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Review: Undress for Success

Review: Undress for Success

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    Kate Lister and Tom Harnish have been working at home for years. For sixteen years, they operated a home business. They’ve codified the advice they’ve generated in a ll those years of working at home in a new book, Undress for Success. The book covers an introduction to moving towards a home office, with a heavy emphasis on teleworking.

    Telecommuting And You

    Section titles like ‘Expose Yourself — Are Your Right for E-work?’ or ‘Dirty Underwear — Uncovering the Scams’ do add an element of fun to what is essentially a book on changing your career. It is easy to read — the writing style reminds me of a blog. Each section is broken down into chapters, which are then subdivided into bite-sized pieces of information on specific topics. Even though the book is 262 pages, I was able to breeze through it, bookmarking sections I wanted to come back to later.

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    The five primary sections of Undress for Success cover the basics of e-work (meaning work you can do from home over your computer), telecommuting, freelancing, running your own home business, and the appropriate technology. Far and away, the emphasis of the book is on telecommuting: that section racks up 114 pages. In comparison, freelancing gets just 38 pages. I wouldn’t really recommend the book as the introduction to all things freelance or entrepreneurial — but its coverage of telecommuting and teleworking is solid.

    The Bare Bones of Working At Home

    Lister and Harnish are careful to point out that working from home is not for everyone. They interviewed scores of folks who work at home, talking about the challenges they face and how they cope with them. My favorite was easily the approach one programmer named Madison takes to make sure her family knows when she’s on the job and has to focus on her work: “To make sure everyone knows when she isn’t available, she wears a tiara when she’s ‘at work.'”

    It’s hard to guess the coping mechanisms you’ll come up with when you’re working at home yourself, but the fact that Undress for Success actually gets its hands dirty with the various problems someone working at home faces certainly makes it a better resource.

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    The book also includes several chapters on convincing an employer to let you make the switch to working at home — up to and including helping you outline the benefits that making the switch to telecommuting will bring to your employer. While we’ve discussed talking to your boss about telecommuting here recently, Lister and Harnish have the room to go into depth in covering that topic thoroughly.

    Another useful portion of the telecommuting section is the focused look at a number of careers that Undress for Success offers. Those include:

    • Call Center Agent
    • Virtual Assistant
    • Medical Transcriptionist
    • Teacher or Tutor
    • Remote Tech
    • Writer
    • Telemedicine

    For each of those careers, there is a chapter covering what you can expect, training, scheduling, compensation and even stories from workers in the trenches. There’s even information on the scams in each career, equipping you to avoid them.

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    The Drawbacks to ‘Undress for Success’

    While Lister and Harnish provide a solid reference on telecommuting, along information on handling issues like convincing your family that you’re actually at work even if you are still in your pajamas, I think that Undress for Success is missing something. That something is a discussion of other work-at-home options beyond telecommuting. The sections on freelancing and starting a home business are fairly bare bones — and since moving into freelancing is essentially creating a business, I don’t think that dividing the two into separate sections really helped.

    At best, Undress for Success offers just enough information on creating your own business to get you thinking, “Hm, I could do that.” If you were to decide to go that route based on this particular book, though, you’ll still find yourself looking for a lot of introductory level material. It is important to do plenty of research before embarking on any entrepreneurial venture, but I can’t help feeling that the book could have included a little more information on getting started. I know that Lister and Harnish have written about small business topics before — their first book was Finding Money: The Small Business Guide to Financing — perhaps they were able to go more in-depth on business topics there.

    Readability and Moving Forward

    Overall, I found Undress for Success very readable — and very interesting. It does overreach a bit, but if you’re looking for information on moving into telecommuting, this book is an ideal starting point. Furthermore, if you don’t have a lot of time to devote to sitting down and plowing through a book, the format works well: each section is just short enough that you can read one whenever you actually have a minute. In Undress for Success, Kate Lister and Tom Harnish have brought together an introductory guide to working at home that provides a starting point for readers to explore telecommuting and teleworking. You can find more information at their website, also named Undress for Success.

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    If you’ve been considering making the switch to working at home, I’m interested in hearing what books, websites and other resources have helped you in the decision making process — no matter what option you wound up going with. I know that books like Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Work Week have inspired more than a few people to explore telecommuting, but what else is out there. Please share your resources in the comments.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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