Personal Development

Improvising Workflow

Improvising your workflow

Calculator WorkWhen you get comfortable in an occupation you begin to develop a unique way of getting things done. Through trial and error and experience you develop a workflow which makes your work easier and makes you more productive. Part of this development of efficiency involves identifying the best tools for different jobs, learning how long certain tasks will take or even how best to interact with different people. The problem, however is that many times our ideal workflow is interrupted and we have to improvise to get things done.

Plan BAs a website developer and graphic artist I use tools such as Adobe Dreamweaver, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator all the time. I am accustomed to the software so it is easy for me to use. It also produces work that can easily be transferred to the desired medium whether online or in print. However, there are occasionally times when I have to work without my preferred tools and I am forced to use alternatives which are not as well suited for the job.  Here are a few reasons that we may be forced to improvise our workflow:

  • The tools that we are accustomed to are not available
  • The customer insists on using a specific tool or system
  • Our current workflow is incompatible with the job at hand
  • The scope or budget of the project does not justify the time and effort of using the normal workflow

Tools MiningIt is easy to refuse to change our workflow and there are some situations when this is an appropriate response – if a specific change will adversely affect the quality of the job and in turn misrepresent the quality of your brand for instance. There are  situations, on the other hand, when we need to adapt and do the job regardless of the situation not being ideal. When I am working out of the office I am at the mercy of the whichever internet connection I end up using. If it is not as fast as I am accustomed to I have to adjust and find a way to get things done. I may do more graphic designs than website work to compensate for the poor internet access. Improvising is a way of staying productive when conditions

Sooner or later there will come a time when we have to improvise on the job. It may be an uncomfortable situation and an unwelcome change. Being able to adapt to different situations can help us through these stressful periods though. Try using an alternative tool in a non-critical situation to get familiar with it in case you have to use it some day. Practice operating in less than ideal conditions to learn how to react with both the conditions and the emotional impact it has on you. Practising how to improvise will help to make it second nature when it is really needed.

Strong work ethic

Develop your work ethic in your “bad” job

Let’s face it, very few people get to work at their dream job right away and everyone experiences challenges at work. These “bad” jobs may be stepping stones to your dream job although the negativity surrounding them can be very demotivating. You can, however, use these as opportunities to develop the skills and work ethic you need to achieve your goals.

Tough training ground

Work Ethic: TrainingConsider your bad job not only as a means to an end but as a training ground for developing skills that would otherwise be difficult to develop. The insatiable boss may teach you to deal with aggressive clients in the future. The annoying co-worker may teach you the patience to collaborate with other diverse individuals at your dream job. The same way military personnel may have to undergo rigorous training to earn their ranks you may also have to undergo uncomfortable training at a job that you are not happy with. The trick is to use the negative situation to strengthen yourself with the knowledge that you have no intention of staying in this position indefinitely.

Strong work ethic will reap future rewards

Work Ethic: CelebrateIt is easy to be discouraged when your hard work is not acknowledged and you are not compensated as you think you should be. Why should you work hard while others just cruise through the workday hardly doing anything? Although your work ethic may not be recognized in your present job strong work ethic is a good habit that should not be broken. It can be invaluable when you start working for yourself or if you change jobs. Keeping your work of a high quality is a personal representation of your most valuable brand – you. Even though you do not get the promotion or the raise, your work ethic will be a valuable attribute in the event that you decide to quit and join the job market or start your own business.

You are noticed

Work Ethic: NoticedJust because your hard work is not rewarded does not mean it is not noticed or not appreciated. Your boss may not think much of you but others will notice your hard work. This opens up networking opportunities even while you are at the “bad” job. Being able to perform in an undesirable situation makes your work ethic just that much more impressive. You may be noticed by your boss’ superior, another head in the company or a complete outsider and gain an opportunity to make a career change. Contacts you have made a good impression on can become valuable allies if you decide to start your own business venture as well.

Whether or not you should stay in a “bad” job is a personal decision and relies greatly on your individual situation. Some people feel the need for a secure income even though it is less than ideal and different people have different thresholds for annoyances they can tolerate. Whatever your decision is, a strong work ethic puts you in the position of power to be proactive and make your dream job a reality.


Open Source Creative Suite

Create your own open source Creative Suite

Adobe Creative Suite/Creative Cloud is pretty much the industry standard in design software. However, the cost of these products may be a major barrier to entry for many budding designers. Fortunately you can use various open source software to create your own free creative suite. You will not get all the functionality of Adobe’s flagship products but this collection of programs may be a suitable replacement for the cash strapped designer or proponent of open source.

Gimp LogoGimp (Image Editing) – alternative to Adobe Photoshop

Gimp is a free image editing program with many of the same basic functions of Photoshop and other image editing programs. It allows you to create and edit images and save them in various file  formats including Photoshop’s PSD.

Inkscape LogoInkscape (llustration) – alternative to Adobe Illustrator

Inkscape allows you to create vector graphics and illustrations that scale well without loss of quality. Utilizing bezier and spiro curves you can create illustrations similar to those you can create in Adobe Illustrator. Inkscape boasts support for a wide range of vector file formats and can export files in raster format as well.

Komodo EditKomodo Edit (website development)  – alternative to Dreamweaver

Komodo Edit is a free code editor that is ideal for anyone who is comfortable using the code view of Adobe Dreamweaver. While it does not include the advanced WYSIWYG functionality of Adobe Dreamweaver’s design view, if you only need to edit code it is more than capable. It includes code auto-completion and code highlighting with support for various programming languages.

Scribus LogoScribus (desktop publishing) – alternative to Adobe InDesign

Scribus is a desktop publishing program suitable for formatting documents for printing or digital publication. The program can handle colour separations and can save files as PDF.



Komodo Edit





Peak Productivity Zone

Finding your peak productivity zone

Peak ProductivityYou may not always think about what affects your productivity but there are many factors that play a role in how productive you can be. Favourable working conditions allow you to get more done while unfavourable ones provide distractions and other obstacles to productivity. You may not be able to control your work environment all the time but by making a few little changes you may be able to discover your peak productivity zone.

Consider the following questions when determining how to reach your peak productivity zone:

  • Physical conditions: Do you work best before meals or after meals? When are you least tired? Do you require special ergonomic conveniences in your workspace?
  • Time: Do you work better at day or by night? Do you work better when you are punctual or you get to work just on time? Do you need breaks at strategic times to boost your productivity?
  • Environmental conditions: Are you distracted by noise, heat or unpleasant smells in your workplace? Do you get along well with co-workers? If you work from home are you distracted by chores, family members, neighbours?
  • Geographical conditions: Do you usually have to work on the go? Do you prefer working in an office or at home? Do you have access to the technology and equipment you need to do your job at different locations?

Your peak productivity zone simply refers to the conditions where you can perform at your best. It is in these conditions you kick into gear and can get the most work done. It may be the time when you are most comfortable doing work or the time where urgency demands a heightened level of performance to achieve objectives. To identify your peak productivity zone you will have to look at your performance and the factors that affect it. Tweak certain aspects of your work to determine what conditions allow you to be the most productive. Once you have identified your peak productivity zone it is easier to get back into that zone when necessary.

As a freelance website designer I usually have to work from various locations, including client offices. I am most productive at home though, where I can control most of the variables about my workspace and working hours. Do you have a peak productivity zone? Feel free to share yours in the comments.


Celebrate Small Victories

Celebrate small victories to boost productivity

Celebrate Small VictoriesEven though you love doing your job there are times when you may become overwhelmed or frustrated. In these times it is easy to focus on what is going wrong since, after all, you want to fix it. Focussing exclusively on problems that are difficult to solve can be discouraging and frustrate you even more. It is important not to forget what works well and celebrate the successes that you can identify in challenging times. Here are some reasons why you should celebrate the small victories.

It boosts confidence

Just as a team is more confident after winning a few matches, individuals also gain confidence in there ability to succeed after other successes. These successes do not necessarily have to be related. The simple act of accomplishing an objective gives you the feeling that you can do what you put your mind to and this confidence allows you to see your challenges as only temporary.

It injects positivity into the situation

Celebrating an accomplishment allows you to focus on positive aspects of work, especially when negative ones may be bearing down on you. If you are working on a large and difficult project, any task that you accomplish  which brings you closer to completing the project is a small victory. By keeping these small victories in mind the entire situation may not look that bad. Your positive attitude may also influence those you work with and release some tension.

It refocuses you

Celebrating small victories refocuses your mind on your successes instead of dwelling on your failures. The big picture becomes accomplishment of the entire task rather than getting through the drudgery of the task. This slight change in perception of the situation can help you focus on it in a more productive way.

Celebrating small victories does not require a party or a bragging session. It can be a quiet acknowledgement of your success or even giving yourself a small treat. It does not have to be extravagant or lavish to work. You should however, ensure that you acknowledge your progress and use that to motivate you to accomplish your goals.

Multitasking Bottleneck

Avoiding the multitasking bottleneck

Things to doMultitasking has long been associated with  productivity but its effectiveness relies greatly on the ability of the person doing the multitasking and the combination of tasks being done. Some people are capable of handling multiple responsibilities well while others may feel overwhelmed. Some tasks are also more of a distraction than a productivity boost. Regardless of how good you are at multitasking, you have to be aware of multitasking bottlenecks that can affect productivity.

Too much to do

The best jugglers in the word have their limits and you do too. The more tasks you try to do simultaneously the less time you have to spend on specific tasks. There is also the problem of having to switch concentration between tasks which  can take time as well as mental effort. The more this has to be done the larger the strain will be. Limiting the number of tasks  you attempt at once may help to reduce this strain. Mixing simple tasks with more complicated  ones can also help reduce the overhead of switching focus while multitasking.

Too many distractions

Social media, phone calls, emails and a myriad of unexpected tasks can distract you from your intended workload. When this occurs you may find it difficult to complete tasks on your to do list and the tasks that you do complete may seem trivial. While distractions may  be helpful to relieve stress or break monotony, too many distractions can seriously hamper productivity. One way to combat this is to eliminate the sources of distractions. Obviously this cannot always be done, but cell phones can be put away and televisions can be turned off. You can also substitute positive distractions for negative ones. Playing some music could drown out the disruptive co-worker or noisy neighbour.

Prioritization of tasks

All tasks do not have the same urgency and multitasking may not be the ideal option for every situation. Checking emails can be postponed until after the meeting and the report that team members need may have to be done together with other tasks to ensure that it is completed on time. Prioritizing tasks can help you concentrate on the tasks that matter most instead of multitasking just for the sake of multitasking.

The benefits of multitasking cannot be denied but the danger of doing it wrong cannot be ignored. The multitasking bottleneck leaves you with so many tasks to accomplish that very little actually gets accomplished. By being aware of the pitfalls we can avoid them, multitask more effectively and be more productive.

Out of Office

Benefits of Working Anywhere

LaptopOne of the best things about freelancing is that you are not restricted to working in a specific location or at a specific time. This gives you the freedom to juggle your work around your schedule rather than having it the other way around. As a website designer one of the main prerequisites that I have for a workplace is a reliable internet connection. I can easily travel with my laptop and once I put on my headphones distractions become minimal. This flexibility is invaluable since I often have to work at different places or at irregular times. Here are a few advantages of being able to telecommute rather than work strictly out of an office.

Choose your working hours

While 8am – 4pm or 9am – 5pm are ideal daylight hours who’s to say that you work best in the day? Furthermore, these are the times with the most distractions and may not be the times that inspiration suddenly hits you. Being able to choose your own working hours allows you to work when you know you will be more productive. It also allows you the flexibility of working more than one job.

Make yourself comfortable

Since there is no need to dress formally at home or behave in a certain manner this allows you to be more comfortable. You can play music, go outside, or even work fro the comfort of your bed if you are not feeling 100%.  You can avoid the stress of traveling to an office and use the time t would have taken to commute for other purposes.

Work on the go

When you work from different locations you tend to take steps to make your files available wherever you are. This might be done by utilizing cloud services to synchronize files over the internet. You may also choose to  use software such as TeamViewer to access your computer remotely. There is also the option of working with a mobile computer such as a laptop or tablet which you can easily carry along with you. You can use this at the airport or at any hotspot to get a little work done while on a trip. This is great practice for the tie when you have to work from a client’s office or other unfamiliar location.

Draw inspiration from your surroundings

Some people work in a spacious comfortable office while others work in drab, cramped cubicles. Choosing your own work environment can help you to draw inspiration from your surroundings. Simple things such as a window view can make a great difference especially if you are doing creative work.

Collaborate freely

Networking can be done in many forms and working away from the office helps both online and offline networking. You can meet clients or team members face to face and work with them wherever they are. You can also use social networks and programs such as Skype to have video or voice conferences once you have internet connectivity.

Working anywhere can mean working at home or working at a foreign location. There will always be a preferred working environment but you may not always have access to this. The trick to working from different places is to be prepared and to be flexible enough to adjust to different environments. Once you have done so you may find the benefits it affords quite refreshing.


Balance Education & Business

Balancing business and education

Education vs Business

One of the challenges of operating a business is figuring out how to perform the daily operations of the business as well as stay updated with the news trends and developments in the  industry. This is especially true in the information technology industry where changes happen very rapidly, but it applies for almost any type of industry over time. How do you stay updated with the latest ideas and techniques without sacrificing delivering your core products/services? This question weighs heavier on a sole proprietor than any other type of business due to limited resources. Here are some tips that I have used to balance the delicate scale of learning and working.

Prioritize formal education for a fixed time period

You may be naturally adept at your job but at some point you may desire a formal recognition of your talent. To get the degree or certification that you want you may have to go back to school. Your business does not have to stop because you are taking classes though. You can do courses online from accredited sources while still running your business. If you do decide to obtain a degree or certification though, ensure that you make it a priority and invest in your education. After you receive your degree or certification you will be even more qualified to run the business efficiently. If you want your business to succeed, however, you should not reduce your influence on it indefinitely. Give yourself enough time to get the formal education that is necessary then refocus your knowledge  and new-found expertise on growing your business.

Continue with informal education throughout your career

Despite our best efforts, we will never know it all and we will never be recognized for all that we know. To remain competitive we must learn, adapt and innovate. This can only be done by continuing education through experiences, opportunities and even failures. The internet gives us access to many resources that we can use to educate ourselves at our own pace. Although this type of education may not be formerly recognized, you have access to various types of multimedia to suit your individual learning needs.

Learn from the experience of others

Influencers are people who have gained a reputation in their field and are regarded as good sources of advice. These influencers can teach us from their own experience and success/failure stories. By learning from these individuals’ work ethic and approach to problems we can gain insights from the professionals that have already been through the challenges we are facing. These insights can help us to avoid making the same mistakes and prepare us for some of the challenges in store.

Keep a futuristic view of business

Your business is operating now but your goals are based on future success and profits. With that in mind you have to be focussed on your goals and the environment in which you are operating. The rise of social media has changed the behaviour of many in your target audience and future developments are likely to have a similar impact. Being able to foresee these trends allows you to be better prepared for them. Change can be challenging especially if it requires leaving your comfort zone but it is often necessary. Do not let the challenges of today make you lose sight of the opportunities of tomorrow.

Go beyond your comfort zone

Push beyond your comfort zone

Push beyond your comfort zoneIt is human nature to come up with ways to perform tasks that we do regularly more efficiently and quickly. This innovative spirit has led to the invention of some seemingly simple but useful tools which have stood the test of time such as the wheel. When we learn how to do something new we practice and through repetition we become better at doing the task. When we are familiar with the task it becomes manageable and we enter our comfort zone. This is great because it makes us confident in ourself and our ability and allows us to perform with minimum extra effort. Unfortunately, staying in your comfort zone can also be very limiting. Here are a few reasons why we should not be afraid to step out of our comfort zone.

New opportunities usually lie outside our comfort zone

The dreaded job interview or the difficult classes and horrible exams all represents situations that make us uncomfortable but which are necessary for our advancement. We can avoid and ignore them but then we miss out on the opportunities we might have if we take them seriously and succeed. There is usually an element of risk involved in any investment and an investment in personal development  is no different. There is the risk of failure as well as the emotional strain involved with unfamiliar tasks and high expectations. Before we master any field we have to learn what we need to do and develop our skills. Therefore,  it is possible that something out of our comfort zone eventually becomes quite comfortable.

Our true potential cannot be unlocked if we refuse to challenge ourselves

It is difficult to grow and develop if you do not take on new challenges and test your abilities. Many of us have latent gifts that may not be fully utilized in our day to day lives. These skills may be restricted by our own routine rather than by anything else. Trying something new could unleash hidden abilities you never knew you had. It can also serve as a revelation of your weaknesses which you can improve on. Learning to swim is an ideal example. Before you get it you feel like you are drowning but it becomes second nature once you get accustomed to it and you can venture out further in the water than before.

Experience builds character

Our experiences, good or bad, help to shape our character and teach us what to expect in life and how to deal with various situations. By limiting ourselves to only comfortable situations we do not learn how to handle the difficult situations that may occur in the workplace or elsewhere. Sexual harassment, racism, prejudice are all issues we may come across in life and we should be ready to deal with these uncomfortable issues if they arise. Being ethical may often mean being controversial and standing up against someone else. Our successes also help boost our morale, especially when they come unexpectedly.

Versatility makes us more marketable

If you have ever heard the expression “think outside the box” you may already have an idea of the importance of creativity and innovative thinking. Going outside our comfort zone allows us to explore new ideas, new methods and exposes us to alternate ways of thinking. This makes us more well-rounded individuals which in turn makes us more marketable in an ever more competitive world.

When the opportunity arrives do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone as long as you remain ethical and act responsibly. Be willing to accept challenges that will help you to develop and grow positively.





Information Overload

5 ways to fight information overload

Information OverloadHow do you manage all the information that you have access to? With websites such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, ,YouTube and various other individual websites of interest there are countless sources of information and distraction online. Offline there is the  television, radio, books and various other personal electronic devices. We are bombarded with information from multiple angles and multiple sources. This level of information can seem overwhelming and can adversely affect your productivity if not handled properly.

Here are 5 methods I use to combat information overload.

  1. Prioritize tasks by both importance and deadline
  2. Eliminate unnecessary duplicate sources of the same information
  3. Take breaks from tedious tasks to avoid being burnt out
  4. Alternate between long duration tasks and short duration tasks
  5. Disconnect for a while and do something else

These methods allow me to remain focussed on my goals and help to minimize the impact of distractions. I can never get rid of all distractions and things will always come up. Having a plan makes it easier to recognize when I am deviating from my objectives so I can get back on track.