Come Along for a Ride! [Episode 20]

I’m taking you skating, driving and cooking with me this week! I hope you have as much fun watching this episode as I had editing it.

Leave a comment on Episode 19 once you’ve done your Random Act of Kindness (before 20th March) to be in with a chance to win yarn, stitch markers or a pattern book.

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Peace, love and sunny days,

Show notes

White Pine pullover by Andrea Mowry

Edinburgh Yarn Festival
Thursday Knit Night

Friday & Saturday Podcaster meetups
12:30 to 2pm in the Blacker Yarns Podcaster Lounge

Music by Jeff Kaale on

Do It Your Way: Are You a Recipe Person?

I was making dinner the other night; salmon fillets wrapped in parma ham, steamed in the oven with a bit of wine and broth, with a bashed-up Vivaldi potatoes in a wasabi mayo dressing and some nice green beans. I popped the salmon in the oven hoping it would turn out right, hoping the parma ham would give the salmon flavour and guestimating the cooking time.

While pottering around the kitchen, I was thinking: I don’t think I’ve ever cooked the same thing twice in the same way. Every time, I tweak, adapt or change based on what’s in the fridge, the mood I’m in or the seasonal produce available. In my opinion, recipes are a great way to get inspiration, little else. My mom, on the other hand, always had a great little handwritten recipe book – covered in splatters from teaching us to make pancake mix – and usually followed recipes closely.

The same applies to business; Why do some of us love clear, repeatable processes while others prefer to try something new every time? Rationality versus instinct. Structure versus winging it. One’s not better than the other, necessarily. My mom probably ended up with a lot less weird-tasting dinners than I did, that’s for sure.

Personally, I’m certainly leaning towards the “creative thinking” end of the scale. I have processes and skeleton structures for projects I manage yet no two ever turn out the same. I’d be a terrible analytical chemist, air traffic controller or software tester but for what I do, it’s great; It allows me to nurture that bit of magic (wow, that sounds cheesy…) that’s unique to every new project.

I’m curious whether anyone consciously chooses to swing one way or the other, or whether we’re just made a certain way. What’s your style? What excites you enough to drop all normal procedures and just go for instinct?

10 Ways to Improve Your Home Office Productivity

Ask anyone who is self-employed or regularly works from a home office, and you’ll get polarised answers; The home office is either the best or the worst thing that’s happened to them. Either a source of peace and focus, or a never ending stream of distractions and frustration.

beach_officeIn my case, I have to say, it’s been bliss. I’m a social being so I’m thrilled that I get the opportunity to work face to face with clients and colleagues fairly regularly, but I relish the few days a week where I can go a whole day without distractions. The productivity I get out of those days is amazing, so I thought I’d share how I took my space from being “the back room with a desk in it” to “My office” from which I can run a business.

1. Keep your goals visual and within sight

I recently wrote about having clear goals for your day, as a way to drive your productivity. Set your 3 most important tasks for the day and stick to them. It doesn’t mean you can’t do anything else, but each unscheduled task that comes in needs to be critically assessed. “Will this stop me from getting my 3 MITs done today? Is it worth sidetracking for right now?”

Stick them on the wall in an obvious place so that you don’t forget to refer to it.

2. Get a timer

Whether it’s a virtual one (I use Alarm Clock 2 for Mac) or a physical one, like a kitchen timer or a radio alarm clock, it’s a great way to motivate yourself when facing tasks you hate.

Set the alarm for a block of time (I tend to go for 20-30mins depending on how distracted I fear I might be) and cram as much as you can during that time. I’ll use it to get the draft of an article complete, then when the timer goes, I’ll take a break and get on with editing the ideas and polishing the article. This can make bad days seem a whole lot better after a few productive blocks!

If you belong to the other extreme, and can find yourself still working in the same position hours after you started, you may want to use it to remind you to take breaks. A friend of mine uses Time Out, which pops up a reminder to look away from the screen every 10 minutes and one to take a break every 50 minutes. Stand up, move around, have a sip of water… Simple but these small steps can help you avoid the discomforts of RSI at a later date.

3. Buy an inbox tray

Everyone says this, but not enough people do it. A pile of paperwork on the corner of your desk is not the way to go; it’ll distract and stress you every time you see a mountain of things you haven’t dealt with yet.

Mine is a silver mesh 3-level inbox tray, with the top one labelled “Inbox”, the second “Accounts” and the third “Scrap Paper”.

The top one takes in all business-related (and personal, let’s admit it) paperwork which gets filed into a filing cabinet behind me or sorted into projects to action twice a week. The second one contains any receipts, bills or accountant-related material that needs more attention than simply going in the Inbox. The bottom basket contains scrap paper, old print outs where the back of the page can be used for notes, etc. It’s easily within reach so that when the phone rings or inspiration catches, I don’t need to spend time looking for a scrap of paper to write on.

4. Get a whiteboard (or two)

If you have any wall space available, I’d recommend a whiteboard. It’s a great way to sketch out an idea or leave yourself big obvious reminders of progress. I tend to put high-level targets/goals for the month on the board and tick them off to get a sense of progress throughout the month.

For example…

January Projects

– Client A: Complete Phase 1 of project
– Client B: Provide 3 days of support for Phase 2
– Write n posts from topics list
– Close £n in new business
– Book attendance to Event

Every time I complete an action that wraps up the project, it feels great to tick it on the board.

For those who get inspired in the shower, I’ve seen great bathtime whiteboards for kids before, so stick one in the shower and scribble that superb idea before it disappears.

5. Shape your energy with scents and sounds

Every so often, treat your senses to revive your energy. You may be surprised of the effect it has on your mood.

Need to focus and energise? Put lemon & orange or satsuma & spice scented oils in your oil burner.

Stress of the day getting to you? Put some lavender in, close your eyes, take 10 deep breaths. Pause for a moment and get back to work.

Want to pretend it’s Christmas? My favourite mix is: 4 drops of satsuma & orange and cranberry oils each and 2 drops of vanilla extract and cinammon each. Yum!

In my personal opinion, I would avoid the use of incense. It can get smoky and the smell of old incense lingers for a long time which can trigger headaches if you’re prone to them.

Music can also have an impact on your energy levels; create playlists to energise, relax and focus. Personally, I opt for classical piano for focus, Soma FM’s Groove Salad for general writing and pop music when I need to motivate myself to get filing and clearing up done!

If you can, get some headphones. Sometimes tuning the world out (whether it’s the kids or the construction outside) is the only way to get full focus onto the task at hand. I live in a quiet neighbourhood and am childfree so open cup wireless headphones are ideal; I can still hear the doorbell ring if I’m expecting a delivery. You may want some radical noise-cancelling headphones if you’re surrounded by more noise.

6. Give yourself breathing space

Your home office should be your haven of productivity, not a messy backroom where you sit on the edge of the bed to write (unless that’s really how you get into creative mode!)

Think wisely when buying new furniture or storage for the office: Will it improve your productivity or just be something cute that sits on a shelf and adds to the clutter? I received a humongous red bean bag from Sumo Lounge a few months ago, and kept it in the office for a while. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but last week, I relocated it and am much happier to have regained the walking space in the office.

7. Keep creative tools nearby

If your job requires creativity, sometimes a bit of madness can kickstart the process.

Creativity cue cards: I’ve pasted them to index cards and added to the pack with some ideas of my own. I’ll just grab something randomly from the pack and start sketching until I find a thread I can run with.

Whiteboard: Draw a process chart, brainstorm keywords or draw pictures, whatever helps you find an angle to approach the issue

Lego, silly putty and arts & crafts materials: Yup, I’m a grownup (well, that’s debatable…) and I own a big box of Lego bricks. Sometimes letting your subconscious work while you distract yourself can be just the trigger you need.

8. Keep emergency snacks nearby

If you’re focused, don’t let the urge to make a sandwich distract you. Keep dried fruits, nuts and water at hand. However, remember to take midday breaks to feed yourself properly!

Shop smartly so that you have a good balance of healthy snacks and nutritious meals to avoid having to break up your day to go to the supermarket.

9. Declutter

Create a folder for each project to make tidying easy at the end of the day. Put each project away and make a list for the following morning instead of leaving every file out as a reminder. It’ll make tomorrow morning feel a lot less daunting when you walk in.

At the end of the week or when you have dead time (eg. when you’re on hold with customer service, waiting for a conference call to start…) pick a single shelf and remove anything that’s accumulated. Put the receipts into your expenses file, put the Christmas cards you received 2 months ago from a client in the recycling bin (they don’t need to know!) and you’ll feel it’s much easier to keep your office clutter-free.

10. Accept that some days won’t work your way

I’m still no good with unexpected derailing of my day, but sometimes, there will be unavoidable distractions; building works, deliveries, errands that must be run or, for parents, kids who are sick and staying home for the day. On those days, accept that you may need to switch your focus to the jobs that can be done quickly and between distractions as opposed to writing your most in-depth research paper.

What are your tips for a more productive and zen-like home office?

Other resources:

Where creativity comes from

It’s Friday, you’ve been giving it the beans all week, working that little brain of yours to the bone (figuratively, let’s hope). You need a boost for that last mile before this evening’s G&T while watching mindless TV (or maybe your evening is more exciting than mine…)

Don’t tell everyone, but I’ve found one of the best sources of creative juices out there…

Alright, fine, it’s a campaign for the South West Regional Development Agency, created by Rubber Republic. It arrived in my inbox last week, with a subject line containing “Viral Campaign”*, so it was within an inch of getting deleted without a second look. Being the end of the day, I was looking for distraction, so I had a look at the video, to find myself delighted by how silly it turned out to be. I love organisations with a sense of humour, and this one’s just wonderfully twisted.

I wonder what would happen if you squeezed Silicon Fen/Cambridge creatives? You’d probably get a CAMRA-approved fermented beverage that knocks your socks off. 😉

[* On the “Viral Campaign” note, I hope agencies will realise that, while it’s fine to call it a viral campaign on your marketing strategy plan internally, a video doesn’t go viral until the viewers make it so. Create something fantastic, give people the tools to share it easily, but don’t tell us it’s a viral. That’s for us to decide.]