Recently in Work Category
May 10, 2013
You might want to read this eBook.
Design Your Day is part of Nokia's Smarter everyday project, that talks very little about phones and quite a lot about how we could work better - and live better - in a connected, information flow age. I had some small hand in the early stage of the work through some consulting and writing work I did for Brilliant Noise at the tail end of last year and the beginning of this year. There's a much fuller explanation of what it's all about on the Brilliant Noise blog.
But don't download it because of that. Download it because it's got some really intelligent ideas - backed by neuroscience - about how to work well; it's about working better, not harder, knowing our limits - and planning for them. Designing your day, in fact.
April 7, 2013
After saying that I'd be commiting some of my expanded free time to this blog, pretty much ever since I've been committing it to a more worthy cause: my wife and daughter.
The last few months have been tough: very tough. If the lesson of 2012 was that buying a new house, having a baby and starting a consultancy career in the same year is a bit much, the lesson of early 2013 was that your daughter weaning, your wife going back to work, and the busiest period in your consultancy career to date do not make a good mix.
This morning, we spent an hour just lounging by the sea a few minutes' walk from our house, chatting and enjoying the sun, while Hazel explored the pebbles and other things that make up the beach. Simple bliss.
Makes it all seem worth it.
March 18, 2013
Google has had and then killed a number of extremely useful research tools for journalists, and Reader is just the latest. Search Timeline, which showed the frequency of a search term, was flawed but still extremely useful for research as a journalist. For journalists working with social media, the death of Realtime, Google's social media search, was a terrible loss. No other tool has come even close to the functionality that Realtime offered. Topsy comes the closest, but it still lacks the incredible features that Realtime offered.
Kevin identifies the wider problem with how Google is evolving. The experimental, geeky, web-loving company many of us had a small crush on five years ago is, essentially, gone. Google is growing up and is leaving many of its early users behind. Google's product base is becoming relentlessly mainstream - if there's a potentially large audience for a product, then it's safe. Niche and minority interest tools? They're on the chopping block.
The days of us information specialists relying on free tools to get our work done are pretty much over, I think. As increasing numbers of free services are "acqui-hired" into closure, or just plain shut down by corporates with no vested interest in keeping them going -or in keeping their users happy - I'm more comfortable with using tools from specialist providers who allow me to be a customer, rather than a user. I'm a freelance consultant these days, and my little daughter's future relies on me doing good work, reliably. That means I need tools I can rely on - and I'm willing to pay for them. My note-taking lives in Evernote - where I have a paid account. My files are in either Dropbox - paid account - or iCloud - again, a paid account.
My rule of thumb: if there's any long-term use of a service that matters to me, I'd rather use a paid service from a specialist company.
So, I'm happy to use Google Drive for short term collaboration and sharing - but I'm not storing anything there in the long term.
The free tool internet was fun while it lasted - but it's over.
February 18, 2013
Writing is, essentially, a lonely business. It's just you, a keyboard and as much focus as you can bring to a task. I'm in the midst of a long piece of writing now, for a Brilliant Noise project. This is exactly the sort of work I could comfortably do from home, relaxing with my own coffee and my lovely view of the Adur. So, what brings me to Brighton on the days devoted to this project? Why am I sat in Brilliant Noise's offices, being anti-social with my headphones on?
There are three reasons:
Alone in company
Working on something alone doesn't necessarily mean being lonely. There is a certain comfort in being surrounded by friendly faces. It's the basic principle behind co-working spaces, and it holds for projects like this. I have the chance to interact with my editor on the project, and the co-founders overseeing the project, as well as the rest of the staff. I haven't over-used that today - I've had maybe 10 minutes of conversation along the way. But it's there, and it's useful human contact.
Shifting my headspace
That human contact isn't with my wife and daughter. I love the pair of them very deeply indeed, and they're part of the reason I'm working like this. It's one way of bringing in enough cash alongside my wife's earnings to give them a good life, but also spend some decent time with them. I work a four day week, devoting Fridays to caring for my daughter. Believe me, I've never looked forward to the end of the week as much as I do now, knowing it's going to be all Daddy/daughter time. But to really focus on a writing project, I need to close all that down in my head, and get myself in a focused headspace. Here, I'm sat with my laptop on a big desk to myself, with virtually no distractions and my writing app in fullscreen mode. The physical movement down the coast and into an office, with the short train journey, signals to my brain that it's time to get into work mode.
Working from home is great when I need to get a lot of disparate tasks done in a day. When I need to do longform writing, being away from the nagging feeling that I should do a load of washing is useful.
Guilt and Inspiration
I'm an independent worker these days. I'm usually working on a day or project rate. Sitting amongst the people I'm working for is a great invcentive to deliver value-for-money to them. That's the guilt side. I can see the people who's money I'm taking. That's a more concrete transaction when they're sat in my eyeline. There's also the inspiration effect - they're a skilled, creative bunch, and the ideas bouncing around the office encourage me to up my game. I don't want to be the one whose work is a little below the others. Is there a little competitive spirit in there? Sure - but that's a good thing.
(This is the second in a linked series of posts about how I work. The first was published last week - and there are more to come.)
February 11, 2013
I've been doing a lot of thinking and reading about productivity and working practices for a project I'm involved with. (It's a cool, interesting project. I'm looking forwards to sharing more with you about it in due course.) The one thing I've become horribly conscious of is the role sleep plays in our productivity cycles.
This morning, I feel good. I love my daughter dearly, but she's not what you'd call a sleeper, and she gave us a hard time this weekend. But last night, she slept for nine and a half hours solid. I'm sat on a train to London, having had over six hours unbroken sleep for the first time since I was in Paris in early December. I'm getting lots done - including this blog post - while watching the snow flurry outside the train. It sure beats the "try and claw some sleep back" feeling I often have. I acknowledge, though, that this morning is an exception. Until Hazel consistently goes through the night, I have to work within the confines of constant slight sleep deprivation. I can't just muddle through - I have to make hard decisions.
In fact, I'm having to upend my life. I've always been a night owl, doing my best work late at night. Every time I've tried to do tha recently, I've been too damn tired. On the other hand, mornings are little pods of productivity for me, especially if I need to get an extended piece of writing done. In my 40s, I'm finally being forced to study, analyse and optimise my working methods - because there's no way I'll keep this hugely enjoyable freelance consultancy career going unless I do.
And you know what? It may have started as a necessity, but this process has becone a pleasure. Making decisions about what tools I use when, how I spend my limited time to best effect, and creating a structure around my life is curiously liberating.
February 2, 2013
Very, very long term readers of this blog - those who have been tolerating my words for nearly a decade - might remember that I was once more print-centric than I am now. For the best part of a year in the 2003 to 2004 period, I editied a magazine called GRID. It was designed to sit at the intersection of property development, architecture and construction, and it was my pride and joy.
It had a stunning design by Balwant Ahira:
It's the print project that I was most proud of, which I devoted every ounce of my skill as a journalist to - and it was killed off by an incoming publisher, whose approach to profit growth involved slashing investment and costs. It was strangled before it had the chance to get going. At the time I was deeply upset, and really quite bitter. Nearly 10 years on, I see how it shaped the rest of my future. My dreams of being a print editor died with GRID, and I began to focus on my blog, blogging and the digital future. Within 18 months of the death of GRID, my transition into being a professional digital journalism expert began.
Why am I bringing this up now? Well, I finally got around to having one set of issues bound up into a beautiful hardback book at Wyvery Bindery.
I collected it last Monday on my way to City University, and I couldn't be more happy with it. I'm not sure how much else survives of the magazine. RBI no longer has any copies kicking around - they were all disposed of years ago. I believe some - but not all - of the content is on estatesgazette.com, but I no longer have access to the paid part to check. Apart from a box in my garage, this might be all that remains of the magazine.
This bound volume makes it slightly more likely that the work we did makes it into the future, somehow. And it certainly gives me something to enjoy on those days when I get nostalgic for print:
December 10, 2012
I've read again and again over the years, that reading your e-mail as the first task in your working day is the wrong thing to do. You should dive into a few tasks, do something directly productive first, and then switch back to the in-box.
I am, for at least some of the week, a home worker at the moment, and that requires discipline (especially with the bundle of cute that is young Hazel to distract me each morning). I'm going to try an add this discipline - that of doing a little easily mooring blogging before I dive into other things - as my day's "start point". It probably won't happen at weekends, as I'm on full-time Hazel duty then, but during the working week, expect a little light bloggage from me.
This is something of a follow-on from Steph's back to blogging project. That helped me get back into the blogging swing - this, I hope, will help me hack my productivity.
December 9, 2012
The changes in writing environment go beyond the act of typing. The iPad also offers a remarkable lack of distractions. When I write on my Mac I find I am endlessly checking Twitter and email and my weather station's current conditions page and anything else I can find to distract myself from the difficult task of putting one word in front of another. On the iPad, I am more focused--and when I do finally take a break to check my email, it feels like an actual break, not a distraction.
I agree with this. My iPad is my single favourite device for any extended piece of writing. Anything more than about 600 words, and I'll use an external keyboard with it, but it allows me to focus on writing in a way no other device I've owned in years does. I've blogged about this before.
The interesting thing about being self-employed and no longer having anyone dictating my technology to me is that I've been able to customise my working environment to make it really conducive to getting what I need to get done, well, done. In essence, I now have three different working environments for work-tasks, which I switch between based on what I'm doing:
- iPad - for long-form writing of any description
- MacBook Pro (15") - for creative tasks which happen sequentially. For example, liveblogging at conferences, where I'm switching between my blogging software in one full-screen space, and my photo-editing software in another.
- MacBook Pro docked to a 27" LED display - for research tasks, where I'm using software in parallel. I spent Friday doing research for a project, for example, and had Evernote, Safari and Tweetbot all open on the same screen, moving swiftly between the three.
The days of one device handling all my creative work are long, long gone, and I can't see them coming back soon.
November 30, 2012
Apologies for the sudden outbreak of silence around here - look on it as the lull before the storm, if you like. This week is likely to be quiet, as I'm deep in a deadline crunch or five, with Hazel's christening and a trip to Paris coming up soon. Next week, of course, will be the normal storm of liveblogging from Le Web...
Things have been so busy, in fact, that I missed the anniversary of my redundancy on Wednesday. A year before, after lunch, I was pulled into a meeting in an anonymous little HR meeting room, and told that my days with RBI were over. At the time, all I could think was that I was in the middle of buying a house with my first child on the way, and suddenly I had no job. A year on? I'm too busy to note the passing of the day. Between flying to Helsinki with some brilliant people, working with the next generation of journalists, and keeping up my commitments to various other clients, things are busy, fun and reasonably profitable. Oh, and I'm living in that house, and spending more time than I would have otherwise with baby Hazel.
I'm not prepared to say that being made redundant was the best thing that ever happened to me - the timing was too appalling and stressful for that - but I will say that the way I've spent the year since has been so incredibly rewarding that it more than makes up for it. Certainly, I'm enjoying life, work and family far more than I was this time last year, and I'm significantly more optimistic about the future.
And that has to be a great thing, right?
August 23, 2012
July 4, 2012
One of the delights of my six-month journey from corporate drone to versatile self-employed knowledge worker has been the chance to experience some of that in reality. Brighton in particular is a hub for virtual organisations, temporary project-based team working and third place environments. This afternoon I followed up a rather pleasant lunch with Mr Mayfield with a visit to Clock Tower Cameras to collect my newly-repaired EOS 500D, and then a spell in Small Batch Coffee - a classic third place, and as close to an office as the TEDxBrighton team have right now.
And that lead into an impromptu TEDxBrighton meeting when I bumped into organiser Natalie Lloyd. She invited me to sit in on a chat with Andrew Sleigh, as part of her networking and preparation for the conference. It was a cool, dynamic, unexpected afternoon of the sort that just never happened in my corporate days. I love that. I want that. It's a working future for the next chunk of my life that really appeals to me.
There are some pre-requisites for this sort of working to, well, work. For one, you need a cluster of businesses and individuals in one area that are numerous enough for chance encounters of this kind to both happen and to be useful. And you need the kind of businesses that are suited to flexible working structures. In that, I've rather fallen on my feet. When we decided to move to Shoreham-by-Sea, I had no thought of the work possiblities inherent in the Brighton digital scene, but now it's a core part of my working life. And just up the coast. Win. As I contemplate the next six months, other than the looming presence of a lot of nappy changing, it's crossed my mind to consider forming a virtual content agency of some kind, for reasons that I'll explore in another post. Officeless, yet using digital tools and third spaces to keep communication more open and useful than in many siloed businesses.
I have a deep and abiding suspicion of one-size-fits-all solutions, and yet we still bias towards a single base model of the working office. Desks, fixed location, repeated patterns. Even those offices which have adopted hot-desking tend to find people hitting formulas of behaviour - theoretical hotdesks becoming someone's preferred working space, and so on.
For many creative and knowledge-work based tasks, a mobile phone, a laptop (or an iPad...?) and power are all you need in terms of working equipment. Certainly those (and, admittedly, a digital SLR for liveblogging) are all I've needed to make my living. Indeed, I've never understood the attachment so many journalists have to their desks and offices. Why don't they want to be out and about amongst their communities - their beats?
The office as a place of information work seems curiously undisrupted as a model by the advent of information technology. Disruption is inevitable. And I rather fancy being part of it...