Useful Work Tech Tools Actually Worth Your Time

MAKE 2017 MORE PRODUCTIVE WITH THESE USEFUL APPS AND ADD-ONS ...

There are literally hundreds and thousands of productivity-enhancing apps, add-ons and other technology services that promise to make your working life that little bit simpler and a whole lot easier. I often try out new bits here and there that I hope might make life a little more streamlined and efficient. However, I also delete or dismiss many things along the way as I just don't find them all that enhancing or useful. Like me, the last thing any of us need is a whole load of unwanted apps, emails or services clogging up our already overloaded daily online lives.

 Image Source: Unsplash

Image Source: Unsplash

Over time there are a few things that I've tried and continued to use and love. Apps and other online services that actually really help me out and I hope might do the very same for you. I thought I'd start sharing some of these as and when I have a list of favourites worthy of a mention. So starting today, check out my current recommendations, plus let me know any failsafe, can't live without apps or tech that you use on a daily basis that you think myself or other readers might also fall in love with.

1. Grammarly

As I often spend a large proportion of my day writing blog posts, proposals and lengthy emails this free spelling and grammar checker that you can install as an extension to Google Chrome (as well as use it in many other ways) is a godsend. I only use the free version and should probably think about upgrading to premium to get more of the very beneficial features. However, the free extension alone helps me out no end. 

Grammarly checks your grammar, punctuation and style as you write and if there are any mistakes to be fixed it will underline them in red and a little red circle will appear for you to click on to view and make changes to any errors. Seeing as Squarespace, the platform I use for this blog, has no built in spell checker I find this extension absolutely invaluable. It works across everything I do online and I love it. It also emails you once a week with a little update on how many words you've written which I think is quite a nice added and motivating feature!

2. Unroll.Me

One of the biggest distractions in my day, and I'm sure in many other peoples, is the dreaded email. I especially hate all of those nonsense emails that I get throughout the day from things I may have subscribed to ages ago and no longer have any interest in - or even from things that I'm interested in but don't want to be distracted by too many times throughout the day or week. Plus there are all the irritating things that you inadvertently get subscribed to just because you happen to have ordered or attended one thing, one time. This leads to way too much time just trying to clean up my inbox in order to even have a chance of tackling the actual important stuff! So step forward the very useful free services of the email 'unsubscription' service Unroll.Me which trust me is very, very handy.

Unroll.Me is a quick and simple way to clean up even the messiest of inboxes. Sign up with your email and it will instantly provide you with a list of everything that you have ever subscribed to. Simply go through the list and check the boxes to say whether you wish to add emails from each company to one easy daily digest or 'rollup' as they call it, whether you wish to unsubscribe altogether or whether you wish to keep the emails coming to your inbox as usual. This makes such a glorious difference to my daily email influx and is such a simple service that I've personally found incredibly beneficial.

3. Wordswag

The usefulness of the Wordswag app will depend on what you do for a living but if you spend a lot of time on social media, writing blogs or other articles online and like to share things like beautiful quotes or wish to overlay a title on a beautiful image as part of that, then this will come in incredibly useful - especially on the go from your phone. The app costs £3.99 but it's worth it. In my opinion this is one of the most user-friendly apps for words and imagery with some of the best results. 

4. Pexels and Unsplash

When I started this blog I really wanted to try and use my own imagery as much as possible. I love beautiful photos to accompany a post and spend far too long worrying about how something looks instead of just getting down to business! As time went on I realised that not having the right photographs was sometimes holding me back from just cracking on with getting my ideas down on the blog and out into the world. Plus as I often talk about work related subjects, creating my own suitable imagery can be a bit of a task. There are only so many ways that I can personally think of to photograph my own desk!

When I don't have personal, good quality images worth sharing to accompany an idea that I still want to share with the world, I now turn to either Pexels or Unsplash for royalty free stock photographs that are actually nice enough to headline a professional and creative post. These sites have really helped me out since using them and if you're in need of something similar I'd recommend trying them out. You don't even have to credit the photographs or photographer (I just do it to set them apart from my own imagery in line with my disclaimer!)

 

Which online tools or apps do you find most useful in your working lives? Anything you'd recommend me giving a go next for a more productive, inspired and creative 2017? I'd love to hear your favourites too!

Louise

 


3 Quick Ways To Create A Healthier Workspace

With spring just a knocking on our doors as we speak and a lovely glimpse of spring sunshine in the sky, today seemed like a good day to think about how we can embrace nature and use it to help create a healthier working space. So I'm sharing three super quick and easy ways to instantly refresh your workspace and in doing so give your work wellbeing a much needed extra boost.

 Image Source: Pexels

Image Source: Pexels

3 WAYS TO CREATE A HEALTHY WORKSPACE

1. Let Your Space Breathe: First and foremost try to let your working space 'breathe' as much as possible. I know this might not seem very inviting during the colder months, and not exactly refreshing when times are extra hot, but making sure that air circulates and clears as often as possible is really beneficial. It also gets rid of stale air and any nasty germs that are doing the rounds. 

Spring is certainly the time to embrace letting the fresh air in. Open those windows, doors and allow clean air to circulate. Don't over rely on heaters or air conditioners. It's especially effective to do this just after a fresh rainfall when that clean, rainy air can really help to cleanse your space.

2. Seek Out Natural Light: Over half of workers in the UK don't have access to natural light in their working environment. Natural light really makes a huge difference to your wellbeing in the office and something many people now look for when trying to create a healthier environment to work in.

If you can embrace natural light then make the very most of it in your working space. If you're not so lucky then consider bringing in full spectrum light bulbs that simulate natural light, as well as task focused lamps in areas where you need extra clarity and help. Plus ensure you're getting away from your desk and getting out in the fresh air on your lunch breaks and for shorter breaks throughout the day as much as possible.

3. Go Green And Bring Nature In: Studies have shown that workers who have greenery around them or who are able to see green open spaces from their workspace are actually more productive and their moods are suitably boosted. Bringing a bit of nature into your space is great for your wellbeing. It also encourages a little thing called micro-restoration, helping your brain to recharge throughout the day

Personally I'm a big fan of cacti and succulent type plants! They look pretty cool, don't have to take up much space and they don't need an awful lot of maintenance so for anyone out there like me who doesn't have the best track record when it comes to keeping plants alive, then these beauties are definitely the way to go. Another bonus is their lack of pollen so if you or your colleagues suffer from allergies then they aren't likely to offend!

 

What do you do to keep your work place feeling fresh and healthy? Do you think you'll be able to use and implement any of the above? 

Louise

 


Why It's Time To Start Single-Tasking

... AND HOW TO ACTUALLY DO IT!

Multi-tasking is over-rated. Not only that, science has demonstrated that it's actually bad for our health and for our productivity. We often think that juggling multiple tasks at once achieves more, makes us more efficient and is a sign of a truly effective working life. Truth is, it might not be as great as we think. So if like me you're constantly trying to manage at least three things at once, but ultimately keep finding you've got nothing done, then perhaps a new way of thinking will help us all to focus on the task in hand and actually get something finished - for once!

 Image Source: Pexels

Image Source: Pexels

The problem that we have, especially in this modern day, is that we're constantly required to give our attention to many things at once. I'm sure it's something you can relate to? We think that we're spinning many plates but really we're just flitting from one task or thought to another on a superficial level and not getting down to actually moving forward or making any real progress. If we could just focus on one thing at a time and see it through the effect on our productivity, wellbeing and mindset would actually be greatly improved. In fact in our careers, becoming more single-minded with your time and how you spend it is a real competitive advantage.

So how do we reign in that over-active brain and get it to hone in on what needs to be done?

Here are a four things that I have learned and am trying to put into practice daily. They're helping me so I hope they help you if you're finding it hard to focus too.

 

FOUR WAYS TO FOCUS ON ONE THING AT A TIME!

1. PRIORITISE: Yes I've written many a post about making a list I know but I still believe it's the best way to start your day. Working out everything that needs to be done and then working out what needs to be done first. The trick is to get everything down so that you can manage it into sizeable chunks and focus your attention. Don't let the list control you. Once it's done choose your first task and set the list aside. As wonderful as a to-do list can be, sometimes we can actually get so obsessed with what's on it, adding to it and trying to organise it, that we forget to start working on the tasks that we actually put on it!

2. TURN OFF OUTSIDE DISTRACTIONS: Phone OFF, Email OFF, TV OFF, Music OFF! Whatever pulls your attention away from the task in hand, switch it off, move away from it, create the space you need to get things done. Don't let yourself get interrupted. Set boundaries so that people know when you're available and when you're not. Allow yourself to become absorbed by what needs to be done and do it!

3. BLOCK CERTAIN TASKS TOGETHER: The aforementioned phone calls, emails and other communication based interruptions are of course all still very important, especially in your daily working life. So whilst you need to set them aside in order to focus, you still need to tackle them at some point during the day. This is when it helps to cluster such tasks together.

Set times and time limits throughout the day on which to give these tasks your attention. You may wish to spend 30-45 minutes on emails in the morning before you get started on the rest of your day. Then another cluster of time answering messages just after lunch. That's fine. Set your own boundaries and don't stray. When it's time to move away do so and make sure your brain comes with you! Try not to allow it to keep thinking about that last email you just read or phone call you just had. This can take time to get used to, but after a while it gets easier, especially if you've allocated time to come back and deal with any issues an hour or so down the line.

4. THINK: IS MY BRAIN HERE WITH ME? All of the above points may sound very useful but they're completely fruitless if you can't get your brain to stay with you and focus. Your body may be going through the motions of the job you're supposed to be working on, but your brain is most likely considering what you should do next, how you should answer your bosses email, what you need to organise for this afternoons meeting etc, etc.

It's hard to stop this wandering mind but it can be done with a little practice. First you have to recognise when it's straying. If you're in that meeting you set aside to talk through a colleagues questions on an upcoming project, are you really in that meeting or are you thinking about something else? Bring yourself back to the moment and keep doing so each and every time you float away!

Start your single-tasking journey in small chunks. If you're an avid multi-tasker you can't expect your brain to suddenly adapt to focusing hard on one single thing for a long period of time. It just won't happen. Instead break it down to more manageable time frames of around 15 minutes and build upon it. This is a slightly different example but I think I mentioned in my January making time to read post that I find it hard to focus on reading because of so many outside, online and in person distractions. So sitting down to read for an hour or two straight off the bat is just not going to happen for me. Smaller chunks are more achievable and before you know it, you've extended that and have started to find a much deeper focus.

 

So give the single tasking life a go! If you don't believe how good it can be I've picked out a couple of really useful articles shown below that may be interesting reads. Let me know if you have any top tricks for focusing on getting one thing done at a time and if you find it helpful to approach work and life this way? All advice very welcome, this is an ongoing challenge of mine!

Louise

 

USEFUL READS

Why Single-Tasking Is Your Greatest Competitive Advantage - Todoist.com

Multi-tasking Damages Your Brain And Career - Forbes.com 

 


Working From Home And Staying Focused

The thought of working for yourself and from home is understandably something that's very appealing to many and it certainly has its perks and benefits. However being on your own schedule all the time, as freeing and exciting as it may seem, can be a tricky thing to manage. Motivation, lack of camaraderie, difficulty in switching off, being but a few of the obstacles to overcome. 

Inspired by some recent posts that I've read myself on the subject whilst looking for ideas to help me in my own 'working at home life', I felt it might be nice to share some of the tips and resources that I've come across here today for anyone else faced with, or thinking of going into a similar situation.

 Image Source: Pexels

Image Source: Pexels

1. Set Boundaries Both For Yourself And For Family And Friends: 

When you have what might seem like a flexible schedule and you work for yourself, it's easy to get carried away with that flexibility and forget to get to the point of actually tackling your workload!

As tempting as it may be to drop everything and go out with a friend in the middle of the day, and as nice as it is to have the option to do this every now and again, ultimately you need to be clear that you have a workload to get through just as anyone else would do, working for a company or organisation in an office. 

This was something I found quite tricky at first. It was nice to be able to say yes to things that I would previously have to miss because of the boundaries of the 9 to 5. However after a while all play and no work actually starts to get you down and of course has a very negative impact on whatever you're trying to achieve. You need to try and stick to socialising outside of office hours just as you would in any other job. If you need to, set actual official working hours for your week so that people know when you're free and when you're not. Stick to these boundaries, as hard as it sometimes might seem, and don't feel guilty that you have to say no to things during your set working week.

MORE: For some interesting further reading and tips check out this article here: How To Set Boundaries When You Work From Home via Talented Ladies Club.

 

2. Seek Out Support And Camaraderie:

Now I'm quite happy working away by myself getting things done and pottering away! Yet I never really anticipated just how lonely working for yourself can be if you don't make the effort to make it otherwise.

Online communities, fellow bloggers and writers (or people in your given industry) are fantastic and that's one great way to feel a little less isolated, but I still miss actual human interaction and this can be hard to manage when your job doesn't really involve an awful lot of phone calls or face to face meetings. Of course you can put yourself out there to go to events, network and meet people but there's only so much of that you can do in one week because again, this interferes with the actual sat at your desk, focused office time that you need in order to get stuff done.

These days though, with the benefit of wifi pretty much everywhere you go, you can get out of the house, be around other human beings and still get your work on!

One thing I like to do is to pop my notebook and laptop into my bag and make my way down to my nearest coffee shop. This is a great way to get a little bit of hustle and bustle and interactivity happening around you whilst you nurse a cup of tea or coffee and sit and tap out a few emails or tackle whatever is on your to do list. Even just an hour or so out of the house at the start of your day can have a great impact by getting your brain switched on and in gear, giving you a change of scenery and actually getting you dressed instead of sitting typing away in your pyjamas all day - not good people but yes sometimes it happens!

It's also important to make sure you do make plans to see friends (after your working day has finished, remember point one!) and keep yourself sociable rather than becoming something of a hermit. Make sure you put some effort into making some simple plans each week, even if that's just meeting someone for a quick drink or bite to eat. It's all too easy to get lost in what you're doing and forget to make any arrangements until it's too late. So set aside a little time to make sure you're still getting some socialising into your life. Point one might be about setting boundaries for the working day but when that day ends you need to switch off, get out and be with people who you can relax and enjoy spending time with, taking your mind off of the work.

MORE: After more ideas and inspiration? Read this: 6 Ways to Combat Loneliness When You Work Alone by John Brandon.

 

3. Keep Fit And Healthy:

Even if you don't consider yourself to be someone who gets much exercise, it's amazing how much healthier and fitter you tend to be when you have to physically 'go' to work. At home it's all too easy to stay stuck at the computer from morning till night, eat badly partly I suppose because of the loneliness factor and a little boredom and partly because you can get into a spiral of not taking care of yourself in the same way when you're hiding away from the rest of the world. Mentally it can be very difficult too, lending itself to moments of great insecurity and self doubt, without a boss or colleagues around you to give you the boost that you sometimes need to keep you going. 

So you really need to make a conscious effort to take a break and exercise, eat well and do things to help keep you in a positive mindset. This can take some planning, willpower and motivation but it's really worth it. It really will make your working life, and your health, much better. Trust me I speak from experience!

If you're struggling to find the drive and determination to get going then start small. Every little helps in my opinion and I really believe that doing something is far better than doing nothing at all. A while ago I wrote a couple of posts that might help to inspire you with some unique ways to get a little more movement into your life: Work Out For Progress Not Just Perfection and Keep On Moving: Time To Photocise may just spark some ideas and helpful interest.

When it comes to what you eat then take a visit over to Laura at the blog Wholeheartedly Healthy and sign up to her newsletter to get sent regular, realistic and actionable advice for maintaining healthier eating patterns and a better lifestyle.

MORE: Take a look at Staying Healthy as a Freelancer: 9 Important Self-Care Strategies via TheWriteLife.com.

 

4. Create A Proper Working Space:

Don't feel that you aren't entitled to a proper workspace and have to be confined to the sofa and your laptop if you work from home. Firstly you need a proper space to be able to keep well and healthy, take care of your back and so on and so forth. Secondly having a space to call your own, a space to specifically go to and start your official working day, is incredibly important for your mindset.

Now this doesn't mean having to have a large office and loads of extra space with all of the latest gadgets, technology and trimmings. Few of us can actually achieve this. It just means creating a little space of your own, with the basics to hand that you need and with a little happy inspiration around you. 

This is where our trusty friend Pinterest can really offer up some great ideas! Try searching these pins to get yourself inspired: Small Home Office Spaces and think about what's important to you for motivation and how you can incorporate that into a space that will work for you.

MORE: Need more ideas? This article has some great tips to get you started: 7 Tips For Creating A Functional Home Workspace via Mashable.

 

5. Don't Worry About What Other People Are Thinking:

When you decide to work for yourself, and especially if you're choosing to do something a little unusual and perhaps outside of the 'norm', then it's likely I'm afraid that you will come across some people who find it hard to understand your choices. This can be tricky to handle, especially when you're already finding it hard to manage all of the other stuff going on as mentioned above.

I guess that there's a tendency for people to think you're kind of just sitting around at home on the sofa and not really doing very much. Often people don't mean to come across in a potentially negative way, all they're doing is trying to understand a process that they haven't experienced for themselves. People can never really see exactly what goes on behind the scenes and it's exhausting and a waste of time worrying about trying to explain it.

Switch off from any potential doubters, stick to your belief in what you're doing and work hard to make it work. Try as you might you will never be able to fully explain what it is you do and how you do it. So just concentrate on what's important to you, get your head down, do the work and trust that all will come good in the end.

Oh and if things don't work out and you have to find another plan then that's no problem either. Think of all of the lessons that you learn on daily basis especially when you work for yourself. When you're boss, admin, finance, PR, creative, photographer, writer, IT guru and everything else that's required all rolled into one. Invaluable and never ever a wasted moment.

MORE: For some further help in this area I will turn to my favourite positive thinking guru Marie Forleo and her post entitled: How To Get Over The Fear Of Being Judged By Others.

 

6. Know When It's Time To Switch Off:

Now this is something that takes real determination and it applies to everyone not just people who work from home. We all have our work at our fingertips these days with smart phones, tablets, laptops, email access and social media. I guess when you're kind of in charge of it all and it's your passion, idea and ultimately reputation on the line it can become that little bit more all-consuming. 

This is one of those areas where I'm kind of in the 'do as I say but not as I do' category. Switching off is hard. The normal constraints of the Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 (ish) hours, and structured annual leave go well out of the window. Late nights, early hours of the morning, weekends and your holidays all suddenly come up for grabs by the working bug unless you work very hard not to let them. Plus when you go away you don't have a colleague to hand over your work too and switch off for a few days.

Even though I'm lucky enough to go away a fair bit, we love to travel and we do so whenever we get the chance, suddenly my laptop now goes wherever I go. My camera comes out at every meal, at every unique spot or interesting landmark that might be something worth writing about. It's hard to stop checking Twitter, Instagram and all the other stuff that now sits merrily on the phone at the touch of a button, making sure I'm still having an 'online presence!' etc, etc, etc - you know the drill!

I think this is something that takes time to handle. At first you don't want to stop because your heart and soul are so engaged with what you're doing. Then you get exhausted and realise that perhaps you're going to have to stop. Then eventually you learn that you have to be strict and set your own boundaries in order to keep yourself sane!

MORE: Here are some interesting reads to help you further on this subject: How To Switch Off From Work When You Go On Holiday via The Telegraph and How To Switch Off When You Work At Home via Kim Lawler Creative. 

 

Do you work for yourself from home? What are your top tips for survival?!

Louise