Tools I Use: speech to text

In the tool kit of accessibility functions most computers have today that I use often is speech to text.

Once enabled with a quick command, all you do is annunciate and the computer will write what it hears you say.

I have to emphasize that you do need to annunciate, not simply mumble what you say to the computer and expect it to understand what you say, including syntax. Period. Editing comes later anyhow.

Thanks to advances in speech recognition, speech-to-text works quite well now. If the speech recognition is trained on your voice and the way you say things based on a script you read to train it, the speech-to-text function can work even better. The best speech recognition tools can learn based on your edits and corrections.

In the past, I wrote about text to speech to save time reading/reviewing electronic documents and articles. Speech to text is just another productivity superpower you can use on a daily basis.

Most of us can speak rather than type since our hands are already quite occupied. This computer function can save you time and energy by potentially making you more productive like it does for me.

Do you use speech to text daily?

How do I: evaluate any work opportunity

We can all find work opportunities for ourselves if we look today. How do you evaluate any work opportunity?

I evaluate any work opportunity based on six factors:

1. Is it remote work?

This first factor was in effect since the beginning of 2019 for me and nothing to do with the pandemic. This was a realization that unless my own work requires moving physical objects, there is no point in being on-site. And I say this as an extravert.

Commuting is a colossal waste of time and natural resources that could be used more productively on anything else you see fit. Seeing/experiencing new places because you want to do so on vacation rather than because you have to commute to work. We saw this very clearly in 2020. I do not see the point of doing any digital work “on-site” for any reason, regardless of who I am working for. Ever. If you have not evolved your thinking, you may be:

A. In survival mode (in an unstable company that is not likely hiring).

B. Trying to justify your commercial office real estate (as it remains mostly empty instead of repurposing it or letting it go).

C. Falsely believing we will all run back to a “normal” shared office space.

D. Failing to realize that we did not need to commute to do digital work in the first place.

E. Forgetting that both global and local relationships can thrive without any physical proximity, thanks to technology.

F. Ignoring the options of scheduled communication and virtual collaboration, regardless of geography.

G. Limiting your own choices locally instead of having more opportunities globally.

H. Restricted because you are still working on digital transformation.

I. Unwilling to work from anywhere.

The smartest companies, those that want to attract and retain the best talent from anywhere (and not limit themselves to local candidates nor people forced to move), realize their employees can be more efficient and effective as a distributed workforce. Back when I traveled for work, I saw travel and commuting as a chore. And it still is. Travel and commuting are not luxuries. Who misses long lines, crowded planes, heavy traffic, or looking for a parking space? Instead, count all the wasted hours that you will never recover. Think about it. Why do that today when you do not have to?

2. Am I paid well?

Some companies are under the illusion that we have lowered our rates because the work can now be done virtually. Those same companies fail to realize that the work has not changed and was able to be done completely virtually for over a decade. My rates have only gone up because I make it easier than ever for clients to engage my services. Simple supply and demand economics. More demand, higher fees. Pay the price or keep looking.

3. Are they listening to me? 

Why should I stay if who I work for doesn’t listen/read/pay attention to what I tell them? I can either help a client or I move on to others that want my help. Obviously, we need to listen, read, pay attention and speak up too. Makes sense? Keep reading.

4. Can I make a difference?

If people are not listening/reading/paying attention to what we tell them, we likely can not make a difference unless we assume we know what they need (which can also backfire) or clarify the goals after changes occur. I am a consultant to make a positive difference for clients, not just to collect billable hours.

I do not speak for my other consulting brethren where some have a drug pusher mentality for clients that can not function without them. Who put themselves in that spot? Who needs help getting out of that?

5. Is it what I want to do?

Priorities change just like many other things change around us constantly. We have control over some of these things, and we do not control many other things. We also choose how we spend/waste our attention. Where we work and where we live is something we do control as adults. How did you decide where to live? Why? Why are you working where you do aside from the pay? What company we work for is something we do control. Who applied for the job? Is it still what you want to be doing? Are you good at it? Are you effective? Or is it just a matter of collecting a paycheck? Does it still give you a sense of accomplishment? Is it fulfilling? Do you like it, or is it painful?

6. Am I treated well?

Yes, being treated well by co-workers is important and it starts with treating others well. Being effective can be more important than expecting friendliness. Work is not supposed to be easy, otherwise, we will get bored quickly.

Who are you serving? Does it matter to them? Is it painful to deal with some people? Why? Are certain colleagues interpersonally manipulative or emotionally abusive? Most of the time that does not happen; otherwise, it becomes a serious HR issue. Are you and your supervisor clear on expectations? Do you remain responsive? Do you remain positive? Sometimes remaining positive is a matter of reframing an open conversation. Having respectful conversations is part of the job.

At any point, we will likely learn something new.

When these six factors erode, it is time to evaluate whether to move on, especially if factors #3 and #4 vaporize. 

What factors matter to you when you evaluate work opportunities?

Things I Don’t Use: Paper

There have been a lot of efforts to become paperless over the past few decades. If a company has piles of people, that is hard to make it a paperless company you mandate being paperless unless you make it a chore to print anything.

If we can clearly display what might be printed on a large enough screen that is the first step. Users, readers, and reviewers of said content still need the ability to:

  • annotate
  • approve
  • assign
  • collaborate
  • edit
  • iterate
  • read
  • share
  • sign
  • view
  • write

on the content that could be printed but rather not today. And all of these actions can be achieved without printing anything by any number of productivity software suites we are all familiar with by Google, Microsoft, and others. Printing on paper makes little sense nowadays since it, by definition, limits the uses and viewability of the printed content. Again, if you want to limit its viewability, do not print it in the first place assuming the content is born-digital.

Unless the point of printing something is to reduce distribution today and/or limit royalties without the means to actually track its readership, printing on paper has no further purpose.

Print for work

I have worked with organizations that have at least 1.2 printers per person which only encourages printing. Most of the printing was done uselessly unless the print out was a project deliverable…instead of soft (digital) copy. Having printers next to you without getting up from your workspace promotes endless printing for senseless reasons. Remove the printers and remove the urge to print pretty quickly.

I have worked within very few companies that have no printers available anywhere unless you hunt for them, then get permission to output paper for some other (often useless) reason. The harder you make it to print anything that can just be seen or worked on a screen, the less likely anyone will print something.

Print to read

Some people think it is required to print something in order to read something once or maybe twice. We realize after that, the paper gets lost or trashed. Some print something to hand the paper to someone rather than sharing the content to that same person electronically. I have spoken to quite a few university professors that are guilty of this phenomenon.

Awareness

It has nothing to do with retention nor archiving because that grossly assumes organization and that this paper can be found quickly again for reference.

It is not a luxury to print on paper, but rather a selfish mindset to print uselessly. It is a point of awareness to not print at all. You don’t actually have to hold it in your hand in order to read, sign it or pass it on.

Signatures

No one (aside from maybe ourselves) pays any attention to our own signatures. Yes, that’s right. Physical signatures are useless.  Complete wastes of time. Authentication via e-signatures with the date, timestamp, IP address, and GPS location from where it was authenticated is much more specific than anyone’s handwriting will ever be. Courts of law accept e-signature far more than handwritten signatures. Why? Ever heard of forged signatures? You can literally draw anything instead of your own handwritten signature and no one will pay any attention to it today. Including your bank and your credit card company today. Same reason why many merchants don’t require any signatures for payment anymore. Signatures are a total waste of time and resources to supply the means to sign. Even printing receipts which are rarely kept and can not be archived since they are often printed on thermal paper where the writing fades after one year.

Some people print something in order to sign it, then scan the signed paper, only to email the scanned PDF to someone else. E-signatures resolve all this. All useless by today’s digital-first and remote-first work standard now for those who actually care about their workforce since their own work does require them to move anything physically.

Nostalgia

Already a distant memory. Forgotten for the same reasons as writing checks. If you remember writing checks as a means of payment, you likely remember what fun it is to stand in line as each person drafts a check from scratch as you wait and watch. Slow, cumbersome, and useless today.

Payment

Fraud not only led Europe to ban all checks years ago, while the US was getting chips on credit cards.  Contactless apps transfer funds faster anywhere in the world or locally down the street.

Handwriting

Remember all those handwriting lessons from elementary school? Well, they don’t even go to school anymore let alone learn to draw their own name with characters. Typing on a screen is the norm. My handwriting is illegible, just like a medical doctor’s handwriting. I will let you guess which one is more important to be clearly understood. Just another reason to get rid of handwriting altogether.

Why USe Paper?

So why use paper? Paper does not help to organize anything we do. We are clearly terrible at using it properly, storing it, archiving it or finding it again in an efficient and effective manner. We don’t need to use paper to read, write, collaborate, iterate, sign nor transfer its contents to anyone. I loath paper and avoid using it at any cost.

There is one use for paper products that may have a future unless we go back to older ways before toilet paper existed.

How do I: work remotely

Since working remotely and working from home is a hot topic that many people are forced to do this year (2020), I thought I would share how I do this. I have worked remotely on and off since 2000.

Where do you choose to work

Once adults, we choose where we live. We choose where and whom we work for. These are all choices, not forced requirements. We assume they are givens while they are not. They are choices throughout our lives along with the responsibilities that come with them. We can adapt to change if we are willing to change before change happens to us.

Some have chosen to relocate for a variety of reasons. In late 2017, I delocated from the Washington DC area to the southernmost tip of South Carolina. All of my wife’s family moved here and after visiting a few years ago, we understood why they moved. The beauty and year-round weather of the Lowcountry make sense for living here. Remote work from here makes even more sense.

I have a home office with a door to keep other residents out and minimize distracting sounds from my pets, my spouse, and the kitchen.

If I record a podcast, I normally record in my home office for optimal sound on my end.

Since I use a laptop with a long battery life, it provides me a portable workspace where ever I choose to work that day. I have the option to work in any room of my house that I wish thanks to wifi. I have the luxury spending a lot of time inside a screened-in porch or outside on the back porch under a patio umbrella when the weather permits it more than 10 months of the year.

If I want to work at a coffee shop, I have all of them fully scoped out (outdoors mostly). I know where to sit if I want the white noise of the shop, the right amount of light, and power outlets if needed, and the best wifi connection. I do not have scheduled work calls when I go there due to the noise.

Coffee shops can be uber-productive for focused work. I have written entire books at coffee shops within a few weeks with an endless supply of coffee and small meals provided during 12 hour daily bursts.

Work where you can get work done. Don’t limit yourself. Change it up and see what you have been missing.

When are your scheduled hours?

As a business owner, I work every day. More on some days. Less on other days. The productivity needle needs to move every day for my own satisfaction. I segment days of the week for availability for virtual meetings and calls vs. deep work without interruption. The learning needle needs to move on a daily basis as part of a personal fulfillment challenge to myself that does not end during life.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow; learn as if you were to live forever.”

Mahatma Gandhi

I loath and avoid any unproductive days. If nothing was accomplished and nothing was learned, it was a wasted day. I am very self-aware that I become very moody from the lack of productivity and fulfillment. I choose to move the needle by working to improve this daily.

If I am ever actively waiting for something, I am listening to an audiobook, podcast, or speaking with someone to learn something.

I have scheduled hours for calls and collaborative meetings on most days. I don’t pay attention to calls that come in before or after that time. I will check voicemail a couple times a day. People can not schedule time with me outside these hours because my calendar is blocked outside these hours.

I have scheduled focus time almost daily which is often in the early morning and late afternoon. No phone available, no calls. no emails during that time.

I schedule time for different clients and different projects.

If it is not scheduled, it will not happen. The schedule is flexible though, not rigid.

Any social activities are scheduled even with friends or I ignore them. If they don’t accept the calendar invite, I cancel the meeting with a templated email to see if they want to reschedule in a month. My wife has a hard time getting me to attend even family events because those need to scheduled too or I ignore them. Even if it’s my birthday. Scheduled or ignored. You see our time is too valuable to waste on unproductive tasks. And every task takes time. Life is too short.

When I am very busy, I even schedule sleep (normally between 11pm-5am) or in three-hour time blocks when I am super busy with large projects. Meals are also scheduled to stay on track so I do not forget those and whom I will have them with.

My morning and evening are purposely routine.

What do you work on?

I am either doing client work, taking scheduled calls, or self-assigned projects to create content like this, more podcasts, or new books.

I only accept remote work now. Whether it is for long term contract work or short term scheduled calls. I get calls every week to come to another metropolitan area to work for big company X (regardless of industry/sector) and I decline all travel now. Does not matter who, what, why, where nor how much. The answer is “remote only” or “No”.  The client has challenges that need to be resolved. Resolving those challenges is why I consult remotely.  It is not about seeing anyone, shaking their hand, breaking bread with them, and other such fluff, but rather effective communication and experience in successfully resolving challenging. I don’t babysit staff nor systems anymore.  That is what management does when they are not enabling, empowering, or assigning their teams how and what to work on. Leadership figures out what to do and when to achieve company goals.

When it comes to Digital Asset Management (DAM) work, the first keyword is digital. All digital work can be done remotely. If you don’t believe it,  you might not be effective and efficient in-person either. Fix the effectiveness of communication first. Then work on efficiency as part of the continual improvement process.

I can find and train people to manage day-to-day operations of any DAM system for any client. That can be done remotely too. No one needs to go to an office for that.

I review 1099 Corp to Corp contract work only. No W-2 work what so ever. I own my consultancy, so I am no one’s employee. I am a short-term contractor. Short term means 1 hour, a few weeks, or up to 9 months. Identify problem > Fix problem > Move on > Repeat for next client. This is what a consultant does. I do not milk clients endlessly for ever-increasing headcounts delays and billable hours like other consulting firms.

How do you get client work?

They call me, email me, or schedule me online.

As a remote consultant in a specialized field, I decline 100% of all client contracts that do not accept remote consulting, whether the work requires a few weeks of work or a few months of work. I have done that since 2019. That policy goes for any client of any size, most of them are global companies.

Previously, I would establish access, connections, trust, and toolsets needed in person, then go remote.

Once we realize that none of these things needs to be done in person, remote work is possible for everyone. I am not here to justifying anyone’s commercial office real estate spend. Those days are over and so is the office in my opinion. That realization will come shortly as soon as the mindset adapt to the new normal, not how we did something in the past. Remote work is work. Location is almost irrelevant. There is no more ‘magic’ that happens at the water cooler, office kitchen, coffee machine nor bathroom. This is because everyone’s already disappeared from the office that matters and there is no available audience in person.

Adapt, iterate, and thrive. Otherwise, let someone else run things as they should without fail nor delay.

My time is too valuable to waste traveling to any location when 100% of my work is digital and not physical.

Full disclosure, I don’t hire any staff for my businesses. All of them are fixed-term contractors for client work or they are task-based contractors.

Not surprisingly, 100% of everyone I have surveyed about remote work wants more remote work opportunities, whether they are gainfully employed or not.

I spoke with a few people hired last month in the field of DAM. To work remotely, of course, not just during COVID-19 and then run back to an office for senseless purposes.

If someone does not move nor create physical objects for work, they have no reason to work in a commercial office environment. Even after COVID-19 is under control. Remote work and distributed work is the new norm. It is time to get used to it.

What are you listening to while working?

Whether I am on a call or not, I am often wearing noise-canceling headphones.

Often I am wearing noise-canceling headphones much of the day.

When I am walking on the beach I have a Bluetooth earbud in one ear that is not facing the ocean which I alternate when walking back. This allows the effects of hearing ocean waves in the other ear as additional stimulation. While walking on the beach, I am listening to an audiobook or podcast to learn something.

When focusing on a task, sometimes light jazz instrumental music in the background from Spotify helps my focus.

When I doing less focused work, I may listen to an audiobook, a podcast, or a webinar.

Silence is very welcome when true concentration is needed.

What about job security?

You can work on your own dreams or you can work on someone else’s dreams. Owning your own business is the way to work on your own dreams so they can become a reality. Even if we are the most important person in a company, there is still no job security because the company can still fail. Job security is a myth. ‘Permanent’ positions are a myth too. Even if you are a government employee or employee of a multi-national corporation. All employees are expendable, even the CEO. Everyone is replaceable. And so is every company. Stop believing in myths and make a difference that matters.

What do you do for entertainment?

I will watch a movie or a series online as a reward at night before sleep however I may not finish it for a week if I am exhausted and fall asleep during the show, but it is on-demand so it does not matter.

No gaming. No alcohol. No drugs. No in-person group activities. Minimal sugar per week.

I can count the number of parties I attend per year on less than one hand and prefer to keep it that way.

Friends are scheduled for a call online once a month.

Do you travel for work?

Not anymore. Since travel does not benefit me nor my clients, there is no point considering where I live. It is a waste of time for all parties. I used to schedule travel early in the morning or late at night. I did not want to waste daytime hours traveling without a benefit to me and my clients. Most people work during the day and rest at night.

When I travel (not since 2019), I usually avoid working in a car, plane, train, subway,  or other means of transport because I find it too cramped and prefer resting during the travel. Business-class or first class can fix the cramped space challenge if you really plan to work. It can be better for networking depending on who you sit near. I have heard of other authors flying during very long flights (to Asia and back) and executing most of a book by effectively using that uninterrupted time during the flight at cruising altitude since meals and drinks are brought to you in a scheduled manner. You did not even need to ask, just acknowledge, confirm, or decline.

With noise-canceling headphones in flight, you can drown out all the plane’s droning noises which are amazing to have near silence on a plane in flight.

I used to drive up to 40,000 miles a year. Now I have my car self-drive me less 400 miles a month, mostly to the beach a few times a week in the early morning. Not for work.

Resources

If you need proof that there are very successful companies, both large and small, that have done remote work or distributed work for years, you can listen to a number of examples and hear how they do it:

https://distributed.blog/podcast/

https://remoteworklife.io/

How do I: batch tasks

What is task batching?

Batching, task batching or batching tasks is simply grouping all of the same tasks at the same time. Doing all of the same tasks repeatedly and/or all together at once. Together is much easier, less time consuming, and more productive than using the typical start-stop-start-stop-repeat model when it comes up for the frequently reoccurring task. We all have tasks like this. It helps maintain consistency when necessary. It may be easier to schedule these batched tasks on a periodic basis.

For example, I write all the edits needed for my podcasts to be released next month within 1 or 2 days of this month. This can be on auto-pilot after you grouped up those tasks for the month and did all the work of figuring it out ahead of time.

You can document the process of said task and then possibly delegate that task too. Sometimes, when the tasks are consistent and exactly the same steps every time, the task can be automated.

For example, after converting them from XLSX files to CSV, I used to clean up the CSV files manually.  Once I figured out all the steps and the sequence of steps to clean it up the CSV, an Excel macro was created to automate the cleanup process. The macro was iterated when there was a new consistent challenge to be fixed repeatedly.

How to record a task and delegate a task

Figure out what is needed to do this task like pre-requisites, the sequence of steps, and the outcome when done.

Creating a written step by step checklist can help remember. Pilots use checklists for regular plane operations before, during, and after flights, as well as emergencies.

Chefs use recipes that are documented tasks and checklists along with their mise en place before they start to cook.

Documentation can happen as a screen capture video for a computer task, even while on a video conferencing tool like Zoom.

It can be a video recorded with you talking through each step, if not on the computer.

Even if you delegate a task, you can check the results on the given parameters that you provide beforehand and have them iterate if needed.

What tasks can you batch together?