How I Make it Work #1
25th February 2019
How do you arrange your work life so that it works? Analogue vs digital.
I’m Clare Barry from Urban Curiosity
I write and ask questions for a living. Two keys things I do to maximise my time, energy and attention every day is to keep my mornings free from emails, meetings and calls. This is when I am most creatively juicy, so I protect this time as far as possible because writing and making is easier at this time of day. It all gets a bit torturous if I leave the thoughtful, writer-y stuff to later on.
A slow, quiet start to the working day is ideal and will involve coffee, reading a book you can touch and not having to speak to anyone (even people I love). This peaceful time is really important for allowing my ideas to percolate and the words to come when I write. Yes, it is a bit anti-social but I live alone and have a very short commute from my bed to my desk, which helps. I’m not too precious though – sometimes life doesn’t work out like that.
It took me a while to figure out my optimal working hours after two decades working a regular office job on someone else’s dime. Now I have them sussed, I guard them carefully.
EMAIL ISN’T A PRIORITY
Wellbeing and digital mindfulness are key themes of my work, so it’s important I practise what I preach. I turn off all notifications on my phone and computer because I find them so distracting. If I am really up against it, I’ll switch my phone to airplane mode for a while. And I never have my email accounts open in my browser.
I will look at my inboxes within an hour or so of waking but generally I give myself permission to reply later in the day and on my timetable. Emails from others tend to be about their priorities and agenda, not mine. I try to balance the need to respond with my own creative and strategic priorities. I make sure I tell people about this policy when I start working or collaborating with them. If something is urgent, they know to call. If it’s not, they trust I’ll get back to them later in the day or by the next day and I do. The world won’t stop turning just because I stand still for a while. I’m not that important (humph).
AVOID MEETINGS OR SCHEDULE THEM FOR THE AFTERNOON
My energy dips after lunch so this is a good time to take a walk or travel to meetings. BTW I always take a lunch break even if it’s a short one. It puts me into a different mode and my days of scoffing a soggy sarnie in between meetings are long behind me – life’s too short. I find I return to work with a lovely fresh perspective and some of the niggles I’ve struggled with all morning resolve themselves thanks to those few minutes doing something routine like making lunch.
Meetings can be a time suck. I’ve learned the hard way to establish what the purpose is and my role in it before rocking up. As a self-employed person, I am not paid for meetings nor the hour there and back that I tend to lose in travel time. I’m a big fan of walking or standing meetings – they force you to get to the point fast!
Later in the afternoon I might interview a podcast guest from home or lead a walkshop (these are my signature experience: part creativity session, part digital – on foot in a London neighbourhood). My favourite thing is a little mooch about and informal photo walk with my friend Susannah; she wrote a book called Londontown and I love observing what subject matter she’s drawn to.
BATCHING HAS TRANSFORMED MY WORK
I am a big believer in batching tasks. When I am in flow or ‘in the zone’, I can get more done faster. For example, I might spend half a day outlining all my blog posts for the month or listen to a few episodes of Desert Island Discs and sort out images for a week’s worth of posts. I schedule, record and review all my podcast interviews across a two or three-week period, that gives me a 22-episode season ready to go once post-production is done. Crucially, this approach allows me to get into the right headspace to ask good questions and keep fresh other interviews so I can cross-reference or avoid repeating some stuff with two different guests. I get into a better groove this way than when the recordings are more spread out.
MAKING TIME FOR EXERCISE AND STILLNESS
Mindfulness meditation is called a practice because we have to work at it and it can be hard. I try to meditate most days. Sometimes a moving meditation is better for me ie a stroll or a boxing class. Yep, I find boxing strangely mindful. If my mind wanders, my defence slips and I risk getting a biff in the face! It’s often the only hour of the week where my waking mind switches off from all the worries and rumination.
When I lived in west London I loved sessions by Anna from Take a Pop Boxing – she runs sessions across west and north-west London. Now I live in south-east London and I have the choice of Punch Club in Greenwich or Double Jab in Deptford.
Fun or soothing types of exercise appeal to me way more than a gym workout: I enjoy SwingTrain dance classes and pilates from YooPod. A daily non-negotiable is this free app: 7 Minute Chi. I use it either upon waking or right before bed and it feels great!
The nitty gritty
I am a stationery geek working in the Digital Age. How I make it work involves a blend analogue and digital. In the past, I have dabbled with lots of Apps to manage my workflow, improve my productivity and/or work with teams. For instance, Googledocs, Trello, Basecamp, Evernote, Slack. They can make life easier but only after you invest time in setting up all the relevant tags and files or streams etc. set up. I’ve always been a bit half-hearted in doing that bit so, in the end, I tend to return to my analogue systems and judicious use of email plus plenty of human connection, you know, talking to the people I work and collaborate with.
The Moleskine Weekly Diary is my go-to for scheduling daily tasks. I have a running list of tasks/meetings to set up etc. in the blank lined page opposite. I like having a week-to-view and not having much space forces me to really focus on the top three most important things I need to focus on each day. Anything else is a bonus!
My handwriting is atrocious but a fat Ohto sharp pencil 2.0 helps; I buy them at Choosing Keeping. And for key reminders I like a purple Faber-Castell broadpen or, if things are really serious, a red one! For adult moments requiring actual ink I like my chubby Kaweco rollerball pen.
When life gets really overwhelming, I will break out the Knock Knock Stuff sticky notes. The one I’m using at the moment is a green ‘Today’s Plan of Attack” and has things listed as Most Critical, Would Be Nice, Not A Chance and some lovely boxes to tick off completed items. I never check the box. I prefer a large line through the whole sentence – much more satisfying!
MEETINGS AND DEADLINES
I use my Google calendar to schedule all my meetings, deadlines and any reminders or travel details. This allows me to sync across my Apple devices and to invite others to meetings. And means I have location addresses or telephone numbers and meeting details handy if I am nipping about town and forget a meeting location (read: I always forget the meeting location).
I also like to look at my monthly overview; it helps me plan and identify timelines to meet deadlines or targets. Creatively-speaking, however, I much prefer to sit down once or twice a month a paper month-to-view with a pencil and map out or update creative projects and editorial content plans. Love the goodies from JStory for this.
On extremely rare occasions when I find myself with an idea but without pen and paper, I use Voice Memos on my iPhone.
All my files are on Dropbox and I like this for accessing it via multiple devices and easy sharing any relevant files.
I can never remember all my password so LastPass is perfect for a security-conscious but forgetful nitwit like me. I only ever have to remember one! It is super secure and allows me to give people working with me access to the relevant passwords they need and I can revoke their access with one click when projects end.
Mailchimp makes it a dream for a non-techy creative person (me!) to stay in touch with Thoughtful Notes subscribers.
The boring but very important stuff like finances and backend functionality happens thanks to WordPress, Stripe, PayPal and Memberful to allow me to keep an eye on orders, payments or queries.
Canva has changed my work life. Not joking! I love how easy it is for a non-designers to create professional branded images, PDFs and more. I love it and recommend upgrading to Canva for Work.
CLARE BARRY (that’s me writing about myself in the third person…) is a writer from London and the founder of Urban Curiosity, a creativity and wellness company that helps busy people slow down and see things differently.