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.

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

A typical week … now

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A few months ago, when I was still working at the Library 21 hours per week, I wrote this post about a typical week, so that I remembered what it was like trying to manage the two. Now I’ve settled into some kind of routine working at Libro full time, I thought it was time to repeat the exercise. So here’s a “typical” week (if there is such a thing) these days …

Monday 19 March – got up just after 6, came up to the study, worked on this post then got down to finishing off proof-reading the third chapter of a PhD a client’s sending me in batches. I also put the finishing touches on a localisation I’d done for a big newish client – the client had answered some questions and I updated my “translation” on the software accordingly, signed the job off and added it to their monthly invoice. I had breakfast with M before he walked to work. I then did some admin to do with an event I’m speaking at in June, and settled down to a good session on another client’s PhD. It’s my exercise rest day, so I can get some good long working sessions in.  I had a good, healthy lunch and went for a walk up the High Street to pick up a few things: a real benefit of working from home is being able to pop out the shops at quieter times in the retail day (I’m also spending less, although I’m not sure how, as I’ve never been a big spender anyway) and lunch and day time trips out are a good, healthy habit since I sorted out my Homeworker’s Resolutions. Back home and I had a few little bits in from regulars before doing another localisation session followed by some more PhD. I popped out to meet M on his walk home then had a quiet evening, interspersed with the odd email from a client, dealt with on my Blackberry.

Tuesday 20 March – I had some work in during yesterday evening / overnight – three student essays, two of which are from people I’m taking through their Master’s course. Oh, the luxury: if this had been in the Old Days, I’d have been frantically working on my previous projects before starting these. I completed one and started another before breakfast: while putting the bibliography of the first one in alphabetical order, I was inspired to put together a blog post on how to do that, so I created the screen shots and a draft blog post for that before getting on with the next essay. After breakfast I responded to a few emails asking for price and service quotations before continuing with student essays. I went to the gym, booked in another job with a regular client which involved downloaded and learning some new software, and after lunch met an editing friend for a walk in the park and a chat about business – she’s someone I recommend academic enquirers on to when I’m too busy to take them on and we needed to discuss a few things, and it was nice to do that in the sunshine. Then back to my desk for another editing session for some regular clients. I then ended up struggling with some recalcitrant software which meant I got behind and had to spend some of the evening after dinner working.

Wednesday 21 March – up early as usual and a couple of hours of PhD editing before breakfast. I realised the table numbering in the thesis had gone awry so emailed the client with the options. After breakfast I published my blog post on adding Contents Pages to Word, publicised that and continued with the thesis. I popped down to the Post Office depot to pick up a parcel (I’m here almost constantly; how did it not get delivered?) and then up to the cafe for a regular “grown-ups’ homework club” / catch-up with a fellow freelancer and friend. It’s good to sound off about how things are going and chat about plans as well as just relaxing and seeing a human face. I set up a Facebook group to co-ordinate this a little while ago and it’s proved an excellent addition to my week. Came home and did a quick edit of a text translated from Chinese, and after lunch wrote a press release for a medical client. I worked some more on the PhD, went to the gym and did a little more after dinner. I explained why I’ve got to pay my tax twice next year to M (oh, the thrills! I’ve commissioned an article on Paying On Account from an accountant for the Libro blog). A good balance today although another evening spent away from “family time”.

Thursday 22 March – I worked on an academic article in the morning, including checking all the references were there (they weren’t) and tracking down the missing ones, as well as making sure everything conformed to the author guidelines set out by the journal the article was being written for. That was fun and a bit more challenging than some of my work. A few payments in (including a big one I’ve been waiting for anxiously, which achieved my targets for this month and next!) and I checked a press release for a regular before getting down to working in the Scrivener software for my author client – I’m helping her combine her articles into a book. She’s provided lots of guidance for me on what she wants, which is marvellous and very helpful! I also put a wash on – how lovely to be able to see the sun and get a wash done and out on the line: I’d have been in the office this time last year, looking at the sun and knowing it wasn’t drying anything on my line! I then walked in to the University (3 miles), got my hair cut and walked back again (3 miles) before doing a couple of hours of PhD work in the evening. I had commissioned a guest blog post on Tax Payment on Account from a great accountant I met recently, and was thrilled to have that come in to me by the end of the day; I’ll publish it the week after next once I’ve tidied up the formatting and written an introduction.

Friday 23 March – I’d had lots of requests to do projects in through the evening and, in fact, the night, so had to crack on: finished proof-reading an advert and localising some company communications before breakfast, then published a troublesome pair blog post, wrote an article about a man and his dentistry, localised some information on electric cars and finished the big thesis I’ve been working on all week. Phew! Another wash out on the line, lunch and then a couple of hours on some more chapters I’d had in from my other thesis client, before treating myself to an hour on my Iris Murdoch project in the cafe before meeting a contact to chat about some work she’d like me to do writing for her website. I went to the gym and was set to do some more work after dinner, but unfortunately a house-related mini-emergency took up the rest of the evening, leading me to cancel plans for Saturday afternoon. Nothing changes there, then …

Saturday 24 March – This is where it gets tough. A late evening and then disturbances related to neighbours in the night meant I had to drag myself upstairs to the study to try to complete the work I’d promised my client by mid-morning, which I should have got on with last night. I had at least written up my Saturday freelancer chat, so that was ready to just publish and promote before breakfast time. Fortunately, the first work project was continuing with a PhD I was fairly familiar with, so I could press on, knowing I was already aware of the writer’s style and common errors. If I’d been too tired to do it, I wouldn’t have, but I was just weary, and worked on it as well as I would normally do (maybe a little more slowly: I’m glad I charge by the word and not by the hour nowadays!). I finished that, sent off the chapters, worked on an issue of a magazine and put in a couple of hours on my author’s blog-to-book project: I did also go for a walk in the park and didn’t work after dinner time.

Sunday 25 March – Oh no: the clocks changed! I also found out I had a community meeting in the afternoon, so I didn’t get the lie-in I’d hoped for (but I couldn’t sacrifice my run). I finished my author’s work and started a new PhD chapter, did my run, had lunch, finished the PhD chapter and sent it off, then started a transcription project I have had in from my student proofreading company – 5 hours of lectures to type up for a student (!). I got on quite well, so not too much worrying about finishing it. I also had quite a long piece of work from one of my translator clients, which came in just as I sat down to watch the TV with Matthew …

Conclusions

It’s still a juggling act – between work, personal and social life and exercise. But it’s not between work, work, personal life and exercise, at least. Not having fixed, monolithic hours to go to the office makes things a lot easier, although it’s easier to cancel fixed items like networking meetings, which I really shouldn’t do. I still get tired, and I still work a few evenings, but if I work in the evening it’s often because I’ve done something in the day time: it’s rare for me to truly put in a 10-hour day! In terms of working hours, I did 40 billable hours this week, with perhaps another 7 or 8 admin hours. So that is actually about 6-7 hours more than before, although without the commuting time. Note that I’ve done 35, 18 and 36 hours in the other weeks this month: there is no such thing as a typical month.

I’m going to write about the general changes I’ve found in my life over the past three months in another post, but this should serve as a (n interesting?) contrast to my week “before”. It feels better … it’s definitely paying better, per hour and generally, and I’ll run this exercise again in another few months to see if anything’s changed or resolved.

What I got up to in December

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I do a monthly update post on the main Libro blog at the beginning of every month, detailing what I did in that month. I thought my readers here might be interested in those, as they give a flavour of the work I actually do, day to day. So, you can pop over and find the December one here, and if you want more, the What Do I Do category is a good place to start (all the categories are in a “cloud” in the right hand column of the Libro blog. Of course I’ll be recording another “typical week” again soon, too. Once I’ve got the atypical weeks out of the way!

Lost property found

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**** UPDATE: I am taking the item to Kings Heath Police Station this morning (Tue 27 December 2011) so it will be there for you to find then. Thanks to everyone from Twitter and Metafilter who have come and had a look – much appreciated! ****

Do you recognise these people, photographed on what looks like a log flume? We found it attached to an item on Addison Road, Kings Heath. We have it at our house, and if this is you or you know the people, please get in touch using my contact form here.  It would help if you could let me know what it is you have lost, so we can make sure it goes to the right person, and we’ll also need to hand it over to one of the people in the picture, or someone who can prove their identity and connection to the people in the photo.

Local to SE Birmingham? Please email, facebook and tweet this link so we can return this important item to its rightful owner. Thank you!

A typical week (before)

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I thought it might be useful to write down what happens in a typical work week, just before going full-time with Libro. The work level does usually build to a peak just before I drop some Library hours, and then has a terrifying slump directly afterwards. Anyway, this is what I have done this week:

Monday 28 November – I posted a blog post in my Ron’s Rants series first thing – handily, I’d managed to write up a few posts in advance so could just publish them as I went this week. I worked 7.45-3.50 at the Library. Rushed out of the house as soon as I got back with some post as I needed to wait in for a parcel for M on Tuesday. Came home and did 2 hours’ transcribing and some other bits and bobs. Watched Made in Chelsea for light relief.

Tuesday 29 November – a Libro Day. Did another hour of transcribing; spent 2 hours editing a dissertation in pdf format (annotating it with special software but, even though the English was good, it took me longer than if it had been in Word); spent over 3 hours editing a paper for a journal (including ensuring the bibliography was as the journal requires: this was actually the most time-consuming part); did some bits for a translator I work for. I also did some admin – writing and responding to emails, requests for quotations, etc. I had a proper lunch (hooray) but didn’t get out of the house until after dark, when I met M (my Other Half) in Sainsburys to get some bits and bobs. I try to get out of the house during daylight, but this wasn’t possible today!

Wednesday 30 November – another Libro Day. Published a blog post about emotions in business that I’d been inspired to write last week. Finished off the transcription I was doing in 1 hour 45 mins including spell-checking (a two-person Webinar for a lovely client – the topic is interesting to me, which does help, although I will transcribe just about anything!). I edited another article for yesterday’s client, but a shorter one this time that only took a couple of hours and did a localisation into British English for another regular – this time a website for an international company. In addition to all this I found time to do an hour or so of cleaning (we reimburse me the amount we used to pay our cleaners from the household money to do the heavy cleaning: mopping, hoovering stairs, etc.), cook a batch of meals so I have a quicker dinner time in the week, and go for a 35 minute run (in the daylight!). Before dinner, I got most of my monthly invoicing done – most of my regular clients are sent one invoice a month for all the work I have done for them during that month. What I didn’t do was go to the Birmingham Entrepreneurs Meetup, a monthly event in town that I do enjoy. But I just didn’t have the time and had to send my apologies.

Thursday 1 December – a Library day so worked 7.45-3.50 again. I wrote my first post for this blog at lunch time after deciding to launch it during the morning! Came home and recorded the payments that had already come in from yesterday’s invoicing (I like the beginning of the month). I went through the document one of my coaching clients had sent me for half an hour (I am helping them to get down to writing up their thesis) and replied to a request for a quotation. Then I stopped for the evening and went for a run with M before dinner. After dinner, some frantic BookCrossing admin (a hobby I used to spend a lot of time on!) then some relaxation time, watching a bit of telly.

Friday 2 December – woke up early and sorted out some more books, then lugged them into the Library to stock the BookCrossing Zone I set up here. A colleague took over running the Zone a few months ago, but I like to keep it filled up when I can. I published a prepared Troublesome Pair blog post on the Libro blog. A normal day at the Library, worked till 3.50 then home for some Libro bits and pieces … I logged in to an admin site to upload a business feature onto a client’s local business pages (he’d called me on the Libro mobile to ask me to do it this morning but I’d left the phone at home – this is one of the stressful things about my double life) and finished off negotiations on a piece of work for the weekend, polishing some translated English. I took delivery of some boxes of business directories for my local Business Association – I joined a few months ago, will be on the Committee from January, and M has kindly offered to help me put them through letterboxes tomorrow (my friend at work suggested that this might be so he could actually spend some time with me: I fear she’s right!). Off to the gym to get some exercise in and see a friend who goes on a Friday evening and then relaxed for the rest of the evening. This is actually proving to be quite a light week, but you can see I’m still doing something for Libro every day …

Saturday 3 December – I did a bit of housekeeping before breakfast, putting together, publishing and publicising my weekly “Freelancer/Small Business Chat” feature on a small business – this time Purple Dog Network. Then I had a bit of a read in bed – a rare luxury – before we got ourselves together for the day and spent 2 hours delivering the local Business Association directory to 480 addresses on our road and surrounding side streets. Harder work than I thought – lots of exercise opening gates, running up paths and pushing the book through all sorts of letterboxes! After a late lunch, bought at the Farmers’ Market, I put in a couple of hours working on a translation from an Eastern European language into English – my job was to polish it to make it look like it was written by a native British English speaker. I then spent 30 minutes or so working on a few blog posts for two friends who I help out for free (in one case in return for a look over my accounts every now and then). I recorded another payment from a regular client in my spreadsheet, noting that I’d hit the first of my range of 4 income targets for the month (this one was “replace the money from the 2 days I didn’t work at the library”) and then I was free for dinner, a bit of BookCrossing admin, etc.

Sunday 4 December – a billable-hours free day, I managed to work in my usual Sunday pastimes of a run in the morning, and a visit to the local cafe with a friend in the afternoon. I almost always get the run in; sometimes Libro stops me going to the cafe, mainly because I know I’ll be at the day job on Monday. I put in a couple of hours writing blog posts in the afternoon; I like to get ahead of myself, but I didn’t have one written for Monday and I needed to put together a guest post I’m publishing in the week. I also wrote my newsletter as I’ve realised the next edition is due this week. I also, excitingly, wrote an abstract to submit to the Iris Murdoch Society to see if they’ll invite me to contribute a presentation to the IM Conference in September 2012. Something I really need to do once I’m full-time with Libro is give some time to my research project (this is what it’s all about) and I hadn’t really found time to get this done!

Summary – so, actually this wasn’t a hugely, horribly, frantically busy Libro week like some have been. I did 14 hours of billable Libro work (covering my billable work target) but of course also I did a significant number of hours on admin, including monthly invoicing and the writing today. So it’s more like 18 or so hours if you add those in. Plus the 21 hours at the library. Plus two hours delivering those directories … In the weeks previous to this one I’ve done 23, 20, 16 and 18 hours on Libro, which makes it a lot more difficult. But there you have it – a week in the life “before” …