Tag Archives: productivity

04 Dec

Why I’m loving …. Momentum app

I was tipped off about the Momentum app thanks to the weekly email from Tim Ferris.

It’s works of a very basic principle – guilt.

Install and when you open a new tab in Chrome (presumably to waste time noodling around on Facebook) a full page picture appears asking for your name, email and “What is your main focus for today?”.

Complete these simple requests and each time you open a new tab you will see a full screen version of this.

 

screenshot

Nice huh? it’s a different background and quote each time, but it’s basically reminding you that you have stuff to do. In a pretty font.

Of course you can move onto your original destination but not without a pang in the old guilt-gland.

 


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

 

 

19 Nov

Hitting walls with a project? Going in circles? Try the Stuck Wheel

There are times in projects when you get completely stuck.

You may find yourself going in circles, with a million reasons why you can’t continue. These could be the fault of the client, overload of tasks, or a general bad feeling about how it’s all progressing.

For example you’re:

waiting for more information from someone else
not enjoying the project
struggling to understand the clients needs
overwhelmed by too many tasks
Every way you turn there is another reason NOT to progress, so nothing gets done.

This happens to me from time to time. I am often working on several projects at a time, and it can be easy to keep heading towards the easier ones than the harder ones. As a freelancer I don’t have a line manager to talk to, so this is one of those times when I need to play both roles.

That’s why I started using a Stuck Wheel.

Some of this stuff may seem really obvious, but it’s helped get me out of a stuck project many times.

 

 

You Will Need

A4 sheet of paper / large notebook

2 pens of different colours

 

Scannable Document 2 on 19 Nov 2015, 14_02_07

Stage 1

Write the name of the project in the centre of an A4 sheet of paper and draw a circle round it.

Then, creating a ‘spider diagram’ (and leaving space between each entry and the edge of the page) write down each of the problems you are facing with the project. All of them. They can be an insignificant or as personal as you like, no one else is going to see this. The idea is to capture all of the BLOCKS you are facing with this project. Think carefully about all the things you need to do, and why you can’t do them right now. Remember: there are no stupid entries here, so if you just hate the project, and don’t want to work on it any more, write it down. Just make sure its not the ONLY thing on your wheel!

Connect each problem to the central circle with a line.

 

Stage 2

Now it’s time to act like a boss for a moment.

Using the other pen, go through each of the problems and write a response to them. for example:

 

BLOCK: waiting for a response from client

ANSWER: email or call client for a response

 

BLOCK: don’t have the software i need

ANSWER: set aside some time to download and install the software

 

This seems pretty obvious, but it’s amazing how often these little easily solved problems can sit and fester, and halt the whole project.

However, when I do the STUCK WHEEL there are always some emotional blocks as well. The answers to these will depend on the particular project but could go as follows:

 

BLOCK: I’m worried XYZ will happen

ANSWER: it might. Plan for XYZ to happen by doing ABC

 

BLOCK: I don’t feel like doing this right now

ANSWER: (if the project is not urgent) – schedule a time to do this in the future, forget about it for now and do something else

ANSWER: (if the project is urgent) -TOUGH! you have a responsibility to your client and your business. JUST GET ON WITH IT

 

Seriously, this is how I talk to myself in my STUCK WHEEL. Sometimes you need someone to kick your arse, and in this instance, it has to be yourself.

 

Scannable Document 3 on 19 Nov 2015, 14_02_07

 

Stage 3

Read back through your answers and transfer any actionable items to your to-do list (in my case a bullet journal).

email client for confirmation on something
schedule a day to work on this another day
download X software

 

 

 

15 Jan

If you needed any more proof that I am a data visualisation and productivity nerd …

In order to keep track of the various projects, I use an Excel spreadsheet. This calculates project hours, rates etc.

The spreadsheet breaks each day down into 30 minute blocks, into which I paste a coloured block and code – which helps calculate the running totals.

As well as being useful – it also generated this bonus visualisation!

I started this in Oct 2013 – So now, I present, my work diary from Oct 2013 – Dec 2014.

 

2014 work viz-01

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

23 Apr

Moseley Exchange – a new way (for me) to work

moseleyexchange

 

Since I started working for myself, I’ve been on a hunt for that *perfect* place to work.

I tried the various coffee shops around Birmingham (read my findings here) but working in a coffee shop 5 days a week is not financially viable. (In order to stay in a coffee shop guilt-free all day you’d need to buy at least 3 drinks and some food  – totting up a daily spend of around £10.) Plus all that coffee isn’t good for you.

I experimented with a bunch of other locations and blogged about them here

I hunted for a small office/office share in the Jewellery Quarter, but the places were either too expensive  or lacked vital services, like running water or wifi.

So I decided to return to a previous haunt of mine, Moseley Exchange, a co-working space in this leafy-suburb of Birmingham.

I’ve blogged about this place before, where I raised a couple of queries about the etiquette of a shared space.

So far so good.

  • quiet – oh so quiet. I am constantly plugged into Spotify so don’t hear the general office noise, but  conversations/phone calls are kept short and meetings held in the adjoining lounge. 
  • self-conscious productivity – at home I may stick on a TV show whilst I work – but I just wouldn’t do this at Moseley Exchange
  • Journey to work – I’ve always missed the walk to work – it sets the start and the end of the day
  • Set working hours. I’m glad Moseley Exchange isn’t open longer or I’d fall into the same trap as at home – working slowly and for longer periods of time. With an opening time of 9am and closing at anywhere between 6pm and 8pm, it means I can have a solid work session. Plus it’s a really big deal if I have to put my laptop on when I get home
  • Free tea and coffee. requires no explanation

The plan is that when I buy a 2-bed place, I won’t need Moseley Exchange as I’ll convert the second bedroom into an office – but we’ll see how I get on!

15 Dec

7 work locations for the home working freelancer

As a stay-at-home freelancer, I’m always looking for different places to work.

It’s a perk of the job that you can take your laptop anywhere, so here are my favourite places to get stuff done

INSIDE THE HOUSE

1. Bed

Good for blogging, social networking and social sharing/bookmarking

This is a surprisingly productive place to work.

[69]. HELLLOO MACCCBOOOK!

  • It’s comfy – so why would you get up an wander off somewhere else?
  • Any attempt to move will result in a cable-duvet tangling scenario
  • it’s relaxed – so perfect for creative ventures
  • You can flip between sitting upright and lying on your front if you need to (yes I know, both terrible terrible postures)
Downsides
  • Terrible for your posture
  • If you’re tired it’s hard to get motivated/not fall asleep
  • Definitely not for Skype chats!!

2. Sofa

Good for email answering, planning, to-do list writing and inbox clearing

Less productive than the bed, as it’s far more tempting to put the telly on, do the washing up etc. However, sitting on the sofa in a bright living room is still a valid place of work

 

  • With a bright airy room, you’re less creative but more switched on to tackling simple but useful tasks
  • there are a variety of positions available
  • similar restrictions to moving as “bed” – cables, comfiness etc
Downsides
  • Not ideal for long working sessions
  • Distractions of household chores/TV

3. Desk

Good for design, report writing

I currently do not have a desk (long story) but I always found it the best place to get the “big project” done.

 

  • if set up right, a desk is a comfy, “good posture” place to work
  • There is a sense of purpose on a desk, and the hours can fly by
  • You have all your stuff near you – pens, staplers, printer etc.
Downsides
  • Not very creative space (I always have my design books in another room so I can step away from the desk and into a different coach to get some inspiration)

4. Bath

Just kidding

 

OUTSIDE THE HOUSE

4. Coffee Shop

Good for blogging, social networking, link sharing

Find the right coffee shop and it can become a perfect place to work. I blogged about some of the best working coffee shops in Birmingham here

  • Despite being a public space, there are actually fewer distractions than in your own home. No washing up, no television.
  • There is a sense of time limit – no matter no friendly your coffee shop is, they will close eventually.
  • regular breaks as you get up to buy more drink
  • Once you’re set up, you won’t want to move again for a couple of hours

Downsides

  • Noisy – (especially around lunchtime)
  • unreliable wifi can ruin your session
  • Too much caffeine!
  • Potential to eat cake and carb-heavy food all the time!!
  • Expense
  • People you know “popping over” for a chat

 

5. Library

Birmingham Central Library from Centenary Way
Good for non-online writing, research, concentration, data entry

I’ve always had a soft spot for my my local “big” library – the soon to be demolished Central Library in Birmingham, it was my go-to revision spot when I was doing my A Levels.

Yes, there is free wifi but I’ve sometimes had problems logging on and there is a time-limit, and to be honest it’s sometimes nice to get non-online tasks done in this environment

  • Fewer distractions
  • Sense of a place of learning so encourages self to get stuff done
  • Plenty of research material
  • You can’t wander off without packing everything up

downsides

  • Noise. It doesn’t take a lot to be noisy in a library
  • Wonky wifi connection at times
  • A hassle if you need to pop to loo, for a coffee etc

 

6. pub

Good for social networking, links sharing, filing etc

I know people who love working in pubs. To be honest, I’ve always found it an odd location but it can work, especially as so many now have free wifi

  • During the day pubs can be quieter than coffee shops
  • Range of beverage options (depending how the writing is going!)
  • Fewer distractions from friends as they’re all in the coffee shops
  • Downsides (mainly when the pub gets busy)

Downsides

  • Once the pub starts to fill up, you will end up being the pretentious dick in the corner on a laptop
  • The pub may not be happy with you taking up a table
  • The temptation to have a “cheeky lunchtime drink”

 

7. Co-working space

Good for focus-jobs i.e. report writing, blogging, accounts sorting)

I’ve blogged about the pros and cons of coworking spaces here.

I’m still not a mad fan of these, but there are definite pros and cons

  • If everyone else in the room is diligently working, the pressure is on you to do the same
  • Usually a productive space and a big desk for yourself
  • Tea and coffee on tap

Downsides

  • Too quiet – quite a tense atmosphere sometimes
  • Cost (compared to working at home)
  • Politics / etiquette – how to behave, talking, mobile phones etc
Have I missed anywhere?

 

 

 

All content (c) Caroline Beavon 2020