The Checklist Manifesto
Author Atul Gawande is a surgeon, among other things (including staff writer for The New Yorker), but the book reads more like an adventure novel than your typical productivity advice. He tells stories not only from from his efforts with the World Health Organization's Safe Surgery Saves Lives program, but also from other areas - everything from constructing skyscrapers, to natural disaster response, to high-end restaurant operations, and of course, aviation.
The author makes the case that checklists are important to get things right, even for complex problems (maybe even especially for complex problems). Checklists reduce your cognitive load for the - as Dr. Gawande calls it - "stupid stuff", so that you have your full mental capacity for the task or problem at hand.
Content development can be time-consuming. While every bit of content that I create is different, I know that there are repeatable tasks. If I don't have to spend time remembering or identifying those tasks, I can spend that mental energy on creating more content and more effective learning.
My checklists for creating a tutorial video or converting a PowerPoint to eLearning in Storyline won't save lives (probably), but they do save time. They don't quite follow guidelines from The Checklist Manifesto, but here they are for your consideration and use.
When I find myself repeating general tasks for one or more projects, I write down the steps and store them in my task manager as a template so it's easy to find the next time I need to do the same thing.
Please share if you have suggestions for improvement. Our collective knowledge makes us all better and more efficient.
Video Tutorial Checklist
I developed this checklist for creating short (2-3 minute) how-to videos focused on a specific procedure. But it can serve as a template for other types of tutorials.
You can find a slightly different, expanded and actionable version of this checklist on the Nozbe.how site, which was a winner of the Nozbe.how template contest in the Business category in 2017.
PowerPoint to Storyline Conversion Checklist
I developed this checklist for a specific project in which related PowerPoint decks are being placed online for self-paced training. It's not a difficult process, but can be frustrating if you don't pay attention to details.
I don't have details to share on this one, but am happy to explain if you'd like to use it for your own projects.
Camtasia Certification™ Process
For certification, you have the option to go through 10 separate courses and their quizzes - all related to various aspects of screencasting. You can also skip all that and just take the certification test without going through the courses.
I opted for the video courses - just in case I might pick up a few new tricks. The courses include some 15 hours of video content. Thank goodness for watching at double-speed. The narrator does get a bit long-winded at times, and not being a beginner, I didn't need to dwell on every explanation. Overall, the certification courses were very helpful and on point (and I did learn a few new tricks).
The course author's process is much like my own. We'll take a quick look at each of the courses, which walk through the process of creating a screencast.
Preparing to Create Screencasts
No matter which tool you use for screen recordings, you'll want to prepare accordingly - not only with a script and storyboard, but by making sure the environment you plan to record is ready. Turn off notifications and clear your computer desktop of clutter.
Recording Audio and Narration
While Camtasia does offer voice narration tools, like the course author, I find it more efficient to do the bulk of my narration recording outside Camtasia in Audacity. Camtasia's audio editing tools are passable. The one thing in this area that I learned the hard way is that Camtasia does better with WAV files rather than MP3 (as of mid 2018).
Recording Your Screencasts
When you start a new recording in Camtasia, you have the option to control what you capture with this toolbar. You set your area, as well as controlling whether to include the webcam and audio. I find it much more straightforward to leave the camera and audio off (unless you need to record system audio). But recording audio as you go through the recording process has its merits for some situations.
There are some handy menu settings you can use before you start recording, including:
One of the tricks I picked up in the certification course is this option "Restore cursor location after pause". It means that if you pause the recording, move your mouse in the process of whatever you do during the pause, Camtasia will restore the mouse position when you resume recording. I wish I'd known about this time-saving trick sooner!
Once you finish recording, the editing environment allows you to use a number of tools to edit the recording - along with other types of media - into a final video. This course/part of the process focuses on cutting and trimming the screen recordings and/or audio or other media. The timeline helps you understand when a particular item begins to show and when it ends. This course also explains how to manipulate items on the canvas.
This course of the certification process is the longest at 3 hours 12 minutes. Part of the reason is that the author chose a really long sample video (about 10 minutes) for the example and practice. Maybe for version 2.0 of the course, they'll use a shorter example.
Visual effects include things like annotations, scale, opacity, rotation and position of your media.
There are six different types of annotation tools. Between the captions, lines and shapes, you are only limited by your imagination (and time you want to spend) to create everything from a speech bubble to a scene with multiple moving shapes - such as a truck driving across the screen. Note that you won't get sophisticated animation possibilities like you could in an animation tool, but annotations are great for conveying conceptual information and adding visual interest. The blur, highlight, and sketch motion tools are great for enhancing screen recordings. And you can easily show that you are pressing a key in your video by adding keystroke callouts. Just select the type and press the keys you want to show.
This course is super short - these items are generally used in conjunction with editing and animating items in the video.
Animating and Moving Elements
We could play with these tools all day, especially the transitions, behaviors and animations. Suffice to say, there are lots of possibilities. What's important to remember is that you can do more than one change with each animation and you can layer multiple behaviors on objects or text to achieve a different effect. Plan some time to design your animations, because this can get time-consuming, depending on what you want to accomplish.
No matter how great the audio is from an external source, you may find the need to add an extra pause or otherwise manipulate the audio. It's a super-short course in the certification process.
Captioning Your Videos
I haven't done much with captioning yet (but I probably should). Now I know exactly how to add closed captions or create an SRT file to upload for YouTube.
Effects, Quizzes and Interactivity
Transitions and cursor effects offer more options for editing and enhancing your videos.
I've avoided quizzes and interactivity in videos until now. Many of my clients host their videos on You Tube (where these features aren't available), but when the video is hosted on a website, adding interactive elements like quizzes, a table of contents, and interactive hotspots are really great ways to add engagement.
Producing and Hosting Your Videos
The last course in the process is of course discussing the options for sharing your videos.
Now, you've completed all of the courses, and passed each of their quizzes with at least 80% (it's easy to retake a quiz - I did have to retake one because I'm no longer a Mac user and I skimmed over that part). You can now request your certification, which doesn't take long. And you can get the correct settings to use to add it to your LinkedIn Profile.
Camtasia for Customer Education
Camtasia is my tool of choice for creating screencasting videos, although sometimes I use it in conjunction with other tools. And screencasting videos are my favorite form of customer education. They are short, practical, and thanks to Camtasia's updated tools, full of possibilities.
If you'd like to watch my sample video from which the opening image for this post was derived, you can find it here: http://bit.ly/2xKGu24. I'm not the world's best narrator, but it gets the job done.
The Camtasia Certification courses are only available if you have a Camtasia 2018 maintenance plan. Find out more at TechSmith's site. You can take courses in their new TechSmith Academy (that don't lead to certification) for free.
Captivate has always been an option for recording your screen and automatically generating different types of eLearning based on those recordings. But did you know that it also records video demos?
As a freelancer, I often have some flexibility and discretion on which tool I use to do a project. I have used Camtasia for screen recording videos since 2011. I've also created videos with Captivate for some projects, when certain aspects of a project suggest that it would be a more efficient tool for the job. But I hadn't ever tried the video demo functionality until recently.
Let's take a look at the different demonstration and simulation options before detailing the video demo option.
Before you record a demonstration or simulation, you can set Global Preferences to customize your recording and resulting slides.
In addition to these global preferences, you can set the style of objects to use for text, success shapes and captions, failure shapes and captions, hint shapes and captions, highlight boxes, text entry boxes, rollover areas, and smart shapes. These work in conjunction with your Object Style Manager to set the type, font style, size, color and other aspects of the items that will be generated in addition to individual screen shots. Use these options to save lots of time in getting the project to look how you want it to look.
Captivate makes it simple enough to start recording with just a few clicks, so even beginners can get a successful recording right away. However, as a robust tool, there are many nuances and steps to finessing a recording process that we're not going to cover in this blog post.
The Video Demo option in Captivate records a smooth motion video rather than individual slides like it does for demonstrations and simulations.
Unlike some aspects of Captivate, there's not much need for addressing complicated settings before you start recording. You choose the working folder location and whether or not to record mouse movements. In the recording window, you select the size and whether to snap to the application window, region or a custom size. You also choose whether to include panning, audio, and the webcam. (So you don't have to be talented enough to record yourself and the screen at one time after all.)
But Captivate doesn't exactly record what you do in real time, which provides some interesting options for modification.
For the separate recording from the webcam, you can resize and re-position it, but you can't crop it. If set up before you start recording, you can pick a different background, though I found it didn't do a great job of cutting me out from my office surroundings. Maybe if I had a backdrop with greater contrast or a green screen, that would look better.
When you end your recording, it plays automatically, with a tiny button labeled Edit to access the editing features. You can also process and upload the video to YouTube directly from here if you don't need to edit it.
However, in addition to the editing options listed above, you can add text, shapes, highlight boxes, images, animation and characters to the video. You'll publish it to your computer with options for controlling the video quality (like frames per second). You'll end up with an MP4 file that you can use just like any other MP4 file. Or you can import the CPVC (Captivate Video Composition) project directly to a slide, working it into a bigger eLearning project.
The Interactive Video options to use overlays and return to a position in the video from elsewhere via bookmarks (such as for quiz remediation) introduce some great possibilities for learning. These are new as of Captivate 2019, but that's a topic for another day.
Have you ever been kicked out of a good story by a small detail?
But sometimes I find myself in a book that fails to make the world of that story believable. It might be too many grammatical errors or something that is inconsistent. I might keep reading if the plot or characters are interesting enough, or I might give up on it if I think the quality of the writing gets in the way of the story. Either way, my experience as a reader does not match what I was looking for when I picked up that book.
When creating eLearning, you are building a world for learning. Teaching software or system skills via eLearning can be a great way to teach users how or what to do with that tool to get the outcome they need - solving the problem that led to using that tool in the first place. It’s a great way to provide practice for specific skills in a safe or guided way.
But as the eLearning designer and developer, you have to be meticulous in recreating that tool’s environment for the eLearning to have a hope in being effective. And to do that, you need to capture the right screen shots in the right way.
First, let me say that if you have access to Captivate and/or Storyline, you have options to make screen recording easy in preparation for developing eLearning. However, there are pros and cons to automatically generating these simulations, which we'll save for a discussion for another day.
What about when you need to capture images directly because you aren't using the simulation features of the authoring tools, or you have Subject Matter Experts helping you set up scenarios and capture the right screens directly?
I'd like to share a process for capturing screen images to ensure consistent results that help build your software eLearning world.
What size are your screens? What size will your eLearning project be? You need to answer these questions before you get started. Ideally, you would determine a consistent size for the images before you begin authoring your eLearning.
You want to make sure the size and zoom are the same in every screen in the same activity. The aspect ratio is an important part of this equation. For example, if the eLearning is using a 16:9 ratio (or standard HD widescreen to match most displays these days), you might want your images to be 1920 pixels x 1080 pixels or something smaller with the same ratio of height to width.
As a developer, I know this and I know how to set up my screens to make it work right, using tools I have available (i.e., usually either Camtasia or Captivate). But on a recent project working with SMEs who didn't have those tools, we learned that it can be quite challenging to standardize the size of the window when different SMEs are capturing screens for different scenarios.
When I capture my laptop monitor with screens maximized to fill the whole space, the images are a 16:9 ratio, which look great even when scaled down and fill the HD widescreen project without any adjustments. However, my external monitor is off from that slightly, so maximizing the window does not get the screen size results I want.
So you may have to do some creative problem solving to find the best size for your screens and eLearning project. What is most important, is that once you find the right size, to use the exact same settings when capturing screens within each task. If it's slightly different from one lesson to another - your learners will most likely not notice. It's that one click to the next change that needs to be precisely the same size, zoom and aspect ratio.
Think Like a Technical Writer
Before you start capturing screens, make sure you know what you need to capture. Think like a technical writer to try to identify every different iteration of the screen, working through all of the minutiae for the task you want the learners to practice. It may be best to capture all of the screens for one lesson or task in one capturing session to minimize the risk that something is off slightly from one screen to the next.
When capturing menus, the eLearning will need to show before the menu is selected, the drop down menu open, and the results of the selection. So you may need more screen shots than you think. Some of this can be corrected with editing in SnagIt, but it may be easier to capture more than you need and just not use the unnecessary ones.
Here's a checklist for your capture session process:
Then you can use the images in your eLearning project just like any other image file. I hope this process helps you build effective eLearning! Let me know in the comments if you have other suggestions I didn't cover.
In May, I attended Zendesk's one-day conference in Dallas titled, "The Future of Customer Experience".
One statement that really resonated with me, as a developer of customer-facing educational content and self-service resources, is something said by Jason Maynard, who is the VP & GM of Zendesk Guide and Data Products. He said "Self service is a fixed cost that pays dividends as your business grows."
"Self service is a fixed cost that pays dividends as your business grows."
The session reported on three typical approaches to launching a help center: 1. the agile improvers, 2. set and forgetters, and 3. patient planners. You can read an elaboration of these approaches here. Having worked with a number of software companies, I can see how the agile approach seems natural and appropriate for developing self-serve content, since many software companies are already using an agile approach to updates. Zendesk's own research bears out that the agile group does best when looking at how well self-service content deflects help center tickets.
I found the Zendesk conference and articles to be very focused on the support audience. And for good reason. I recently read a case study through another tool, MindTouch, about an 86% ticket deflection rate. In that case, the company already had help before (the reported case study), but the help was not easy for customers to use so it wasn't getting the desired results.
Help isn't always enough, but using a well-planned single-source approach to content development benefits not only support, but also can be leveraged for other educational content, like marketing, sales, onboarding and customer success, and throughout the customer's lifecycle.
So for this post, I'd like to offer a few suggestions for creating helpful help, so that the effort and fixed cost that you put into developing your self-service content is as efficient and effective as possible and can easily be reused for other educational purposes.
I don't want to trivialize the work that technical writers like myself do, nor minimize the value of collaboration with subject-matter-experts who may not be as good at writing. But because I'm also very interested in learning, I hope to start a conversation about how to help people be better, more effective workers - not just the people creating the help content, but the readers who rely on it as well.
I'm planning a training session and/or online course to elaborate on these suggestions. I'd love to hear your comments on location, format and any additional topics to include.
Spring CEdMA Training Leadership Conference Notes
Maximizing Long-Term Success with an Orchestrated Onboarding Journey
Donna Weber started with a quote I love and had heard before from Tara-Nicholle Nelson, author of The Transformational Consumer: "Most companies are very focused on getting new companies into their funnel. It's...unsustainable as a business model to spend so much money generating new disengaged customers." Donna reports that well-trained customers have a higher NPS and are 20% more likely to renew, among other benefits, but that many companies are using hope as a strategy instead of creating an orchestrated post-sales journey. She says that great content is not enough, you need to connect the dots for the customer and set expectations about where sales, marketing, training and professional services fit. Instead of existing in separate silos, combine assets and frameworks to make it as simple as possible for customers to be successful.
A Customer Success Executive Perspective on the Role of Education Services
This panel discussion included:
Best Practices to Impact Corporate Success: Key Findings of the 2018 Business Survey Results
Dick Braune, Director Education Development for BMC Software and CEdMA Services Trustee, reported the findings of the 2018 CEdMA Business Survey. Respondents included 70 member companies, with insight into several areas of how different aspects of education are being handled by different companies, such as profit and loss vs. cost center business models, education operating margins, and the role played in Customer Success organizations. As expected, self-paced content is driving additional education revenues at higher percentages than in previous years. The impact of education again shows that customers with training renew more frequently and churn less often.
Onboarding through Continued Education: Leveraging Learning Paths for Long Term Success
Lynn Marie Viduya and Veronica Ruff, both of BlackLine, explained how they have leveraged learning paths to support various training programs in both freemium and premium training for customers, partners and employees. BlackLine U learning paths include general (freemium), premium training, certification, and employee learning paths. The free eLearning includes two learning paths (for user and admin), while the premium training leverages eLearning for CPE and unlimited custom learning paths. After implementing the new learning paths, BlackLine saw an exponential increase in customers taking eLearning on BlackLine U, as well as over 200 partners certified on the product via self-study.
Innovation Award: A 100% Secure Cloud-based Certification Model
Okta presented their certification solution, which won the CEdMA innovation award. The core of their innovation is the Discrete Option Multiple Choice (DOMC) methodology, which is patented by Dave Foster, PhD and Chairman and CEO of Caveon. Using DOMC in their certification testing provided several benefits, including:
How to Build a Scalable Engine for Content Creation
Alyce Gershenson explained how Talend leverages front-line experts for knowledge base content creation. Everyday, they have new articles that are available immediately to an internal audience. Articles recommended for external audiences have an additional process for publishing to ensure quality. Talend learned some difficult lessons about rewarding contributors and eventually found the balance of motivating contributors for quality content. Ultimately, KB articles don't replace the "official" documentation - they provide more flexible information like use cases. But these articles are seen as a good alternative to training in some cases.
Dynamic Partner Enablement Strategies
Jillian Alexander, VP of Knowledge Services and Delivery at Kinaxis, explained how they implemented their partner enablement vision to provide a scalable and complete continuous learning program that drives early adoption and easy access to knowledge, skills and certification globally. In phase one, they found that the solution they built was not being accepted. They took their lessons learned to improve their offerings in phase two, which resulted in an increase in partner certifications, course completions and total reach.
Certification: All Business, no games?
Zarogina Azocar, Certification Program Manager of Alfresco, provided some tips on how they used games in a certification exam preparation setting. Accepting that they couldn't cover all of the content required for preparing for the certification exam, they instead implemented a workshop aimed at serious attendees who were responsible for gaining knowledge on their own time. The workshop included a few games to provide an engaging exam preparation experience.
Integrating Skilljar with Skytap to Manage Hands-On Labs
Darryl Quinn, Director of Global Education Services for Alfresco, discussed some of the challenges they had with virtual machine (VM) environments for student hands-on labs. They built an integrated, automated solution even though their new learning management system (LMS) didn't natively support managing the VMs. The new solution includes auto-expiration of VM sessions with region-based VMs that integrate back into the LMS.
Emerging Trends in Education Services: New Roles, Accelerated Delivery
How do you remain relevant? Danielle Campbell, head of Americas Digital Learning Services for Adobe, and Natasa Koledin, Senior Director, Global Education of Pivotal Software, Inc., described new terminology and practices for training and education to survive in today's marketplace. By fine tuning internal partnerships, you can leverage work that has already been done and be comfortable with the fact that enablement happens with various other groups throughout a company, too. They discussed ways to scale by using industry partnerships with marketplaces like Lynda.com and Udacity. They also talked about ways that metrics being measured are also evolving.
Maximizing the Impact of Video
Ryan Kershner, Senior Manager of PTC University User Experience, shared some fun new videos they recently launched. Using a story-based approach that focuses on high-level concepts rather than specific tasks that may change with each software update, he showed how PTC has created easier engagement with more video consumption that is now a new source of revenue. Their customers love it. PTC University incorporated green screen videos combined with screencasts and used machine transcription to create closed caption files and an interactive transcript.
The Fall 2018 is scheduled October 17-18 at Babson College. The board also made an announcement that membership prices will be increasing and starting in 2019, CEdMA will move to a once-a-year conference.
I eagerly anticipated this Spring's CEdMA Training Leadership Conference, with a theme of "Driving a Learning Journey for the Subscription World." CEdMA is the Computer Education Management Association, "the premier organization for training executives, managers, and professionals on a management path in technology companies." In preparation for attending the conference, I set up notes for each conference session in an Evernote notebook so that I could already have a place to log my thoughts about what I learned. I made arrangements for my schedule to be off for a few days. And I made my travel plans...
As I prepared to leave Dallas for San Francisco the day before the conference, I had an experience that was a perfect example of how the right customer education at the right time can impact a company's bottom line.
I missed my flight. And for a completely preventable reason.
For those of you who don't know, Dallas has two airports. Dallas Love Field has its origins in World War I (around 1917), but starting in 1979, was governed by The Wright Amendment, which limited flights outside Texas. It just wasn't big enough to handle lots of flights. DFW Airport first opened in 1973 and is the hub for American Airlines. How these details relate to my story is that in practice, I'm used to Southwest Airlines (and almost no other airlines) flying out of Love Field, and all other airlines flying from DFW. Even though The Wright Amendment was fully repealed recently, as a Dallasite, that news didn't seep into my consciousness enough to question my assumption that my April flight would leave from DFW.
So I scheduled my shuttle to pick me up at my home and drop me off at DFW. Unfortunately, my Virgin Airlines/Alaska Airlines flight was scheduled from Love Field.
In some ways, I was lucky. Since I'd taken a shuttle, I didn't have to worry about my car. I grabbed a cab and headed straight for Love Field. The traffic gods were smiling on me, and we actually got to Love Field in about 20 minutes. The mistake at this point was a cost I could swallow: a $45 cab fare.
When I checked my bag, the ticket agent informed me that boarding was starting in 5 minutes. "I made it," I thought.
And then I got to the security line. It was not five minutes long.
There were two announcements while I sweated in the security line. "Passengers for flight blah blah blah to San Fransisco should make their way to gate blah blah blah," the announcer said. "Lots of you are missing." I wondered if I should ask to cut in the security line, or if that would just cause problems with TSA. I decided the best plan was to be patient. I watched the clock and the progress of the line. I thought it would be close, but I would be okay.
When I got to the gate, moments after they'd closed the doors, I found out that 13 other people had also missed the flight. (The gate agent had told me that passengers went to the wrong airport EVERY DAY.)
Now, I'm not one to find someone else blame when things go wrong. I take full responsibility for my mistake as my mistake. You know what they say about assumptions. (In case you don't: "It makes an &#! of u and me.") I should not have assumed. But in all fairness, it was a fairly valid assumption.
Everything worked out okay in the long run. I was able to get on a flight early the next morning, which worked, but made for a long first day of the conference (and I missed the first/keynote session). But I had to get ready super early in the morning, without any of the clothes, makeup, etc. that I'd packed for the conference that left without me in the checked bag.
But I also had plenty of time to ruminate on how this could have been prevented. Where in my ticket purchase or even on the check-in email that arrived several hours before my flight could I have challenged the assumption that I was flying from DFW?
I went back and looked at my interactions for the flight purchase. And the only thing I found anywhere was the airport code. Dallas Love Field is DAL, whereas DFW is obviously DFW. I should have seen it and known. I never would have goofed had it been reversed.
But honestly, that's a difference that's easy to miss, and for someone who doesn't know (maybe some of those 13 other people who missed the flight), a pretty subtle distinction to expect travelers to get right.
So where could education play a role in preventing this mistake? Again I'm making an assumption that the airline would want to prevent the mistake: while it was marginally expensive and annoying for me, I'm imagining that several people missing flights on a regular basis (if my experience is common) is less profitable than operating with full flights. Not to mention the indirect costs and potential loss of future sales.
And this is the real lesson from this story. Look at this line in the email I received to check in for my flight FROM Dallas. Pay attention to the part in yellow.
Customer education can be as simple as including one sentence in an email to help make sure that passengers have made the appropriate plans to get to the right airport.
And in one of my favorite sessions from the CEdMA conference, Donna Weber shared her insights on how having the right content is not enough. You need to connect the dots for the customer.
In my next post, I'll be sharing other key takeaways from the CEdMA conference on additional ways that education can play a role in both your customers' success and the company's success.
I read David Allen's Getting Things Done in about 2006. I didn't implement it all at first. In fact, as a perfectionist, I mostly dropped it when I didn't have the perfect system. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I kept coming back to it when I felt overwhelmed by all I had to do. Though I tried different apps and approaches, it took some time before the system I use today evolved into what it is. It is by no means perfect still. But I've let go of the perfectionism enough to see the benefits I get in using this workflow to manage my tasks, complete projects, and work toward my goals. Today, I'd like to share an overview of how the tools I use fit into that workflow. The benefits are lowered stress, increased productivity, and greater creativity.
The first phase is to collect all of the reminders of what you need to do in one place.
The second phase is to process those items to figure out what exactly is the next action.
Then you can organize the reminders to help you take the right action at the right time.
Phase four is to review your reminders and your overall system on a regular basis.
Finally, take action on those reminders to get things done.
Nozbe is my trusted system for everything I need to do, and my number one answer for where to include a reminder of something I need or want to do. As GTD seeps into how you do things, you'll understand that you can think of something, immediately store it in your trusted system, and not have to think about it again until you are focused on the other phases of the workflow.
I have a reminder to check my voicemail every day, because I rarely get important messages that way, but I handle it the same way if an item in that inbox represents something I need to do.
Evernote is my final important inbox. I use Evernote for storing resource information, brainstorming and draft writing, and managing the big picture of my projects and weekly schedule that Nozbe and my Calendar can't quite do alone. But if something in Evernote represents a task, I add a reminder, and its integration with Nozbe makes that note show up in my Nozbe inbox.
When I process my Nozbe inbox, I think about what actually needs to be done. What project is the task related to? How long do I think it will take to complete? Is it really the next task, or a multi-task project for which something else really needs to happen first? This separation of clarification in this step, from the capturing process in the previous step, was key to reducing much of the stress that I felt about what I needed to do on a day-to-day basis. I could capture a thought without having to figure out what it meant, and I could later figure it out what it meant without having to rely on my memory that something needed to be done.
When you clarify (process), you are attempting to make it as easy as possible for your future self (or a person to whom you delegate the task) to understand what exactly needs to be done. Answer the question "what is the exact action that this reminder represents?" Give it an action verb and move on to the next item.
There are eight possibilities when organizing the "stuff" that comes your way:
Trash - Let it go if it's not something you need or want to actually do.
Someday/maybe - if you've come up with a good idea, but it needs to incubate a while, you'll need a place (you regularly review) to hold on to that idea. While I do have a Someday/Maybe project to store these tasks in Nozbe, I also have Evernote notebooks for specific someday/maybe ideas where I can continue to collect thoughts and brainstorm. I may or may not ever act, but I have a safe place for those ideas to take root.
Reference - if the inbox item represents something that you want to keep, but doesn't represent a task you need to do, then store the item. I love Evernote for storing many types of things. I do still also have a physical file cabinet for items that I haven't digitized.
Project plans - if the task is part of a bigger project, I add it to the task list for that project in Nozbe. I spend time on managing projects that includes figuring out what the very next action is to move a project forward. In Nozbe, starring an item from the project list gets that item on my Priority (or next actions) list (see number 8).
Do it - as I mentioned, if the task is quick enough that it won't throw off your organizing workflow, go ahead and do it and get on with your life.
Delegate it - If the task needs to be done, but not by you, you'll need to have some method of delegation and follow up with that person. My task manager, Nozbe, allows you to invite team members to your Nozbe projects and then have an option to delegate the task to that person.
Defer/Next Actions - Most all of my actions that are not done, delegated, or added to the calendar get put on project lists. But the Next Action list (which is called Priority in Nozbe) represents the tasks that I need to do as soon as possible. While I'm organizing, I can also add context to the task, such as if it's an errand or phone call. These contexts help me identify tasks that are better suited for some times of day or circumstances better than others.
It's also important to review someday/maybe and reference information occasionally.
The reviews are the part of this system that I still have the most trouble implementing. It's hard when I'm busy to set aside time - and of course, the longer I wait, the longer it takes to get through everything. But I also know that when I neglect my reviews, the uncomfortable sense of unease creeps back into my life, generating the stress of not knowing exactly if I've forgotten anything.
When I first started freelancing, I used Adobe Technical Communication Suite for FrameMaker and Robohelp, and I really liked the simplicity of the RoboCapture tool that came with that suite. I kept using it long after I moved on from FrameMaker/Robohelp. Once Office added the ability to insert a screen clipping for Word and PowerPoint, I often used that. So it's only been recently that I've really embraced Snagit as my capture tool of choice. But I mentioned last post, I'll never go back!
Open the Capture tool to the Image tab.
Indicate the type of Selection from the drop down list.
The setting I chose allows me to draw specifically a portion of the screen (at the time of capture), but I like that you can also hover your mouse over a portion of an app to capture that frame. It gives nice, clean lines.
Select the gear icon to choose whether to Select region at capture or use a Fixed region. The Fixed region might be useful if you want to quickly capture many images of the same spot on your screen.
Select Border from the Effects drop down list. Select the gear icon and choose a color and line width.
Now choose your Share setting from the drop down list. There are several choices and integrations for how to share your capture. For this project, though, I chose File.
This is the real magic for me. Using the File setting (from the previous step), I can choose to add an automatic file name and fixed folder location. No matter which option you choose, select the gear icon to customize the setting.
When you select the Automatic naming settings... button, you can choose components, text, and options for how to name files. It's worth thinking about this a little bit. In the example below, I'm working on a topic about columns.* All I change is the text in the Prefix text: field and let the defaults handle everything else, but you could get much fancier. Select OK to apply your settings.
There's a second setting you need to think about under Share for this workflow. Under Fixed folder, select Browse to choose the location for storing your images.
I always set up an Images folder for each project. Within that images folder, I create folders that depend on the project. For example, in this case, I have a folder for each module/chapter. Within that, I have another folder for each lesson. Each lesson folder has 4-6 topics (and those ideally have a separate name).*
- While writing, I set up the screen I want to capture.
- I press the PrtScrn key and hover over/draw around the part I want to capture.
- I select Finish in the SnagIt Editor window.
Train Your Customers is now The Customer Education Toolbox to focus on the tools and strategies for content development, especially for customer self-serve educational content.
Content development is what I do best. In fact, for this post, I'd like to take a look back at the content I developed in 2017 and share the tools I use to make that happen.
I produced 110 minutes of tutorial videos, and between the videos and eLearning, recorded approximately 210 minutes of narration. I wrote another 6000 words of new knowledge base content across four different software products.
After working as a localization specialist on other authors' single-source documentation for several years, I also authored my first massive single-source documentation project for both user guides and online help for a multi-module SaaS product.
In addition, in my own business as a freelancer, I wrote proposals, blog posts and even a start to my own course content.
It all feels like a pretty good accomplishment, so now I want to share the strategies and workflows that help me stay super efficient and productive.
In this post, I'll introduce you to my technology stack. What I've learned in 12 years as a freelancer, is that one tool does not do it all. I'm a big believer in using the right tool for the job, and these are the tools I've invested in on a regular basis to help me create effective content.
Evernote - Even before I went through the Evernote Certified Consultant training program, I was storing lots of content in Evernote. Now I use it for almost all of my first drafts, as well as collecting thoughts and notes about particular projects. I love that I can access these notes from anywhere and create content without any fuss. Plus, it's easy to copy and paste into another application when I'm ready for fancier formatting.
Word - I've used Word forever, as many of my clients have long preferred it for user guides and manuals. Since I've developed Word Essentials, Advanced, and Expert courses, and produced hundreds of pages of manual content, I feel it's safe to say that I'm a Word power user. As a power user, I know that most people don't use a fraction of its capabilities, many of which I leverage for "intermediate packets" of work for content that will eventually end up in another platform.
Flare - I first started using Flare about 5 years ago for doing localization work and quickly came to prefer it over Robohelp. It's a powerful application, and is the best I've seen at developing topic-based authoring for single-source documentation and delivering those docs over multiple outputs and audiences. When there are hundreds of pages of content to maintain, Flare is my tool of choice.
SnagIt - Since upgrading to SnagIt 2018 at the end of October 2017, I've taken over 1500 screen shots. It's never been so easy to grab a shot and organize it for later use. The new features of filling the background and editing text are exciting, even if they don't quite work as seamlessly as promised. I will never go back to another tool for screen shots.
PowerPoint - PowerPoint is sometimes the right tool for putting together a simple visual. Although I learned Photoshop and Illustrator way back in the 1990s, I haven't kept up and would never consider myself a graphic designer. But I can put together shapes and other visuals to communicate a message, and sometimes PowerPoint is the right tool for that.
Audacity - I've only used Audacity as a recording and editing tool. I've tried the in-product audio recording and editing tools for other tools, including Camtasia, Captivate, Storyline and Adobe Premiere Pro, but I prefer Audacity. Maybe if I was a narration/voice over specialist, I would use a more sophisticated tool, but as it is, it gets the job done and has some nice features to keep me efficient and productive.
Storyline - Storyline 2 is the newest tool in my toolbox. I love how easy it is to develop interactions and review questions. But even though it tries, it doesn't do other jobs as well (or at all) as some of my other tools, like software screen simulations and output as video for YouTube. I've tried Storyline 360, but haven't found a motivating reason to upgrade yet.
Project Management and Beyond
Coming up, I'll be doing some deep dives about specific workflows that help me take advantage of each tool's strength, while staying efficient and effective with the task at hand.