Bullet Journals Arent Too Shabby

Pink journal, notebook

How do you organise your working notes?

Do you use Word docs, notepads or lots of pieces of paper? Or perhaps you use desk planners, whiteboards, wall calendars, big diaries, little diaries or the calendar on your phone or computer. There’s also the floor, the wall, the dog and anything you can stick Post-it notes to, or attack with a sharpie.

Keeping track can be a bloody nightmare.

Personally I’ve always wanted one of those clear stand-up walls that you see in those CSI type programmes – what the hell do you even call them? I Googled ‘clear stand-up perspex board for writing on like CSI’ and it came up with nothing. Nada. So I extended my search to include anywhere in the world and Google came up with instructions on how to actually make one! Yaas! It also had a link to the ACTUAL company that makes the real deal, the ones you see in the crime series … but it’s in America … and I seriously can’t afford one of those beauties.

markerboard Numbers

I will never understand the numbers, but would love a markerboard.

I just don’t have the room (or the cash), or believe me, I’d have one!

Anyway, I digress. Keeping track can be a pain.

I know some of my colleagues use online trackers, or excel spreadsheets.

Some use Toggl for tracking time, but I have a spreadsheet I’ve set up that works just as well. I just open the timesheet for the job I’m working on and with one click I start tracking my billable hours and I can see how long I’ve worked on a certain part of the project at a glance.

But what I’m talking about is the time-tracking that shows you what jobs you have lined up, where you are with each job and what you need to do each day, week or month.

Some people use Trello or Evernote and they look pretty good, if you like everything on the computer. But I spend ALL DAY on the computer. Honestly, some days I can be staring at a screen from 9 am–10 pm, not always working (no-one can work for that length of time) but always plugged in.

I need something physical, that I can carry with me, that I can touch.

And that’s where my newest fad comes in.

Everyone has heard of them by now, so it will come as no surprise to you that I have made myself a bullet journal.

image

My journal, at the beginning, when I had a week off.

If you haven’t heard of them, basically a bullet journal is a notebook that you customise with months, weeks and days, a bit like a traditional diary. But you put in the details that are most useful to you. I’ve got a section to see at a glance what work I have lined up, there’s a page or two for useful websites (you know, the ones you write down on the nearest envelope, which is promptly lost when you need it), and for writing ideas.

I know, I know … you’re probably thinking what I thought – duh, it’s just a diary with room for notes. But actually, the way you customise that blank notebook makes it useful to YOU. It’s yours to do with what you will, and you can customise it to get the most out of it.

It’s a stupidly simple idea. Someone just had to put a name to it to give us the newest productivity fad. That person was Ryder Carroll, and you can check out the system on his website.

Strangely enough though, it works and although I’ve only had mine since mid-January, it’s something I’m finding incredible useful. There are pros and cons though:

Pros of a bullet journal

  • Forget reaching for your laptop, your journal is right there beside you so you can quickly pick it up and see where you are, add notes, or just admire the colour (I picked a cheerful cerise for mine).
  • It unplugs you, even for a little while. It grounds you in the real world.
  • No more searching for bits of paper/envelopes/bills that you’ve written on. Everything can be put in your journal.
  • It’s more personal than a computer app. Pick a nice journal that appeals to you and set it out in a way that works for you. Use colour, or just a ballpoint. Use tape, stickers, ribbon bookmarks, doodle in it, write randomly in it, just make it yours.
  • Everything is all in one place. This, for me, is the most important. Instead of hunting for notes, to-do lists, my calendar, important things that I need to remember and work incoming and due dates, it’s all there in one little book. It organises my tired little mind.

Cons of a bullet journal

  • If you are hooked up to your phone you may have everything you need right there (it’s just not as pretty or tactile).
  • Forget about all the pretty bullet journal images you see on Pinterest. Seriously. Unless you are supremely arty, have a few days to play with it, or like to use lots of stickers and washi tape, you are never going to get it looking as nice as those YouTubers do.
  • You need to take time at the beginning to set out your journal and write bits in there. In our times of instant gratification this could get you annoyed (I dashed mine out and you can tell. It’s not pretty).
  • You start getting journal envy when you see all the lovely variations out there. If you’re a perfectionist you might want to throw it away and start again, to make it pretty, or more useful.
  • Unlike a computerised to-do list, once it’s written down it’s there. If you aren’t careful it can become a messy blob of coloured pen.

Whether you have a bullet journal or not, the most important thing is to be able to keep track of your work and your time. I just like the fact that it’s a notebook. I like notebooks.

I’m forever grateful to my colleagues for showing me this new shiny way of keeping up with my world, and for this Buzzfeed article for breaking it down for me.

Now that you’ve heard how useful they can be, why not watch the video by the master, and let Ryder show you how to make one:

Have you jumped on the bullet journal fad? Do you find it better than all the computerised bits and bobs or do you find it hard to pull away from the technology?

A Five-Step Business Communication Model

business, freelance, communication

 

Good communication is important.

Great communication is desirable

Bad communication can be bad for business.

 

This week I’ve come across all three.

A lovely example of great communication came from a large retail company. In July I bought a USB cable for my iPad. By October it had stopped working. It took me two months to get to Inverness, so I duly took the cable … and couldn’t find my receipt. Bugger – no receipt usually means no replacement. But a lovely lad in Stormfront treated me well, he explained that I had plenty of time (there’s a three year warranty) and that if I’d lost my receipt I could take in a bank statement, as long as it showed the correct amount and that it was paid to the store all would be well. I bought the cable in Stirling. No problem, he said.

Yesterday I managed to get back to Inverness, with a one line statement from my bank. Another lovely chap was pleasant, polite and within minutes I had my new cable. No quibble, no hassle. And a new receipt should this cable prove problematic.

You may think that’s just normal customer service, but believe me it’s not. It was a breath of fresh air. As a result I have a new cable, the shop has a new customer (I’ll definitely be going back) and I’d recommend them to anyone.

thumbs up, great service

In total contrast, another company proved so bad on my trip in December that I ditched them there and then and found a company to replace them. Let’s just say it was a large communications company who can’t communicate for toffee. I was stopped from going into the shop as there was a ‘queuing system’ and I had to report to an employee before being allowed to enter (despite there being no queue and no notice of one), and when I did see an assistant he proved so rude and uninterested in my problem that I made up my mind there and then to finally take my business elsewhere. I’m still waiting for the refund the assistant said he would process ‘later on, if I remember’. Great service, eh?

This week’s bad communication wasn’t actually so bad when I think back to December.

cross, bad service

The difference between keeping a customer and losing one can simply boil down to how you treat them. I’m sure many of you have stayed with a provider because, although they may not be the best in the world, they are a pleasure to deal with.

When running your freelance business, you strive to be the best you can be, but how you deal with clients has a huge impact.

It’s true, there are clients from hell who are demanding and those that don’t really know what they want, as well as lovely clients you relish working with, but you have to communicate with them as best you can. And don’t forget – they have to deal with you too!

editor hiding

How to communicate and stay sane.

Putting in order the way you communicate with clients can help streamline your freelance business and keep stress at bay. But I’ll freely admit, sometimes I stray from the path – each client is an individual and sometimes, just sometimes, a more informal form of communication is needed.

The five step process:

  1. Stop talking and listen

The first thing to do when you are contacted by a client is to ‘hear’ what the client is saying, and in what language. Do they comfortably use jargon or are they unsure even when using everyday language? Listen to what your client is asking for and then translate it into what your client is actually asking for. Even if you communicate by email, ‘listen’. You are the professional so use your professional intuition to get to the real meaning of what they want.

2. Ask questions

Don’t assume you know the answer to those questions that you do need to ask. Follow up on what your client is asking for.

Ask about things like:

project scope,

timeframe,

who else is working on the project,

what has already been done,

budget.

3. Establish (and manage) expectations

When talking with a new, or returning, client you have to establish what service you will provide and what you won’t. This is one way of trying to put a halt to scope creep (but let’s admit it, it just ain’t that easy!).

Once you have established what is needed, get in writing what is expected from both sides, even if that’s just in an email. Make it very clear what you will be providing and what you won’t. Mention that anything extra will incur charges. I repeat, get it in writing.

But don’t forget what you expect from the client; give them details of your payment terms and methods, and send them your terms and conditions if you have any (although I must admit, with individual clients rather than companies, my T&Cs can be informal – I’ll do this and in return you pay me this).

However you do it, you must manage expectations or you can end up doing extra, at no charge, or the client can come back unimpressed when they don’t get what they expected.

delivery guy

4. Establish (and manage) delivery

When arranging delivery with a client you both have to be very clear on when the job will be coming in and being delivered.

              This is one of the biggest problems publishing freelances tend to have.

It’s not uncommon for a job to be booked in and the project timeframe to slide. Before you know it the job is expected to come in a few weeks late, you are left without work in the meantime and the delivery date does not change. This leaves the freelance trying desperately to meet unrealistic deadlines, working long hours and juggling jobs when the next project is on time.

Try to have something set in place for when delivery doesn’t happen. If possible have it in writing that if delivery is late either the deadline will be extended, or there will be increased renumeration. But remember, shit happens, so each project should be looked at on an individual basis, even if your contract states how late delivery will be dealt with.

Don’t forget it works both ways. Don’t commit to unrealistic deadlines and if something happens to affect when a project will be delivered, tell the client as soon as possible.

5. Ask for feedback

Heavens, this is the difficult one!

I hate asking for testimonials and feedback, mainly because it’s like trying to get blood out of a stone. However, it’s something freelances need to do, so a bit of perseverance is needed. Ask for feedback on your invoice, in your correspondence or via a feedback form.

Unlike 9–5ers we don’t get job appraisals or yearly performance reviews, so part of good communication is to ask for feedback in whatever way you feel most comfortable.

communication

Communication is never going to be easy; there will always be something to watch out for when dealing remotely with clients, but following these five simple steps will hopefully make work easier. Stop talking and listen, ask questions, establish (and manage) expectations, establish (and manage) delivery, ask for feedback.

How do you deal with client communication? Is there something I’ve forgotten? If so let me know in the comments below.

 

 

Safe Environments for Boosting Confidence

confidence rocket

Let’s follow on from last week’s post about confidence.

This week we ramp it up a little and talk about how to gain professional confidence when you sit on your own all day and the only people you talk to are those annoying individuals calling from fake call centres – the ones who want to help you with your Windows setup or your internet access (with apologies to all those poor sods who actually have to work in legitimate call centres for a living).

It’s bloody hard to remain confident when you’ve finished your training and you’re on your own. Staring at the dog. Wondering if you really did get a brilliant score on your final assessment or whether it was actually intended for the person one above you in the student database.

You may have recently completed your training, or you might have been following your freelance dream for a while, but lack of confidence creeps in and once it’s grabbed you it can make itself comfortable and stay for a while. If you don’t hit it on the head it’ll invite imposter syndrome to come and join the party. Then you’re screwed.

help and support

There’s one very good way to get that confidence back … find yourself a safe, nurturing environment where you can talk with other professionals. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy and these days you don’t even need to leave the house. Find what’s best for you and, once you’ve got over the initial introductions, you’ll know that you are among friends.

Now, this isn’t rocket science, but it’s worth looking at.

He’s my list of safe environments:

 

  • Facebook groups

Closed groups are best but open groups can be useful too. Groups allow us all to have a whinge when we need it, ask ‘stupid’ questions when our brains are tired, and share our triumphs when they happen. A closed group allows its members to feel comfortable that the outside world is kept at bay and won’t see their conversations.

Pros – You can get validation, or answers, from a huge number of people from all walks of freelance life, and from all over the world. If you join a subject specific group you can spend time with your peers, from newbies to old hands, and benefit from group wisdom.

Cons – They can be a little judgemental at times, but the best are moderated well.

 

  • LinkedIn groups

Erm. Well. One day I may find a decent one where there is no tumbleweed, snarking or adverts for useless crap, but people do seem to benefit from LinkedIn groups. The trick is finding one that works for you.

Pros – Again, there is a huge number of people on LinkedIn so there’s potential to talk with professionals in your field living all over the world. Who knows, you may even get some work from contacts you make there.

Cons – Apart from the tumbleweed, snarking and adverts for useless crap, the main con is the difficulty in finding a group that works for you.

internet icons

 

  • Society forums

For me these are invaluable. You are among friends, you all abide by the same rules and there are very few snarks. The groups are also fairly small and concentrated around your professional society so they can do wonders for your confidence levels.

Pros – There aren’t so many people that the conversations are hard to keep track of, but enough people hanging around to talk to when you may need it. Often there are subforums that concentrate on one type of professional area so you can get straight to the point if you need help.

Cons – You can end up nipping in and spending hours hanging around the forums when you should be working.

 

  • Peer reviews

So this is where a group of you get together to help each other, either online or in *gulp* real life. You can share work and ask for feedback, or all work on the same material and see how your work differs from each other. Peer reviews are a safe environment … for the brave.

Pros – It’s very liberating to see how different people approach work. It makes you realise that there’s more than one way to handle your work, and by talking it through you can get validation that your way is just as valid as everyone else’s.

Cons – It really isn’t for the nervous. While peer reviews offer a safe environment it does take guts to sit with your fellow professionals and talk things through.

 

  • Mentoring

If you can get a mentor, they can be amazing. Get one either through a formal process, such as the SfEP mentoring process, or approach a fellow professional who you admire and who you know will be receptive.

Pros – You will be guaranteed a no-bullshit, straight to the point dialogue with a seasoned professional in your field. If you are doing something incorrectly they will tell you.

Cons – Mentors can be expensive, unless you are really lucky and manage to come to an agreement. You need to find someone that you gel with as there’s nothing worse than a personality clash with a mentor.

freelance high five

OK, we may not high-five when we meet up, but editors do like a good get together.

  • Local groups

Joining a local professional group can be amazing. You get to meet face-to-face every month or so, often over lunch or a drink in the local hostelry, and chat with fellow professionals. This is a social occasional as well as a professional one, so can be a very informal form of networking.

Pros – A nice, informal environment where you can learn, ask questions and chat with your peers. Often there are workshops or group peer reviews, but on the whole it’s a very informal affair.

Cons – Getting there. If, like me, you live miles away from anywhere or if you rely on public transport/babysitters/getting up the gumption to move, you may find it difficult getting to, or scheduling in, local group meetings.

 

  • Conferences

My final safe environment. Conferences can be costly but are so worth it. You get to meet people you’ve spoken with over social media, forums and Facebook. You get to meet people you’ve never met and you get to meet up with old friends.

It’s scary but I can’t stress enough how much good going to a conference will do you. Don’t stress over what to wear – hell I gave that up years ago. Be comfortable and be yourself. At a conference no one gives two figs about what you’re wearing or that you’ve come armed with an industrial sized notepad and a year’s supply of Haribo.  Get to a conference. If you are nervous, tell people! They probably are too.

Pros – Conferences are safe environments in which to learn, network and gain validation that you are the same as every other freelancer out there. You are pulled out of your comfort zone safely, among friends and will get the chance to drink lots of coffee with other nervous freelancers. The food is usually good too.

              Cons – They can be costly once you add up conference costs, travel, accommodation and time off work.

 

 

So there you have my confidence-enhancing safe environments for freelancers. I’ll bet I’ve missed some too, so feel free to tell me your confidence tricks in the comments below.