Work Life Balance – or the Puppy Pomodoro Technique

Work Life Balance

A decent work / life balance has been uppermost in my mind recently.

It’s been three weeks since we picked up the puppies, and in those three weeks I’ve finished off a large editing project, taken on and finished a small proofreading job, started a small copy-editing and writing job, accepted two new book copy-edits and given out a few quotes.

It’s all very comfortable and very interesting. I’ve staggered my work to fit my life.

Ok, I’ll never reach the heady heights of the rich and famous, but I know I can comfortably fit work around my life, and not the other way around.

I knew these first couple of months were going to have to be ‘comfortable’ as getting one puppy is hard work, and having two is ever so slightly worse.

So, for a bit of personal interest (hey, I’m not interesting but you may find this enlightening), I’ve approximated my last few, mad, weeks into one generic day.

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6.30 a.m. The puppies wake up and bark to let me know they need a pee. I drag my sorry ass out of bed and go and let them out of their crate. There are two gorgeous faces peering up at me, at least I think they’re gorgeous. I’m really not a morning person, so after 6 hours sleep (if I’m lucky) I can barely focus on their cute corgi faces. Ok, honesty time – after barely 6 hours sleep they’re cute but ever so slightly demonic. Less demonic, though, than two weeks ago when it was a 3 a.m. pee call.

7.00 a.m. I give up on going back to bed, so through blurry morning eyes I pick up my iPad and read up on some coursework (until I can afford to do my creative writing MA I’m carrying on with OU courses – Design Thinking is what I’m studying at the moment).

8.00 a.m. Feed the pups, get washed and dressed before popping them back in their crate and driving my husband to work.

9.00 a.m. Make myself a pot of industrial strength coffee, fire up the laptop and see what my email is looking like (generally about a dozen or so emails from retailers telling me what I absolutely must buy today or else face FOMO and become terminally depressed with the state of my life). Delete those idiot emails about things I can’t afford and don’t want, then look over the remaining interesting ones (if there are any).

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9.30 a.m. Get myself another cup of coffee from the pot and open up my first job of the day. By now the curious corgis are either sleeping after a mad half hour of chasing and trying to eat each other’s faces off, or I’ve managed to distract them with a chew toy or four. Even in the world BC (Before Corgi) I never usually started work until around 10 a.m. (did I mention, I’m not a morning person?).

10.00 a.m. Yaay. The puppies are probably asleep, work starts properly and I seem to be more productive. Possibly because I only have a small work window before the demons are awake again.

12 noon. Lunchtime for the pups. They’re on 4 meals a day at the moment as they’re still little, and they LOVE their food. They jump up and down to get at their bowls: they’ve perfected the ‘sit’ and are learning ‘down’ – but ‘wait’ will have to wait until puppy training as they are too excited.

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12.15 p.m. A quick dive back into work.

1.00 p.m. Lunch. By this stage I’m not bothered about eating, but we mooch around to see what food is in the house. There will probably be a sandwich, or Super Noodles, with not a vegetable in sight (unless you count the vegetables in Branston pickle). There will also be a huge mug of Yorkshire tea … or as I like to call it … tea.

A proper cup of tea

1.30 p.m. Now is the time to try to figure out how to stop teething puppies from barking. We do a little puppy training with treats, let them chase around (preferably without the face eating) and count the days until we can take them out for a proper walk on a pavement and not on our sodden clay garden that’s threatening to turn into a quagmire. There’s usually an accident that needs seeing to – oh, the joys of toilet training when your puppies like to eat their training pads rather than pee on them.

2.00 p.m. Sleepy pups again means getting back to work. I’ll either carry on with what I was doing or switch things up and do something different. If deadlines aren’t too tight I’ll get on with some coursework. More tea is drunk.

If the puppies wake up they become my canine Pomodoro partners. Work comes in 20 minute bursts in-between taking them for a pee, clearing up any accidents and trying to keep them entertained. Their latest love is a Kong filled with a frozen banana, peanut butter and yogurt mixture. The only problem is that I froze the treats in ice cube trays that produce cubes much too large for the Kong opening. The next batch will be made into logs I will meticulously measure (and score!) to ensure I don’t run the risk of slicing my hand open every time I try to cut one in half.

puppy treats

5.00 p.m. Time to feed the corgis again and wind down work.

5.30 p.m. The pups are crated and off I go to pick hubby from work.

As I’m not doing panto this year (oh, my, God, it is so strange not being out at rehearsals all the time) my evenings are fairly mundane.

6.00 p.m. Figure out what to cook everyone for tea, start cooking and probably try to tidy up some of the mess that has accumulated. My house is a total, complete mess and will never get any better until everyone else pitches in or I win the lottery and buy a bigger house. This is my only puppy-free time of the day. While I’m cooking I’ll either read up on coursework or watch Jenna Marbles videos on YouTube.

7.00 p.m. Eat tea and watch some TV. We’ve just finished the Miss Fisher Mysteries on Netflix, so it’s now Scorpion or Zumbo’s Just Desserts. I have Zumbo’s cookbook and have never had the time to set aside a day for making any of his creations, so I like to watch cookery programmes and pretend I’ll someday get the time to devote to exciting cooking.

The rest of the evening is spent on social media or doing various work-related bits and bobs, while trying to figure out, again, how to stop teething puppies from eating each other’s faces off and/or barking all the time.

9.00 p.m. Puppies have their supper and go to sleep. But not for long, soon they’re up and bouncing.

my corgi pups

 

12 midnight. Finally, the puppies are put to bed. I spend half an hour getting them settled then get to bed. If I’m really lucky this might happen half an hour earlier. As they’re little, and I’m a bit of a night owl, I figured it’s probably better than putting them, and me, to bed earlier and having to wake up at 3.00 a.m.

I sleep fitfully for, if I’m lucky, 6 hours before groundhog day starts all over again.

So, despite being on puppy duty all day, I’m still managing to work. The Puppy Pomodoro  is working quite well, and as my deadlines are purposely loose at the moment, if my brain starts to turn to jelly I can down tools for a few hours and leave things a while. Just yesterday I watched La La Land on Netflix and actually enjoyed it (although I did have to get up and down numerous times to see to the demons, so will have to watch it again).

I’m now looking to fill up my calendar for the first quarter of 2018, and like a mad woman have ordered a new suite. I have a feeling the Puppy Pomodoro Technique may then require the addition of bubble-wrapping the wooden sofa legs before play resumes – what on earth were we thinking? Contact me if you need your writing polished, or have a copywriting assignment for the new year.

 

5 Steps To Effective Communication

coffee, notebook, notepad, writing

Let’s get things straight.

Writing is a form of communication.

Your English may be perfect, but if you can’t communicate well, your audience is going to give up pretty quickly

So here are a few quick tips for effective communication:

1. Know what you want to say and how you want to say it. Before you write anything make sure you’ve made notes. Get everything down in note form and it will focus your mind to the task in hand. This way you won’t miss anything and it will all become clearer to you before you put pen to paper. Clear objectives make for clearer prose.

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Make it clear, keep them happy

2. Know who your audience is. There’s no point in writing the same thing for a bunch of academics and a load of high school students. Keep the language audience appropriate. If it’s too academic for the reader it will put them off, and you’ll come across as a snob. If it’s too basic, you’ll come across as condescending. Keep your writing at the correct level, and if you don’t know what that is ask around or go look at texts aimed at the same audience.

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don’t make her read your company newsletter

3. Get rid of the jargon. There’s no point in using jargon unless you’re writing for industry professionals, and even then you should try to ditch the jargon. By using jargon you are, right from the beginning, alienating those who aren’t sure what the jargon means.

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ditch the jargon

4. Keep things simple. Plain English is brilliant. No one wants to read something that they can’t understand, so get rid of the arsey language and make your writing something that everyone wants to read. If you mean a ‘bin man’, say a bin man and not a household refuse technician. If you mean ‘wages’ say that and not ‘institutional renumeration packages’. It’s easy to keep things simple if you think about what you’re writing.

tightrope man

reading shouldn’t take that much concentration

5. Break it down. If you have a load of stuff to get across your audience, a great way to communicate effectively is to break it down into digestable pieces. There’s no shame in using lists and bullet points. It’s preferable to a whole heap of long paragraphs that become convoluted and lose their way. Break it down for your audience and they’ll thank you for it.

list

make a list

So, there you go. Five steps to great, effective, simple communication.

If you have any of your own, pop them in the comments.

This blog sponsored by ‘We’re getting puppies and I’m too busy to write a big blog post’.

In association with ‘Orignally written on an ipad, which suddenly deleted the post for no good reason’.

corgi pups cartoon

Musings on the SfEP 2017 conference

SfEP Conference 2017

I wasn’t going to write about the latest SfEP conference.

For the past few years I’ve attended the conference, come back all enthusiastic and waxed lyrical about how fabulous it all is.

But you know what? I am going to tell you all about it, because, well, an SfEP conference shows just how a conference should be.

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Conferences in the past were, for me, spectacularly dull, staid affairs with a lot of blah, blah, blah and very few friendly faces. Everything was very professional but very matter-of-fact and, well, boring.

SfEP conferences, on the other hand, are welcoming, largely informal affairs with lots to learn. Friendly professionals mingle with each other during breaks while searching for coffee or the occasional short-term bid for freedom.

It’s something I look forward to now and would really recommend for every editor and proofreader.

So … this year … I’ll give you the pro and cons. Just to prove that is isn’t always a bed of roses.

bed of roses

I made my way to the get together at Wyboston Lakes, just off the A1 and not far from Cambridge.

Pros: Brilliantly easy to get to. I totally enjoyed my tootle down the road, singing along to my favourite songs and listening out for my new satnav app (don’t worry, it was totally legal, hands-free and away from touchies). Mind you I didn’t actually need the satnav … Wyboston really was just a straight line down the A1 for about 200 miles!

Cons: It rained, and the service stations on the A1 are pretty shit.

traffic in the rain

When I got there the venue was easy to find. Time to unload the car and go to register my presence.

Pros: Who should be there, outside the door, looking glam and unflustered? None other than the lovely Louise Harnby! There’s nothing better than meeting a friend and having a welcome hug when it’s raining and you’re slightly out of your comfort zone.

Cons: The wifi went wonky while we were there. No Tweeting! No checking Facebook. But you know what? I used my data allowance when I had to. No biggie.

welcome sign

Now I could go over the conference in tiny detail, but for the sake of your sanity I should probably just take a few snapshots. We started as usual with the AGM. It must have been the shortest AGM in SfEP history – even the new rates for next year raised few eyebrows. We all ran away pretty quickly for some R&R before drinks and dinner (although some of us, 15 to be precise, descended on Janet’s room for pre-dinner jollity). After dinner our table came third in the pub style quiz. Not the pub quiz, as we weren’t in a pub (come on, we’re a bunch of editorial types, it has to be right). A good time was had by all.

Sunday, and I started the conference off with a quick breakfast (I just don’t do mornings … the extra half-hour in bed was worth it). Oliver Kamm opened the conference with a wonderful talk. I can’t actually remember it in great detail, but it must have been good as I bought his book.

Oliver Kamm, Accidence will happen

Workshop 1 – Phil Mulryne’s session on script editing.

He concentrated on TV script editing and this was the talk I’d been looking forward to most. I’d actually spoken with Phil a few months beforehand. He works for Drama Republic and really knows his stuff and how to communicate that to a room full of editors.

Pros: It was a really interesting, engaging talk with lots of real-life examples of great editing. Having in the last few years been taught to write, as well as edit, scripts I soaked up all the information and thought it was a brilliant start to the weekend. I also now realise that I have to watch both the first and the current series of Dr Foster.

Cons: One of my dreams has now been crushed under foot. I realised that I live too far away from anywhere to ever have the hope of working as a freelance script editor (I’m also probably about twenty years too old). I had to face the facts that I will never be able to commute to a production company and work on a TV script. Don’t weep for me, I’ll live. It’s fine. Really.

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Session 1 – John Espirian’s talk on websites

I love John’s talks. He is such a generous human. He manages to impart knowledge without coming across as a ‘know-it-all’. But secretly I think he might actually know it all. I know my website isn’t working to its full potential, so I thought I’d sit in on this session and learn.

Pros: I learnt a hell of a lot. I took notes. I now have to implement those notes, get case studies, think about an email list (that’s probably never going to happen) and focus on my brand identity.

Cons: I now have to implement those notes, get case studies, think about an email list (that’s probably never going to happen) and focus on my brand identity.

light bulb moment

After John’s session I actually managed to fit in two productive things during the one-hour coffee break (and didn’t have any coffee). We had a meeting of the new SfEP Ambassadors (of which I’m one) and I nipped into a session on upgrading membership. I’m most of the way towards gaining Advanced Professional membership of the SfEP, I just need to get the hours together. If you want to help me get my hours up contact me about your project (see John, a call-to-action on my blog!).

Session 2 was all about getting the most from directory listings, something that’s quite useful for freelancers as we need to be visible to actually attract clients. I’m so grateful to Andrea Kay for giving up her space for me and swapping sessions. Now I’m not in a lot of directories, perhaps I should be (my SfEP directory listing is here, thanks for asking), but the workshop was very useful.

Conference programme

Sunday night saw the Gala Dinner, on THE best table with Beth who coordinated the conference. We had lots of laughs and were in the best position to hear the Linnets sing (editors can sing too!), listen to David Crystal give another wonderful after-dinner speech (I never get bored of listening to this brilliant man) and see Louise Harnby win the Judith Butcher Award for her ‘highly visible contributions to the SfEP and its membership’. Well deserved it was too, she’s marvellous.

well done

Monday started with Workshop 2 – Emma Darwin’s ‘Working with fiction and creative non-fiction and their writers’. Now this was a refresher for me, but brought up some interesting new slants. I loved Emma’s psychic distance exercise, and will probably use it in my own writing. It’s good to listen to different speakers talk about the same subject – just as every reader will have a unique reading experience, every workshop brings something new to the mix.

Session 3 – Lightning Talks. Lightning talks are fun. I love listening to people talk for five minutes on a diverse range of subjects. Highlights for me this year were Howard’s talk (who knew Elvis was so eloquent?) and Abi’s look at office spaces. I’ve always wanted a white, minimalist, office space with flowers for colour emphasis and shelves of tidiness (never, ever going to happen). Oh, and I did a talk myself on cartoons, which seemed to go down ok.

How a cartoon course saved my sanity

Loulou Brown’s biography workshop (session 4) was the other talk I’d really been looking forward to, and was the last of the conference. I’ve worked on a few biographies this year, and it’s one of my favourite types of book. I love biographies and autobiographies. Loulou has worked on so many I was fascinated. I’d love to be like her when I grow up.

Pros: The whole talk was wonderful. Plus I came away confident that my work on biography is clear, concise and knowledgeable. She also emphasised the point that unlike other editing work, biography can be all consuming and takes a lot longer. I do find myself underestimating the time it takes to work on this type of material, so I now know that this is normal and I’ll try not to do it in the future.

Cons: The session was too short. I could have listened to Loulou talk about Richard Burton all afternoon. Seriously, she worked on a Burton biog. Jealous.

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So the conference was almost over. Just time for the closing lecture by Mark Forsyth. Another witty, enjoyable talk that held the whole room captivated. And then it was all over. Time to drag my sorry ass out of the venue and start the long drive back.

My overall thoughts on the weekend and what I learned?

  • Beth and her team did a wonderful job. The venue was easy to get to and comfortable. Unless you were blessed with an executive room, (which I wasn’t), the layout was pretty compact and easy to navigate.
  • I loved meeting all my friends, (and getting to know some new ones), and having a few days to speak with real humans, learn new stuff and generally get away from the day-to-day life I sometimes love and sometimes hate. It was great to finally meet some SfEPers who I’d talked at length with, but never met ‘in the flesh’ (urgh, what a horrible phrase, why did I use it?).
  • I only had one uncomfortable moment, at breakfast on Monday, when I found myself on my own being joined by a few people who knew each other. I’m probably scary first thing (remember, I don’t do mornings), I didn’t know them and they ignored me, so I just ate up and left. Come on, that’s pretty good going. I remember one genealogical conference where hardly anyone made eye contact or spoke to anyone else for most of the weekend. Now THAT was a fun time!
  • I learned that it isn’t compulsory to drink your bodyweight in coffee (I didn’t say I didn’t do it, just that it isn’t compulsory).
  • I also learned a lot from the sessions I attended. I wish I could have gone to them all (it’s a pain having to choose only 6 out of 30 possible sessions), but there’s always next year for choosing something different.

This was a great weekend getaway, with brilliant company and interesting workshops.

  • I learned that there’s no point in worrying over what you wear. I nearly stayed in my room instead of going to the gala dinner. I’d brought the wrong boots, I looked fat in my dress and I really wasn’t feeling up to it. Eventually I took a deep breath, walked the walk and met Eleanor for drinkies. No one gave two hoots as to what I was wearing. We all had fun!
  • I learned I can actually give a talk and not pass out.
  • I learned I can actually have a mini-asthma attack thanks to a chest cold (sorry for the coughing everyone) and still give a talk five minutes later and not pass out.

Finally …

I learnt that it’s very, very dangerous to go and meet puppies on the journey down to the conference. There will be two new additions to our family in a few weeks time. Why adopt one when two are just as much fun?

corgi pups cartoon