Well, I’m at home anyway …

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window screenLast summer, we had a load of work done on the house, including having all of the exterior paintwork done and a new front door. Cue anguish, hours of sorting things out, and sawdust EVERYWHERE. Did we (especially I) learn? No we did not. This summer, we had Terry in to hang pictures (only eight years after we moved in), do other bits and bobs (including installing a new floor in the cats’ toilet) and make cat safety window screens. We also had a company in to replace the roof of our bay window.

Now, Terry is pretty self-sufficient and very quiet – but you can hardly give a man 12 pictures and ask him to hang them around the house without being there to tell him where they go. Or expect him to know how tall you are so he can fit the locks on the window screens. And the roofing men, while efficient and good workmen, sang. Constant snatches of popular tunes and TV theme tunes from the 1920s through to now.

It wasn’t M’s fault, it was probably my fault: there was an assumption that because I’m at home all day, I can project manage these things. As I said, did I learn nothing from last summer?

Last week, I did the usual 34 or so hours of paid work. All I can say is, it was handy that M was away for work, because I had the whole of Monday and over half of Tuesday with the roofing men banging and whistling, and most of Wednesday needing to be on hand at various intervals to demonstrate my ability to reach fixings on the frames (I did have tranches of time when I could get on with stuff that day, thanks to Terry’s ability to refrain from singing while working). I had work in which can’t really be done on a laptop, and I certainly needed to be around as the roof men were an unknown quantity and I needed to be on hand for Terry. So, to cut a long story short, I ended up working really late on several evenings in the week, and most of the weekend, two things that I normally pride myself on not having to do any more.

Yes, it’s good to be able to be flexible. No, I don’t feel that I’ve been taken advantage of, apart from by myself. But being flexible because you like a flexible lifestyle or have one dentist appointment at a time unpopular for office workers and working all the hours there are because you’ve booked in too many other responsibilities during the day are two different things.

picture on the landing wall

A picture hanging on the actual wall!

Next time we have work done, we’re going to do this: (a) arrange for me to book some actual time off to look after it, (b) arrange for M to have some time off work to manage at least part of it while I work. I will also try to make sure I have work that I can do with a laptop when I’ve got potentially noisy workmen in.

Well, it’s all part of the learning process, I suppose. How do you manage this kind of thing? Are you put upon, or do you bring it upon yourself?

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Give me a break! Well yes, I will

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Tea! The other month, I had an interesting time with busy-ness and quietness. I’ve been reflecting on it and mulling over this post ever since.  Having been wondering if I’d been overdoing it yesterday, I realised it was time to post this out into the world.

I had had quite a busy week, with one big project and lots of small to medium ones. It involved a lot of juggling, one late night, and a Thursday when I hammered through lots and lots of bits and bobs, to the possible consternation of onlookers. I even had to turn down some work (new work, so as not to let down my current clients) and deflect some other work to my trusty emergency support proofreader, Linda (thanks, again, Linda). Matthew had to cook dinner for an invisible girlfriend, only briefly seen foraging for food and tea …

But I am getting better at taking breaks, honestly. So when it got to the Friday and I’d got through the bits of work I had deadlines for, I then had a lovely long extended lunch break with a friend and her small daughter in the park, and a good long trip to the gym in the early evening, before stopping work for the day. At the weekend, I worked around the rest of my life, working on projects early and when Matthew was out or wanted to watch TV. I even had a good long read in bed after breakfast on Saturday.

The post I wrote about presenteeism has helped me here: I realised that I posted a lot about working on social media, and was perhaps thinking too much about how much I work. I haven’t scaled down what I do, but I’ve been aware of not taking too much on, and have obviously become better at scheduling things in and knowing how long jobs are likely to help. Keeping my reading journal on this blog has helped me to be more aware of making time for reading, and I make an effort to have time for friends and Matthew.

I feel like I’m getting it more right. I look after myself in the busy spells (and can usually predict them so I can work up to them and come to them healthy and relaxed) and don’t panic in the quiet spells, taking that time to have some time out and enjoy myself.

I managed pretty well in the Olympics, watching most of the sport I wanted to see, and fitting my work around it. And I had a holiday in a place without reliable wi-fi at the end of August, and survived, just about, having pre-warned my regular customers that I wouldn’t be very available, and managing to relax about the whole thing.

As it comes up to a year since I left my library job and stopped trying to fit two jobs and the rest of everything into one life, I think I’m getting there with getting the balance. And I’ve also been refining my customer base a bit, which is something for another post.

If you work for yourself, how are you managing with this aspect? Do share!

Paper is sometimes best

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Sometimes paper is best!

I was looking at the Society for Editors and Proofreaders website and musing about how I almost never do work on paper manuscripts (once in well over 500 jobs), and then the doorbell rang and my new to do list stationery had arrived … so that’s one thing where I do stick with paper.

Well, one of two things.

With my to do lists, I have flirted with Google Calendar / Tasks and I do put meetings, events and appointments like Skype chats or phone calls in there. But all through my working life, I have had a paper to do list, and, you know what? That’s what I like to have. I had been using one of my few Libro notepads to keep it, but I’ve now bought a special book – appointments on the left hand page and Things To Do Today (why is that capitalised when the name of the book is all lower case, though?) on the right. With tick boxes and everything. There is also room for notes, which is handy for those phone calls.

The other thing I keep on paper is my customer records. Not entirely: I keep a note of people’s pricing and other terms on their contact details in my gmail account. As I do work for people, I either create an invoice for that piece of work, including details of the time spent or word count, depending on how I invoice them, or add the project to their current monthly invoice But I have an A4 spiral bound book with a section for each major client and one for one-off/student clients.  This is where I note down the date, time, word count and charge for each job I do.

I like writing. I like pen and paper. I like using fountain pens with different colour inks. I might do all my editing, proofreading, writing and transcription on the computer, and I might have an online book review blog; I might even have a Kindle … but when it comes down to it, I read real books too (mostly, actually), write my book reviews in a nice notebook first, and keep paper records and to do lists.

You don’t have to do what is most up to date and modern. Everything doesn’t have to be In The Cloud. Do what you feel comfortable with!

A typical day for Libro

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See, I do relax. Here’s me at Easter, hanging out with a friend!

It’s great working for myself full time, but sometimes I am reminded that not everyone realises that, just because I might mention I’m working at, say 6am, and again at 10pm, that doesn’t mean I’m working as such for the whole day. If I was, that would be a bit worrying, of course. Anyway, I thought I’d note down a “typical” day in my life now (and contrast it with one from my former office-part-time/libro-part-time life, too). Note that these are example days, but they are common ones.

A typical day now

6.00 – 8.00 Get up. Check email and work for about 90 minutes.

8.00 – 9.00 Breakfast with M. Shower.

9.00 – 9.30 Check and answer emails, check Facebook and Twitter. Publish a blog post.

9.30 – 11.00 Work of various sorts – projects large or small

11.00 – 11.30 Cuppa and a drink of squash. Emails and admin

11.30 – 12.30 More billable hours

12.30 – 14.30 An hour at the gym, lunch and shower

14.30 – 16.00 Work.

16.00 – 16.30 A soft drink, a cuppa (a bun?) and some emailing.

16.30 –  18.00 Work.

18.00 – 19.00 Either work or walk down to meet M on his way home from work

19.00 – 20.00 House admin and dinner.

20.00 – 21.00 Maybe an hour of work if I’m busy or have tight deadlines. Otherwise, TV etc.

21.00 – 22.00 TV or reading.

22.00 – 22.30 Check email, last minute bits and bobs, check personal email

22.30 – 23.00 Get ready for bed, a bit of reading.

23.00 Bedtime.

So that gives me between 7 and 9 billable working hours – usually more like 7, which is what people do in an office, of course, just not so spread out through the day.

And in a week of days like this I will get out to the cafe to meet friends at least once, pop into town or meet a friend for dinner, and have some time writing up blog posts etc.

A typical day in 2011

On a day when I worked in the office and at home, my day would look like this:

5.45 – 6.00 Get up, check Libro email, maybe do some Libro work

6.00 – 7.00 Breakfast, shower, get ready for work.

7.00 – 7.30 Travel into work.

7.30 – 13.00 Working at the Library.

13.00 – 13.30 Lunch. Check Blackberry and reply to Libro emails / make calls.

13.30 – 15.45 Working at the Library.

15.45 – 16.30 Travelling home.

16.30 – 19.30 Cup of tea then working till M gets home and beyond. He makes my dinner.

19.30 – 20.00 Hasty dinner.

20.00 – 22.30 Working on Libro projects.

22.30 – 23.00 Getting ready for bed.

23.00 Bedtime.

That was 4 then 3 days a week through the whole of 2011 pretty well. Phew! I would have a day like the above one 1 or 2 weekdays a week and work solidly at the weekends. Not so much gym, certainly not any cafe with friends, not so many blog posts, not so much reading!

Writing this post, and the reason for writing it, has got me musing about “presenteeism” and the way it creeps into self-employment. Here’s my article on that topic on the Libro blog.

On Bank Holidays

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When you work in an office, Bank Holidays (or public holidays, or whatever you call them in your country) are really important. There’s lots of discussion about what you might do on the Bank Holiday, and what you did, afterwards. Lots of chat about “don’t forget not to come in on Monday”. People who have odd working schedules get upset or pleased about how Bank Holidays are treated in their pay and holiday schedules (if you don’t usually work on a Monday, do you still get an extra holiday, etc., etc.)

If you’re a freelancer or run your own business, especially if you work from home, alone, let me tell you that Bank Holidays disappear into the ether. They do not matter. They might as well not exist, except that a) there might be extra people around the house, startling you with their presence occasionally, and b) people might expect you to be free to do stuff.

I’m not sure if this is limited to people who, like me, have a lot of international clients whose public holidays are at different times to ours. But I bet anyone with a big project to complete doesn’t stop just because it’s Bank Holiday Monday. I’ve coped OK with this double one for the Jubilee, but the  early May one was a different story. Up the stairs I popped at 6 am, as usual. “See you at 8 for breakfast,” I cheerily called to M, as usual. “Eh? What?” I’d completely missed the memo that there was a Bank Holiday. Oh, because there are no memos when you work alone …

By the way, I have been known to check what day it is, or whether it’s morning or afternoon, when entering the gym, for example. I know which column I’m in on my Gantt chart, and I’m never startled by my deadlines, but I do hope that other home / lone workers are the same and I’m not starting to go a bit odd …

New resolutions

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I’m still climbing up the path to being completely sorted out in my new working-from-home life. Regular readers will remember that I wrote down some Home-Workers’ Resolutions when I first went full-time with Libro, based on what I’d learned while doing it part time.

I’ve been doing it for nearly 4 months now, and all is going really well – the work has expanded to fill the space, and most of it is from a good roster of regular clients, giving me a range of different tasks for different kinds of people and companies. I’ve recently added another transcription client and another localisation client to the mix. But I have learned about a few more tweaks I need to make, and writing this post, writing them down, will hopefully help me to achieve them (as the original post did).

Have my lunch by 2 p.m.

I’ve got a bit bad at this one. Hence writing this at 2.29 p.m. I get into what I’m doing or I go to the gym late, and time is ticking on … It’s not necessarily BAD to have lunch late – I have my breakfast later now, so that I can have a chat with Matthew first thing, so I’m not fainting by this point, but it is important to have regular anchors in your working day when you’re alone all day, and I think this one is important.

Leave the phone alone during meal times

I’m REALLY bad at this one. In my case, for “phone”, read “Blackberry”. All those little email messages binging into my phone with that tempting noise. And I do have a lot of regular clients who need work doing at short notice. But, honestly, in the time it takes to consume a meal, is anything so urgent going to happen that it would really matter if I put the phone to one side? Do I need to be twisting round to grab my phone, only to find it’s spam or bacon*? I’ve started to try this at lunch and will extend it to dinner, too. Fair enough, I will have the phone within reach in the evening, and it’s by my bedside as I find it comforting to just check if something’s come in without getting out of bed first thing. But mealtimes will henceforth be sacred.

*bacon is stuff you’ve signed up for but then feels almost like it’s spam when you receive it – newsletters and updates, that kind of thing.

Spend at least a little time every day doing something that I love

I’m getting better at this one – hooray! In my case, this thing that I love is reading. I was missing reading: I’ve always been a big reader and love reading and reviewing what I’ve read. This nice new home for my book reviews has helped with this. And I’ve taken to grabbing a book when I’m on the way to the gym once a week, and reading on the exercise bike (yes, I still have a good, hard workout!). I’m happier as a result, and less panicky about the size of my Mount To Be Read. Even if you love your job, do a little different thing, whether it’s watching the telly, reading a magazine, or having a bath. If it’s a special thing you can do every day, like reading, so much the better!

I’ve updated the Home-Worker’s Resolutions page with these: and as ever, do let me know if you’re a) following the resolutions yourself or b) have any more to contribute!

Keeping calm and carrying on

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This picture was taken in Kairouan, Tunisia. It’s the place in the whole world where I feel most calm, peaceful, happy and at home. Yep: a desert town in the middle of Tunisia. It’s a holy place, with a huge mosque, but also a bustling and lively town. Why the connection? I put it down to my theory that my Spanish ancestor originated from North Africa and that it’s some blood connection with the place. I’ve been there twice, felt the same both times. Anyway, I was reminded of this photo when I was adding it to my Facebook page, and I want to put it on here to remind me of happy and calm times.

This post is a quick update on how time and client management is going here at Libro Towers. Many of you were kind enough to read and comment on my previous post where I wondered out loud how to manage a slightly-too-busy schedule. I had loads of advice and was also mulling over various options I had put together: I’m pleased to report that things are going a lot better and more calmly now, even though I’ve just had my busiest week to date!

Managing regular urgent work

I’ve had a breakthrough here, in that I’ve managed to organise back-up for a couple of those clients who are regulars, and great customers, but send me often large files at often short notice. I had already raised the “what if I’m busy, what if I want to go on holiday” issue with them, but we hadn’t got round to discussing it further. Not their fault, not my fault, just timing. Then – crunch time – I have a big semi-regular project on this week. And a big file came through from a regular. In consultation with them, I sourced someone who could do the work, explained it to them and provided back-up as they did it (it wasn’t quite the sort of work they are used to) and was pleased to find that a) the client was happy with their work; b) they were happy doing the work; c) it worked fine to have them invoice the client direct; d) the client is a good payer so everyone was happy there; and e) the client is happy for this person to provide emergency cover in the future.

Hooray! and this just shows that persistence works, and that often solutions come through when there’s a practical issue rather than just a theoretical one.

“Make them pay more”

A strong theme in the comments on the post was around making clients pay more in order to (I think) a) put them off and b) make sure I am being compensated adequately. As I have explained, I adjusted my prices in January of this year so that I was charging a more fair rate (for me!) for the writing services I offer, and moved editing and proof-reading work onto a full per-word rate, allowing for more predictability and again a fairer rate for me, as I had been under-charging. So I haven’t adjusted any current clients, as that would not be fair, and I am charging industry standard rates now anyway. There was an issue with students I’d worked with previously sending me more work on the same project and me feeling I should charge them the old, per-hour rate. But this turned out to be a red herring, as I have actually worked my way through all of those, and all student clients are now on my new rates anyway.

Turning down work

I was doing this already and have continued – anything that looks like it will be a one-off small job (and I don’t have time to do it right then) or is not part of my core set of services, now gets rejected or referred on to a colleague. In the last couple of weeks I have turned down a couple of small localisation jobs, passed on some student enquiries to a recommended friend, and passed on the opportunity to do some virtual assistant work for a current client, directing her on to another recommended friend who is doing well providing that service to her.

Getting support

I was quite amazed how much just writing that Keep Calm and Carry On post helped me sort things out in my head. I was good at letting current regulars know when I have a big project on (that’s just good customer service, I think) and better about talking through individual issues with business colleagues already, but I was also inspired to set up a local “networking” group (I was originally going to call it Cafe Of Pain, which I liked but some others didn’t – it’s  now the Kings Heath Homeworkers’ group) whereby local people can pop a note on the Facebook group or Twitter if they just need a quick coffee and a chat. This has nine members now and I have met up regularly for “grown-up homework club” with one friend (she does her language class homework and I work on my research project). It’s making a difference just to know there are local people around one can call on or meet up with in an informal way.

In summary

  • It’s good to talk
  • Solutions in business usually seem to come out of practical rather than theoretical situations
  • Things are getting better and will hopefully stay that way
  • People who read this blog are marvellous

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