Lesson 210 – Parts of the Sentence – Verbals

A verbal is a verb form used as some other part of speech. There are three kinds of verbals: gerunds, participles and infinitives.
A gerund always ends in ing and is used as a noun. Example: Eatingis fun.
A participle is used as an adjective and ends various ways. A present participle always ends with ing as does the gerund, but remember that it is an adjective. A past participle ends with ed, n, or irregularly. Examples: played, broken, brought, sung, seeing, having seen, being seen, seen, having been seen.
An infinitive is to plus a verb form. It can be a noun, an adjective, or an adverb. Examples: to be, to see, to be seen, to be eaten.
Instructions: Find the verbals in the following sentences.
1. Changing his mind, Fred agreed to play the part.
2. Having been seen at lunch, the man tried to escape.
3. The team winning the final game will win the cup.
4. One way to improve is to work harder.
5. Decayed and crumbling, that old wall is dangerous.
–For answers scroll down.

Answers:
1. changing / to play
2. having been seen / to escape
3. winning
4. to improve / to work
5. decayed / crumbling

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Lesson 209 – Parts of the Sentence – Verbals

A verbal is a verb form used as some other part of speech. There are three kinds of verbals: gerunds, participles and infinitives.
A gerund always ends in ing and is used as a noun. Example: Eatingis fun.
A participle is used as an adjective and ends various ways. A present participle always ends with ing as does the gerund, but remember that it is an adjective. A past participle ends with ed, n, or irregularly. Examples: played, broken, brought, sung, seeing, having seen, being seen, seen, having been seen.
An infinitive is to plus a verb form. It can be a noun, an adjective, or an adverb. Examples: to be, to see, to be seen, to be eaten.
Instructions: Find the verbals in the following sentences.
1. Sometimes I need to work more effectively.
2. Surreptitiously slipping the answers to his friend, the boy looked innocently at the ceiling.
3. Why won’t you try to be nicer?
4. I hope we never become too old to learn.
5. Having forgotten her lines, Jena fled from the stage.
–For answers scroll down.

Answers:
1. to work
2. slipping
3. to be
4. to learn
5. having forgotten

For your convenience, all of our lessons are available on our website in our lesson archive at http://www.dailygrammar.com/archive.html. Our lessons are also available to purchase in an eBook and a Workbook format.
from Daily Grammar Lessons Blog
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How to Best Prioritize Your Work Tasks

How to Best Prioritize Your Work Tasks image

When the first task lands on your desk, you think: “No problem, I can handle it.” The second and third requests cause a little self-doubt. Soon, you don’t even know how many projects you have on your to-do list.

Does this scenario sound familiar? How can you cope when the projects pile up and the time is short? Learn today how to prioritize your work assignments efficiently and keep your cool.

In a typical day, hundreds of responsibilities vie for your attention. However, not all work tasks are equally significant. You need to prioritize them, ASAP. Priorities take precedence because they are the worthiest pursuits among many competing tasks. To give priorities the special attention they deserve, you must first decide what they are. Finishing a project is a goal. Priorities are more all-encompassing than a single undertaking; they are life values that influence your actions and decisions as you strive toward them.

For example, if your priority is punctuality, you will avoid distractions and finish projects on time in pursuit of that value. Before you read on, ask yourself: “What is my true priority for my career?”

How to Decide What You Should Do First

Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles explains the principle of priority: “(A) You must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (B) you must do what’s important first. Urgent tasks appear on your task list to address a pressing issue or because they require immediate attention or response. For example, imagine a group of IT technicians have a list of five tasks on their agenda for the day—install current anti-virus software on all the computers, find a funny tech meme for the lunchroom bulletin board contest, set up an account for a new employee starting today, order a replacement part for a broken computer, and stop by the office of someone who requested support. To be most efficient, they should first determine whether each item is urgent or important.

You might think that all the tasks are urgent and important.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who used the priority principle throughout his military and political career, challenged this belief, “What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.” The main difference is that important tasks support our long-term purpose, values, and objectives.

Urgent tasks are extremely time-sensitive, but they may not do anything to help us accomplish our goals. For example, the lunchroom contest poster urges the IT team to “Enter before Friday at noon!” but whether they do or not won’t affect their professional mission. They should eliminate the chore or begin it only when they have done everything else on their to-do list. What urgent tasks can you postpone or scratch off your daily schedule?

Let’s return to the IT team’s other four tasks. If their overall purpose is to keep the office network up and running, they will mark the new employee account and the support request as “important.” The affected employees won’t be able to continue their work which, in turn, could slow down the whole operation. The technicians need to order the part and update the software as soon as possible, but these assignments are of a lower priority than the new account and support request.

You might be looking at your agenda thinking, “I have too many important tasks!” In Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you will find a matrix to help you sort your crucial duties. First, tackle tasks that are important and urgent. Next, prioritize tasks that are important, but not urgent. After you completed everything important, you can work on some of the urgent but non-essential concerns.

How to Reduce Your Volume of Tasks

Is it possible to limit the urgency of an important task? Absolutely, you can lessen the pressure of a deadline if you plan intelligently. Often, you receive notice of deadlines weeks or months in advance. Don’t wait until the last minute to start working. Chunk your task into its components and schedule them in a logical order.

Things break unexpectedly, but sometimes you can prevent important fixes from becoming urgent by scheduling regular maintenance. For instance, if our imaginary IT team performed weekly checks and educated employees about fixing minor repairs, support requests and broken computers would be less frequent. Can you arrange your schedule to accommodate planning and maintenance?

You have the potential to be extremely efficient. Reading this article proves that you have an interest. The next step is putting its advice into practice.

Decide what your priorities are, and allow them to influence how you act. Focus on important tasks, and put urgent ones in their place. Your stress will decrease in proportion to the pile of work on your desk. And who knows, you might even finish ahead of deadline!

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5 Ways to Stop Having a Bad Day

5 Ways to Stop Having a Bad Day image

Your alarm fails to go off and you wake up twenty minutes late. You take a hasty shower, and for some reason the water temperature will only fluctuate between tepid and truly frigid. Despite those setbacks, you manage to grab a cup of coffee for the ride in, which you promptly spill down the front of your shirt. Then, when you arrive at the office you learn that your partner on a critical project has called in sick. Your deadline? Today. At noon.

You’re having an epically bad day. You could choose to wallow in it and be grumpy and miserable, but you (not to mention everyone around you) will be much happier if you can find a way to snap out of it. Science has answers!

What to Do (According to Science) When You’re Having a Bad Day

1 Just breathe.

Negative emotions and stress have physical effects. Our muscles tense. Our heart rate increases. Our breathing gets heavier or too shallow. You might not even notice these stress symptoms in the moment, but if you’ve ever gone home after a difficult day feeling achy and worn out, stress is likely the culprit.

Stop. Take a breath. In fact, take some measured breaths using the 4-7-8 technique, a practice often used in yoga and meditation. (The 4-7-8 technique is essentially a rebranding of pranayamic breathing.)

Find a quiet, comfortable place where you can be alone for a few minutes. Pay attention to your natural breathing for a while and allow yourself to get quiet. Let any distractions in your surroundings fall away. Then, breathe in for a steady count of four, hold the breath for a count of seven, and exhale slowly to a count of eight. Repeat this several times until you’re feeling relaxed.

2 Acknowledge the bad day, and then have a laugh.

When reality doesn’t match our expectations, we pour a lot of our energy into worrying that things should be different. But think about it—have you ever changed an outcome by simply wishing things were better?

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Acceptance is the key to happiness. When things go wrong, instead of resisting them, lean into them. Grab lunch with a colleague or friend and regale them with your tale of woe, all while having a good laugh at yourself. When you accept that annoying things happen to everyone, you can shrug them off and move on.

3 Talk yourself out of it.

Do you mentally kick yourself when you’re having a bad day? Many of us do, and it can sound like this:

Ugh! I’m such an idiot.

This stuff always happens to me! What did I do to deserve this?

Why am I so lazy?

You wouldn’t call a friend who was having a rough day a lazy idiot, so why do it to yourself? Instead, practice positive self-talk. When you’re being overly self-critical, stop and reframe things. Be kind! You might refute the negative track playing in your head with positive statements like this:

I’m facing some challenges today, but I’m smart and resilient.

Bad days happen to everyone. I’ll bounce back.

I’m not feeling very motivated lately. I’ll brainstorm some ideas to get myself on track.

4 Write away the stress.

Keeping a journal is a fantastic way to destress. When things go wrong, we tend to ruminate on them. Mulling over unpleasant events can become a destructive cycle that’s hard to break. Our minds run a sort of instant replay on an endless loop without coming to any sort of resolution.

Journaling can help break the cycle of rumination, particularly if you focus on addressing topics that are causing you distress. Instead of hunting for a solution, ask yourself some questions designed to help you understand the issue. If there is a solution, the writing process may help you uncover it. If there isn’t, let journaling guide you toward acceptance.

5 Use your words. Literally.

Your emotional response to bad situations, like running late and spilling your coffee, triggers a reaction in the fight-or-flight part of your brain that causes stress. According to a UCLA study, putting a label on those emotions shifts your thought processing away from the amygdala to the area right behind your forehead and eyes (the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, if you want to get technical). This area of the brain is associated with putting emotional experiences into words.

When you put feelings into words, you’re activating this prefrontal region and seeing a reduced response in the amygdala. In the same way you hit the brake when you’re driving when you see a yellow light, when you put feelings into words, you seem to be hitting the brakes on your emotional responses.

—Matthew D. Lieberman, UCLA associate professor of psychology

So, the next time you spill your coffee down the front of your favorite shirt, just put a label on what you’re feeling.

Wow, I’m really angry about this. I’m ashamed to have people see me at work in a stained shirt.

Remember to use labels that represent real emotions. Words like “stressed” label an emotional response, not the emotion itself. Get to the root of the emotion causing the stress.

There’s no such thing as a bad day

What is a day? It’s a twenty-four-hour cycle of daylight and darkness created by the earth turning on its axis. In reality, the only way to have a bad day would be if, say, the earth stopped spinning. That would be a cataclysmically bad day.

But the earth is still rotating, amigos! So, that bad day you’re having? It doesn’t exist in reality, only in your interpretation of it. And you can shape your own reality, so when you think about it, you have phenomenal cosmic power.

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See? You’re pretty much crushing it. Now, go get ‘em!

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10 Ways to Be More Confident at Work

How to be confident

Whether a bad day’s got you down, you don’t love speaking up, or you’re constantly playing the comparison game, chances are good that you could use an added dose of confidence at work.

In some cases, decision-makers in any job setting put more stock in confidence than competence when they’re making picks for a promotion or filling out a performance review. Don’t get overlooked or undervalued because you’re not projecting your best.

Try these ten bits of advice on how to effectively communicate, counter negativity, and generally how to gain confidence in the office and beyond.

1 Don’t let your case of imposter syndrome go untreated.

You know that nagging sense that you’re not as good as the people around you and you got to where you are through luck or timing? Hopefully you don’t. But if you do, it’s called imposter syndrome and it’s extremely detrimental. It’s especially common for women and minorities in largely male- and white-dominated industries, but no matter who you are, giving in to the feeling that you’re not good enough is a surefire way to hold yourself back.

To nip the terrible disease of imposter syndrome in the bud, catch yourself when you think those damaging thoughts, and counter each one with a compliment to yourself. When people give you praise, accept it politely, and don’t doubt whether you deserve it. Act confident, and be confident.

2 Act like you’re in a good mood, even if you aren’t.

Demonstrating a positive attitude—even if your pet just died—and showing resilience—even if you just got yelled at—are two ways to come across well among people you work with. And here’s a secret: projecting positivity and showing that nothing gets to you are great ways to become more positive and actually not let anything get to you.

3 Pretend you’re a movie and watch yourself act.

Pay attention to how you’re coming across in interactions with coworkers and especially bosses. Try to control your facial expressions, body language, the words you use, even your tone of voice. Some blend of polite, engaged, motivated, willing to help, and interested in the conversation should add up to a strong vibe of confidence.

If you mentally take a step back from time to time and observe your behavior, you can make adjustments to make sure you’re coming across just how you want to.

4 Think about what you say and how you say it.

Speak in a clear and level voice and choose your words deliberately. Company buzzwords are a good bet, but avoid irritating workplace no-nos. Body language is important, too: posture, polite head nods, and other ways of showing you’re engaged.

We think eliminating “like”s and “um”s goes without saying, but there, we just said it. Now you have no excuse.

5 Think assertive, not pushy.

When you’re trying to boost your confidence game, if you take it a step too far, you could wind up in cocky territory. Shades of difference are key here: when you get praise, respond with a humble “thank you; the team worked really hard,” not “I knew my ideas would pay off.” The difference between confidence and arrogance can be a fine line, but once you see someone doing the latter, you’ll know it’s not a good look.

6 Make lists obsessively.

A daily to-do list can help you keep track of what you accomplish on an everyday basis. A list of big projects (and even minor wins) can remind you of those successes—which, incidentally, will also come in handy if you need to update your resume or apply for a new job.

7 Figure out what you’re good at.

If you identify your strengths, it’s harder to get bogged down thinking about your weaknesses. Having an extra dismal day? List the skills you know set you apart (or better yet, make the list on a day when everything’s going your way so you can return to it when things aren’t so bright). After all, even if the project you’re working on seems like it can’t be solved by those abilities, or if you’re in a really low state of mind, reminding yourself of your past accomplishments and top skills should both boost your mindset and get you on track.

8 Figure out what you’re bad at.

Yeah, we just said to focus on your strengths and not get bogged down thinking about your weaknesses. However, if you identify areas for improvement, you can be aware of potential issues and areas where you might need to ask for help. Work to get better in those areas so that you can turn them into strengths.

9 Keep a stash of confidence boosters.

Build on the strengths list from tip No. 7. Use it for a reminder of the big projects you’ve completed. Create a file (some call it a kudos doc”) of emails, performance reviews, and emails or notes from others referring to things you achieved.

Or, create tactics to cheer yourself up, like a favorite song, animal picture, or music video of Christopher Walken dancing like a maniac (and occasionally flying). Hey, he’s not the best dancer, but you can’t deny he’s got confidence. Channel that.

10 Let the little things get to you.

The good little things, that is. If you let a passive aggressive email ruin your day, well, you clearly need to go back and read this from the beginning. But if someone passes you in the hall and says “nice presentation yesterday,” hold onto the good feeling you get from that all day. If you allow the little bits of positive feedback—whether from others or your own sense of a job well done—to grow into something big, then you’ll gain the confidence you deserve bit by bit.

And in the end, the more you act confident, the more you’ll be confident. So go out, paste on a smile, fix your posture, kill any negative thought that pops into your head, and constantly tell yourself that you’ve got this. Try it out: by the end of the day, you’ll realize that you really do.

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14 Habits of Successful People to Make Your Own

Keeping up with the successful people.

Success isn’t something that happens to us, it’s something we make happen. Here are fourteen habits that successful people embrace.

Habits of Successful People

1 They build habits to meet their goals

Having life goals is great, but those goals alone won’t carry you anywhere unless you create habits that help you make them reality. If your goal is to improve the quality of your blog articles, you might develop the habit of editing to tighten your writing before your final proofread.

2 They look at the big picture

Successful people don’t rely on instant gratification, they think long term. They find small steps satisfying because they can see that every step leads them closer to the desired outcome. You can’t write a novel without writing individual scenes, for example, but each scene takes you closer to the finish line.

3 They say yes

Shonda Rhimes’ memoir, Year of Yes, explores what happens when we say yes to life’s challenges. It’s scary to step outside your comfort zone, but the world opens up when you do. Try saying yes to the things that scare you. You never know where it might lead!

Everyone’s got some greatness in them. You do. The girl over there does. That guy on the left has some. But in order to really mine it, you have to own it. You have to grab hold of it. You have to believe it.

—Shonda Rhimes

4 They also know how to say no

We often agree to do things that we don’t want to do. It may be because we want to keep peace, or to make people like us, or even just because we feel obligated. Taking on things that you’d rather not can leave you feeling resentful. Instead, just say no. There’s no need to make excuses. Remember, your life is your own and you have every right to decline.

5 They feel gratitude

There are significant benefits to being grateful. It can improve the state of your physical and mental health, increase empathy and reduce aggression, and even help you sleep better. Grateful people are happier.

6 They’re great listeners

If you want to be liked, show an interest in people. Successful people listen more than they talk, and they’re curious about other people’s experiences. Even the most shy people can communicate effectively if they remember to listen first.

7 They take action

Successful people don’t just talk about getting things done. Apple wouldn’t be the success it is today if Steve Jobs had sat around dreaming about how cool personal computers might be instead of acting. If you want to accomplish something, take a step. Then take another. Keep going! You’ve got this.

8 They clear out the clutter

Take a look around your desk, office, or living room. It’s likely you see a thing or two that you don’t love and don’t need. Clearing the clutter can help you feel renewed and energized. Incidentally, the same goes for your writing. Learning how to tidy it up will make you a better, clearer communicator.

9 They think (and write) positively

Negative thoughts can keep you stuck. Successful people tend to be optimistic and capable of thinking positively. Even when bad situations arise, they know how to reframe them with a positive spin. (Instead of lamenting that their wallet was stolen, they might be grateful that the thief didn’t try to hurt them.) There’s even research to show that writing about intensely positive experiences daily helps lift your mood.

10 They don’t wait for inspiration

Inspiration is fleeting, and successful people know it. Great writers, for instance, write regularly whether the muse pays them a visit or not. Successful writers, from King to Kafka, made writing both a priority and a habit. If you want to be good at something, you have to do that thing regularly, even when you don’t really feel like it.

11 They journal

Journaling daily has a surprising number of benefits.The simple act of clarifying your thoughts can help you put them into perspective and even get to know yourself better. Journaling can reduce stress and make you a better problem solver. Bonus: Because you’re practicing when you journal, even if you don’t edit what you write, your writing skills will improve.

12 They take cold showers

No, really. Katherine Hepburn was a huge fan. There’s evidence to suggest that taking a cold shower (by starting warm and then lowering the temperature to a chilly sixty-eight degrees) kick-starts the body by releasing endorphins The practice can ease brain fog, aid in weight loss, and even help lift depression.

13 They take social media breaks

Social media can be a great communication tool. Unfortunately, bingeing on social media can also be a source of stress. It stirs up competitive feelings by inviting you to compare your life to other people’s. It can make you feel more isolated from the world rather than connected. At the extreme end, it can even become an addiction. Take a social media detox from time to time. Your brain will thank you.

14 They take responsibility for their own happiness

Successful people don’t rely on others to make them happy. They realize that although things happen that are beyond their control, they can control their own reactions to them. As Milton said, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

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The Ultimate Desk Accessories to Boost Productivity

THE ULTIMATE DESK ACCESSORIES

Does it matter what’s on your desk? A study published in Psychological Science indicates the answer is yes! The study reported associations with the state of one’s desk and generosity, creativity, and even healthy eating. However, most employees (and their bosses) concern themselves most with productivity.

Which of these eight desk accessories would boost your productivity at work?

Standing Desk It’s no surprise that standing rather than sitting burns more calories, but did you realize that a standing desk can increase your productivity? Take a look at a case study: Researchers provided half of a group of call center employees with standing desks while the other half continued to use standard desks and chairs. After six months, the employees who used stand-capable desks were almost twice as productive as those who performed work duties from a seated position. The study also revealed that the standing desk users became significantly more productive over time, perhaps as their body acclimated to working in a standing position.

Fidget Spinner The fidget spinner is a small device that you can spin with your fingers. Before they hit the market as a toy, therapists used them to help students with ADD or other attention disorders to channel their pent-up energy. How might this gadget affect your productivity? Elaine Taylor-Klaus, the co-founder of a coaching service for the ADHD community, said they address “the need for constant stimulation.” She continues: “What a fidget allows some people . . . to do is to focus their attention on what they want to focus on, because there’s sort of a background motion that’s occupying that need.” Instead of daydreaming or wandering away from your desk, a fidget toy may be just what you need to keep you on task.

Extra Monitor Dual monitors save time. Have you ever composed a report using information from an email? Or compared two digital images in different windows? Or scrolled from right to left on a large spreadsheet? A second monitor would have eliminated the need to switch back and forth between windows or applications. How much would that affect your output? Considerably, according to a New York Times report: “Survey after survey shows that whether you measure your productivity in facts researched, alien spaceships vaporized, or articles written, adding an extra monitor will give your output a considerable boost — 20 percent to 30 percent, according to a survey by Jon Peddie Research.”

Mountie If the budget doesn’t cover a second monitor, a Mountie is the next best option. Instead of a monitor, the second screen is your smartphone! Mounties attach your phone to the frame of your portable computer. Then, you can check emails, receive notifications, and refer to web pages on your phone at eye level. The only downside is that Mountie doesn’t work with desktops yet.

Noise-Canceling Headphones Noise-canceling headphones foster productivity for two reasons. First, they discourage coworkers from interrupting you because you look occupied. Second, they live up to their name! Without the constant chatter, bangs, and clangs of your work environment, your ears are free to listen to whatever music gets you motivated to face your daily challenges.

Nostalgia Items Is there a particular toy or item that brings back good memories from your childhood, university, or college days? In an article for Huffington Post, Erica Heppler, Ph.D., describes nostalgia as “the warm, fuzzy emotion that we feel when we think about fond memories from our past.” Nostalgia reduces stress and uplifts you because it brings the positive feelings of your past into your current mood. Another benefit of nostalgia is its power to strengthen social connections. Your treasured object may engender the same sentiments in your clients and fellow employees. “Hey, we have something in common!” they may exclaim. And voilá, you’ve opened the way for a conversation and built rapport. What a great excuse to buy an Etch-a-Sketch! Photographs of loved ones, pets, or vacations also serve the same function.

Desk Organizer Has it ever taken you more than five minutes to find a lost file or office utensil? If you add all the minutes you lost searching for things on your desk, you might be astounded at the amount of time you wasted. Get a file sorter and a desk tray to organize your work tools. Of course, those items won’t help you if you don’t train yourself to put things back where they belong when you finish using them.

A Potted Plant Plants are beautiful, but that’s not their only nice quality. Evidence from two separate scientific studies supports the connection between desk plants and efficiency. A research study reported in the Journal of Environmental Psychology tested participants’ performance on an assessment of “attention capacity” at three different intervals. The results? “Participants in the plant condition improved their performance from time one to two, whereas this was not the case in the no-plant condition.” A second experiment revealed that plants seemed to “provide a restorative potential.” Plants also clean the air of pollutants.

If you want to be more productive, take a good look at your desk. With a few accessories, you can maximize how much you get done in a workday. Naturally, you’ll need to give attention to your habits too. Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style by Carson Tate will get you started.

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Technology That Can Help You Write Better

Tech gadgets to help you write better

Writing is a creative and magical process. There’s no telling when inspiration will strike—or what unique conditions will help us access our creativity.

Over the centuries, writers have discovered what worked best for them—no matter how unusual. Agatha Christie penned her murder mysteries in the bathtub while eating apples and drinking tea. Gertrude Stein was known for writing on the go, sitting in her Model T with a pencil and notepad while her wife drove her around running errands.

As writers we’re always hunting for better ways to bust through writer’s block and channel our inner muse. So today we’re highlighting some of the wonderful ways modern technology can make your unique writing process quicker, easier, and more productive.

Capturing Ideas

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Do your best ideas come to you far from your computer—like in the shower, walking the dog, or driving to work? With a voice dictation app on your smartphone you’ll have an easy, hands-free way to record your ideas no matter where you get them. Simply speak into your phone and watch your words instantly appear as text. Check out Dragon Dictation for iPhone or Android.

Dictating your words, instead of typing them, can also be a great way to speed up your writing process and turn off your inner critic. Writing through dictation allows you to keep flowing with an idea and not overthink or fixate on specific words. If you’re ready to finally make it through your first draft, check out Dragon Naturally Speaking or the accurate (and free!) Google Docs Voice Recognition.

Conquering the Blank Page

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Still waiting for your next brilliant idea? Staring down a blank page can induce terror and despair in the heart of any writer. Sometimes you need a little kickstart to get your words and inspiration flowing again.

Through the miracle of technology, you can now spark your creativity with writing prompts delivered straight to your smartphone or browser. Download Writing Prompts (Android) or Prompts – Beat Writers Block (iPhone) and get unstuck from the mire of the blank page!

And if you’re a creative writer feeling stuck in your short story or novel? Check out The Brainstormer—an interactive wheel for generating themes and plot lines. You’ll have your heroine back on her journey in no time. (Click here for Android or iPhone).

Staying Focused

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Once you finally sit down to write, why is it so difficult to stay writing? Distractions abound, especially when your writing device is also connected to the Internet.

The struggle is real. Lucky for you there’s a whole arsenal of distraction-fighting apps right at your fingertips.

Need a writing interface that’s free of distractions? Calmly gives you a blank canvas to pour out your thoughts.

Want to stay on task with the Pomodoro Technique? Check out Tomato Timer, a simple Pomodoro timer you can pause and reset, with preset timers for your “short” and “long” breaks.

For those of us who need more extreme motivation, there’s the writing interface Write or Die, whose infamous “Consequence Mode” triggers spine-chilling noises and a blood red screen whenever you stop typing. (You’ll get back to work just to make it stop!)

And if you need to escape the plague of app and Internet notifications . . . there’s an app for that too. Sign up for Freedom and block the Internet while you work.

Staying Ergonomic

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Maybe your best work happens while sitting in a chair, or perhaps it’s while you’re standing (like Virginia Woolf), or lying down (like Truman Capote).

Whatever your peak position is, it’s important to make sure you’re comfortable. (If your chair is causing you crazy back pain, you won’t be writing for very long!) Fortunately, with the rise of office workers there’s been much advancement in ergonomic technology.

Ready to hop on the standing desk bandwagon? Here’s a roundup from inexpensive to fancy, or you can always DIY it with a stack of books or the latest IKEA hack.

For writing in bed or on your chaise lounge, stop trying to balance your laptop or notebook on a pillow and just get a lap desk.

And for those who love to sit: you can browse options for (affordable) ergonomic chairs here.

Organizing Your Writing

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J.K. Rowling mapped out the plots of the Harry Potter books with elaborate diagrams. William Faulkner outlined the plot of The Fable directly on his office walls (don’t try this at home, kids).

Whether you’re weaving together the plot lines of your new novel, or sorting through ideas for your next blog post, your writing could probably benefit from some organization.

Organize your writing (and possibly your life) with Evernote, the ultimate app for organizing, well, everything. Or if you want templates and proven formulas for your next Facebook post or sales page, be sure to check out Airstory.

Getting Your Grammar in Tip-Top Shape

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Okay, real talk: how could we write about tech to improve your writing and not mention Grammarly?!

With Grammarly as your editor, you can go with the flow of your creativity and let your inner muse run free. Let go of the paranoia that your writing will be littered with errors. Grammarly catches the errors and makes great suggestions for improving your writing.

And have you upgraded to Grammarly Premium yet? It includes vocabulary enhancement suggestions, genre-specific writing style checks, even more grammar and spelling checks, and a plagiarism detector that checks more than 8 billion web pages. Click here to supercharge your writing process.

We want to know: what are your favorite tech gadgets that make the writing process easier? Share in the comments section below!

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Small Talk 101 for Shy People in the Office

Small talk tips for introverts

Small Talk 101 Syllabus

Course Description

Getting to know others in your office by striking up small talk conversations is an anxiety-inducing social activity, coming in right behind team-building exercises like the trust fall and that relay thing where you have to race around with a raw egg on a spoon. That goes double for introverted or shy people. This course will provide the student with five no-fail tips for striking up a conversation and sample scripts to demonstrate good small talk in action.

About Your Instructor

Karen Hertzberg holds a Ph.D. in Awkward Social Interactions from The University of Introvert Life. She specialized in Hiding in a Corner and Social Activity Avoidance until she challenged herself to study Conversation and The Art of Peopling. She is now a member of several social groups, the members of which not only do not find her boring but seek her out for conversations.

Prerequisites

Students should begin this course with an understanding that their own thoughts can be self-fulfilling. If you approach small talk with fear and trepidation, worried that you’ll be boring, you just well might be.

You should understand that you’re a worthy person with interesting things to say. Keep in mind that, particularly at office social functions, other people could well be in the same situation you are—just looking for someone to chat with. They’ll welcome you making an effort to get to know them by striking up a conversation.

How to Make Small Talk in Five Easy Steps

1 Be interested.

If you want to be interesting, be interested. Dale Carnegie (author of the classic How to Win Friends and Influence People) said it, as have other experts in the social arts over the years. The first and most important step toward making great conversation is to show a genuine interest in the people you’re chatting with. Let curiosity lead the way!

2 Ask questions and follow-up questions.

Your questions don’t have to dive deep in order to make great small talk. You can start simply by saying something like, “How was your weekend?” or “Are you enjoying the party?” Really listen to the answer, and then ask meaningful follow-up questions that show you were paying attention. If the person you’re chatting with says that their weekend was quiet, for example, you can say, “We all need that from time to time! What do you like to do in your downtime?”

3 Be present and watch your body language.

As Dolly Parton’s character in the movie Steel Magnolias cheerily suggested, “Smile! It increases your face value.” Uncross your arms. Don’t look over your shoulder as though you’re planning your exit. And, whatever you do, hands off your smartphone.

4 Find ways to relate.

While you don’t want to monopolize the conversation, you also shouldn’t make the other person do all the talking. Find some things you can relate to from time to time, and inject your own observations and experiences. After adding some brief commentary of your own (see step 5), be sure to ask another question to lead the conversation forward. If the other person mentions that they like hiking, you might answer, “Oh, me too! I hiked part of the Pacific Crest Trail last year and it was amazing. I usually stick closer to home, though. Where do you usually hike?”

5 Consider the twenty second rule.

Dr. Mark Goulston, author of Just Listen, recommends speaking for no more than twenty seconds at a time. Think of conversation as a traffic signal. In the first twenty seconds, you have a green light—the person you’re chatting with is engaged and enjoying the conversation. But if you go beyond twenty seconds, you’ve got a yellow light. Caution! You’re edging toward boring. At the forty second mark, you’ve officially become too chatty or self-absorbed—red light!

Small Talk Conversation Examples

Need some inspiration for your next small talk social challenge? The Muse put together forty-eight fun questions to consider asking. Need more small talk examples? Here are some scripts to help you get a better understanding of the process.

When the other person doesn’t have much to say

Be prepared to add some details from your own life before moving on to your next question to keep the conversation from sounding like an interrogation.

“Where are you from?”

“Boston.”

“Ah, I visited Boston a few years back. Great city! I wasn’t a big fan of driving there, though. Next time I’ll take cabs instead of renting a car. Did you like living there?”

“Yeah, it was great.”

“What do you miss most about it?”

When you want to deepen the conversation

Introverts tend to do better in conversations that go deeper than talking about the weather. Ask questions that will challenge the other person to give a thoughtful response.

“What do you do?”

“I’m a writer for the email marketing team.”

“Interesting! What sorts of things do you write?”

“I write some ad copy, but mostly I work on the company newsletter.”

“So, how did you become a writer? When did you discover your talent for words?”

When things get awkward

Sometimes conversations take a turn for the awkward. If that happens, acknowledge the awkward thing the other person said to let them know they’ve been heard, and then move on to another topic.

“Are you enjoying the party?”

“Not really. My girlfriend broke up with me earlier today.”

“Wow, break-ups are rough. I’m sorry to hear it. Have you lived in Los Angeles long?”

When you need to make an exit

It’s okay to bail if the conversation is going nowhere, just do it gracefully. Summarize the last thing the person said to you, then excuse yourself.

“It’s pretty amazing that you’ve trained your cats to reenact scenes from your favorite sci-fi movies. Sounds like you’ve found your niche. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go make a phone call. Enjoy the party!”

Homework: Go Be Interesting!

Making small talk doesn’t have to be anxiety-provoking or tedious. When you worry less about whether you’re being interesting and, instead, show an active interest in others, you become more likable. Think of social interactions not as performing but exploring.

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Monday Motivation Hack: Set Your Work Boundaries

How to get your coworkers to chill

We’re not going to advise you to just “deal with it” when a coworker talks too much, listens to music too loudly, wears too much perfume, doesn’t meet deadlines, or does just about any other irritating thing people do at work.

This is about understanding your personal tolerance level at work and clearly communicating it to those around you without burning bridges.

Why Is Boundary-Setting So Hard?

Drawing a line in the sand and asserting needs is inevitably uncomfortable because it generates conflict. Humans have adapted to avoid conflict because confrontation can be a dangerous experience. We’re biologically wired to avoid the negative feelings of conflict, so we let things slide.

However, if you never deal with conflict, you’re likely to get trapped in it. And you deserve to have your needs respected. So, how do you go about asserting yourself and setting boundaries?

The Number One Rule to Setting Boundaries at Work

It can be extremely tempting when a coworker is stepping on your toes to view him as the “bad guy” and choose to see his behavior as intentional and aggressive rather than innocent, especially if it’s been happening a lot or for a long time. This biased outlook, however, sets you up for some tense interactions. Rather than focus on the negative, remember this important rule:

Always assume the person in question is reasonable and good.

Is Margaret’s music always a little too loud? She isn’t putting her needs above others; she probably doesn’t realize her headphones don’t block sound well.

Is Carter helping himself to your carrot sticks a little too freely? He isn’t being arrogant and selfish; he likely thinks that the carrot sticks are like the other snacks in the office—communal.

Is Lloyd not pulling his weight on his part of team projects? He’s not lazy; he might be confused about the task or what his responsibilities are.

Avoiding accusations and negativity is critical to preserving the functionality of the relationship. Find a perspective that gives the person in question the benefit of the doubt and approach your conversation with them from that positive point of empathy.

Once you’ve got a good grip on this very important rule, you can actually begin the confrontation.

What to Do If Someone Is Too “There”

Whether they talk too loudly, their desk items tend to sprawl into your space, or they hover in other people’s conversations, the most important thing you can do to remedy the situation is ask them to change their behavior in the moment that it’s happening.

Speak up.

Most people who are loud are just happy or excited and don’t necessarily realize that they are louder than others. People whose messes spill over tend to be people who aren’t as affected by clutter and might not realize that it bothers anyone, and people who participate in everyone’s conversations really just want to be included. These people just need a little friendly support to remind them when to quiet down, respect your space, and honor privacy.

Here’s a tip: When asking someone to modify their behavior, remember to clearly state the change you want to see. Sometimes it may be necessary to give some context as to why it is relevant to you.

“Could you please be quieter?”

“Could you please move this out of our shared space?”

“This is a private conversation. If you like, we can catch up later.”

“It’s hard for me to concentrate with so much going on, would you mind turning down your music?”

Noise Boundaries Steven Colbert

You may feel awkward speaking up, but the truth is when you’re direct and don’t make it a big deal, it’ll be fine. If you’re struggling to find the right words, Entreprenuer.com has some helpful hints.

But, what if I’ve already asked?

Keep it classy.

In the case that you have asked this person to respect your boundaries and they continue to cross the line, ask them out for coffee and clarify where you stand. Yes, there is more friction, and it can be scary to confront someone one-on-one, but if you’re gracious and—maybe even a little funny—it will be a lot easier.

Here’s a tip: Grace and humor go a long way and are especially effective if you need to actually discuss the issue you are having.

And if that still doesn’t help? Begin talking to your manager.

What to Do When Someone’s Toe-Stepping Is Serious

Unfortunately, despite our number one rule, not all behaviors are reasonable. Some are rooted in dysfunction, and it can be complicated to sort out how to improve the situation. Whether you’ve got a colleague who never lets anyone else speak, a teammate who seems lazy, or someone exhibiting narcissistic tendencies, it’s still critical that you try to give the benefit of the doubt. However, these kinds of concerns can be uniquely difficult to handle and are likely already having a significant effect on the performance of the team. It’s important to follow a few guidelines:

  1. Unless the issue is serious, first try resolving the concern on your own using the tips mentioned earlier.
  2. If the situation doesn’t improve, collect your thoughts, noting some concrete examples that demonstrate why you are concerned.
  3. Set up a meeting with a supervisor or HR representative for help navigating the confrontation.
  4. Do try to remain calm and cooperative throughout the process. Negative outbursts are counterproductive and can have serious consequences.

What kinds of experiences have you had with boundary setting and conflict resolution at work? Were there any especially effective tricks that worked for you?

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