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My Favourite Piece of Creativity Advice

There’s a lot of creativity advice out in the world. Most of it is either too general or too weirdly specific to be of much use. There is one piece of advice, however, that works. I imagine you’ve heard this piece of advice over and over again, so much so that you probably don’t really register it anymore.

That advice? Your most creative thinking will happen away from your workspace.

You see: there’s an awful lot of truth in this. Hardly anyone has big ideas sat at their desk. I know I don’t. Whether I’m looking for brand new inspiration or a creative solution to a piece-in-progress, I don’t expect it to come to me when I’m sat tapping away at my laptop.

The of-course-that’s-so-obvious-why-didn’t-I-think-of-that-before ideas and the wow-perhaps-I’m-a-genius ideas come when you’re doing something else. Where they’ll come is unique to you. Some people find they come when they’re doing manual tasks that keep their hands busy but leave their brains idle. Some people find their creative minds work best when they’re exercising. Personally, I like to get out into the fresh air and look at things. I get a lot of ideas in the park, or by the river, or (frequently!) at historical houses.

This past year I’ve spent a lot less time at my desk and a lot more time getting out and about with my daughter. I did worry for a while that it would be difficult to be creative during my first few years as a mum. Luckily, that hasn’t been my experience at all. The time I spend out and about, experiencing new things and enjoying life has fed my creative mind and helped me come up with countless new ideas. Now, if only I could find the time to execute them all…

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Round Up; February 2015

A few highlights from my month;

A few highlights from around the web;

How has your February been?

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The Productivity Tricks that Have Stayed, and The Ones That Haven’t

I’ve blogged a great deal here about productivity tips and tricks. I regularly experiment with new methods, and I often find that they work really brilliantly for a couple of months and then peter out. Others, however, become part of my working routine and stay that way for years at a time. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at a few methods that have worked for me long term, and a few that haven’t.

Short-Lived Productivity Tricks

Daily scheduling using Google Calendar

I got really excited about this at the time. You can read the full explanation of how it worked by clicking the link above, but basically I used Google Calendar to split my working day into blocks and to schedule in what I would do for each one of those blocks. It worked well for a while, and it’s certainly a technique that would be great if you like to work to a strict routine. I, however, am a bit of a maverick and once the novelty wore off I found it tricky to stick to my own self-imposed rules.

The ‘to-done’ list

This was a list I used to write when I finished work on a Friday to highlight all my successes (big and small!) from the week. I still love this idea, but sadly it just isn’t a habit that has stuck. Perhaps this one will come round again…

Daily routines

Last year I had a bit of a switch-around of my work day and started sitting down for an hour in the morning to work on my more long term writing projects. I loved doing this, but sadly I no longer have total freedom over my working day (hello six month old baby!) and I now have to take time as I can get it. I still very much have a daily routine, but out of necessity it has become a lot more flexible.

Habit List

Habit List was an app I used for a long time to keep track of things I wanted to work on daily (I mainly used it to track Yoga practice and work on my novel). Again, I really liked this app… but it became a victim of it’s own success. The idea of visually tracking small daily habits really worked for me, and I’ve now transitioned to a more analogue way of tracking!

Long Term Productivity Tricks

Nozbe

Nozbe is still absolutely my to do list app of choice. I’ve tried a lot of them, but Nozbe is the only one that has worked consistently for me and the way I work. I won’t type out again why I love it so much (you can find that out by clicking the link above) but trust me when I say that I do.

Toggl

It’s been almost two years since I discovered that timing myself while I work makes me considerably more productive. Since then, I’ve been using Toggl to do the timing. This is especially key now that my uninterrupted working time is more limited (and thus more precious). I also use Toggl to keep an eye on how much I’m spending on billable work VS non-billable work.

Inbox Zero

Pre-2012 I kept every single email I ever received in my inbox. Crazy, no?! After I switched domains and email accounts towards the end of that year, I started fresh with the aim of maintaining inbox zero. Let me tell you: I’ve never looked back. My inbox is pleasingly empty and my emails are organised into easy-to-navigate folders. It makes my life a lot easier.

Flexible working

Fairly late into my time as a freelancer I sussed out that having a non-traditional working pattern was actually A Good Thing. Once I’d made that realisation, I started working more flexibly and actually  leaving the house between the hours of 9am and 5pm. It turned out that I was much more productive when I worked to my own rhythms. This is something I still do, but more often than not the rhythms I’m actually working to are that of my aforementioned baby daughter.

Things have had to get a lot more efficient round here since the little one arrived, and I have lots of new thoughts to share on productivity. I’ll be sharing them over the coming month or so, so keep an eye out. If you don’t already, you might like to connect on Twitter or Facebook so you don’t miss anything.

*Productivity image via Forbes
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10 Things I Love About Blogging

1.  There are no gatekeepers; anyone can publish their work.

2. It’s speedy; I can have a thought in the morning and be sharing it in the afternoon.

3. It can reflect the style of the author; a blog can be anything from essays to photo collections.

4. It showcases expertise like nothing else; If you’re brilliant at something, blogging about it will show the world just how brilliant.

5. There are no geographical boundaries; I can read blogs written anywhere in the world, just like that.

6. It’s great for relationship building; when you read someone’s blog, you feel like you’re getting to know them.

7. It lends itself well to recommendations; online reviews are helpful, but they’re much more valuable when they come from a source I ‘know’.

8. It’s an excellent way to reach out to people; blogging has put me into contact with hundreds of people I’d never have met otherwise.

9. It’s a snapshot into recent history; other people’s blog archives are fascinating. So are your own.

10. It’s fun; it must be, or would I still be doing it thirteen years on?!

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Why it’s Difficult to Do What You Do for Yourself

You know that old line about the cobbler’s children’s shoes? Yes? Well, I think all of us feel a bit like that cobbler sometimes. Whether we’re writers or designers or accountants, it’s hugely easy to neglect our own needs in favour of those of our clients.

I am definitely guilty of this. My blog is almost always the first thing to fall off the bottom of my to do list when things get overwhelmingly busy, though I’d never dream of doing the same with a client’s blog. Our time is finite and there are only a certain number of tasks that we can physically make space for in our working day. It makes sense that we prioritise the tasks that clients are expecting (and paying for!) before our own.

Time isn’t the only reason that we do this. There’s also the fact that it can seem much harder to do what we do professionally for ourselves rather than for someone else. We spend every day inside our business so it can be tricky to get the perspective on it that comes so easily when we look at our clients’ businesses. It’s always tempting to put tasks aside for a later date and do something else instead.

There is a way to overcome these challenges, and that’s to get into the habit of thinking of ourselves as a client.

Schedule blocks of time to work on your own projects

If you’re anything like me, your own website/blog/accounts/design gets worked on in short bursts in between other ‘more important’ work. Though this can be convenient, it’s unlikely to produce the same quality result as if we’d worked on it in longer blocks.

Don’t skip steps

Most of us have a process that we work through when we’re producing work for clients. Most of us are probably guilty of skipping parts of that process when we’re producing the same kind of work for ourselves. You’ve put those steps in place for a reason: stick to them!

Get some headspace

Getting the same kind of perspective of our own business as we have for other people’s is a problem that isn’t always easy to solve. Sometimes I find it can be helpful to get out of your normal workspace to consider these issues. Talking to friends, family members and colleagues can be valuable too.

Follow your own advice

You know that key piece of advice you’re always offering to clients? Well… are you following it yourself? This sounds so simple, but often we aren’t.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to follow my own advice too.

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Big Things Happen One Day at a Time

This year I am throwing myself headlong into the idea that everything (including the big things) happens one day at a time. My daily life has changed a lot since this time last year, and my time is no longer all my own. Instead, it’s become more important than ever for me to use the working time I have productively.

At any one time I’m usually juggling a whole host of projects. Some are for long-time clients, some are one-off paid projects, and some are more creative personal projects. It’s a fact of life that the projects I take on for clients will always come first. In the face of this, it would be easy to let my more creative projects fall dormant for a while. But, of course, I don’t want that to happen.

Instead, I’m focusing on keeping things moving forward one day at a time. Twenty minutes might not be very much time to work on a big creative project in itself, but twenty minutes every day will get things done.

I’m keeping myself motivated with the help of this poster by Elise Joy (pictured above). The little reminder to keep making progress is great, as is the satisfaction of crossing off each day. By the end of 2015, I’m hoping that more days on my poster will be crossed out than are not.

2015 for me isn’t about big, lofty goals. It’s about doing something every day to keep moving forward.

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20 Ideas to Turn into Blog Posts

1. Something you’ve learnt recently.

2. A productivity trick you use every day.

3. A list of resources.

4. Your progress on a big project.

5. A frequently asked question.

6, An unusual working technique.

7. A review of a favourite book.

8. A success story.

9. Something you tell people at networking events.

10. A review of a helpful website.

11. Your career history.

12. An industry secret.

13. The definition of a piece of jargon.

14. The reason you do what you do.

15. A review of an event you attended.

16. The blogs you read daily.

17. A key piece of advice.

18. The latest news from your industry.

19. Something you’re proud of.

20. A mistake you learnt from.

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Half a Lifetime of Blogging

This year I’ve thought a lot about blogging and what it means to me. I started my first blog in my early teens and I’m now twenty six, which means I’ve been typing away into these white boxes for literally half my life.

When I first started blogging the whole thing was anonymous. I didn’t blog under my real name and I would never have considered posting an actual photo of myself. The anonymity was very freeing, and, excepting any identifying details, I shared a great deal about my life, my ambitions and (of course) my teenage angst.

As I got older, the nature of blogging changed. It became more and more usual for bloggers to write under their real name and to share regular photos. I got in on this once I graduated from university and began blogging about life after my move to Glasgow. I shared real details about my life for the first time, as well as lots of photos. I also told people ‘in real life’ about my blog and encouraged them to read it, which I’d never done before. For the most part, I got really positive responses. My grandparents became my blog’s biggest fans.

Around that time, blogging also became a key part of my day job. I started blogging professionally, both on my own business blog and for clients. I wrote blog posts about everything from what I did at the weekend, to social media, to professional services, to catering. I also spent a lot of time talking about blogging offline. I convinced many of my business contacts that blogging was the way forward and taught them how to get started.

Nowadays, my perception of blogging has changed again. I still love blogging, but I see it more as something I want to do professionally. I love writing posts and articles for clients, and I also love sharing my professional experiences and literary adventures here on my own website. Perhaps I’m getting old (!) but in the past few years I’ve grown far less interested in blogging about details from my personal life.

All of us are living more and more of our lives online and I feel strongly that I want to keep many of the details of my personal life just that; personal. Though I use social media for work and love it, I’ve definitely cut back on how much I use it in my leisure time. This became particularly clear to me when Mr M and I found out that we were expecting our first child. We’ve tried to be mindful of how much we share about her online before she’s old enough to make her own decisions. (Though I will admit I do share occasional photos with a carefully curated group of Instagram followers. She’s very cute and I can’t resist completely!)

Over the years blogging has been a lot of different things for me. It’s been a creative outlet, a way to meet people, a source of income, a way to promote my work and a way to showcase the things that are important to me. Earlier this year I took a break from my blog while I dealt with the end of pregnancy and the first few months of motherhood. It was really nice to step back and for a while I wondered if the lure of blogging had finally come to an end for me. Turns out, it hadn’t. I soon found myself back typing into this little white box. After all, it’s hard to break the habit of (half) a lifetime.

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The 43 Day Editing Challenge

There’s an episode of Friends I’m sure you’ve all seen. It’s the one where Phoebe tricks Monica into hosting Thanksgiving when she doesn’t want to by trying to get her to ‘beat’ the previous year’s attempt. Phoebe says You’d be in competition… with yourself. Monica replies That’s my favourite kind!

In this scenario, I am Monica. I can be extremely competitive, but generally only with myself. It’s because of this that things like daily challenges really appeal to me. After the success of my recent Thirty Day Ideas Challenge I decided to take things one step forward. And just like that, the 43 Day Editing Challenge was born.

My aim was to create a challenge that would:

  1. Get me back into the habit of daily writing
  2. End my hiatus on my novel-in-progress
  3. Possibly enable me to finish the current draft by New Year
  4. Not be over ambitious

I started thinking about this on the 19th November, which gave me 43 days until the end of the year. Twenty to thirty minutes a day seemed manageable, so I decided to spend that time working on my novel-in-progress on each one of those 43 days. This should be enough time to finish the draft, but if it isn’t, that’s fine. (This is the point where I have to tell my inner Monica to quieten down).

One aspect of my previous challenge that worked well was having a physical way to track it. I’d read Austin Kleon’s advice on not breaking the chain months before and tried something similar in digital form, but I’d never tried it out with an actual pen-and-paper calendar. Turns out, having a calendar taped to the wall above your desk and putting an ‘X’ on each day you complete your challenge is a great way to stay motivated. As you can see from the image at the top of this post, I haven’t missed a day yet.

Twenty eight days to go…

Psst; I’m teaching an Advanced Writing for the Web course at the University of York on the 19th January. You can read all about it here

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November Round Up 2014

A few highlights from my month:

  • Finally finishing Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies. It’s a long one… but it was worth it.
  • Starting a new ongoing blogging project with a client.
  • Celebrating a Naming Day with family (helped along by The Flax and Twine‘s excellent cake).
  • Visiting the Knitting and Stitching Show in Harrogate.
  • Completing my Thirty Day Idea Challenge and jumping straight into a new writing challenge (more on that next week).
  • Spending autumn afternoons in the park with my daughter.
  • Resuming work on my novel-in-progress after a five month hiatus.

A few highlights from around the web:

How’s your November been?

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