Women Sleep Less than Men, New Survey Finds

When it comes to quality of sleep among Americans, men seem to outperform women, a new survey from the Better Sleep Council has found. The male participants of the survey often bragged about getting adequate amounts of sleep, while the women were considerably less likely to get a good night’s rest.

The Sleep Gap between the Sexes

The survey found that a vast majority—84 percent—of female participants found that sleep is important to their health. However, compared to men, the women fell short of getting recommended amounts of sleep each night. The male participants earned a positive 72 percent score for sleeping well at night. This is only slightly above the 70 percent score average American adults of both sexes received from the researchers. Overall, both men and women were lacking enough sleep.

The researchers found that men got better sleep because they tended to engage in more positive sleep habits. More than a third of the male participants slept alone, thus reducing distractions. More men minimized stress levels, followed strict bedtime rituals including on weekends, and didn’t consume caffeinated drinks after lunchtime, leading to overall better sleep than the women.

Women experienced considerable barriers to uninterrupted sleep—mainly their loved ones. Women were more likely than men to let kids or pets sleep in their beds. Such distraction-causing bedtime habits caused women to miss sleep more. Women were also considerably more likely to have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

Mounting Evidence for a Sleep Epidemic among Women

Other surveys have also found women to lack more sleep than men. A 2007 poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that women are more likely than men to suffer from sleep disorders. Women with children are often the last to go to bed at night, resulting in less sleep.

Both men and women require at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night, according to guidelines set by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Sleep deprivation is linked to a number of adverse health conditions among both sexes, including increased risk for heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and mood disorders like anxiety.

A study of 71,000 female nurses who regularly got less than 5 hours of sleep at night found that the sleep-deprived women were more likely to develop diabetes and cardiovascular problems compared to those who slept 8 hours a night. Women who are most likely to lose sleep were corporate women, who worked long hours at the office and commuted a lot, often losing out on sleep in the process. It’s estimated that more than a third of American working women are seriously sleep-deprived.

Why Women Sleep Less

Scientific research indicates several reasons why women lack sleep compared to men. As mentioned above, lifestyle is a major contributing factor. Women often work long hours and when they come home, they are tasked with looking after children. Working mothers don’t go to sleep until their children are asleep and the school bags for the following day are packed. Women prioritize the needs of the family over their individual need to sleep well.

Other biological factors may also play a role. Female sex hormones tune body clocks to wake up earlier compared to men. The menstrual cycle can also play a role, particularly menopause. Pregnant women experience sleep disturbances, which can continue even after the baby is born (mostly because of the crying baby).

Certain diseases, such as restless leg syndrome, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and obstructive sleep apnea, can keep women awake at night as well. Another factor is the bed partner, which is likely to be a male who snores and moves around a lot in their sleep.

Medical professionals recommend that women address this issue head-on and actively sleep at least 20 minutes more than the healthy 7 hours a night. Developing good sleeping habits is at the forefront of tackling this particular gender-oriented problem.

Getting Stuff Done

I used to manage a wonderful multidisciplinary team in East London, who prided themselves on going the extra mile for families on their teamwork and joined-up support. I remember an imposing senior manager visiting, and the staff sharing with her descriptions of their casework.

As she listened intently and I idly read the screen-saver on the computer behind where she was seated, I realised with dawning horror that it was repeatedly scrolling across the monitor “The East Welford Team* gets S*!%T done!!” It didn’t take long for me to find an excuse to show her another part of the office, making dagger-eyes at my team to get them to change the message to something more positively corporate-sounding pronto!

But I was very proud of that team, and I was reminded of them last week when I walked into the Project Room at work to offer to make a round of tea. I found Marianne (one of our team co-ordinators) talking excitedly with Emma and Theresa (two of our Family Workers).

The subject of the discussion was the intensive afternoon-into-early evening they had had the day before, “holed” up in an office at a GP surgery with a parent, supporting her and making phone call after phone call to get the various agencies to respond to the crisis she and her children were dealing with. The excitement didn’t arise from anger or triumphalism related to the battle with other services; it certainly wasn’t taking satisfaction in or credit from someone else’s misfortunes.

But what those team members were remembering and celebrating was a job well done and achieved through team work and partnership. Just for those 15 minutes, Emma and Theresa deserved their place under the spotlight, although to be honest most of their weeks are filled with unheralded skill and hard work to help parents, children and even other professionals achieve their potential. Marianne said that from this point on she would call them Starsky and Hutch because of their partnership, dynamism and commitment to getting the job done – even under intense pressure.

That made me smile, but also reflect on at what point we in the voluntary sector stopped talking about the “work”? And by the ‘work’ I mean the hands on engagement with and support given to our service users and beneficiaries. Don’t get me wrong – I know there are lots of people involved with charities whose work is little acknowledged and often not recognised.

A voluntary sector bulletin recently dropped into my inbox from a major national newspaper, and to judge from its contents, charities like mine are increasingly effective in our campaigning about what we do, striving to identify outcomes for what we do, tweeting and blogging about it, and of course fundraising for what we do. All the people who undertake those tasks and who support the aims and values of their charities deserve to be appreciated and applauded. But lately, it doesn’t seem (purely a hunch – no hard research was undertaken) that we explain what it is we do exactly “to help”. Or that we celebrate that work.

Yes, we do talk about outcomes – but rarely about how those outcomes were achieved, even if it was only by simple but vital acts such as providing a space to talk, enabling respite for carers by finding children a holiday scheme, or setting up an awards ceremony and disco for young disabled volunteers so they can party and have fun like many of their non-disabled peers.

Under the stress and pressure, our wonderful staff carry on talking the talk and walking the walk. Sometimes in the face of hostility, but also receiving more gratitude and thanks from our service users than people would ever expect was expressed. Last month I conducted the final observation of our social work student on a visit to a parent and family she had supported during her placement.

Amongst lots of really concrete outcomes achieved by the student, including getting the children into an afterschool club and linking the family with advice around a child’s special educational needs, the parent told me that “you couldn’t wish for a better person to work with you”. When I passed it on I saw how my student positively glowed at that piece of feedback. And what could be a stronger endorsement than that someone is willing to open up some of the most private areas of their own or their family’s life to you?

If something is not talked about it is effectively unseen and unacknowledged. What we do – the day job – is a big part of our identity and people need to feel able to be proud of it. They may not look or act like Starsky and Hutch, but every day voluntary sector staff contribute to thousands of supportive conversations in bedsits, flats, living rooms, hostels, interview rooms, and group work sessions to create the opportunity for positive changes in people’s lives. And we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about how they are getting sh…I mean STUFF! done.

Twenty-Two Apps for the 21st Century Therapist

Mobile applications have a lot to offer therapists.  Whether you are looking for games to play with patients, productivity or billing tools, or something to help you research, there’s an app for that.  Many supervisees, students and consultees have asked me lately what apps I recommend, so I thought it was about time I gave you a list sampling those I find most helpful and fun.  Many are cheap or free, and available for the iPad, iPhone and Android:

1. GoToMeeting

Planning on doing online therapy?  Gotomeeting has desktop and app versions of videoconferencing software, which is HIPAA-compliant.  The app version allows you to attend meetings, but the meeting needs to be initiated from the desktop version.  I use this program for the majority of my online sessions with patients and supervisees.

2. IbisMail

If you are juggling multiple roles or a portfolio career, or simply want better therapeutic boundaries, this is the email program for you.  Installed on your iPad or iPhone, this program allows you to set up automatic filters, so you can sort through junk mail.  But it also allows you to set up folders for patient emails, so that you can have them all in one place.  Then it is up to you to decide when you review your patient communications, rather than have everything coming through one inbox.  Supports multiple email accounts.

3. Flipboard

If you are wanting to add value to your twitter followers or consultees, this is a great app.  It provides a slick intuitive interface on your mobile device that pulls in stories from feeds you set, from you Facebook account to the Harvard Business Review blog.  When you find something you want to share, the app allows seamless sharing on a variety of social media platforms.  In a few minutes you can browse and share selected readings and keep up to date on current interests.

4. Bamboo Paper

This app allows you to write notes on your iPad.  It is great for note-taking during evaluations, and allows you to send these notes to Evernote as a .pdf or email yourself a copy.  NOTE: Doing this is not HIPAA-compliant if you have distinguishing identifying information in the note, so I recommend you refrain from using the cloud-based features if you have any concerns about patient privacy.  If you are using it for workshops or other personal uses, however, no worries.  And if you keep the notes local to your password-protected device, it can be a great tool.

5. Evernote

I was hesitant to add Evernote due to the recent hack they experienced, but their quick and effective response to this have actually made me more confident that this cloud-based note-taking device is still useful.  It is NOT HIPAA-compliant, so I don’t use it for patient notes ever.  That said, it is great for dictating notes about workshops, blog ideas, snapping pictures of things for study aids, and a myriad of other useful tasks.  The notes sync up between every device you have them on, so you’re always up to date.

6. iAnnotate

One of my favorites.  iAnnotate allows you to markup .pdf files on your mobile device.  If you need to sign off on a document someone emails or faxes you, no more scanning, printing, scanning again stuff.  And if you are a student or researcher this is a must-have, as it supports highlighting and annotating research articles.  Syncs with Mendeley and Dropbox so you can store your research library with notes online.

7. 1Password

How can you make your mobile device more secure and use your web-browser more safely? This may be the answer for you.  1Password installs on your mobile or desktop, and allows you to save and generate extremely long and secure passwords.  The level of encryption can be adjusted for the most cautious of password protectors.  This program also syncs over the cloud so that you always have the up-to-date passwords on all of your devices.  Even more convenient, it can bookmark your sign-in pages.  All of this is secured by double-password protection on your iPhone.  Stop using the same lame password for everything and start generating unique hard-to-crack ones for true HIPAA-compliance.

8. Mendeley

One part social network, one part research library,  Mendeley allows you to store research articles and annotations online and on your device.  It allows you to network with other colleagues to see what they are researching, share articles, and store all of your articles in one place.  Often it can even pull up the bibliographic entry from the web just by reading the .pdf meta tag.  Geeky research goodness!

9. PayPal

This is one option for billing patients and paying vendors that is good to have. You can invoice by email, transfer money to your bank account, and keep track of online payments on the website. The app works well in a pinch if you aren’t ready to swipe credit cards in your office.  NOTE, each transaction has a small fee.

10. Prezi

I’d love to see more therapists using this one.  This presentation software allows you to create dynamic visual presentations on your computer or mobile device.  You could use it to convert boring DBT worksheets to a dynamic online presentation.  Prezi supports importation from powerpoint, and provides free online hosting of your prezis as well as tons of templates and tutorials.  If you do public speaking, upload some of your prezis on your LinkedIn profile to give potential clients a vivid sense of your work.  You can see a sample here, but bear in mind that it would make more sense if I was there giving the talk.

11. DCU

I haven’t been to a bank in over 2 years, and this app is the reason why. Digital Credit Union’s Mobile Branch PC, allows me to deposit checks from patients via my iphone.  Just login, scan the checks, and in 10 minutes you’ve done your deposits for the week.  Meanwhile, the online interface allows you to keep track of your spending easily and export to Excel or accounting software if you need to.  Great for tax season!

12. Dropbox

Dropbox is a great and free way to store non-private information on the cloud.  The app allows you to email items easily, so I use it to email intake instructions to patients, press kits to people inquiring about keynotes, and a number of other items.  I also keep all my DBT worksheets on it so that they can be sent quickly and easily to patients should they be feeling in need of extra support between sessions but not acute enough to warrant hospitalization.

13. TED

This app allows you to stay inspired and experience innovation daily, by beaming TED talks to your mobile device from the offical TED site.  You can favorite, search, and share your favorite ones, or hit “Inspire me” for random ideas.  As I wrote this, I was listening to Amanda Palmer speak on “The art of asking.”  This app can allow you access to ideas outside of the filtered professional bubble with therapists often get ourselves stuck in.

14. Line2

Want a second phone line on your iPhone? This app allows you to have one. You can port your practice number to it, and stop carrying two cell phones. At $9.95 a month you can have unlimited US/Canada calling, at $14.95 a month you get a toll-free number and virtual fax.

15. Micromedex

Keeping up-to-date on medications is pretty daunting, but this app, with frequent updates, helps you keep track od a medication, its Black Box warnings, contraindications, drug interactions, adverse effects, alternate names, standard dosages and more. And now for some games!

16. Plants Vs. Zombies

This game is great for helping patients who want to learn about strategy and pacing.  Choose a certain number of plant types to plant in order to stop the zombies from overrunning your backyard.

17. Zombies, Run!

Continuing my zombie kick, this game is better than any pedometer I’ve ever used.  The more you walk or run, the further you progress in this game of fleeing zombies.  Go on multiple missions, play with friends, and even train for a 5K.

18. Kingdom Rush

This game is a classic tower defense game, which helps patients learn to make choices, control impulse spending as part of a winning strategy, and work on pacing, problem-solving and a host of other cognitive abilities.

19. Minecraft Pocket Edition

This mobile app version of Minecraft is a great way to connect with a patient’s gaming, and the app allows you to play together on a wireless LAN, so you can fight for survival or create an amazing construction right from your office together.

20. Flower Chain

This is a completely nonviolent game that focuses on setting up a chain reaction of flower blooms in order to complete each level.  Great eye candy, and a fun game for clearing the mind after a difficult session.

21. Trainyard

This puzzle game requires you to plan out and design multiple railroad tracks.  The trick is to set them up and pace them so that they all meet their goals without running into each other.  Great prompt for talking with adolescents about how they can learn to negotiate peer relationships in the same way, or learn to compromise with adults in order to get along with them.

22. Lavalanche

This puzzle game is reminiscent of Jenga, in that you have to dismantle a tower without letting the Tiki Idol fall into lava.  Another great one for executive function capacity-building around sequencing, planning and problem-solving.

So there you go, give some of these a try and let me know what you think.  Have a favorite app that you want to share?  Please feel free to comment and include the link.

3 Simple Letters To Make Social Workers More Productive

Nate Crowell 3 Simple Letters

I have never heard a social worker say, “I don’t have enough to do. . . things are really slow right now, I get paid too much for the work I’m doing or I love that ‘Let’s make America great again’ guy.” Maybe you’ve had different experiences.

When I talk with a lot of social workers, the conversation sounds more like this:

  • “I have so much to do right now, I can’t possibly do it all.”
  • “I can’t believe I get paid this much.”
  • “American politics are depressing and tragic.”

If you are reading this article, you can probably relate more to the last three bullets, and I imagine you probably have at least one of these three things going on:

  1. You have a full or part-time job.
  2. You are caring for a child, children, or an aging parent or relative.
  3. You are in undergraduate or graduate school for social work.

I’m right there with you:

Like any good social worker, I’m fluent in TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms).

But somehow the acronym for this productivity approach had escaped me.

GTD, short for Getting Things Done.

GTD has been a game changer for the way I manage all the personal and professional commitments in my life.

In today’s article, I’m going to introduce you to GTD and how you can use it to be a more productive and less stressed social worker.

You ready? Let’s do this.

What is GTD?

When I say gettings things done, let me clarify what I’m not talking about:

larry cable guy skitch dropshadow

I’ve been known to yell a “Git-R-Done” in my southern drawl.

**(Interesting sidenote: if you’ve you have hip dysplasia, you may want to check out Larry’s foundation)**

But that is not the GTD I’m talking about. The type of GTD I want you to know about is this one:

david allen gtd skitch dropshadow

Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity is New York Times Bestselling book written by author and productivity consultant David Allen.

An updated version was published in 2015, so an obvious first step would be to buy the book or check it out at your library.

GTD is Allen’s influential text where he outlines his detailed methodology and approach for keeping priorities, to-do lists, projects, and calendar managed and your mind relaxed.

The GTD premise is this: our productivity is directly proportional to our ability to relax.

Allen says this another way:

“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” – David Allen

Allen suggests most stress you experience comes from inappropriately managed commitments.

Commitments to others and commitments to ourselves. When left undone, our commitments become “open loops” in our brains that yearn to be closed.  

I don’t know about you, but this was the story of my life.

Let’s do a quick mental exercise:

Step 1) Grab a paper and pen.

Step 2) Write down a project, problem, or situation that is at the front of your mind right now . . . the one thing you can’t quit thinking about.

For example:

  • You’re working in child protective services and just received a complicated new referral.
  • You’re a hospice social worker with a caseload of 95 patients.
  • You want to must take a week vacation before you have a full-blown meltdown.
  • You’re planning your daughter’s birthday party.

Whatever is dominating your psyche right now.

You got it? Good.

Step 3) Now, in one sentence clarify what a successful outcome would be for that project or situation. Get a clear mental picture of what finished would like. Don’t worry . . . I’ll wait on you.

You got it? Good.

“It does not take much strength to do things, but it requires a great deal of strength to decide what to do.” – Elbert Hubbard

Step 4) What is the next physical action you can take to move the project or situation forward? Jot it down.

For me, it’s usually one of these:

  • Read, write, or send an email.
  • Make a phone call.
  • Type a note or report.
  • Research something online.
  • Meet in person with someone.

If you’re like me, the first time I did that exercise I had one overarching feeling afterward:

RELIEF!

Now imagine if you had that feeling with all of the stuff floating around in your head right now:

So let’s look at how you can do that now.

Five Stages of GTD for Social Workers

GTD is based on five simple steps to help you apply order to your chaos.

1. Collect: Capture all tasks, priorities, ideas, commitments, projects. . . in short all the “stuff” in your inbox of life. And I do mean any and every input in your life: phone calls, emails, birthday parties, sports practice, ideas, errands, getting groceries. . . EVERYTHING. If you don’t, your mind starts to say to you, “don’t forget, don’t forget, don’t forget.” The first time you do this it may seem challenging and could take a long time. Do the work and drain your brain of all your stuff; trust me it is life changing.

2. Clarify: Next you need to process everything you captured. You start by asking yourself this question: Is it actionable? 

If the answer is yes and it takes less than two minutes, do it now.

This is called the “two-minute rule” and has been a huge win for me. If not doable in two minutes, delegate it (if possible), or add to a “next action” list (see point 3 below) to do when you can. If the answer is no and not actionable, you have three choices: trash it, incubate it (put on your calendar to review on a specific date), or file as reference.

3. Organize: Many actions won’t fit the two-minute rule. You need to park those next actions on the correct list or it goes back into your psyche. Allen refers to your groups of lists as “collection buckets”. Some examples of your collection bucket lists may include:

  • Calls to Make
  • Emails to Send
  • Errands to Run

If you’re not sure about an idea or project, put it on a Someday/Maybe List.

4. Review: Set a specific time to go through your collection buckets weekly and review. Review your lists to evaluate what didn’t get finished and review as often as you need to feel comfortable. Make the weekly review time sacred. My review time is Thursday at 2:00pm CST.

5. Do: Use your system to take appropriate action with confidence. When you can trust your system to capture and organize “stuff” in your inbox of life, then you can be confident that you are doing the right things at the right time.

It helps to see the workflow visually:

GTDcanonical dropshadow

Source Wikipedia: Getting Things Done

Here’s the deal:

The beauty of GTD is it doesn’t require fancy tools. You can do it with pen and paper.

My friend Josh does an incredible amount of GTD workflow with Post-It notes. I use a combination of pen and paper, smartphone, and a laptop.

Use whatever tools you have and work best for you, but be consistent.

Summary

Don’t worry, I get it: GTD is not for everyone. The approach works best when you stick to the principles. I’m not going to pretend I can summarize an entire 250+ page book in one article. The book connects a lot of the details, so again, I highly recommend reading it to get the full picture.

You may be on top of all your projects to-dos, and commitments in life. If so, by all means, keep doing what works. But if you’re like me, and you like a system to help you stay on track and manage all you have going on in life, give GTD a try.

Have you ever tried GTD? Leave a comment below and let me know.

How Social Work Can Benefit From Technology

Social Workers Toolkit

The world thrives on technology. We drool over the newest 3D televisions when they are announced, and pray to be the first person in line when that revolutionary new iPhone is released. Despite our desires for technology related to entertainment and fun, we thrive on technology for the conveniences it provides as well. Within the social work field, technology adds benefits to working professionals in numerous ways.

A Platform for Organization and Research
Who doesn’t love the feeling of being truly organized? It’s a breath of fresh air always knowing where you can find that specific contact info, or the prized website you found weeks ago with so many valuable resources. It’s easy to forget or to misplace physical documents, so the advantages of being technologically inclined are as convenient as they are efficient.

Another convenience that modern technology has brought to social workers is the research potential. Google Scholar and similar databases offer relevant information for research purposes, written by credible scholarly authors. The layout for these types of websites is extremely user-friendly. Accessing this information on tablets or even smartphones is simple.

But don’t be weary of new technology, despite your own level of understanding.

How should you feel about integrating these new ideas into your day to day work?

Daniel Ortiz Reti puts it into perspective perfectly in his Social Work Helper article from last year:

“Its time for you to learn! Social Workers should be tech savvy, if not experts. The time and cost it can save means more clients helped with less work for us. We work in a profession that is perpetually underfunded and over worked, and isn’t it time we come up with some solutions?”

In short, yes, it has been time for a tech minded overhaul for a while now. It’s all about utilizing the resources you have and developing a tech savvy mindset. You don’t have to understand complicated computer programs. Simply utilize technology.

The Application of Mobile Advantages
Smartphones have become tremendously popular in the world the last decade. It is estimated that one billion smartphones will be sold next year. The potential for mobile application is something that is always growing. It’s astounding that by 2016, the number of active smartphones is expected to outnumber humans on Earth!

With such a vastly huge number of smartphone users, the logical step for most career fields is to integrate smartphone apps into daily functions. Social workers want mobile technology because it’s useful as a means of always having information at your disposal.

Below are a few very useful smartphone apps that benefit those involved in all walks of social work. Pay special attention to the first example! :)

SocialWorkerApps

(Click to enlarge)

Benefits of Social Media
Social media campaigns help establish a presence for online counseling/social work endeavors. Social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter were once completely optional, but are proving to be more and more essential.

Are you fairly new to jumping on board the social network bandwagon? Don’t fret, it’s as easy as modeling your ideas after something successful. Look at the Facebook page for Social Work Helper for example. Almost 90,000 people like the page, and the posts are regular and engaging.

Provide the viewers of your social network campaign with useful and interesting content. Avoid spammy and random posts. Be genuine; that will pave your road to a successful social presence. Technology aids social work in numerous ways. Through research, mobile applications, and social networking, social work efforts can skyrocket. Convenience and practicality will resound you, and you’ll never look back!

Images courtesy of Technology is Revolutionizing The Social Work Field by Case Western University

*Editor’s Note: The Social Work Helper app is currently not available for downloads. However, the app will be upgraded and back in the app markets soon.

Individual vs Collective Impact

At a meeting with one of my regular clients, I was reminded of an important tension and interesting phenomenon in organisational dynamics, and it is blogged about ad infinitum.

The tension is the value of meetings over that of individual productivity, and the phenomenon is the power of “collective influence” (Alex Smith).

meetingMeetings get a bad rap these days. Particularly online businesses favour virtual teams, online collaboration, etc. Alex reckoned 90% of meeting content is irrelevant, people are busy, and time is precious.

On one hand, I agree that meetings can be wasteful. Personally, I avoid them if I can. But, what can we learn when we look deeper at individual impact versus collective impact?

There is a difference between a meeting and an intentional gathering or conversation. As I said at the meeting today, I have been in several of the latter with another regular client. Everyone is pressed for time, the gathering is delayed…

However, every time when we finally meet either during or afterwards, something magical happens. An opportunity, a breakthrough, and/or a request for what we offer.

I describe this as a dynamic or energetic outcome, and I’m waiting for what will emerge from this week’s meeting.

If you’re arguing about whether individual productivity or meetings are more important, please stop. It’s a useless conversation.

The conversation should be about how to harness the benefit of both individual and collective impact. The questions are, what is a good balance, how are they organised, and what are the intentions?

The answers? Well, you tell me.

Cover Photo Courtesy of Collaboration for Impact

4 Free Computer Programs all Social Workers Need to Use

Let’s talk a little about free…it happens to be one of my favorite words. Free parking, I live in LA, Free Willy,  and most people’s favorite free money.  A common excuse I hear when I ask other social workers why they don’t know how to use a specific piece of software is, “It’s too expensive.”, and I am sure you have felt the same way.  Another I hear is, “It’s too hard to learn or I didn’t go to college for that.”.

Here is some free money, if you were to buy the consumer version of these programs it would cost you close to $1000! That is one licence each for a computer. These computer programs which will enhance your own practice and/or the organizations you work for, completely for free! They even come with free handy tutorials to go with them!

For your convenience I have hyper-linked the software’s homepage in each of their respective names.

1.OpenOffice Calc: Spreadsheet program

pieOpenOffice Calc is part of  Apache OpenOffice, which is a suite of software much like Microsoft Office, but free. As most people know how to use a word processing program and understand its value instead lets focus on something most people do not know how to use which is a spread sheet program. Programs like Excel and Calc can be alien and daunting at first glance but with the right tutorial they are manageable. So, what can you do with a program like this?

Administrative functions, which many of us will have to do are made significantly easier with this program. You can track client information, track client outcomes, keep notes on client; on the more macro side of social work you can keep track of donations, organize and analyze hours for volunteers. You get the idea and I am sure you can think of more things.

The most important function of these programs are the formula, all of which can be easily learned. At sites like this: Tutorial  and if you forget what you learned you can always check out the wiki.

These functions allow you to do things that might otherwise take you hours to do in seconds. More importantly they do it without errors. (Note: if you don’t mess up the formula and your data is good)

A good example; you are being reviewed by your boss and they want to know how many of your clients missed their therapy appointments and why. Fancy you kept a spread sheet with all of that data. You can then use a formula to count the days missed and list the reasons why for each client. You can even set up a pie chart that indicates why.

For those more macro social workers out there, say you are getting donations and you wonder where people are hearing about your program. So you  use a the “filter” function to sort out all the zip codes of your donors and pull for you the ones that occur the lowest and the highest. Then you can tell where you need to focus more of your effort  to get more donations!

These are simple ways of using an otherwise ignored piece of software. The best part is, you can save money for yourself and your organization by having them switch to OpenOffice from microsoft products.

2.GIMP : Free graphic design program

We have all heard of Photoshop. Well GIMP is photo shop but free. I will keep this short and simple, you need to learn this because:

combo
10,000 Hours in MS paint vs. 20 Minutes in GIMP

Which one would you rather have potential donors, clients and staff members see?

Even if you only learn the simplest functions on this software you can drastically improve the forms, advertisement and website that your organization uses. Most organizations can’t afford to hire a graphic designer and you don’t really need one to create an intake form or flyer for your next fund-raiser. Appearance is key though, a professional looking advertisement will garner more and higher donations and attendance then one that looks like it was made with crayons.

GIMP has easy it use tutorials , and a great community of people who will help you. That being said, many of the same functions that work in Photoshop also work in GIMP.

3.Freemind :The free way to free your mind

Do you remember when you were young and your teacher or parent said, “Write down you ideas it will make it easier to think about?” Well that is what Freemind is for. Imagine that you could lay down all your ideas, with sub idea, with even more sub ideas and even more sub ideas. You get the point.

Free mind is useful for a whole variety of purposes, from reorganizing your own ideas to helping clients get a better grasp on their own goal. Free mind can help you structure just about anything and get a grasp on ideas that might be just a little too big for paper. This article was written using Freemind!

You can learn to use Freemind from their website, with a simple tutorial on the main page. While freemind is not as easy to use as some similar software, it is free.

 4. PDF-XChange Pro2012: PDF reader

One of the best PDF readers out there, great if you are a social worker or social work student looking up evidence based practices. Many of which are in pdf form and contain strange characters that normal PDF readers cannot understand. This software can recognize most characters as well as let you note the PDF yourself. Over all something that all social workers need.

The bummer part is that the free version wants to install a toolbar, use caution when installing this software and ensure that you avoid the toolbar!

Note: Before Downloading any software to your computer ensure that it is from a site you trust.

Top 5 Best Mobile Apps for Social Work Students

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I will be sharing with you the top 5 best mobile apps that will hopefully make your life easier as a social work student. Why not start off the semester with a better system to help keep you organized? I have identified 5 mobile apps that will serve you well in the classroom and later in practice.

These apps are available for download in both Google Play or iTunes depending upon your mobile operating system. As a future social worker, your ability to be mobile and organized will be the key to your success. So, lets start incorporating these fabulous tools in your student life now.

Dropbox– Don’t get caught without your usb drive or say I mistakenly left my assignment on my home computer. There is no excuse for not being able to access important documents, projects, or information with the dropbox mobile app at your disposal. Dropbox is an online cloud storage system that allows you to access music, photos, documents, and/or power points from any computer. Most importantly, you have the ability to authorize certain computers to sync and save documents across all your devices. Let’s say, you are working on a document from the library and you save it in your dropbox folder online. If you authorize your home computer as an authorized device, your work is now saved in the dropbox folder on your home computer’s hard drive as well as your mobile phone.

Evernote-Looking for that research or reference that you can’t seem to find? You need Evernote to help keep you organized. Evernote is like an electronic accordion file stored in the clouds for easy access. Evernote provides an extension for your internet web browser that will allow you to save web pages, photos, research, and other articles as you surf the internet. The Evernote mobile app will then allow you to access your electronic files/notebooks where ever you are and whenever you need them.

Mindmeister-As social workers, we really need to move away from lugging around large flip charts or random scraps of notebook paper when working on group projects to organize and gather data. A popular tool used by many project managers to organize group thinking is mind mapping. Mind maps are visual organizations of gathered data which have proven to be effective for all learning styles. The added bonus of using mind mapping technology is that it will also organize data in traditional outlines for more linear thinkers.

Google Voice- When working at your field placement or even in your personal activities, do you really want to share your personal cell phone number? With Google Voice, you no longer have to make that choice. Google Voice will add a second phone line to any mobile phone with a free phone number from the zip code of your choice. Google Voice will allow you to screen and block annoying callers, send and receive text, archive call logs, and much more. It also provides an options for low-cost international calling.

SWHelper- Have you ever considered talking with social work students from other schools of social work or in other countries to discuss social policy, social justice issues, or human rights? Well, now you can with ease without compromising privacy and security. Collaborate, share ideas, give and receive support to another fellow social work student while staying current on social issues both domestically and abroad. Download on Android or iTunes.

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