Finding a Balance in Office Work: Long-Term Projects [en]

[fr] Quelques réflexions sur comment je m'organise pour mon travail "de bureau", et la difficulté que j'ai à avancer sur les projets "long terme, pas urgents".

Here is an umpteenth post about my journey figuring out how to “be the boss of me” — getting work done and still having a life as a freelancer.

Honestly, I have not been doing too badly this year. It’s even been pretty good. 🙂

The other day, when I was catching up with Suw, I told her that I was now pretty competent at managing my days, but not that good at looking beyond that. What I mean is that I have a system to keep track of the next things I need to do, and I’m much better than I used to be at evaluating what can get done in a given day. I still tend to be a bit ambitious, but overall my “day plans” are pretty realistic.

Proof of that, in my opinion:

  • I now very rarely have a day where I’m “running” or “scrambling”
  • I rarely have to work during the week-end or the evening to do stuff that “absolutely needs to get done and I haven’t managed to squeeze it in yet”.

So, the next step is the week. I’m still using maker days and manager days (it’s not perfect, sometimes I give in and sacrifice a maker day, but overall I’m getting increasingly better at sticking to my plan). What I’d like to think about here (you read me right, I’m writing this post to think something over) is what I do (or try to do) during my office “maker” days.

Here’s what I’ve identified so far:

  1. daily business: checking e-mails, taking phone calls, hanging out on Twitter/IM, responding to prospective clients, journalists, people who want to pick my brains, dealing with little emergencies, reading stuff online
  2. “regular” paid work: these are gigs that are long-term and require a little work every day or every week at least, and therefore fall in the “daily business” category too, but are for a client who is paying
  3. my projects: taking care of eclau, Bloggy Fridays
  4. my “promotional” stuff: blogging, keeping my websites up-to-date (technically and content-wise — ahem), writing, planning ebooks but not writing them, preparing general documentation to promote what I do to prospective clients, research
  5. accounting and administrivia: personal and professional, including writing to the gérance to ask them to change the windows so we can save on heating
  6. support network: I have a bunch of friends I’m in regular contact with to talk things over (their things, my things)

OK, the list is a bit messy, but it’s a start. I know that one thing that can usually “kill” an office day is when I’m asked to do a one-off, time-limited gig by a client: for example, a 2-4 hour WordPress training/coaching session. The reason for that is that this kind of gig pays immediately: shortest path to money. So usually, when I make exceptions and kill a maker day, it’s because there is immediate money at stake (as long as it doesn’t compromise the work I need to do for my “regular” paying clients, of course).

Items 1, 2, 3 and 6 of the list above are not really a source of trouble right now. I mean, that’s what I spend my time doing.

Items 4 and 5, on the other hand, are problematic: I keep falling behind. In the case of accounting and administrivia, as they are something I get in trouble about if I don’t do them for long enough, every now and again I go “gosh, am behind, gotta spend a day on it” and I get it done. But I have trouble with regularity (less and less though, to be fair with myself).

The big painful one is what I call “my promotional stuff”. It’s long-term. If I don’t do it, there are no direct consequences. It does not involve other people. Summary:

  • it’s for me, so it tends to end up less high priority than all the rest that is “for others”;
  • no time constraints, so it is less high priority than emergencies and deadlines;
  • some of it is actually difficult for me (preparing promotional copy for example).

So, here are some of the items that are on this long-suffering list of things I want to do but never get around to doing because there is always more urgent stuff to take care of:

  • upgrade WordPress and plugins on a bunch of my sites
  • do something about the horribly out-of-date content on my professional site (organize another WPD?)
  • get a proper lifestream up and running (as Nathalie aptly put it earlier this morning, “FriendFeed is nice and all, but I never go there”)
  • start writing the blasted ebook 😉
  • write more fiction
  • write up shiny material explaining what I do (including “terms and conditions”) that I can send or give out to my clients and prospects (including sending stuff to schools saying “I give talks” and “looking for somebody to teach a few hours on social media over the next academic year?”)
  • catch up with my photo uploading on Flickr (in a way, yes, this also ends up being a “promotional” activity)
  • blog more (you’re getting tired of hearing it, but look, it’s working).

I’ve tried a few times to state (to myself, that is) “Friday afternoon is for administrivia and accounting” but weeks are so short that my resolve usually falls down the drain. I’m thinking that I should firewall time to work on these “longer-term” projects each week — but again, I look at my calendar and think “ugh”. A day a week? Sounds like a minimum when I look at the list right above, but quite impossible when I think of what my usual weeks are like. On the other hand, I do have (what feels to me like) quite a relaxed workstyle, so maybe if I did firewall a day off I’d discover I’m perfectly capable of dealing with the rest of my work on the other four days.

So, the questions for me remain:

  • how many office days vs. meeting days in a week? (right now I try to have three office days, but don’t always manage)
  • what’s the best way to build in time for long-term projects which tend to stagnate at the bottom of the priority list? (firewall a day or half a day off each week, or every two weeks, or something else…)

Dear readers: your insight is much appreciated. How do you do this? Do you do it? What have you tried? How did you fail? How did you succeed?

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Maker Days and Manager Days [en]

A few months ago I wrote an article called Office vs. Errand Days, where I explained that I had started grouping my errands on certain days and making sure that I had meeting-free office days on others.

I’ve just finished reading Paul Graham’s excellent essay Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule, and realized that what I have been doing is separating my days into “manager’s schedule days” and “maker’s schedule days”.

As a freelancer, I am both: I’m the manager who meets people, has speculative meetings, receives new clients or gets interviewed by journalists. But I’m also the maker: a whole bunch of what I get paid for has to be done quietly in the office. And a whole bunch of what I need to do to get paid work also happens in the office.

So, if I’m not careful, I let the manager’s schedule take over my week, I’m super-busy but I don’t really get any paid work done, or proper prospecting.

So, here’s to grabbing my calendar again and making sure I put enough “maker days” into each of my weeks. And here’s to saying “no” firmly but gently when asked to interrupt one of my “maker days”. Even if I’m the person I need to say no to.

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Learning to Have an Office [en]

[fr] C'est étrange pour moi d'avoir un "bureau", maintenant que l'ECLAU est en fonction. Mon salon est à moitié vide maintenant que j'ai descendu de deux étages bureau et étagères, et j'avoue avoir un peu de peine à trouver mes marques (le chat également). Je suis par contre ravie de l'esprit qui règne déjà dans l'espace coworking. On est une chouette équipe et je me réjouis de voir qui va venir s'y adjoindre!

With the opening of the coworking space in the basement of my building, I am now learning to live with an office.

Eclau 5 - settling down even more

This first week has of course involved a lot of settling down, but already, I have a few comments to make.

I didn’t imagine how disruptive it would be for me to have all this “extra space”. I’m the person renting the space downstairs, so in a way it’s “mine” (even if it’s shared — I have the lease, and provide a service to the other people who use the space). So, all of a sudden, instead of “having” a flat (“having” because in Switzerland, you rent, you don’t buy — unless you’re settling down for life), I “have” a flat and this space downstairs which is actually bigger than my flat, and which a bunch of other people will be using too.

I like that bit. I like the idea of creating a space where people are welcome to hang out and drop in and work regularly. I brought a whole bunch of my books downstairs (many of them my “recommended reading”) and I’m really excited to be able to share it with the other coworkers like that. Somebody bought biscuits and fruit juices, so we’re starting to have a little stock of shared snacks — all this will be a bit more organised later on, but the spirit is right.

Moving away from the “coworking” bit, what is changing for me now that I have an “office”?

  • my flat is in chaos, as I have emptied half my living-room (desk and bookcase) and swapped the old drawers in my room for a newer set (most of the furniture for the space actually comes from my Dad’s house, which he has emptied to rent out)
  • I’m working at a desk now most of the time, rather than sitting on a mattress as I am now
  • I like having a desk, but I miss the mattress/floor moments. I have half a mind to set up something similar downstairs — maybe move the couches and create some “ground space” in the corner near the windows?
  • I spend my day in a room with people, rather than alone. Even though we work independantly, that’s a lot of interaction for me compared to my “usual” days. I realise I’ve become quite a recluse.
  • neither Bagha nor I have really found our balance — he comes downstairs with me and has adopted the sofa, but I realise he needs to spend time in the flat (which is “his home”), and by extension, I realise it’s the same for me
  • I think having a separate working place is going to help me “not work” — and like now, feel relaxed enough to blog or do “other stuff” online (or even offline!!) in the evenings
  • I’m eating at more “normal” hours — because I see other people go off or unpack their picnics at noon, and so I go and eat shortly after too

I’m looking forward to seeing how things evolve during the next weeks. I’m off to the mountains tomorrow, all the more because I’ve been on the verge of cancelling all week (too much to do!), which really shows how much I need a break. I’ll be back on Thursday.

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Etre malade quand on enseigne [fr]

Avant d’être enseignante, j’ai travaillé dans le secteur privé. J’avais un joli salaire, je bossais 4 jours par semaine (80%), je sortais régulièrement en semaine. Arriver au boulot un peu fatigué quand on travaille dans un bureau, c’est pas top, mais au pire on n’est pas très productif. Idem lorsqu’on est malade: soit on reste à  la maison et le travail n’avance pas, soit on va quand même travailler et on fait de son mieux.

Quand on enseigne, tout ça devient très différent. Pour commencer, on travaille plus et on est payé moins (eh oui!) Je sais, on a plein de vacances, mais on en a besoin (j’vous jure!) et on choisit pas quand on les prend. Manque de pot, elles tombent toujours durant les vacances scolaires…

Ensuite, je crois qu’on n’imagine pas, si on ne l’a jamais fait, à  quel point il faut être en forme pour enseigner valablement. On peut plus ou moins faire le zombie au bureau si on n’est pas dans son assiette, mais essayez seulement de faire le zombie devant une classe d’ados! Donc, si on est en train de couver quelque chose, pas question de se laisser aller. Il faut faire tourner le moteur à  plein régime et assurer.

On n’est vraiment pas bien? On songe à  se faire porter pâle? On hésite… Oui, on hésite, parce que d’une part il faut préparer le travail que feront les élèves pendant qu’on se bourre de PrétuvalC ou de NéoCitran, et d’autre part, on sait que les choses seront toujours plus mal faites par le remplaçant que soi-même (malgré toute la bonne volonté de ce premier). Il faut souvent reprendre une bonne partie de la matière quand on revient. L’équation commence à  prendre forme? Arrêt maladie = plus de travail. Ce n’est pas parce qu’on est malade que l’école s’arrête de tourner et que les élèves rentrent chez eux (quoique parfois, devant la pénurie de remplaçants…)

On attend donc en général que notre état soit bien avancé pour en arriver à  cette solution de dernier recours: se faire remplacer. (En plus, parfois c’est un collègue avec des heures de blanc qui s’y colle, et on sait tous à  quel point c’est désagréable…) Mais une fois qu’on est vraiment bien assez malade pour se faire remplacer — c’est-à -dire qu’on n’est plus capable de grand-chose — il faut encore préparer le remplacement! Eh oui!

C’est trop cool, prof, comme métier. Tant qu’on ne tombe pas malade.

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