowledgeable professional?

To be respected as a thoughtful voice in your field, you don’t have to know everything and you don’t have to write in an authoritative tone. But you do have to write thoughtfully.

If you only write shallow posts that echo the thoughts of others, you won’t brand yourself as a thought leader who has ideas worth listening to.

3. How Can You Write Expert Articles if You’re Not Yet an Expert?

How does anyone become an expert? It takes time and diligence. Become more of an expert with each article that you write.

Invest the time to write diligent articles:

1. Be original:

Create your own ideas. Don’t just quote or regurgitate what others have said.

We’re all influenced by others, of course. But you can expand on someone else’s idea in a unique way:

  • Give your own interpretation.
  • Provide your own examples.
  • Discuss a related idea.

Give us your own commentary and critique. Be a creator, not a parrot.

2. Be helpful:

Solve a problem. Give useful information. Or at least be entertaining.

If you just report a problem or refer to a source, then you’re not acting like an expert.

Experts do research and then recommend solutions.

3. Be expertise driven:

Write based on knowledge, not just opinion.

How many times have you heard a communications trainer or some (not so) Very Smart Girls claim that “93% of communication is nonverbal”?

Either they didn’t read the research or they misinterpreted it. And now they’re offering baseless advice.

By contrast, Olivia Mitchell (definitely a smart girl) carefully explains the research as she explodes the 93% myth. She’s an expert.

In academic journals, an article is authoritative if many reputable journal articles have cited it. But those authoritative articles couldn’t have been written until their authors had first read the works of other experts in their field.

If you want to write authoritative articles (or blog posts), first read the works of other experts in your field. Your understanding of their work will increase your own knowledge and credibility.

And keep your articles short!

I hope this article doesn’t appear to have been written by a parrot?