31 May

10 Ways I Stay Productive

As a freelancer it’s very easy to fall into bad habits – working from home, lots of different projects and being my own boss means long days of low productivity, and no clear division between work time and free time.
Since I left my “proper” job in 2009 I’ve been trying a host of ways to get things done – these are the things I’ve learnt work for me.

1. Find Your Work Hours

It’s taken me a while but I’ve found I am super productive early in the morning – irrespective of how tired I am. I had several years working on a radio breakfast show so getting up at the crack-of-dawn doesn’t terrify me, but the point is – find your optimum working hours. I know people who prefer to work in the evening or overnight … whatever works for you, make sure you stick to it

2. Go to Work

One of the perks of working in an office is the division between hometime and work time. I miss the walk to work, those few minutes (in my case) to prepare for the day. Even wearing work clothes changes your mindset.

This is lost when you stumble from bed to sofa in your PJ’s.

Eventually I plan to have a home-office, but for now I have a rented desk not far from where I live. I’ve also found co-working spaces, sneaky corners in coffee shops and other locations really handy.

In short, don’t work jn the room where you live.

3. Reboot in-between tasks

This is something I’ve only recently discovered, and is good for both me and my laptop.

I reboot my computer when I change projects. My jobs tend to be very varied, infographic design one minute, and planning social media training the next – so it’s good to have that mental refresh.

Plus. I’m often dealing with big files and my laptops not a robust as it used to be – so a reboot is a useful way to stop it grinding to a halt!

4. Next Task Approach

This is a trick I leaned during my time working for Think Productive. Don’t make endless to-do lists of tasks that can’t be done because they depend on something else happening first. Ie: No point adding Book Plane Tickets to my todo list, when you haven’t Booked Holiday yet.

I only have tasks I can achieve on my list, and replace them with the next doable task when it’s completed!

5. Keep a separate project list

As well as a todo list, I also have a list of all my current projects, and the stage they’re at. I use a great Ipad app for this, called Sticky Notes. It’s essentially a series of pages with digital post-it notes. I have 2 pages:

Post_it_structure_planning.PNG

Page 1 contains post-its of 4 colours

Each post-it contains my Job Code, job title and the price I’ve quoted for it.

  • PINK – currently working on
  • GREEN – confirmed projects but not currently working on
  • YELLOW – awaiting initial meeting
  • BLUE – random projects I need to decide on

This page helps me manage my workload – I like to have 4 “currently working on” with between 4 and 8 “confirmed but not currently working on”.

Page 2 contains a host of those projects that I’ve been contacted about, but nothing’s come of them yet. I keep them there to chase up when I get a moment, or can refer to if they do spring back in action.

6. Filter and Auto colour emails

Whilst I use Sparrow on my Iphone, I try to do most of the email management on my PC. where I run Postbox. I have 2 main email addresses, with a few random ones too, so it’s a good place to see everything together.

As with most email systems, you can set up filters. Whilst I heavily use filters for social media notifications (and have a regular email reminder to check the folder every few days) the most useful thing helps me deal with those “bacon” emails that come in, ie software updates, service announcements and other content that isn’t spam, but isn’t vitally important right now

I’ve simply built up a filter that turns the text of these emails (in the inbox) pale grey. They’re still there, and I’ll tend to check and delete a few times a day, but they’re in the background when I’m focusing on work.

7. Turn of notifications

I’m a pretty heavy social media user but only recently have decided to turn off all notifications from Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Instead, I allow myself to check these accounts whenever I want, so that Social Media and Email Tension doesn’t build up. I’m getting a lot more done and am more relaxed about having long stints of working, knowing I can check them whenever I want.

8. Check email on the hour every hour

I try (although I do fail at this often) to only check my email every hour, on the hour. It’s an easy time to remember, and means I can focus on work for an hour before it comes round again. I have Postbox open at all times, with notifications turned off, and simply switch to that window to see new messages. It takes a second if there’s nothing in there, and with filtering and colouring (as above) it’s easy to see the important emails first.

9. No meeting days – 3 a week

I’ve learnt that I much prefer having a full day to work, without having to dart out for midday meetings. To this end, I try to keep at least 2/3 days a week free from all meetings. On a Sunday night I’ll check the next 2 weeks and add all-day calendar events to the days with no meetings – with the intention of keeping these free.

Similarly, I prefer meetings first thing in the morning or last thing in the day – it means I still get a good few hours to get stuff done!

10. One collection point – Evernote

Evernote

I’ve spoken at length about my love for Evernote. It’s getting better with every update. I use it as my central management system – where I send everything.

As emails come in, I’ll smart-grab sections of text (WIN-A) instead of forwarding emails and archive the email.

I go through my RSS feeds twice a day in the Feedly app – and save a bunch of images and articles into Evernote

I store all my briefsheets (single documents I use to store information about individual projects, including those bits of text from emails)

I also send all my draft images there, and email the client from within Evernote.

Have a free months trial of Evernote Premium here

18 May

10 Rules for Using Icons on Infographics

Icons, pictograms, smileys, dingbats – call them what you like – visual language is a fascinating area of design.

Yes, varieties of visual language has been used for years, with varying degrees of success, and it’s likely that icons will one day be relegated to the “naf bin”.

For now, thought, there are a range of icons out there that can really spice up your website, infographic or presentation

But use with care – here are my 10 tips:

  1. Don’t use them for the sake of it
  2. Use logical icons – don’t make the reader work out what you’re trying to say
  3. Do use them to break up lots of text
  4. Don’t use them to fill up space – get more content or make your infographic smaller
  5. Avoid using icons from radically different sets – try to keep the same theme throughout
  6. Use them if your audience may not understand the text (ie young, international)
  7. Consider using an icon OR a word, not both  – i.e. avoid EMAIL word and an EMAIL logo
  8. Use an icon to illustrate a long header/paragraph
  9. Try to use icons appropriate to the audience – classy for business, cute for children. Why do we still use the traditional “telephone” symbol for phone, when no phones look like that any more?
  10. Don’t be naf/cliche – bored of “toilet man”? Try using a different style character

If you want to find some good handy icons, give these font based ones a go (by sharing these links I’m not vouching for safety of anything you download – virus scan folks!)

The Noun Project

http://www.dafont.com/

http://www.fontspace.com/category/dingbats

http://cooltext.com/Fonts-Dingbats

17 May

Off-the-peg infographics – Easel.ly V Piktochart


 Caroline Beavon is a freelance information and infographics designer – get in touch for more details

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Technically, as an infographics/data visualisations designer, I really shouldn’t even be promoting these but they’re big news at the moment and you may be tempted to give them a go.

Choosing one of these tools is the equivalent of using a template CV  – it does the job, most people won’t mind and it’s cheaper /easier than doing something else.

The downside is, they can look “off the peg”, you still need a certain amount of creativity to get something original and you’ll end up changing your content to fit into the theme you’re using.

But they’re free/cheap and great if you can’t afford someone like me (If you can, feel free to get in touch … see some of my hand drawn work here)

———–

The 2 infographics designer tools I’ll be comparing are Easel.ly and Piktochart. Scroll down to SUMMARY if you’re short of time!

Both are free services (with pro versions available with more theme options etc.) I’ll be looking at the free versions today.

The principle is that you pick a theme, and remove/change/add graphics and text to illustrate your information.

 

Piktochart

PIktochart

The 6 themes available with the free version of Piktochart

Piktochart allows you to choose from a selection (seven) themes, which can then be further modified within the editing window i.e. background and images.

The choice of themes is pretty limited (and look a bit dated now) and some of the graphics do verge on the “clipart” but there are some useful items in there if you dig around the “Entertainment” category (would be easier to have broken down a bit!).

You can add or remove entire sections (blocks) within the editing window which is handy for moving chunks of information around the graphic. However, I’ve found this to be more of a hindrance than a help as it’s quick glitchy to use (maybe it needs getting used to!)

Sadly, you cannot accurately use the graphics to denote scale (ie larger circles for larger values)  – yes you can manually drag the size of the icons, but not input a specific size – so your I would suggest avoiding “size” as a visual tool altogether.

There is the function to upload and add your own graphics, useful for photos or corporate logos.

Piktochart comes into it’s own, however, with the function to add charts. Dragging the “chart” tool onto the desktop opens a spreadsheet style window that you simply paste your data into (you can also upload a CSV). Don’t expect miracles if you upload huge swathes of data, however – as the charting tool is about as smart as the one in Excel. I suggest uploading a few select statistics and selecting the chart that suits. You can easily modify colours and style, so it’s a great tool for inserting small snappy charts into your infographic.

Easel.ly

easely screengrab

Just a few of the many themes available with the free version of Easel.ly

Where Piktochart fell down on overall style of themes and graphics, Easel.ly wins hands down. It’s a smooth clean interface, with some great graphics and icons to choose from. It’s very simple to use and there are some very smart themes to give you a head start.

Plus, and this is a big plus for me, you can  open a “clear window“, essentially start from scratch. With Piktochart you have to manually delete all the elements, and as the themes are quick complex, with some “locked” content, this can be a big hassle.

The 2 downsides of Easel.ly are biggies, however.

1. You cannot introduce data or charts. This is a real shame as this would put Easel.ly ahead of Piktochart.

2. As with Piktochart, you cannot specify the size of graphics – so could not use this for visually showing scale.

 

SUMMARY

If you need to introduce accurate charts to your infographics, I suggest using Piktochart. If not, Easel.ly wins hands down on style, ease of use and creativity.

GOOD BAD
EASE.LY nice choice of iconsuseful and stylish layoutseasy to use (not over complicated)simple to use no charts facilitycannot accurately specify size of objectscan’t specify size of image
PIKTOCHART allows you add data/chartsability to add “blocks” of content to change size of imageability to move blocks of content around limited themesno “blank” themetricky to delete current content

cannot accurately specify size of objects
poor choice of icons
icons cheezy/cliche
bit clunky

 

 


 Caroline Beavon is a freelance information and infographics designer – get in touch for more details

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All content (c) Caroline Beavon 2020