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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"Have-to" Posts and "Want-to" Posts [en]

[fr] Quand je blogue, il y a les articles que je "dois" écrire, souvent de nature informative: annoncer des événements, par exemple. Il y a également les articles que je "veux" écrire, où je partage des réflexions, des idées, ou des choses sympas.

I was about to blog about something else when I realised one thing that is bothering me about this whole “blogging more” theme that I’ve been talking (and thinking) about a lot over the last year (or is it years, actually?)

Blogging, for me, is divided into “have-to” posts which I write to inform my readers of something, and “want-to” posts which I write because I’m thinking about something or what to share something cool I’ve done or seen.

Informative blog posts are the part of blogging which really feels like work. For example, telling you that eclau is one year old, that you can listen to me on the radio (again!), that the blogger accreditation form is open (it’s closed now, sorry) — and also most of the stuff I publish on the Bloggy Friday blog, the eclau blog, the Coworking Léman blog, and used to write on the Going Solo blog.

It’s like creating facebook events and groups, sending messages to mailing-lists, promoting happenings and projects, my stuff or other people’s stuff, left, right, and centre.

It’s work. Nice work, but clearly, work. And most of the time, it’s time-sensitive, so at one point it gets this “have to do it now” or “oops I’ll be in trouble if I don’t do it” flavour (which is probably what makes it feel like work). These are the “have-to” posts.

Given what my job is, the other kind of blogging I do (the “thinking” posts, or the “sharing” ones) is of course also part of my work. But it feels more optional. There are no real time constraints. It doesn’t feel like work. This is the kind of blogging that (I think) I became known for, and that I prefer. These are the posts that I want to write more of. Like musings on the evolution of the web social sphere, a 50-word story titled “Love”, giving 80% for free as a marketing model, or talking about new toys I’m discovering like a bunch of Twitter tools, Fluid and Prism, or Google Wave. These are the “want-to” posts.

Confusing the two, or not making the distinction, has led me to be frustrated with my blogging at times: if what I feel I want to do more of is “want-to” posts, and I spend half a day writing “have-to” posts, then of course I won’t really feel like I’ve been “blogging more”. My “have-to” posts also tend to get in the way of my “want-to” posts, because if I keep a list of things I want (need?) to blog about (in my head or elsewhere) I have not, until now, separated the two types of posts.

So from now on, “have-to” posts will go on my next-actions-todo list, and “want-to” posts will go on my “things I want to write about” list. We’ll see if understanding this changes anything.

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When You Can't Afford to Take a Break… [en]

[fr] Quand on est tellement stressé et occupé qu'on ne peut pas se permettre de prendre une pause ou des vacances... c'est là qu'il faut vraiment le faire. Apprenez à reconnaître ce signal d'alarme et à l'écouter!

…that’s when you really need to take one.

I’ve seen this time and time again, in me and others. The clearest warning sign that one is doing “too much” and needs to take a break, a day off, or even a vacation is this feeling that one has no time to do so.

The few times in my life when I’ve come near to breaking down from too much work and stress, there was the common feeling: “I really could do with a break, but there is no way I can take one now.”

To help gain some perspective, imagine that you fall so ill you can’t work, or get in an accident that lands you at hospital for 3 weeks (my experience is also that when you really need a break, there is a risk you might find a creative way to give yourself one).

So, next time you feel you’re so swamped you really can’t afford to take a break… listen to that warning signal, cancel some commitments, renegotiate that deadline, and take that break!

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Working Too Much or Not Enough? [en]

[fr] J'ai souvent du mal à savoir si je travaille trop ou pas assez. Mon entourage me donne les deux retours.

I’m very bad at evaluating how much I work. Not in the sense that I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent in the office or on a given project (I know how to look at the clock and add up, even if I don’t usually bill for my time) — but more as in I don’t really know if I’m slacking or “working hard”.

There are days where I feel that I have been working hard for weeks or months. But then there are others where I look at my lifestyle and find it pretty relaxed, overall.

People around me also have differing opinions: sometimes I get the feedback that I should take my work more seriously (“work harder!”) and sometimes — more often, I have to admit — I get amazement or admiration for the amount of things I’m doing.

I guess this ambivalence in my auto-evaluation reflects an ambivalence in my attitude towards work. Part of me has a heavy workaholic streak (I can get “lost” in work easily, and tend to be a little obsessive and perfectionist, which results in difficulty stopping once I get started) but another part of me strongly resists working a lot and wants to have free time and a leisurely pace of life (that was already the case when I was in school: good enough grades, but never really liked studying too hard).

And in the end, what is working “enough”? I think there are cultural standards here, and that “working hard” in the US (for example) is not exactly the same thing as “working hard” here in Europe.

Thoughts?

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There is Work and Work [en]

We freelancers know it: there are many kinds of work. Non-freelancers probably know it too, but let’s stick to the freelance way of life for the sake of this article.

There is work that gets you paid. There is work that doesn’t get you paid, but that you need to do in order to get the work that will get you paid.

There is also work that you have decided to do and planned, and work that you just happen to do.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the last distinction lately.

Three years ago, I had a big client project and was going through a slow procrastinative summer. At one point, I decided to stop worrying and embrace my summer days: I would work from 9am to noon and then would be free to do whatever I wanted.

It worked really well. I made quick progress on the project and got to enjoy my summer.

This year, I’m having a slow summer too. The weather is nice, people are on holiday, I’m learning to sail, and I’m not swamped with work (I am busy with lots of things, though, I think that’ll never change). And honestly, when I look at my productivity certain most days, I might not be working less if I had decided to do the 9-12.

Deciding to work 9-12 does not mean that I stop myself from working in the afternoons. It means that I don’t have to work in the afternoons. And this is where the work you plan and the work that just happens comes in.

I rediscovered this when I started working in my coworking space, eclau: office hours started to be devoted to “things I had to do” for work, and sometimes, in the evenings or week-ends, I would do some light work that I felt like doing (work that doesn’t feel like work). Blogging, for example. Fooling around online. Sometimes, even doing my accounting because I felt like it. But nothing because I felt I ought to do it.

So, next year, I’m thinking of trying the 9-12 during the summer months. Work well three hours, then do something else or allow myself to be completely unproductive in the afternoon.

Hell, why wait until next year? I’m starting tomorrow.

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To Be or Not to Be a New Media Strategist [en]

For years now (since I became self-employed, and maybe even before) I’ve been struggling to define myself and what I do. There are two main components to this problem, as I see it:

  • working in a fast-moving, cutting-edge field, where I’m creating my job and job description as I go along, and boldly going where none have gone before (haha)
  • inside that field, having a bit of a “generalist specialist” profile, which means that I do tons of different things which don’t always seem to go together (talk about teenager/education issues online; give strategic advice to startups; install blogs and teach people how to use them; etc)

Now, along my freelancing career, I’ve called myself a bunch of things (non-exhaustive list following):

  • blogging consultant
  • social sofware consultant
  • social media consultant
  • web consultant and commentator
  • 2.0 consultant

More recently, I more or less dropped the whole title thing, going for taglines like “I help you understand the internet better” and even giving up almost entirely before Lift09 and having “Online Person” written on my badge.

So, again: part of the problem is me (and my issues with defining myself) and another is the field in which I am. High tech and social media is a bubbly field. An expression is hot one day and cold the other. Hot in some circles, passé in others.

Take “blogging consultant”: when I started out, there were hardly any blogging consultants around. A year or so later, everybody and his dog who knew how to set up WordPress suddenly started calling themselves that. I remember talking to a friend some years ago: his company had hired a “blogging consultant” and we were both appalled at the kind of advice he was giving and things he was doing.

So at some point, to distance myself from such people (newcomers clearly more intent in blinding their clients with buzzwords), I stopped calling myself a “blogging consultant”.

Basically, it’s been more or less the same problem for all the titles I’ve tried to wear (like clothes).

Now, back to my own issue: the trouble I have explaining and defining what I do. I had a breakthrough conversation with Florian Egger at the Lift09 party (despite the dreadfully loud music during what was supposed to be a “networking lounge” time slot).

Here’s the image I like to use to explain this breakthrough: what I do could be represented by a tree. There are many branches and leaves, and a trunk. Until then, when I was asked what I did, I would talk about the leaves and the branches, but I never managed to pinpoint what the trunk was. It left an impression that what I was doing was ill-defined, scattered.

I have now understood that the trunk of what I do is new media-related strategic consulting, thanks to Florian who made me go through example after example of what I did, concluding each one with “well, that’s strategy too, if you think of it” — and I’d go “no, it’s not strategy… oh, actually, yes, I see what you mean… it is!”

So, that would make me a New Media Strategist. It sounds nice. And it fits. You know, like when you finally find a pair of trousers that seems to have been stitched for you?

And clearly, being able to say “I do strategic consulting” sounds way better than “well, I know a helluvalot of a stuff about the internet, and all this so-called web2.0 stuff, and I’m really good at explaining it and helping people and companies figure out what the hell they’re going to do with it, and how they can use it, and why it’s interesting for them, and I can give talks, do training, help set blogs up, promote stuff online, coach people on more or less anything social-media related, oh, and give advice, of course, people keep coming to me for advice, you know, and a whole lot of other things…”

See what I mean?

I also realised that until then, the services that I had advertised were my “side-services” — my branches. In a way, I’ve always tried to do the strategic/advisory stuff undercover. Not very satisfying!

So now, the question this post is leading to: is “New Media Strategist” already old and loaded? What does it sound like? Is “everybody” calling themselves that nowadays? (I hope I don’t come across as pretentious because I consider I have a tad more expertise on the subject than newcomers in the field who have been blogging for 18 months and tweeting for 6…)

One could argue that titles don’t mean much, specially in today’s hypernetworked world, where connections are the most important thing in life (aside from drinking water… and even that could be subject to debate). Reputation, that’s what counts.

I disagree. I may be well-known and respected amongst my peers, but given the nature of my job, my clients are usually outside (even very far outside) the social media bubble. A title of some sort gives people a starting-point to figure you out.

“Social Media Consultant”, in my opinion, is dead from overuse and abuse. “New Media Strategist” seems better to me (because I “came up” with it during that discussion — of course I’d probably heard or seen it somewhere before, but it didn’t sound like something that is being thrown all over the place on Twitter et al these days). Or “Social Media Strategist”? What about “Social Media” itself… does that sound too much like an empty buzzword today (just like “Web 2.0”, which I never liked and honestly, was a media/marketing buzzword from the start). And then, for me, is the added issue of translating things in French. “New Media Strategist” doesn’t translate well — neither does “Social Media”, actually.

Lots of questions, as you can see.

Do you have trouble defining what you do? What do you put on your business card? What do you do? I’d love to exchange stories. And, of course, hear what you think about “New Media Strategist” — as a title in general, and to describe me… if you know me, of course. 🙂

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Busy Busy Busy [en]

[fr] Ma vie, cette course.

Two whole days is not enough. It’s the first day, and the last day, and nothing in between. Arrival and departure days do not count.

Next time I come up here, I’ll take a longer break.

I haven’t walked much — the weather isn’t really inviting, and my free access card which lets me use public transport freely in the area is not valid in November. December, hopefully, will be more exciting: some snow, maybe. I’ll be back just before Christmas.

I realised that I haven’t uploaded the photographs of my last trip here. To say the truth, I’ve been horribly busy. Way too horribly busy. At times it seems that I spend my months and years saying that: “I’m busy”. Busy, busy, busy. I always have tons of things to do, and if I don’t, I invent more. I long for a few weeks of leisurely time — India is great for that.

Money is an issue. As a freelancer, I can take time off whenever I want, as long as I can afford it. These days, I can’t say it’s really the case. On the other hand, maybe it’s worth examining how much paid work I actually accomplish each week over the month. It might help me get organised better.

It’s always the same problem: busy, busy, busy, I keep “working” but a lot of it is not directly earning me anything. And often this “work” is not very visible (read Suw’s great article on the nature of work in a knowledge economy), which leaves me with a sense of frustration at the end of it all.

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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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Update From Berlin [en]

[fr] Etat des lieux. Beaucoup à faire, beaucoup à bloguer. J'ai besoin de m'organiser.

So, here I am in Berlin, for another 24 hours or so. I’m giving my talk for the <head> Web Conference this evening at 6pm. You can still buy tickets — it’s an online conference, so there is no commuting involved to attend, and it’s going on today evening and tomorrow too.

I have many blog posts to write, and I don’t know what to start with. One about conference endings (I was very disappointed with the way Web 2.0 Expo fizzled out), one about the opening of ECLAU, the Lausanne Coworking Space (November 3rd I get the keys!), one about the blogger outreach programme for Web 2.0 Expo (it was a huge hit), and a bunch of others that I’ve forgotten about, though I remember myself saying out loud “gosh, I have to write a blog post about this” quite a few times during this trip. Oh, here’s one I just remembered: a blog post on selling wine online, for a Lausanne guy I met at a networking event a few weeks back who was telling me blogs have no role to play in business and that you can’t sell wine online. Oh, and how I read blogs. And others.

As you can probably make out, I’ve got lots of “stuff” going on these days. Good stuff, luckily. Stuff including business opportunities. It’s very encouraging to see that since I’ve been a bit more direct about stating that I need work, things have been picking up. My financial situation is still far from sorted out, but it’s now headed in the right direction. I’m still trying to come to terms with the idea that I can be good at my job whilst being crap at managing finances and actually selling my services. This is some of the stuff I’ll be talking about tonight, by the way.

So, beware, braindump. It makes me feel better, and it’s a way of giving news without really going into the details.

  • send out a newsletter: and to say I was afraid of sending them out too often!
  • write the damn blog posts: as I said above…
  • coworking space: get internet, compose “sign-up” form, draft out house rules, set up blog, set up mailing-list, set up wiki, organise furniture arrival, scare up people to help cleaning, supervise knocking down wall, plan walling out conference room, look at finances
  • work for various clients: a couple of wordpress upgrades, back-to-back meetings all week when I get home, get back to silent ones to make things move forward, get back to people who contacted me during my travels, look at calendar and scream silently…
  • LeWeb blogger accreditation: send codes out to about 200 people, set up mailing-list, hash out details, monitor everything, deal with edge cases (there are always edge cases…)
  • Spread The Tech: not yet announced, keep the ball rolling, wiki + basecamp + blog about it, prepare announcement, start organising…
  • personal: review finances, get organised, prepare travel (yes, more travel), continue working on self-promotion, deal with post-conference business cards (not too many this time, thankfully), catch up on Flickr upload + tagging backlog, blog maintenance like upgrade thesis, remove disqus (?)

There! I’m feeling a little lighter now. Sorry if you didn’t follow everything.

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Stephanie Has a Newsletter [en]

[fr] Voilà, j'ai une newsletter. Je la rédigerai en anglais et en français, et y parlerai principalement de mes activités professionnelles. Je vais certainement radoter, il faut vous y attendre -- mais seulement une à deux fois par mois. Je parlerai aussi des choses que je n'aborde pas dans ce blog. Pourquoi une newsletter? J'y ai longuement réfléchi et écrirai sans doute bien plus à ce sujet dans les semaines à venir.

Je suis curieuse. Quelle est votre réaction? Est-ce que vous vous inscririez à une telle newsletter? Je me réjouis de voir ce que va donner cette expérience.

Taking example on my friend Martin, I decided it was time I had my own newsletter. There’s a lot of thinking behind it which I’ll share here at some point (when I’m less in a hurry).

To answer a few questions:

  • I’ll publish a couple of newsletters per month
  • I’ll talk mainly about my professional life
  • Yes, I might ramble
  • I’ll talk about stuff you won’t find on the blog
  • Not everybody reads blogs, no
  • Yes, you can unsubscribe (it’s managed by Google Groups)
  • Nope, I won’t spam you or give out your e-mail address

If you want to subscribe you can do so using the box below.

Google Groups
Subscribe to Stephanie Booth's Newsletter
Email:

Visit this group

What’s your reaction to this? Would you sign up for such a newsletter, or not — and why?

I’m looking forward to seeing how this experiment goes.

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