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Friday, November 15, 2019

Seasonal Affective Disorder SAD

In this post, we discuss a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder, also styled as seasonal affective disorder and known as SAD for short.

According to the Mayo Clinic, "Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that's related to changes in seasons - SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you're like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer."  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, "Younger adults have a higher risk of SAD than older adults. SAD has been reported even in children and teens." 

Four Ways to Prevent or Minimize the Effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal affective disorder, sometimes referred to as the winter blues or summertime sadness, is a mood disorder that is closely linked to variations in light. For this reason, it is most prevalent in populations who live far from the equator, where seasonal light fluctuations are more severe. Though seasonal affective disorder is most frequently experienced during the winter months when daylight hours decrease, around ten percent of cases do present during the summer.

It's these summer cases that have medical professionals on the fence about the possible evolutionary causes of the disorder. While several theories have been proposed, two popular theories have risen above the others. One theory recounts the need for mankind's early ancestors to lower their caloric intake during the winter months when food would have likely been scarce, while the other likens the disorder to winter hibernation in animals. While both ideas do have merit, neither of these explanations account for the cases where onset occurs during the summer months.

Evolutionary background aside, a growing awareness of seasonal affective disorder is sparking new research among medical professionals. Word of this new research has many sufferers excited that real solutions may be just around the corner. While it's true that meaningful progress could happen quickly, the reality is that research into the disorder is still in its infancy. Due to this, definitive answers gained from the research—including the disorder's exact causes and most effective treatment options—remain relatively undocumented.

While definitive answers aren't yet available regarding the prevention and treatment of seasonal affective disorder, several suggestions have been put forth that may help prevent the disorder's onset, or at the very least, shorten its duration or minimize the severity of its symptoms. Here are four such suggestions that may prevent or minimize the effects of seasonal affective disorder.

1. Be more physically active.

Endorphins, a natural chemical released by the brain during physical activity, are known to cause feelings of euphoria and empowerment. They are also thought to reduce stress, while increasing overall sleep quality. For these reasons, endorphins can be a great tool in battling the unwanted feelings of depression caused by seasonal affective disorder. For times when physical activity isn't possible, try finding the humor in life because genuine laughter can also cause a release of endorphins.

2. Take a vacation during your problematic season.

Exposing yourself to weather conditions reminiscent of those experienced during a non-afflicted season may help you to keep the disorder at bay. If you suffer from winter seasonal affective disorder, then visit somewhere warm and sunny during the winter to help mitigate the disorder's effects. If you suffer from summer seasonal affective disorder, then plan a summer trip to a destination that resembles a typical winter in your area.

3. Spend more time outdoors.

Because traveling to far off lands isn't always an option, it is also recommended that sufferers try spending more time outdoors. Spending an hour or two in the midday sun can be especially effective for those suffering from winter seasonal affective disorder, as exposure to the sun acts as a form of light therapy. Time outdoors can also be helpful in some cases of summer seasonal affective disorder, because a simple change in pace can sometimes be enough to ward off an episode of depression caused by the disorder.

4. Consume a diet rich in fish.

Certain studies have found that while seasonal affective disorder is known to be more prevalent in areas far from the equator, there are areas in non-equatorial regions, like Iceland and Japan, with lower than average levels of the disorder. One commonality among these regions is increased fish consumption. This finding has led to some speculation that consuming a diet rich in fish may help limit the severity of seasonal affective disorder or prevent its onset altogether.

Though there's no known way to fully eliminate your chances of developing seasonal affective disorder, there are several potential ways to help prevent its onset, or at the very least, limit its duration or minimize the severity of its symptoms. By being more physically active, taking well-scheduled vacations, spending more time outdoors, and increasing your intake of fish, you will have a better chance of warding off any future bouts of seasonal affective disorder.

Cultivating many options

In life and career, it's critical that you always have multiple options available to you at any given time. In other words, you want to have a viable backup plan in place. But, I would contend, you don't want just one backup plan. You want at least a couple. Maybe even a few. And you want them always ready to go, at a moment's notice.

Case in point: as you may know from reading prior posts here at this blog, I have always worked in what I generically call the business world - a collection of different private sector roles over the years. It wasn't until only a year and a half ago or so that I started to explore possibilities in K-12 education, specifically high school -level education. One of these days, I would really love to teach at the college level. That's the ultimate end goal for me. But even though I'm passionate about, and excited to be a part of, the world of education, I continue to keep my eyes, ears, and mind open for new opportunities in business and industry. I continue to network and maintain my relationships with an extensive variety of business professionals and subject matter experts, and I keep my resume updated and ready to go if needed. I seek out opportunities to learn new skills and to strengthen skills I already have. Furthermore, I maintain a small amount of freelance marketing work in addition to my full-time work in education. I can always ramp up this freelance work if I want or need to.

Likewise, the same goes with my investing and retirement planning. It's important to cultivate multiple streams of income - multiple strategies and a diverse variety of solid investments - so that if one or more begin to falter, others can pick up the slack.

So that's what I mean when I talk about cultivating multiple options. You never know when you may need to turn to them, or shift them from playing a secondary role in your life or career to a primary role, or vice-versa. It's always wise to have a few viable backup plans ready to go at a moment's notice.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Exploring your local library

Are book stores making you poor? Borrow from your local library instead

With the price of many books being quite expensive, it’s no surprise that heavy readers are looking for cheaper alternatives to support their hobby. If you happen to find yourself spending way too much on books (many of which you only end up reading once), then it’s time to check out your local library to see what they have in stock. You’ll still find plenty to read, but you’ll no longer have to worry about the price on the back cover.

Regardless if you are looking to read a book from one of today’s hottest authors or a series that has received very little press, there’s a good chance that you will be able to find what you are looking for at your local library. By borrowing books whenever you can and only buying books as a last resort, you can save a great deal of money.

If you are the kind of person who likes to be right up to date with the latest book crazes, you’ll be happy to know that many of the larger libraries order in several copies of their most popular books. This is a common practice for new releases, the latest installment of a series, or books that have been made into popular movies.

Even so, without knowing a few tricks, some of the most popular books can be hard to get a hold of. If you are having trouble borrowing a particular book because it is always checked out, don’t wait around for it to be put back on the shelf. Chances are the book has a waiting list that your name should probably be put on. Library staff can let you know how to go about adding your name to the list.

If you are unable to check out a certain book right away, there is no reason to become discouraged. Take the opportunity to read another book while you are waiting. Remember, it doesn’t cost you anything to borrow a book, so you’ve got nothing to lose even if the book you decide on isn’t quite your cup of tea. Simply return the book and borrow another one instead.

There will be times when you have a specific book in mind that you’d like to read, only to learn that the library doesn’t own a copy of the book. To help combat this problem, many libraries offer what is known as an interlibrary loan (ILL). By using the interlibrary loan service, your library can help you to borrow your desired book from another participating library that has an available copy.

The one thing that you must remember to do is return the books on time. You’ll never save any money if you return the books past their due dates because you’ll end up having to pay late fees. Granted, these fines aren’t all that expensive, but they can certainly add up if you continue to keep books past your allotted time. Be sure to inquire about the cost of fines when opening a new library account, so you know what to expect if you do end up with an overdue book.

If you’ve been spending more money on books than you’d like and are looking for a way to save some money, then it’s time to stop buying your books and start borrowing them from your local library instead. If you choose to make the library your main source of reading material instead of your local book store, then you will be able to save a lot of money while still reading to your heart’s content.

A lot more than just books...

But beyond just books, libraries offer so much more to help us learn, grow, and discover. This statement rings especially true in today's highly-digitized world, where smart devices and plenty of other forms of technology have made it a lot easier to take in new knowledge and insights. Libraries, like the rest of the world, have had to modernize their offerings and services by keeping pace with the rapidly-changing technology scene in order to remain relevant and competitive.

For example, many libraries now offer portable Wi-Fi hotspots that you can borrow if you don't have regular Internet access at home. Many libraries also now loan out video games and game devices, as well as offer access to subscription streaming services that allow you to view movies and other digital content. For children and youth, specifically, makerspaces have become really popular.

All of this is above and beyond the usual collections of DVDs, CDs, news and article databases, desktop computer stations, and e-books and e-book devices. And the cost to you to be able to access all of this great stuff? All free with your library card. All of it. So what are you waiting for? Go to your local library and start exploring. If you haven't been to your library in quite a while, get reacquainted. You won't be disappointed! 

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Studying abroad

In this post, we'll be discussing the subject of studying abroad. If you're considering international travel as a part of your studies, either as a high school student or college student, you'll want to read and bookmark this post, as it will serve as a valuable resource for you when deciding whether a study abroad program is right for you.

Studying abroad, if you can make it happen, can be a wonderful, rewarding experience on a couple different fronts.

For starters, on more of a personal level, you're getting the chance to travel to another part of the world and take in some great sightseeing and attractions, along with another culture and all it has to offer - cuisine, language, music, customs, etc. You may make a few lifelong friends from the country you're visiting. In any case, there's no doubt you'll be making memories that will stay with you for life.

On more of a professional level, you're also setting yourself up nicely to stand out from the competition in the employment market. What an incredible, unique experience to be able to discuss and showcase on your resume. And if you picked up some solid language skills along the way, even better. The ability to write and speak in another language should have its own section on your resume. And let's not forget about all of the wonderful networking opportunities that can come out of this experience, either. The teachers, professors, other students, and local professionals that you'll be working with and getting to know during your time abroad can come to serve as valuable connections that can help you open many doors to professional opportunities.

So, without further ado, let's get into our guide and discussion on studying abroad. We'll begin by exploring strategies to help you select the right school for you. Next, we'll look at ways to help in striking that critical balance between staying on task when it comes to studying, and having fun. Finally, we'll discuss a few tips to help you stay in touch with your loved ones back home.


Preparing for your study abroad experience: Choosing the right school

Studying abroad is an experience like no other. Not only do international schools set the stage for unique character building moments, but they can also provide the perfect environment for fostering a student's independence and maturity. To reap the full benefits of studying abroad, however, each student must choose the school that is right for them, which isn't always the easiest thing to do.

To help make the process a little easier, here are some questions that, when answered, will help you identify your perfect school:
  • What do you hope to get out of your overall experience?
  • How long do you want to study abroad?
  • Which countries interest you most?
  • Do you have a specific course or language you'd like to study?
  • Are you more drawn to urban or rural settings?
  • Do you prefer larger institutions or smaller, more intimate schools?
  • Would you prefer a school that handles all the planning for its students or one where students take the initiative in most areas?
By answering these questions prior to searching, you'll be more equipped to find the schools that best fit your personal needs and preferences. As you conduct your search, be sure to make a list of any schools you would consider studying at, so you can more easily compare them later. Making a list of each school's features and drawbacks can also be helpful for when it comes time to compare individual schools. Finally, depending on your circumstances, it may be worth checking if each school's accreditation is recognized by schools and employers in your home country.

Now, before ruling out any schools, there are certain considerations that should be explored. A major factor you'll need to consider is the total cost of each study abroad program. Remember, different programs cost different amounts of money, and the full cost of studying abroad isn't always straightforward. Before deciding on a school, always check if the stated fees include the cost of housing, food, and extracurricular excursions. If such fees are not included, then your adventure will likely cost far more than the advertised price.

Before applying to any schools, you'll also need to check if your chosen program has any requirements for joining. Must students meet certain academic grade requirements to be welcomed into the program? Perhaps there are prerequisite courses that must be completed before you'll be granted admission. Certain schools also have language requirements that need to be met before enrollment can be finalized. To avoid wasting your time applying for programs that you aren't yet qualified for, always consult each program's list of requirements before filling out its corresponding application.

In the end, no matter which schools you are considering, it's important that you thoroughly research your options so that you fully understand what to expect if you are accepted to a study abroad program. Studying abroad is a big commitment, so always research ahead of time and talk with your family, friends, and academic advisor about any concerns you may have. By choosing the right school before you leave, you can maximize the benefits of your overall study abroad experience.

The importance of balancing work and play while studying abroad

Though studying abroad opens the door to many new and exciting adventures, it's important to remember that your education is also a priority. That's why, to have a truly successful experience while studying abroad, you'll need to balance work and play while you're away. Unfortunately, achieving the delicate balance between work and play isn't always the easiest thing to accomplish, especially for students without a parent or guardian nearby to help keep them on track. In such cases, you'll have to take it upon yourself to achieve your goals both inside and outside of the classroom.

So, to help you maintain a balance between work and play while studying abroad, here are four tips for staying focused on your studies, followed by another two tips for becoming a more efficient adventurer.

Tips for staying focused on your studies:

1. Pay close attention to your class schedule.

Your class schedule specifies when you should be in class, so don't use valuable class time to participate in non-school activities. Remember that your priority is to learn and to do so, you must attend the classes.

2. Keep track of school work and assignments.

Using a day planner, keep track of any upcoming tests and assignments you have due. This will help you stay on top of your course work so you can meet your deadlines.

3. Create a study plan.

Using your class schedule and day planner, create a study plan and stick to it. Do remember to schedule some time for adventure between study sessions however, because otherwise, you might as well have stayed home.

4. Find a study partner.

A study partner can help you stay focused on your studies, especially during times when you are feeling less than studious. Don't forget to return the favor if your partner needs some extra motivation, as well.

Tips for becoming a more efficient adventurer:

1. Prioritize the adventures that are most important to you.

There's likely a long list of things you'd like to see and do before returning home. While you probably won't have time to experience everything your host country has to offer, make sure to prioritize the things you'd most like to see and do before you leave. That way, you won't miss out on the attractions that are most important to you.

2. Think ahead.

Spontaneity can be great, but it can also cause you to spend more time than expected waiting in lines. Instead of making last-minute plans, think about your adventures in advance so you can make any needed reservations or pre-order any tickets or passes your adventures will require. A little preparation beforehand may allow you to bypass certain lines, so you can more efficiently explore your host country.

Studying abroad is a great way to expand your horizons, but to have a truly successful experience, it is necessary to balance both work and play. The problem is, when surrounded by so many new things to see and do, maintaining a satisfactory balance can be difficult. By adhering to the previously listed suggestions, however, you can prioritize your studies without having to forgo your most anticipated travel adventures.

How to keep in touch with loved ones at home while studying abroad

Whether it's just for a semester or for several years, there's no doubt that it can be hard being away from loved ones while studying abroad. Just because you happen to be in a different part of the world than your family and friends, however, doesn't mean you are ever truly alone. By making the effort to stay in contact with your family and friends while you are away, you can still feel connected to the people you care about, while enjoying the benefits from having the support of those who care about you.

Now, because keeping in touch with loved ones while studying abroad isn't always the easiest thing to do, certain actions should be taken before leaving to ease communication efforts while you are away. By taking such actions, you can eliminate many common communication obstacles faced by students who study abroad.

One common obstacle that can hinder communication efforts is a lack of Internet connectivity. Before leaving, determine whether Internet access will be available at your residence and, if not, consider purchasing a portable Wi-Fi hotspot device to aide in online communications. Having access to the Internet will allow you to easily connect with loved ones through e-mail or on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

For times when Internet communications won't be an option, you'll need to find alternative ways to keep in touch, like over the phone or through the postal service with letters or postcards. If you plan to keep in touch with loved ones over the phone, keep in mind that without a decent contract, your phone bills could get out of hand. Before leaving, consider mitigating costs by purchasing an international roaming package from your cell phone provider or some international calling cards.

No matter how you'll be communicating, whether it be through e-mail, over the phone, or through the postal service, remember to bring the corresponding e-mail addresses, phone numbers, or mailing addresses for the people you plan to contact while you're away. If you'll be communicating through programs like Skype or FaceTime, consider setting everyone up with the required software before you go - especially people who aren't tech savvy.

Because it can be hard to schedule real-time conversations when conversing across time zones, consult with your family and friends about scheduling daily or weekly check-ins at agreed-upon times. If the time differences are too extreme and you are unable to find a time that works for all parties, consider exchanging voice or video messages, as they can always be played later when it's more convenient.

Also, it's worth noting that because everyone's going to want to hear all about your adventures, you'll likely be repeating yourself many times. To limit the number of times you'll have to tell the same stories to your family and friends, consider sharing some of your experiences on a personal blog or through social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Google Hangouts can also be useful in this regard, as it lets you communicate with several people at once, cutting down on the number of times you'll need to repeat yourself.

Though keeping in touch with loved ones isn't the easiest thing to do while studying abroad, there are, thankfully, several communication methods you can try which could potentially connect you with your family and friends back home. Regardless of which methods you end up choosing, however, remember to make the necessary preparations beforehand, so you'll have an easier time communicating with loved ones until you can return home.

The benefits of networking

In reflecting back on some of the key things that have helped me be successful in life and career up to this point, perhaps the one key attribute that I continue to come back to time and time again is my ability to network - this ability to build and sustain meaningful relationships with a variety of business professionals and subject matter experts. This is a valuable life skill for anyone to have.

A while back, I wrote this brief primer on networking to introduce the concept to you. In this follow-up post, I go into more detail on how networking has personally benefited me through the years.

So, without further ado, here are some of the many benefits that can come with this two-way street of give-and-take and relationship building.

The exchange of helpful ideas and knowledge from experts. Through getting to know attorneys, accountants, insurance agents, financial planners, bankers, economists, elected officials and government employees, teachers and professors, people in the trades, chiropractors, nurses and doctors, people in marketing and advertising, caterers and restaurant owners, musicians, etc., etc., I've learned so much over the years about a variety of industries and fields; and I've walked away with practical tips, strategies, and resources from them that have been beneficial for my health and well-being, career, retirement planning, and various business ventures that I am or was involved with. And it's a two-way street - I've sought to help many people through the years with my own expertise in various subjects, like marketing, to name just one.

We can't be experts in everything, even though we all know that one person that really tries or claims to be, and so networking can help each of us better understand subjects that we can't, or simply don't want to, master ourselves.

Real, actual business can come out of networking. Everyone usually likes to do business with people they know and trust, and I'm no exception to that. I love to give my business to people I've gotten to know and build relationships with over a long period of time. In addition to these good people earning my direct business, though, I'm also always happy to recommend their products, services, and expertise to my family, friends, and other business associates, as well. Likewise, I've received plenty of business from my networking efforts over the years, too, in the form of various marketing, writing, and research projects.

Real employment can come out of networking. Over the years, I've been blessed to be able to secure regular, long-term employment from my extensive network of connections in business and education, and I've also helped others secure regular, long-term employment.

Staying current with trends. Tying into the first point about the exchange of knowledge and expertise, networking has helped me remain up-to-date on the latest in various fields, like technology and apps, social media and online marketing, higher education, the social sciences, business and finance, and world affairs, to name a few examples. Staying up to speed will ensure that you remain relevant and marketable (competitive) when it comes to employment and other professional opportunities. The opposite of relevant and marketable is the classic term "dinosaur," and you don't want to become a dinosaur. You don't want your career to become extinct.

As I explained in that intro to networking post, networking is such a valuable and important skill and activity, that entire organizations, events, and even social networking -style Web sites exist devoted to it. Get started today in building your network of trusted contacts.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Making money with Adsense and Blogger

With so many “get rich quick” stories floating around online, it seems like more and more people are searching for ways to get their own piece of the action. After all, if other people are making money on the Internet, then it can’t be all that hard, can it? It is this line of thinking that has people from all around the world starting up blogs and hoping to make some fast cash.

Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Sure, it’s not at all hard to sign up with Blogger and set up a free blog (this blog, Mr. Robertson's Corner, is a Blogger blog, and all I pay is $12 per year for the custom Web site address) – all you need to do is fill out a few forms and select the template you like best. The catch is, maintaining a blog is a lot of work and you’ll need an established blog before you can apply for a Google Adsense account. Google declines applications for blogs that do not contain enough quality content, so you want to avoid applying for the program too early.

To ensure that your blog is of high enough quality to be accepted into the Google Adsense program, you’ll need to find an interesting angle to your chosen topic and create many worthwhile posts about it. It will take a lot of hard work and dedication before you start to see a steady stream of visitors to your blog, so be prepared for the long haul. This is where your patience and writing skills are really going to come into play.

So, for example, the interesting angle of this blog, Mr. Robertson's Corner, is to serve as a helpful career and life skills resource for both high school and college undergraduate students. That's the niche I'm largely writing in here. I want to help students really get the most out of their classroom educations, hobbies and passions, first jobs, and volunteer and informal work experiences by showing them how to connect the dots between all of these facets and to "real world" skills and dispositions that will pay off - that can lead to meaningful employment and life's work. In short, I want to help students get a strong head start on life and work after their school years by supplementing their formal educations and informal learning experiences in the here and now.

This period between writing quality blog posts and waiting for the visitors to arrive is where most new bloggers ultimately give up. It can be discouraging to spend so much time adding interesting and informative content, only for it to sit there unread. Unfortunately, your first posts will likely go unseen until you have established yourself as a quality blogger.

That leaves us with the question, “How does a person establish themselves as a quality blogger?” Well, you can do this by continuing to add useful content to your blog and implementing various marketing strategies to bring in more visitors. As you add more posts and work on marketing your blog, your readership will gradually increase.

Once you have a steady stream of visitors and a substantial number of quality posts, it will be time to apply for a Google Adsense account. Luckily, this step couldn’t be simpler. With Blogger now owned by Google, you are encouraged to apply for an Adsense account from directly within the Blogger interface.

Once your application has been accepted, you will be able to select the size, shape, color, and location for the Adsense ads that will be displayed on your blog. Testing various combinations of ad types, colors, and locations will help you maximize your Adsense revenue potential.

As you can see, making money with Adsense and Blogger will require a lot of time and effort. Fortunately, if you are willing to add quality posts and market your blog, it can become a lucrative venture. Just be prepared to stick with it long term and wait until you have an established blog before applying for a Google Adsense account.

Monday, October 7, 2019

The complete guide to Google Adsense

Following is what I'm boldly declaring to be the complete guide to Google Adsense. I'm filing this post under the Careers in web development and online marketing, Careers in marketing, and Entrepreneurship categories. I'm also filing this under the Writing category, since it's helpful to have solid writing skills to take advantage of this neat money-making opportunity that the Google Adsense program offers. Specifically, you may want to check out these previous posts before diving deeper into this one, as they make for helpful prerequisites: Career options with writing skills, How to be successful at blogging, Making your own Web site, and The ability to write a valuable job skill.  

You may or may not have heard of the Google Adsense program, but I can pretty much guarantee you that you've seen it in action countless times without knowing its name. Whenever you visit a Web site or blog and you see text and/or image ads displayed, chances are they are a part of the Adsense platform. The ads might even say something like, "Ads by Google."

Anyways, in short, the program brings advertisers (businesses that are paying Google for online advertising space) and publishers (bloggers and Web masters who are willing to devote some of the space on their sites to featuring advertisements) together. In exchange for publishers featuring these ads on their sites, Google pays the publishers every time visitors to their sites click on the ads. And actually, there's another way to potentially be paid by Google without the need to have your ads clicked on. They're called CPM ads, and we'll learn about them shortly. So, that's the general gist of it. Of course, Google has many safeguards in place to prevent abuse and outright fraud from occurring. These safeguards protect both the individual advertiser from paying for fraudulent clicks, as well as the overall integrity and trustworthiness of the program.

Note that you have to be at least 18 years old to set up a Google Adsense account.

This post is pretty long. We're covering a lot of ground here, so I'm attempting to break it up with headers by topic and subtopic, as well as with a number of Adsense tutorial videos I've pulled from YouTube. If you're confused on anything, feel free to leave your questions and concerns in the comments section at the bottom of this post, and let's see what we can do to help you out. Enjoy!

Text heavy pages? Consider adding image ads

If you have a text heavy page and would like to add some visual components for a little variety, consider adding image or rich media ads from the program. Not only will image ads help to break up the monotony of the page, but they can also create a stream of revenue that takes very little effort to implement and maintain.

To add some image or rich media ads to your text heavy pages, you’ll need to be a member of the Google Adsense for publishers program. Applying is fairly easy to do, and you’ll know whether or not you’ve been accepted after a short waiting period, during which time a Google employee will assess your Web site.

Once you have been accepted into the program and are able to log into your Adsense account, you’ll need to create a new ad unit. Simply click on “My ads” and then “New ad unit”. From here, you’ll be able to choose from a number of ad sizes (larger ones tend to draw more attention) and set your ad type. To stop text ads from showing in your ad slot, be sure to choose “Image/rich media ads only” from the appropriate drop down menu. You’ll also be able to add custom channels to the ad unit to help you track its performance.

When you have finished creating your new ad unit, you will be given a piece of code that will need to be included in your page’s HTML wherever you want the ads to appear. Depending on the program you’ve used to create your site, you may need to switch to the HTML view before adding the code. Depending on your preferences, you can choose to display up to three ad units per page.

The main concern voiced by Web masters who have yet to add image ads to their pages is whether they will affect the page’s loading time. Because image ads must be sized at 50KB or smaller, most pages won’t see more than a negligible difference. All images and rich media ad content are also hosted on Google’s servers, so there is no need to worry about the ads filling up your valuable disk space.

Because text heavy pages often lack the necessary visual component to hold the attention of your visitors, it can sometimes be beneficial to add image or rich media ads to the pages. Doing so can both break up the monotonous look of the text heavy pages and help you to generate a little money at the same time.

Increase your earnings by choosing top performing ad sizes

If you're hoping to increase your Web site's revenue by tweaking your ad units, then you've probably thought about testing the various ad sizes to see which ones will work best on your site. That said, with so many ad sizes to choose from – 18 in all, not including the regional ad sizes – it can be hard to know where to start. So, how can a publisher effectively narrow down such a large number of ad sizes to be left with a more manageable selection?

Well, one way to narrow down the large selection is by prioritizing the ad sizes that are considered top performers by Google. Thankfully, it's easy to find Adsense's top performing ad sizes. Simply read through the Adsense Guide to Ad Sizes, found at, and pay special attention to the information that states which ad sizes are considered top performers and which are not.

According to Google, the top performing ad sizes are the 300x250 medium rectangle, the 336x280 large rectangle, the 728x90 leaderboard, the 300x600 half page, and the 320x100 large mobile banner. Please note that from this list, only the medium rectangle and the large mobile banner are currently formatted for use on high-end mobile devices. Also note that while the medium rectangle is formatted for all types of screens including mobile devices, the large mobile banner is aimed solely at mobile devices.

If instead of choosing a specific ad size you'd rather let Google dynamically decide which size of ad to display on your site, then consider using a responsive ad in your design. For this option, simply select the "Responsive" ad type when creating an ad. Though not officially listed as one of Adsense's top performing ad sizes, responsive ads tend to perform well because they automatically adapt to most screen sizes. While responsive ads are intended to be used on responsive sites, it's worth noting that they can also be used without issue on non-responsive sites.

Though the Adsense Guide to Ad Sizes provides a wealth of valuable information, it's important to remember that it contains sweeping generalizations that may not be true for all sites. Because of this, the most complete results tailored to your particular site can only be obtained by testing every available ad size on your actual site. For those of you who don't have the time or patience to test them all, consider displaying a responsive ad or an ad with dimensions matching one of Google's top performing ad sizes. By following this simple suggestion, it's entirely possible that you'll increase your overall Adsense earnings.

Increasing revenue: Color choices matter

There are many tips and tricks around the Internet for increasing Adsense publisher revenues. Though the number of visitors a Web site receives accounts for a large part of their potential earnings, there are other ways to ensure you are getting the most out of the visitors that you do receive. One important factor that everyone should definitely be testing is the color palette of their ads.

Now, since every site is different, it is impossible to know which color combinations will work best with your site, unless you have taken the time to test different color palettes. Four tests all Adsense publishers should undergo include blending your ads, complimenting your ads, contrasting your ads, and using standard link colors within your ads. Once you find which of these three work best with your site, you can continue to tweak your color choices until you have found the perfect combination.


With ads everywhere you turn on the Internet these days, it’s no wonder that people have developed ad blindness. Instead of looking at the ads, most people just pass right over most ads, never really noticing them. If you think this might be happening on your Web site, you may want to consider blending your ads.

Creating a color palette that blends with your site is simple. First, set the border and background of the ads to the same color as your site's background. Then, set the text and url of the ads to the same color you use for the majority of text on your site. Last, use the same color of your site’s links for the ad’s title area.

Blending your ads will make your advertisements look more like your site’s content, making it less likely that your visitors pass by them without giving them a second thought. With more people actually reading your ads, it is more likely that your visitors will find an ad that interests them, increasing your click through rate, and, in turn, your revenue.


On some Web sites, it can be a problem if the ads are too well blended with the content. This is especially true for sites that contain mostly long, text-filled pages, because the average person will skim quickly over the content when they are faced with a lot of words. In cases like these, it can prove beneficial to complement your ads instead of blending them into the page.

To make a complementing color palette for your ads, use the colors already found around your site, but be sure to set the border and background in your ads to a different color than your site’s actual background color. This will set your ad apart from the content, helping to draw attention to your ads while still matching the overall look and feel of your site.


There are also times when contrasting your ads with the rest of your Web site’s content will make for the highest click through rate. This is often the case for sites that use a dark background, but regardless of your site’s background color, it’s always best to test each option, while deciding which works best with your site.

To create a contrasting color palette, simply choose colors that stand out from your site’s background. Sites with dark pages should use light or bright colored backgrounds and borders in their ads, while light colored sites should choose darker colors. It is not mandatory to use your site's colors within these ads, but you can, should you choose to.

Using standard link colors

Another popular way for Adsense publishers to increase their advertising revenue is to use the Internet’s default link color, blue (hexadecimal color code #0000FF). The idea is, because people associate Internet links with this shade of blue, that they will more readily notice the link, and, in turn, click on it more often.

The other default link color you may want to test with your ads is the Internet’s default color for visited links, purple (hexadecimal color code #800080). This can also drive an increase in revenue, because most people associate this particular shade of purple with links to pages that they have already visited. Previously visited pages are not often associated with ads, so using the visited link shade of purple can help to avoid ad blindness and draw more attention to your ads, leading to more clicks.

A word of caution, however – the default color palette that Google provides when creating a new ad has nothing to do with the default linking colors that are standard among browsers. Adsense has also been known to change their default color palette in the past, so it is always best to create a custom palette to ensure your ads show the colors you desire.

As you can see, there are many factors to consider when choosing a color palette. To find out which one works best for you, it is important to utilize channels in your Adsense account, and it is recommended that you use A/B split testing. Split testing allows you to run two color palettes simultaneously, making it easy to determine which colors receive the higher click through rate.

To get the most accurate results, it is also important to leave each test running until you have received a large number of hits. The longer each test is run, the more data you will compile, allowing for a more accurate average to emerge. Testing is a key part of any Adsense publisher’s success, so be sure to test your color palettes and start earning more today.

Low Adsense CTR? Aim for higher CPM earnings

If you aren’t receiving many clicks to your ad units, despite having spent countless hours testing new sizes, colors, and placements, you might want to change your approach and try maximizing your earnings with CPM ads instead. Because CPM ads pay on a cost-per-thousand-impressions basis, the more impressions your ads receive, the more money you can potentially make – even without anyone clicking on your ads.

The key here is maximizing your total ad impressions, so doing everything you can to increase your hits is important. So, how can you increase your total hits? There are several ways to go about increasing your impressions, but one of the easiest is linking to additional or related information found on a separate page of your Web site. Linking to additional information will not only increase your Adsense impressions, but it will also help to keep your original page less cluttered.

Another simple way to increase impressions is to split long articles over two pages. This should not only increase your total hit count, but it will also make your pages load faster and the information seem less daunting to the reader. Be cautious when using this technique, however, because too many splits in an article can have the opposite effect and actually frustrate your visitors instead.

It is important to note that it is against Adsense terms and conditions to artificially generate ad impressions. If you are trying to increase your hits to maximize your CPM earnings, make sure that any and all additional pages that you are linking to on your site contain enough supplementary or related information to be useful to your visitors.

If you are wondering how you can get these CPM ads on your site, it’s easy. Simply insert the ad unit code on your page as usual, and Google will show a combination of CPC (cost-per-click) and CPM (cost-per-thousand-impression) ads within the ad slot. It is not currently possible to choose only CPC or CPM ads when creating an ad unit, and, despite some misconceptions, Google employees have verified that both image and text ads are used in CPM campaigns.

So, if you are looking for a way to increase your revenues, but you can’t seem to get any clicks no matter what you try, you should consider increasing your ad impressions as a way of maximizing your CPM earnings. By linking to additional or related information on your site and splitting up long articles across two pages, you can increase your total ad impressions and, ultimately, your total earnings.

Why don’t my ads match my content?

There are a few reasons that your ads may appear to be unrelated to your content. Sometimes, the problem can fix itself, while other times, it can take some effort on your part to get your ads to match up with your Web site’s content. By figuring out why your Adsense ads don’t match your content, you will be able to serve more useful ads to your visitors, and, in turn, earn more money with the Google Adsense program.

The easiest ad matching problem to fix occurs most often on new sites, but it can also happen on newly created pages of established sites. Because the Adsense crawler hasn’t yet visited the page, it doesn’t know what the content is about. This uncertainty can lead to unrelated ads appearing on your site. Luckily, it isn’t necessary to change anything to remedy this problem. More often than not, the problem will solve itself once your site is crawled by the Adsense spider.

If your site has already been crawled by the spider, but you are still being served unrelated ads, then it will probably take a little effort before you start seeing ads that match the content of your site.

First, you’ll want to look closely at your content. Is there enough content on each page to draw matching advertisements? Having little written content can make it difficult for Adsense to serve matching ads. Consider adding more text to the page so that the crawler can make a more informed decision about which ads it should be displaying.

The next thing you’ll want to look at is the content itself. Is your content narrow in scope, or does your page contain a wide variety of topics? Having too many topics on the same page can confuse the crawler, leaving your page with ads unrelated to the content. Try to focus on one topic per page if you want your ads to closely match the surrounding content.

If you have plenty of content written about a single topic, but you are still getting unrelated ads, then it might be worth optimizing your keywords.

There is another problem that could be causing your unrelated ads to appear, and, unfortunately, it isn’t a problem that you will be able to solve. If your topic is of a more obscure nature, then it will be harder for Adsense to display matching ads. In fact, some of the most obscure topics don’t even have related ads to serve, and, as such, only unrelated ads will appear on the page. Don’t worry, however - should an advertiser start a campaign in your niche, their related ads will automatically appear on your site.

There are a number of reasons why your site might be receiving unrelated ads. Luckily, there are a few things that you can do to help solve the problem, like adding additional content and optimizing your keywords. If for some reason you still can’t get matching ads however, it isn’t the end of the world. Your site will still be displaying ads, meaning you will still have the chance to earn decent money with the program. 

Should I block sensitive categories of ads?

The sensitive categories in Adsense cover a number of topics including cosmetic procedures and body modification, dating, drugs and supplements, get rich quick, politics, references to sex and sexuality, religion, ringtones and downloadables, sexual and reproductive health, video games, and weight loss. Should you block these sensitive categories of Adsense ads from appearing on your Web site? The answer to this will depend on a couple of factors.

One of the most common reasons for blocking sensitive categories is to create a more family-friendly site. If you are looking to stop any potentially harmful ads from appearing on the pages of your site, then you will probably want to block some or all of the sensitive ad categories that are listed within your Adsense account’s “Allow & block ads” page.

Another reason that you may wish to block certain sensitive categories from appearing on your site is to boost your income from the program. Google provides details about the percentages of ad impressions and earnings for each category over the past 30 days. If you find that one or more of the categories are being served for a large percentage of your total impressions, but aren’t receiving much or any earnings, then blocking such categories can lead to higher revenues.

It is important to monitor your statistics closely, however, because blocking sensitive categories can sometimes lead to undesired results and actually lower your income overall. Allowing less advertisers to compete for your ad space could cause a drop in earnings, so be aware of this, as you may wish to unblock the sensitive categories if your total earnings start to slide.

Depending on your circumstances, you may be considering blocking sensitive categories of ads from appearing on your site. Whether this is because you are trying to create a family-friendly site or you are just looking for a way to increase your total revenue, it’s nice to know that Google offers its publishers the option of blocking sensitive categories. Be sure to weigh your options and make the choice that feels right for you. 

So, how often does Google Adsense pay?

Most new publishers who have added Adsense to their Web sites wonder how often they can expect to be paid by Google. The answer to this question depends on two factors – how much income your site generates through the program and whether or not this figure meets the minimum payment threshold.

The minimum payment threshold is the balance that Adsense requires you to have in your account before they issue a payment. Everyone’s payment threshold is automatically set to $100US upon creating an account, and, unfortunately, this amount cannot be reduced.

If, like some publishers, your bank charges a large fee to convert US dollar checks into your home currency and you would like to wait until your earnings have reached a higher amount to help offset this charge, you can always apply a self-hold to your earnings. This will allow your earnings to keep building up in your account until you have chosen to lift the hold at a later date.

Because of the way the platform is set up, publishers are not sent their payments immediately after reaching the payment threshold of $100US. Instead, any additional earnings will continue to add up until the end of the month. Payments are then sent out monthly to qualifying publishers, just before the end of the month following the account reaching payment threshold.

To better illustrate this, we will look at a simple example. Any accounts reaching the payment threshold during the month of May are paid at the end of the following month, in this case June. The particular date that Google issues their payments can change slightly each month, but payment almost always falls during the final week of the month.

Now, as you have probably realized, most new publishers using the program will not be able to accrue the $100US needed for payment within their first month. Not to worry, however, because any earnings that do not reach the payment threshold will continue to roll over month-by-month, for as long as it takes the account balance to qualify for payment.

Though payments are sent out monthly, in the month following the account reaching the payment threshold, delivery times will vary depending on the payment method you have chosen. Some forms of payment, like Electric Funds Transfer (EFT), will arrive more quickly, while other methods, like Standard Delivery Checks, will take longer to arrive.

So, as you can see, there are numerous factors which will determine how often you will be paid by Google through its Adsense program. By knowing a little bit more about each of these factors, you will be better able to estimate just how often you, as an Adsense publisher, will receive your payments.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

The role of a property tax consultant

Why you should hire a property tax consultant

Part of the Careers in real estate category on this blog

If the values of the homes in your area have been going down, but your property taxes haven't followed suit, then you're not alone. Many homeowners have noticed that their property taxes don't reflect the recent changes in their home's value. The bad news – many times when a home's value drops a substantial amount, the homeowner ends up paying more in property taxes than necessary. The good news – there are ways to correct this situation so your next property tax assessment reflects the actual value of your home.

One of the most effective ways to ensure that your next property tax assessment is correct is to hire a property tax consultant. A local property tax consultant understands the tax laws and exemptions in your area and will help you maximize your property tax savings. Using their property tax knowledge, the consultant will carefully go over your previous assessment looking for any records that should be updated or adjusted. If you are paying too much in property taxes, a property tax consultant will be able to help.

Even if your home's value hasn't decreased over the years, it's still possible you've been paying too much for your property taxes. This is because the home appraisals quoted in property tax assessments are often overly generalized. One common way of obtaining a home's current market value during a property tax reassessment is referred to as a “drive by” or summary home appraisal. Unfortunately, this type of appraisal is often incomplete and may contain erroneous information which can lead to more costly property taxes.

Though your property taxes might eventually adjust themselves to match your home's actual value, such adjustments are often years behind if they ever occur at all. Because of this, many homeowners can save a lot of money by hiring a property tax consultant. If you are indeed paying too much for your property taxes, then a property tax consultant will be able to give you the necessary information to successfully appeal your latest property tax assessment, so you can start paying less in property taxes.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Five ways to save on car insurance

Most drivers know all too well that car insurance is a costly expense. Fortunately, there are several ways that car owners can save money on their car insurance premiums. If you'd like to save money on your car insurance, consider implementing these five cost-saving measures.

1. Do your homework.

If you haven't purchased your car, then do a little homework before you do. By looking into the average insurance costs for different types of vehicles, you'll know which cars cost the most to insure. Knowing this information when choosing a car can save you substantial amounts of money on future car insurance payments.

2. Shop around.

Different insurance companies offer different policies at different prices. That's why it can be worth shopping around for a better deal, even if you already have car insurance. After shopping around, sign with whatever company offers the best value for your money.

3. Bundle your insurance.

Another way to save money on your car insurance is to bundle it with another insurance policy. A popular bundle offered by most insurance providers combines both your car insurance and your home, renters, or condo insurance. If your car insurance is currently with a different provider than your home insurance, inquire with both companies about the potential savings of bundling the two. When each company has provided you with a quote, choose whichever option is best for you.

4. Choose group insurance.

Insurance providers often give their best rates to groups. If your employer, business association, or alumni group deals with a group insurance provider, ask them about the benefits and cost of their car insurance policies to see which provider offers the best protection for the lowest fee.

5. Ask for discounts.

Simply asking your insurance provider for a discount can sometimes be enough to lower your car insurance premiums. Many providers offer discounts for low-mileage drivers and drivers with accident-free records. Those who have taken a defensive driving course may also be eligible for additional discounts. By asking your insurance provider about possible discounts, they can work with you to find any discounts you may be eligible for.

Because insuring a car is never cheap, it's always worth looking into ways to save money on your car insurance premiums. So, if you want to lower your car insurance expenses, consider doing your homework, shopping around, bundling your insurance, choosing group insurance, and asking for discounts.

Five ways to save money on groceries

When cash is tight, saving money on groceries tends to become a priority. Thankfully, there are ways to get more groceries for less money so you won't have to go without. Below are five things anyone can do to save money while grocery shopping.

1. Read the flyers.

You can save quite a bit of money by buying items that are on sale. Before doing any shopping, read the flyers to find the weekly sale items, so you can add them to your list of things to buy.

2. Use coupons.

Using coupons is a great way to save money. Depending on the value of the coupons, you might even come back with some completely free items.

3. Buy generic brands.

Despite often being cheaper, certain generically-branded foods taste just as good or better than their name brand counterparts. Save money by buying generic products whenever they make for suitable alternatives.

4. Price match whenever possible.

It can get expensive traveling from store to store to take advantage of weekly sales. Instead of visiting several stores and buying just a few items in each, try to do all your shopping in a single store that price matches.

5. Make a list and stick to it.

You can easily overspend if you go grocery shopping without a plan. Make a list of desired items that fit within your grocery budget and stick to it while shopping.

Grocery shopping on a tight budget can be a losing battle if you fail to plan ahead. To spend less money on groceries the next time you go shopping, be sure to read the flyers, use coupons, buy generic brands, price match whenever possible, and stick to your list of things to buy.

Save money with the 24-hour rule

The "24-Hour Rule" for Non-Essential Purchases

It's easy to overspend if you are an impulsive shopper - especially if you like to shop online. That's why, if you need to stick to a budget, you should always follow the 24-Hour Rule when considering non-essential purchases.

What is the 24-Hour Rule regarding non-essential purchases? It is exactly what it sounds like - before making any non-essential purchases (especially costly ones), take 24 hours to decide if you really need the product or service in question. Also, take the opportunity to consider if the purchase will fit within your budget.

If it turns out that you don't really need the product or service and making the purchase will put you beyond your set spending limit, then consider putting off the purchase until a later time. If the purchase won't exceed your set spending limit and you still want to buy the product or service after 24 hours have passed, then it's probably okay to splurge.

By setting aside 24 hours to really consider any non-essential purchases, you can stop yourself from impulsively buying products or services you may not really want or need. So, the next time you're about to make a non-essential purchase, keep the 24-Hour Rule in mind and ask yourself if you really need the product or service in question and if now is the most appropriate time to be making a purchase.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Photos for online real estate listings

How to take attractive photos for your online real estate listings

When people are looking to buy a new home, a leading factor in helping them decide whether or not a home is worth further inquiry is the photos used in the online listing. The number of attractive photos provided can be the difference between a buyer jotting down an address for a second look or that buyer simply moving on to the next listing without so much as a second thought. Here are four tips for making the photos in your online real estate listings attractive to your potential buyers.

1. Consider camera orientation when taking and displaying photos.

There's nothing more annoying when looking at a photo than finding it to be all out of proportion and distorted. To keep your photos looking their best, always take note of your camera's orientation before taking any shots. Never take a portrait-oriented photo and later try to stretch it to fit a landscape-oriented frame on your site. Distorted images in an online real estate listing will do little to accurately represent the property and can leave potential buyers struggling to visualize the home's layout.

2. If warranted, make lighting adjustments prior to shooting.

There are many ways to light an area when it comes to real estate photography. This has left many photographers in a disagreement about which method is best. Regardless of any disagreements, however, there is one thing that most photographers tend to agree on - that the lighting should be neither too dark nor too light. Well-lit photos will make a property look more attractive to potential buyers, whereas poorly-lit photos can prevent buyers from seeing a property's best features.

3. Try a slight change in perspective when capturing images.

Applying a slight change in perspective while taking a photo can completely change the look of the finished piece. Instead of taking your real estate photos from a standard vantage point, consider capturing the rooms from a slightly different perspective. Though perspective photography obviously shouldn’t be used to misrepresent the overall look or dimensions of the home and its surrounding yard, it can be an easy way to showcase a property in a more unique light than your competitors.

4. If needed, make color adjustments before putting the images online.

It's important to consider each image's color profile when adding photos to your online real estate listings. Obviously a home's colors should be accurately represented within any displayed images, so in times where the color profile is incorrect, use photo editing software to make the necessary color adjustments before uploading the images to the Internet. Real estate photos with accurately represented colors will be far more attractive and helpful to potential buyers than ones containing skewed color profiles.

With photography being such an important component of today's online real estate marketing strategy, it is vitally important that all your listings include a number of attractive photos to draw in potential buyers. By always using a consistent orientation, plus considering the lighting, perspective, and color profiles of the home and its features when capturing and displaying the images, it will be much easier for buyers to see the true potential of each of the properties in your online real estate listings - a factor that can persuade more buyers to request a viewing, instead of simply scanning past the listing without a second thought.

Home staging tips for realtors

Take your real estate game to the next level with seasonal staging

When it comes to home selling strategies, one of today's most commonly used tactics is staging. So, how can you stage a home, yet still have it stand out from all the other staged houses for sale in the neighborhood? Well, to help a staged home stand out from the rest, try adding some seasonal staging props. By including some subtle seasonal additions in your staging displays, you can take your home staging game to the next level. Continue reading for staging tips unique to each season.

Spring staging tips:

If you'll be staging a home in the spring, try using some fresh cut flowers to add a little life and color to an otherwise generic area. Mildly scented flowers are often best for staging purposes, as stronger scents may be off-putting to potential buyers. Stronger scents could also cause buyers to prematurely leave an area of the home without fully exploring all it has to offer. Other scents that work well during a spring staging include citrus scents like lemon and orange.

Summer staging tips:

Summer staging often benefits with the addition of outdoor elements. An inviting patio setup accented with bright summer colors, overlooking lush, green grass and a well-maintained garden can add a great deal of appeal to any home. Indoors, be sure to showcase the home's natural light by avoiding heavy drapes and opening blinds. As with spring staging, mild floral or citrus aromas often make for great summer scents.

Fall staging tips:

When staging a home in the fall, consider displaying a few vases with brightly colored leaves or a festive gourd centerpiece. Even the addition of a few throw pillows accented with fall colors can often be enough to liven up an otherwise uninspiring living room or bedroom. When considering fall staging scents, aim for a gentle smell of apple or cranberry, as either scent can promote a nice inviting atmosphere.

Winter staging tips:

For winter staging, subtle touches like a holiday-themed centerpiece can spark inspiration in the minds of potential buyers. A small, yet tasteful light display outside can also help a home stand out from any others in the area that are currently on the market. When staging during the winter months, a soft aroma of cinnamon can help make a home smell more inviting to buyers, as can a gentle smell of cedar or pine.

Regardless of the season in which you will be staging a home, always remember that less is more when it comes to seasonal home staging. Subtle additions to your staging props will cast any home in a much more salable light than an over-the-top display of seasonal cheer. Also, be sure to avoid overtly religious displays when staging a home, as such displays may be off-putting to some potential buyers. By considering the season and adding some appropriately-themed items to your staging displays, you should have little trouble taking your home staging game to the next level.

Exploring careers in web development and online marketing

I'm pleased to announce that I'm streamlining and expanding on a career category for you to explore on the subjects of web development and online marketing. On the right-hand side of the blog, a little further down, you'll see a section called "Labels" - look for, and click on, the label called "Careers in web development and online marketing" to access the various content I'm assembling about this fun and exciting business over time. We'll be covering many facets of the industry, including programming and coding, search engine optimization (SEO), blogging, writing copy, social media, and money-making advertising platforms like Google's Adsense program. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Exploring careers in real estate

I'm excited to announce that I'm creating a new career category for you to explore here at the Mr. Robertson's Corner blog devoted to the real estate industry. If you take a look at the right-hand side of the blog, a little further down, you'll see a section called "Labels" - simply look for, and click on, the label called "Careers in real estate" to access the various content I'm assembling about the real estate business. I'm working to put together, over time, a nice collection covering various aspects of the business, including sales, marketing, home staging, finding leads, and networking, among others. Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The importance of reflection

In the education world today, the word reflection is often used. It's become, it seems, one of the latest buzzwords, one of the latest stylish fads, in education. There appears to be a lot of those, as I suggest in a recent post on the concept of individualized learning. But make no mistake about it - reflection is critical for success in life and career. There's a lot of substance and power behind that word. Let's explore further.

When you truly reflect on something (an event, an experience, a situation, something you read or listened to, a movie you've seen, etc.), you're thinking about it on a deeper level. You're thinking about what happened, and/or maybe what could have happened. You're thinking about any lessons you can take away from what had occurred. Essentially, we're adding, or applying, meaning to what had taken place. And it's through this process of reflection that we truly learn and better ourselves.

Now, the event, experience, situation, words on paper, movie, etc., alone, don't necessarily mean much of anything at all. They're simply happenings that occurred in time and space. They're impartial, meaning they have no particular feelings toward you either way.

Here's a concrete, and a bit of an extreme example, and I hope this never happens to you. Well, I should say that I hope the outcome happens to you, but not the circumstances that caused it. Let's say you're involved in a car accident. Thankfully, you survived. You got a little banged up. Maybe a broken arm and some big bruises. Mentally and psychologically, you're a little shaken up, and that's certainly understandable. Now, the accident, alone, itself, was just an occurrence in time and space. Unfortunately, you were at the wrong place at the wrong time. The stars just happened to align, and all the conditions just happened to be right. The accident, itself, doesn't hate you or want to harm you. The other driver, or the tree, or the slick road, doesn't hate you or want to harm you. It just is what it is. It happened.

Now, after a little time goes by, after you've taken care of your immediate physical health needs and had a chance to calm down a little following the accident, you begin to reflect on it. And during that reflection process, you realize how grateful you are just to be alive. You realize it could have been a lot worse. And that realization has given you a new perspective - a new lease - on life. Before the accident, maybe you always worried about the little things that you have no real control over. You let daily life stress you out. Now, though, you focus on the more important things in life - family, meaningful work that you truly enjoy, meaningful relationships of all kinds, etc. That reflection on that accident has dramatically changed your life for the better.

Let's discuss one more example, out of literally countless examples that we could go on and on with, both dramatic and extreme and not so much.

Let's say you suddenly find yourself in a very difficult financial situation. Maybe you lost your job or had your hours at work significantly cut. As a result, you're having trouble paying your bills, and maybe you start seeing your friends a little less because you don't have any money to go out and have a fun time with. Maybe you start seeking help from charitable organizations - the local food pantry, church groups, and so on. In short, you're going through a pretty tough time.

Through reflecting on the situation you find yourself in, perhaps you become a more caring, empathetic person because you can now relate to and understand what others are similarly going through. And when you overcome your situation and get back on your feet, you know how to better pay it forward. And through it all, maybe you also learn more about your own finances so that you're better prepared should this ever happen again. Perhaps you realize you haven't saved enough money. Maybe you discover that you've been spending too much money on things that you don't necessarily need. In short, through all the bad, you learned some valuable lessons about yourself - and about others.

Key questions you can ask yourself while reflecting on something:

What did I learn from what had occurred (the event, experience, situation, etc.)?

How can these newfound insights better prepare me for the future?

Can I utilize these newfound insights for the benefit of others in any way?

Have I become a better person by what I have learned here? 

Friday, September 13, 2019

Individualized learning

In the K-12 education field today, there's a real push to emphasize individualized learning, or, to use another term that may be thrown out there from time to time interchangeably, personalized learning - this notion that teachers should find more ways to encourage each student to learn on their own terms. To have students learn what they want or need and through the styles that they want or need - visual, audio, hands-on, projects, papers, etc. - is really the goal of this thing we're calling individualized, or personalized, learning.

But in the end, isn't all learning already individualized, whether we're talking structured environments or unstructured activities? And if so, is this movement nothing really more than just one of the latest fads, one of the latest buzzwords, in K-12 education? Now, full disclosure here - I've worked in private sector business all my life so far, and have only been dabbling in K-12 education for less than 1.5 years as a substitute teacher and instructional / special education aide. By no means am I a psychologist, career-long educator, or expert on learning and brain development. I'm merely raising the question based simply on my own observations and experiences over the years as a non-expert lay person and student myself, for whatever they're worth. Let's explore further. We're about to get a little philosophical here.

As I tried to make the case in a previous post, The double-edged sword of technology, each mind is truly unique, and that's what makes every individual truly unique. With that said, if that's the case, then each mind is going to learn, retain knowledge, and make connections in a truly unique, individualized way.

If you and me are in the same class on whatever - it could be business, math, English, history, any kind of elective, etc. - sure, we're both being exposed to the exact same lectures by our teachers, the exact same assignments, the exact same textbooks and materials, and so on. But, I ask, are they really the exact same? You and me are truly unique, so we're not going to learn, retain knowledge, and make connections in the same ways.

Some examples of where I'm trying to go with this:

You may find one of the course's lessons to be very fascinating. I don't know, maybe this lesson, you feel, is somehow really pertinent to a career you're exploring. Or you just simply find it interesting. Whatever. Meanwhile, I'm bored by that very same lesson and simply dismiss it. No offense to the teacher. I just find that the lesson doesn't mean anything for me. It happens.

I may find one strategy to problem solve that really works well for me, while you may find another strategy that really works well for you. Both strategies get us to the same answer or general conclusion, but we find the other's preferred strategy confusing.

Another, more concrete example here - writing a research paper. We're both given the exact same assignment - the rubric is the same, the general guidelines and overall topic or research questions are the same, and so on. But what I actually research (the sources I consult and cite, the search words I enter into Google or an article database, etc.) and how I write and assemble my paper in the end is going to look very different from yours. It's not the same assignment for us because we're not the same.

What you take away from an assigned reading could be very different from what I get out of the exact same reading. What I find meaningful and relevant from the reading, you downplay and forget about, and perhaps vice-versa.

Finally, high school diplomas and college degrees - we earned the same high school diploma from the same high school in the same year. We then earned the same college degree in the same major at the same university. We both have the same exact sheets of paper, the diplomas, to prove it. Only difference is our names on these sheets of paper. But in the end, we each received very different educations to get there because of all the previous examples discussed - and then some. You may have gotten far more out of your education than I did because you completed more of the assigned readings than I did. You also greatly enhanced your education by learning outside of the classroom, and you took networking far more seriously than I did, so your career prospects are looking a lot better than mine at the moment.

What are your own thoughts and observations here? Can you come up with any examples of your own to add to the discussion? Are there any teachers that want to weigh in? What am I missing? What am I not considering or factoring in?

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Letter to a former student

Thank you for the kind words, bud. Really means a lot to me. I'll never forget my time there with all of you. So many happy memories. It was a truly wonderful experience, and I'm a better person because of it. You used the crying emoji. Well, I'm going to admit that I really did cry. And I cried hard for a while, both privately and in front of quite a few good friends.

Like I always say, don't waste this precious time that you have right now, like I did when I was in high school. Learn all you can, in and out of class. Learn about history, business, government, finance, investing, ethics. Learn about leadership and what it means to truly be of service to others. Learn about your rights and responsibilities as a citizen. Learn some valuable skills that no one can ever take away from you. Master writing and communication.

I can tell you're the entrepreneurial type, with your lawn mowing business and all. I can also tell that you're the leader, or one of the leaders, among your close circle of friends. Keep it up, and you're not going to believe how far you're going to go. I'm excited for your future - for all of your futures. Give everyone my best. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

An introduction to Scott Joplin

Sometime in high school, I believe, I first came across the music of Scott Joplin (1867 or 68 - 1917), and he's the focus in this latest installment of my occasional series here on this blog, "Exploring the world of music." Famous for a style of music known as ragtime, and even nicknamed, "The King of Ragtime," Joplin, like many ragtime composers and artists, was a pianist.

Following are just three of the many "rags" that Scott Joplin wrote. Just the tip of the iceberg for the vast body of brilliant work he left for us to enjoy and cherish.

The first one here is called "Maple Leaf Rag" (1899), while the second is "The Entertainer" (1902). You may find that you are already somewhat familiar with these tunes when you listen to them here, as they are pretty famous. This is especially true of "The Entertainer." Both have been used in movies, ringtones, and elsewhere all throughout pop culture.

The third one, "Wall Street Rag" (1909), is also fairly well-known but, I would suspect, not at quite the level of fame and familiarity as the other two.

An interesting note here about "Wall Street Rag" - Joplin, who truly had a brilliant mind, wrote each of the song's parts and transitions in such a way as to mimic the different cycles and moods of the stock market, specifically during the Panic of 1907. You can read more about the background of "Wall Street Rag" by clicking here.

What do you think of this music? What's your reaction? Feel free to share in the comments section below.

How to save without really realizing it

Recently, during a meeting of a business networking group I belong to that meets over breakfast a couple times per month, one of the group's members shared this really neat tip for saving up money for, well, whatever - some sort of goal, a rainy day, a trip, etc. At the end of each day, she goes through her purse/wallet and any other place where change is left over from the day, and she'll put any $5 bills she finds away. Some days, obviously, she won't have any to tuck away, but many days she'll easily find at least one. What a cool idea, I immediately thought when I heard it. What a clever way to save for something without making it a big burden and dramatically impacting your lifestyle. Thought it was a tip certainly worth sharing here.

Cavalleria Rusticana

I'm pleased to revive my occasional series on this blog, "Exploring the world of music," after a hiatus over the summer. In this installment, I'd like to reflect on a classical/opera piece by Italian composer Pietro Mascagni. It's called, "Cavalleria Rusticana (Intermezzo)," and it was prominently featured in the films Raging Bull and The Godfather Part III. Listen to it in the video below, and then let's discuss it.

I don't know about you, but this piece can be highly emotional and reflective in nature for me, mostly in a tragic sense. I don't know if it's because of the scenes where it plays in The Godfather Part III, and, to a little bit of a lesser extent, Raging Bull, but this piece often paints a picture for me of an old man near the end of his life, thinking back on his life - all the triumphs, joy, sorrow, memories, regrets. Thinking back on all the people and moments that touched his life in a meaningful, profound way; all the people that hurt him and all the people he hurt. Thinking about all the unfinished business he's about to leave behind. All the unfinished words that should have been said. But also, hopefully, thinking, "Man, what an incredible journey it all was."

Sometimes, the piece makes me think of someone experiencing deep loss. The loss of a loved one, and the immense agony that comes with never being able to see that loved one ever again in this world. Thanks, Godfather Part III.

But for all the tragedy and the heartache, if there's any good that can come out of thinking about this piece in that light, it's that we should attempt to simply treat others, along with ourselves, better in the limited time we each have.

When you listen to this piece - and I'd suggest listening to it at least a couple of times - what does it make you imagine, or think about? How does the music move you, and speak to you? Share in the comments below. 

Sunday, September 8, 2019

PBS video clip on George Custer

Per my recent post on Captain Myles Keogh and the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, here's a PBS video clip on General George Custer I recently came across on YouTube. It focuses on Custer's time in the Civil War (1861-65) and on his relationship with his wife, Elizabeth. Very interesting. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Welcome back students!

Hello! I hope this message finds you well, and I hope you enjoyed your summer break! I sure kept busy over the summer with several projects that were a lot of fun for me. Well, it's time to get back to work in the classroom for all of us. For me, that means a long-term substitute assignment as a special education aide at the high school level that I recently accepted.

While it's back to learning in the classroom, hopefully, you didn't stop learning over the summer. As I always explain to students, learning takes on an enormous variety of forms and situations. With that said, learning - and the opportunity to learn - never ends. You don't have to be in a classroom or school setting to learn, grow, and develop. And actually, I would contend, many of the greatest, most meaningful life and career lessons we'll ever learn take place outside of school. But school and the "real world" do certainly go hand-in-hand. While there are plenty of social commentators and political pundits out there ready to attack and instantly dismiss just about all avenues of formal education as being a complete waste of time and money and not having much to do with reality at all, it's clear, at least to me, that there are certainly deep strands connecting the two "worlds." You're not going to be very successful out there in much of anything if you can't read, write, reason, perform basic math functions, conduct research, and understand and subscribe to some sort of ethical and moral framework. Likewise, skills and experiences like networking, learning how to effectively communicate and collaborate with others to perform work or accomplish a goal, customer service, general business processes, mastering software programs and different types of equipment, building or repairing things, working with tools, salesmanship and marketing, computer programming and coding, entrepreneurship, etc., etc., can only come by constant exposure in real settings. You have to just get out there and do it, as they say, and that requires plenty of practice, mistakes, patience, fine-tuning, reflection - and drawing from the skills and experiences you're picking up in class.

Anyways, I think I may be getting off topic just a tad. This was supposed to be a simple "welcome back" post, not a philosophical debate about the merits and shortcomings of formal education, or the current state of the modern-day school system, or how the mind grows and develops. There will be plenty of future opportunities for "those" posts.

Here's to a successful 2019-2020 school year and to your continued growth as a leader! Wishing you all the best. Take advantage of this time that you have to learn all that you can. Don't squander this precious opportunity you have right now, like I did when I was in high school.

Mr. Robertson