Category: Things I’ve learned this week

Things I’ve learned this week (04/10)

Things I’ve learned this week is back! In this instalment I mull over coping with boring but necessary work tasks, and how staying in one place can affect your work (spoiler: I’m not a fan).

Thing the first: Being in charge of your own time is exhausting

When you are your own yardstick for things, it can become a little frustrating to look back on the day – or even the week – and assess what you’ve done. This week, I’ve spent a lot of time dealing with technical issues – those both of my own making, and out of my control. They were things that needed to be fixed (for example an error with our hosting company over at UniHack that meant that I couldn’t email my colleagues), but they aren’t things that actively contribute to the progress of the organisation.

When my working day is bogged down with things like this, I often find it useful to get a number of ‘quick win’ tasks out of the way to get me back into the swing of things. These might be tasks that are relatively simple, but go a long way. For me, if I’m in the right frame of mind, writing can be that task. I’ll set myself an hour (or sometimes less) to write out a blog post with a very specific theme. If I’m not feeling particularly creative, then I might spend that hour reading through my Feedly and queuing up posts for social media.

These aren’t necessarily all tasks that will move things forward. But they are at least tangible things that I can look back on and think ‘ok, I’ve spent 8 hours this week on the phone to customer services, but at least I also wrote 3 blog posts and have queued up next week’s twitter feed’.

With these tasks, efficiency is key – the worst thing I could do would be to spend 8 hours with customer services, and then take just as long to write only one or two posts. I’m a big fan of the Pomodoro technique. In the case of writing, I might give myself 20 mins to write the skeleton of the post down to make sure I actually address the title, give myself a 5 minute break, and then spend the next 20 mins putting flesh on the bones.

Thing the second: A change of scenery is very underrated

This, as with many of my Things I’ve learned this week series, is something that really shouldn’t be news to me at all. In fact, that header should probably read: a change of scenery was very underrated by me.

This Friday UniHack launched on social media (I may have mentioned that once or twice…). This meant that in the run up to that Friday, there was a lot of running round doing all the little bits and pieces that I ‘sort of’ finished a while ago and said ‘that can be something I fix nearer the time’. As a result, I spent quite a lot of my time working from home with my head buried in my laptop at any one time doing any mixture of coding, image editing, research, emailing, the aforementioned phoning the hosting company, writing copy, etc etc.

As with all of these things, the longer I worked, the smaller my marginal return on effort. And I could tell. Copy was getting sloppier, I was making more mistakes with code, etc. My natural response to this was to work harder, sleep less, work harder, drink more coffee, and work harder.

Obviously, that was a stupid plan.

Until one day last week I had a meeting that ended up walking to instead of driving. It was, frankly, ridiculous how much calmer I was by the time I got where I was going. When my meeting was finished I went to a nearby coffee shop to catch up with some work, and ended up writing the ‘skeletons’ of half a dozen blog posts and finishing a couple of them in the space of about 2 hours.

Obviously I’m not claiming to have revolutionised anything here. I’m just saying that it is very easy to forget the most basic of wellbeing tips.

Thing the third: You can start a business from scratch with just a Chromebook

…sort of. I’ve written more about that here.


Things I’ve learned this week (08/08)

Here it is then, the second of my ‘Things I’ve learned this week‘ series. I’ve had an interesting week this week, mainly focusing on getting some traction on the thoughts I had in London last week. I’ll follow that up with a post at some point early next week, but for now here are a few things that I’ve discovered…

Thing the first: Web masters deserve every penny they get!

I’ve always been good with computers. ‘Better than most’ is how I often describe myself, but to be honest I’m a little bit better than that. So it always amused me when people would say things like ‘I’m great with WordPress’ – I mean, who isn’t in this day and age? May as well tell me you can use Microsoft Office as well! I can code in 6 different programming languages – how hard can WordPress really be?

Pride cometh, as they say, before the fall. I’ve been working this week mostly on one WordPress driven site and it has taken a lot more of my mental prowess than I thought. Setting aside issues with MySQL databases, domain redirects, and generic hosting issues, even getting some of the WordPress systems to do what the client wants has been tricky.

The problem is that – in the case of most WordPress themes – they want to appeal to the lowest common denominator to maximise downloads. So for 90% of people, the basic functionality of a good theme is fine. The problem comes when you want more than the basic. I’ve been developing the front landing page for my own site, and while I’m sure that there are a series of WordPress plugins that could do everything I want to, for me it is easier to write it all from scratch. I can do that though, because at the end of the day I’m only accountable to me. With a system as complex as WordPress – which long ago stopped being just a blogging platform – if you want to future-proof the site as much as possible its sometimes best not to play around too much with the inner workings.

Thing the second: personal details are scarily easy to come by.

I’m not particularly naive, and I know that when I sign up to basically anything my details are going to be sold on to other companies. That’s the cost of doing business, and the price you pay for all the lovely free social media platforms and email services and hosting that’s out there.

But this week over the course of setting up a few things I’ve had more cause to give my details – things like phone numbers and addresses. And I’ve had more spam come through this week than in the rest of this year – including some iMessages, which was novel. (If anyone wants some genuine Ray-Bans for only $19.99 just get in touch – the offer ends soon though!)

I’ve always been a bit blaze about things like this. But usually all I’ve given out is my email address and name – both of which are incredibly easy to get hold of anyway. But the iMessages interest me because they have come to my mobile number, which I don’t give to companies unless I have to.

Thing the third: 25 really isn’t that old.

Its a weird world we live in, and 25 is an odd age. This week my Young Persons Railcard ran out, and this is the last time I can renew it. Which means unless I go back into full-time education, I will only be able to get cheap rail travel (and here the term ‘cheap’ is definitely relative) for the next 365 days. So in terms of National Rail, I’m not a young person.

25 is the age that everything like that seems to stop; cheap train travel, entitlement to various grants, etc. Yet at the same time its not an age that is particularly favourable proffessionally. 25 year olds still struggle to be taken seriously in some sectors, you see very few 25 year old senior managers (outside of the startup world), and if you are out on a stag do and the stag is asked how old he is by passers-by the response is always met with some variation of ‘aww young love’.

So who is one to believe? National Rail, or your average big city firm? Is 25 old and wealthy, or young and inexperienced?

I guess that’s up to the individual in question. Age is, as they say, just a number.

If someone wants to let the ‘Young Persons Railcard’ department of National Rail know, I’d be very grateful.


Things I’ve learned this week (30/08)

As part of my most recent effort to create content, I’m trying a new thing – every week I’m going to post three things that I’ve learned. Here’s the first of those…

Thing the first: At some point in the last few years, I’ve inadvertently become a coffee snob.

I’ve had something of a cosmopolitan week this week, hanging out with friends in a startup, having meetings with people talking about my business idea, and just generally soaking up as much of the entrepreneurial lifestyle as I can. As such, I’ve been to a lot of different coffee shops. I point-blank refuse to give a review of my favourite ones (its bad enough that I got instagram this week…) but the point is that I could if I wanted to. [Also, thing the first part two: there are some really bad coffee shops out there].

Thing the second: I’m not sure when the last time I really saw London was.

I’m writing this sat by the window of a coffee shop in Moorgate just as rush hour is kicking in and people are on their way home from work. I reckon about half the people who walk past have their noses buried in their smartphones. Of the rest, I reckon half again are on handsfree.

Our instinct seems to be to be always alert for any opportunity – but the way that manifests itself is in always being at the end of a web-enabled device. I was at a loose end in town the other week and decided to go to a bookshop, buy a book and sit in a park and read. I made a conscious decision to unplug. But halfway through browsing I discovered that the Amazon app can scan bookcovers and tell you how much they are, and I left the shop without buying anything because everything was half the price online. I wasn’t sure whether I won or lost there. (I’m also not sure how I ended up on the Amazon app whilst standing in a bookshop.)

I went off on a tangent – but my point was that even after I realised that I wasn’t paying enough attention to my surroundings, my first instinct was to dive into the nearest coffee shop and blog about it. Which is a real shame, because who know’s what opportunities I have now missed out on…

Thing the third: You don’t need to live in London to do your own thing.

This seems like a weird thing to say, given that I’ve had this realisation whilst in London. And, really, its also quite an obvious statement. Bear with me though.

Ever since I made a conscious decision to take a ‘non-standard’ career path (pinch of salt with that statement required) I’ve found it hard to shake the feeling that I’ve made an inferior choice. (I’m acutely aware that the only person who is pressuring me to ‘conform’ is myself, but I’ll leave the psycho-analysis for another day I think.) Part of the whole package of a ‘post-uni life’ is the idea of moving to London – that being one of the bigger ingredients for success. It’s like baking powder – the cake is perfectly edible without it, but you aren’t going to win Bake Off if you don’t have it.

But what this week has helped me remember is that I took a ‘non-standard’ path for a reason, and I don’t need London to succeed. I’ve had a pretty successful week in terms of self-progress, and while a lot of that was due to being surrounding by some awesome people, I reckon just as much of it was down to my attitude. I don’t want to get all Sliding Doors about it, but this week in particular I’ve noticed so many little decisions and chances that – had they gone another way – would have had resulted in quite large changes. It’s an attitude thing, and my attitude, weirdly, goes where I go. So when I head back home my challenge to myself is to have as successful a week in ‘not-London’ as I did here.

It shouldn’t be that hard. But that’s the point – what’s been holding me back has been me.

And bad coffee. I’m going to blame that a little bit too…