Author: Cara Stromness

How to Avoid Eye Strain When Working on a Computer

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Eye strain is a common complaint among people that work on computers. As a matter of fact, Healthland claims it affects 64 to 90 percent of office workers. That’s bad news for us freelancers that spend most of our time in front of a computer screen. Luckily, there are several things you can do to minimize your eye strain discomfort.

Image via Flickr by bark

Adjust the Height of Your Monitor

Firstly, make sure the height of your monitor is adjusted to your eye level. In general, the top of your monitor should line up with your eyes when looking straight forward. This reduces eye strain because it’s much harder to look up than down. The top of your monitor can be a little bit higher than eye level if it has a larger screen.

Depending on the height of your desk and the length of your torso, you may need to elevate the monitor on your desk to achieve the optimal height. It’s better to adjust the height of your monitor than the height of your chair. This is because poor posture and improper chair alignment leads to back discomfort and other problems worse than temporary eye strain.

Laptops present an increased risk of eye strain because they typically sit much lower than eye level. Elevate your laptop as much as possible with a cooling mat, laptop desk, or anything else you can find to reduce eye strain.

Adjust Your Computer Display Settings

Poorly adjusted computer display settings also cause eye strain. Very bright screens and very dark screens are hard to focus on, which means they require your eyes to work harder. Try to adjust your monitor somewhere in between the brightest and darkest setting where your eyes are comfortable. You may need to adjust it several times throughout the day as the lighting in your room changes.

The contrast and temperature settings also make a difference on eye strain. One thing you can try is to reduce the amount of blue color. Blue light is harder to focus on than red and yellow because it has a shorter wavelength.

Another setting you can change on your computer to reduce eye strain is font size. Large text is easier on the eyes than small text, so adjust the zoom in both your word processor and internet browser. There is a typically a zoom setting at the top of your word processor and you can adjust font size in an internet browser by holding CTRL and moving the scroll on your mouse.

Wear Glasses

One of the best things you can do to reduce eye strain is to wear corrective glasses while working on the computer. Everyone’s eyes get progressively worse each year and eye strain is one contributing factor. Even people with nearly perfect vision can benefit from computer glasses. You can get special lenses that filter light, reduce glare, and compensate for any vision impairment you have.

Before heading to your eye appointment, measure the distance of your eyes from your computer screen. This helps your optometrist create the best glasses prescription for you to use while at your computer. People get glasses for driving and reading, so why not computer work, too?

Take Short Eye Breaks

People tend to open their eyes more when looking at computer screens and this dries them out. Dry eyes contribute to eye strain. Eye drops help, but it’s not a permanent solution. However, you can minimize dry eyes by blinking often and taking short eye breaks. My father-in-law is an optometrist and he told me to look away from the computer screen every once in a while and focus on something far away. If you have difficulty remembering to take eye breaks, download a break reminder app.

If you have problems with eye strain, these tips will help you minimize the effects and be more productive while working on the computer. Do you have any other suggestions to help freelancers and other office professionals suffering from eye strain? Leave a comment below.

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How the Affordable Care Act Affects Freelancers

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Disclaimer: I am not expressing my opinion about whether I agree with the Affordable Care Act or not. I am simply outlining what it is supposed to do and how this affects freelancers.

Health insurance is important because it protects you from costly hospital bills if you need extensive medical care. Despite this fact, many freelancers have chosen not to get health care coverage because the monthly costs are hard to manage. That is no longer an option since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) went into effect on January 1, 2014. All U.S. legal residents are now required under the law to have health care coverage or pay a penalty.

Why the U.S. Was Overdue for Health Care Reform

Before the ACA went into effect, people with health insurance had to pay high premiums to cover health care costs for people who were uninsured. This was partially because the Emergency Treatment and Labor Act prevented hospitals from turning anyone away that needed acute care and hospitals had to recoup the costs somewhere. The ACA attempts to even out the costs among all legal residents and get rid of the distributive injustice. The main goal of the ACA is to give all legal residents access to health care at a fair price.

Of course, the ACA also acknowledges that it is unlawful and unethical to require citizens to purchase something that is unaffordable. This is supported by the U.S. Constitution in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3. Therefore, insurance costs are now based on individual earning levels. This means that if you have a low income, you’ll pay less for health care coverage. This is good news for many freelancers.

What Changes Are Made to Health Care Under the ACA?

The ACA doesn’t just make health care coverage affordable for everyone; there are several other significant changes. For instance, insurance companies are no longer able to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and no maximum annual or lifetime limit can be placed on health insurance. There are also clauses that make preventative care free and allow people under the age of 26 to remain on their parents’ health insurance. These are just the highlights; you can read about the other changes on Healthcare.gov.

What Does the ACA Mean for Freelancers?

The ACA attempts to put freelancers, and all legal residents, back in charge of their health care. It does this by giving access to health care exchanges where everyone can purchase affordable health care coverage. There are HMO options and many other cost-saving options. Whether freelancers like it or not, they are required to get health care coverage.

People who are uninsured in 2014 are subject to a penalty. It is currently set at $95 for each adult or one percent of a family’s income, whichever is higher. Additionally, the penalty will go up every year. However, freelancers are eligible for a special tax credit if their income is under 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. This helps many freelancers who were previously uninsured.

The ACA has been the cause of a lot of debate, but everyone must comply since it is now law. As a freelancer, do you think the ACA helps you or hurts you? Leave a comment below.

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What to Do When Someone Steals Your Online Content: Dealing with Copyright Infringement

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If you write online content, someone is going to steal it sooner or later…

There are a lot of dishonest people on the Internet who want to make money from a website without putting in the work to create original articles themselves — they are called, “content scrapers.” Someone might reproduce a few of your paragraphs without citation or even scrape one of your articles in its entirety without your permission. This has happened to me more times than I can count. It’s a real problem in the freelance and blogging world.

I hate when my content gets stolen, especially when parts are reworded poorly and my name is left as the author. When your content gets scraped, it can be damaging to your online reputation. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to try and get the offending articles taken down.

1. Write an Email to the Website Owner Explaining the Situation

The first thing you should try is to politely ask the website owner to remove your scraped content. Simply explain that it is against the law and you don’t want either of you to suffer the consequences. Be careful not to be rude in your email because that’s a quick way to get ignored. Some people truly do not understand copyright law and they will remove your content if you ask nicely.

Carol Tice has a nice copyright infringement email template I like.

2. Send a Second Email to the Website Owner Threatening Legal Action

After you’ve sent the first email, wait a few days for a response. If the website owner is willing to take down your scraped content, great! If you get no response, you can try sending a second email that is a little more strongly worded than the first. Make sure you point out the specifics of copyright law for online content and threaten to take legal action against the website. Sometimes the threat is enough to scare the website owner into complying with your wishes. I also find it helpful to leave a comment on the scraped article requesting it be removed.

3. Report the Copyright Infringement to the Website’s Host

If you can’t find an email or contact information anywhere on the website, your next step is to contact the website’s host. You can (hopefully) find this by doing a WhoIs Lookup. Most hosting companies have policies against plagiarism and copyright infringement and can get the offending website taken down. They may even have an easy DMCA form you can fill out. Of course, the website you report typically has to get several reports before any action is taken.

4. Just Forget About It

If you’ve completed steps 1-3 without success, you should just forget about it. I hate telling people to give up, but sometimes it is the only way to save your sanity. It isn’t truly worth your time or money to hire a copyright lawyer over one article because you won’t recoup your costs.

Keep in mind that most websites that scrape content don’t get very much traffic and many go out of business quickly. This is because search engines are now smart enough to recognize these websites (duplicate content penalty) and take them out of the search results. So, the problem might solve itself if you wait it out.

Has your content ever been stolen? What did you do? Leave a comment below.

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4 Ways to Deal with Freelancer Loneliness

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When you work at home, you don’t get the same kind of social interaction as when you work in an office. This can make you feel lonely at times. If loneliness is something that happens to you as a freelancer, take a look at these four ways to deal with the problem.

Do Your Work in a Public Place

Sometimes when I feel lonely I grab my laptop and hop in the car in search of a place to work that is away from home for the day. This could be a park, café, library, or even a university. The only thing I care about is if I have access to free WiFi. Getting out of the house helps me combat the feelings of loneliness simply because I have a change of scenery and it takes my mind off my loneliness. This isn’t a permanent fix to feeling lonely, but it can help you feel better for a day. Plus, working in a public place occasionally gives me the opportunity to meet new people.

Connect with Other Freelancers

Another thing I like to do to combat feelings of freelancer loneliness is to create unofficial coworkers. You can do this by meeting other freelancers in your community or chatting with people in similar circumstances online. I am a member of several online freelance communities and I’ve made quite a few friends and connections this way. I know I can turn to my unofficial coworkers if I need motivation or just want to talk about a project that I am working on.

Make More Time for Friends and Family

As a freelancer, I sometimes feel like I work all day, every day. And, this actually is the case some weeks. However, all that working makes me feel lonely. The only way for me to keep my sanity during these hectic work weeks is to build in time to see my friends and family. Even a chat on the phone with someone helps me feel less lonely. I aim to chat with a friend at least once a week and to see family that often, too.

Volunteer Your Time to Local Charities

Another option for getting social interaction is to find places in your community where you can volunteer. Schools always need people to help kids with their reading and most communities have homeless shelters and other causes where you can help out. This will help you feel less lonely as a freelancer because you’ll get interaction with other people and get away from your computer at the same time.

Freelancer loneliness is sometimes a problem for me, but there are plenty of ways to deal with it. What do you do as a freelancer to make sure you get enough social interaction in your life? Leave a comment below.

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6 Ways to Stay Organized and Productive When You Work at Home

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Working at home is great because you don’t have to worry about a commute, you can wear whatever you want, and you are in complete control of your workday. However, working from home does present challenges that make it difficult to stay organized and productive. Take a look at these six ways to eliminate distractions and get your work done faster.

Choose a Productive Place to Do Your Work

Some people find that a traditional desk in a quiet area is the best place to work. This is definitely the case for people who get distracted easily, but I think the most important thing to consider when choosing a workspace is your comfort. Personally, I like to move around to different places during the day.

You just have to find a place that works for you where you are productive and organized. If that means sitting on the couch with your kids playing nearby, great! If it means you need a home office where you can shut the door, that’s fine, too.

Set Your Work Hours

One of the hardest things about working from home is trying to separate work life from home life. Setting specific work hours can help you find the divide so you don’t feel like you’re working all the time.

After you’ve been working at home for a while, you’ll start to notice peak hours when you’re the most productive. This might be 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. after your kids have gone to bed or normal business hours of 8 to 5. It doesn’t really matter when you work, but you should try to find a time when you have the least amount of distractions and when you’re the most productive. Then, don’t work at other times of the day.

Get Dressed Before You Work

I’ll admit that oftentimes I don’t go take a shower until after lunch because I know I don’t have to. That’s one of the perks of working from home. However, I don’t recommend making this a habit. I find that I am more productive when I get showered and dressed early.

Being dressed for the day puts you in a more productive mood and also makes you feel more professional. It also makes it easier to pick up and run errands if you need to. Plus, scheduling time to get dressed prevents you from wasting time.

Schedule Time for Housework

One of the biggest distractions of working from home is housework. For instance, you might go to the kitchen for a glass of water but get distracted by the pile of dirty dishes in the sink. Next thing you know, an hour of valuable work time has gone by because you’ve been cleaning. That’s why I suggest scheduling time to do housework. Basically, this means that you don’t clean or organize anything in your house unless it is during those designated hours. This will help you stay focused on your work and keep a separation from your home life.

I have an especially hard time with this one because I get distracted when things are dirty — it’s an OCD tendency. So, I try to schedule time in the evening, right before I go to bed, to tidy up. That way things are nice and clean when I wake up and start to work. If I don’t have time at night, I try to clean up the house before I start working.

Tell People You Aren’t Available

People don’t always understand what it means when you tell them you’re working from home. They assume it is great because you can still keep your house clean and watch your kids. You have no idea how many times I have been asked to babysit simply because I work from home. Babysitting is a lot of work, and something I have a very hard time doing if I have to work.

Watching your own kids is one thing because you can teach them how to behave when you’re on the phone with clients and they will eventually learn how to entertain themselves while you’re typing away at your computer. However, babysitting throws off your entire work schedule because those kids haven’t been trained. So, make sure your friends and family know that you aren’t available to babysit because you are “working,” not simply “at home.”

Create To-Do Lists and Take Breaks

Working from home requires a lot of organization and dedication. However, you have to balance this with breaks to walk around and get snacks. You can help yourself get things done by creating to-do lists. I find it’s best to focus on one task at a time because my thoughts aren’t all over the place. Working from home does require the ability to multitask, but not at the sake of productivity.

The most important thing to remember is to be flexible. There are always distractions and things that arise when you work at home that wouldn’t happen if you worked in an office. Therefore, you may need to make adjustments to your schedule on a daily or weekly basis.

What are the biggest challenges you face while working from home and what do you do to stay productive? Leave a comment below.

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