Working alone can be tiresome. If you are your own boss, it can be pretty gruelling to keep tabs of your schedule, stay on top of development plans, keep up communications with friends, family, business contacts and your wider network.

Here are five tips that I find help me enormously on days where I work alone.

1. Structure your day

Decide on a routine and stick to it and don’t be tempted to “just do this” when it means overshooting your alloted time

2. Be mindful of your caffeine intake

It is very easy to keep piling up biscuits and gulping down pints of coffee, but this can have a deleterious effect on concentration and productivity

3. Get outside!

As simple as it sounds, taking just 30 minutes away from your screen at lunchtime can make the second half of your day as productive as the first

4. Speak to people

Being totally isolated and not having the benefit of human interaction can make the brain lethargic.  Stimulation by interaction – whether a phone call, or video chat, can help minimise this

5. Decide on your end time

If you are the type of person who likes to knock off 30 mins early, see if you can discipline yourself  to complete “on time”.  Or, if you tend to overshoot and work longer than you should, be firm.  Make your deadline real and stick to it.

I find that these simple rules help maintain a clear mind during both busy and less intense periods.

Let’s be clear:  I am a stubborn git.  I’m the first to admit it.  To the dismay or, perhaps, bemusement of my friends, I struggle with product concepts such as the iPhone, iTunes, Amazon Kindle, eBooks in general, Facebook and Skype.

My friends tell me it’s because I don’t like to conform with the “normal” things that everyone else does.  Things like broadcasting my whereabouts and the company I keep at all times in my life, wherever I am.  Apparently, disagreeing with the background, terms of service, patenting practices and Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) of various “social media” service providers is anti-social and rebellious.

It’s a curious thing to be a digital pariah.

What my friends don’t understand is that I don’t restrict my opinions to Apple, Facebook Inc., Microsoft and Amazon.  It’s just that they’re the companies my friends use, so to relate to them I cite them as examples.  I feel exactly the same way towards some of Google’s services and products, although I do have slightly more faith in Google than any of the above named alternatives.  They do more good, in my opinion.  And, with Google, at least you have confidence in being able to delete anything you create.

My main objections to these services & products, then, are:

  • privacy: I do not wish to be “guilty by association” on any social network.  Being tagged without my permission, and/or the attempt of tagging me (whether I disallow or permit the tag – or ignore the attempt to tag) is not acceptable.  It is especially unacceptable when I have no faith that the service provider will protect my interests as a private individual and law-abiding citizen.
  • security: anyone remember when the iPhone took pictures of its users without their knowledge?
  • product quality: I am not interested in any iDevice because of the standard of software engineering and product management.  I am also not interested due to the restrictive rules of the app store.
  • freedom and flexibility: smartphones are good if they are flexible.  If I buy any device with gigabytes of storage, I want to be able to use it for whatever purpose I choose.  And, I don’t want to use any device:
  • with a proprietary connector which requires an expensive proprietary cable to connect it to a computer;
  • which uses a proprietary, “secret” protocol that my chosen computer can’t connect to;
  • that virtually prohibits me from putting my own digital content on the device, rather than that obtained through the device vendor’s sales channel;
  • that supports in any way the obscuring of content I have a right to, or in some way supports an ecosystem where the alteration, deletion or other control of content is deemed “acceptable” through the EULA;
  • that limits me!
  • On this last point, it worries me that Google Inc are appearing to adopt the Apple way of doing things on their Nexus devices – and in their cloud software. Not being able to use additional data storage (no SD card in a phone, in this instance) means a greater reliance on the Google way of doing things.  Android software is becoming less flexible with regard to media storage (the camera app no longer lets you select the photo storage location, for example, although Android still supports external SD cards and will utilise media stored on it).
There is a greater trend also: that of the death of physical media and moving everything “into the cloud”.  There are a few fundamental problems with this:
  • Physical media can be shared and enjoyed by more than one person.  Sharing is not copying nor is it stealing.  If I am attending a family gathering – a party, say, then I am free to bring along a couple of CDs to play.  How can this simple act be replicated by cloud-only storage?  If we all use cloud-storage network devices at home, sharing a CD will become impossibly.
  • One solution to this, touted by a friend, was to “bring along your iPod“.  Disregarding that I wouldn’t have an iPod, introducing this as a solution means I would have to ensure that my portable music player is up to date with all my music.  A solution to that is, of course, a cloud-based music service – iTunes and Google Play Music are two obvious contenders.  But there’s a further problem: connectivity.  Is a 3.5mm headphone plug to amp/speakers standard equipment in most households?  Unlikely.  So there my music stays, locked inside my device unable to be shared.
  • Books.  I can pick up a physical book, read it, share it.  I will probably get my book back if the borrower is respectful, thus I haven’t been denied it in the process of lending.  Can the same be said of eBooks?  Can one “lend” an eBook to a friend? Perhaps.  More worryingly, though,, can it even be guaranteed that any digital eBook provider will not alter original material or remove any purchased books from my library?  Again, unlikely.
  • We begin to see, further and further, that DRM is abused by on-line content providers.  We are restricted in new ways that the old ways couldn’t (and shouldn’t) prevent.  It is troubling that access to information is price-controlled in this way; entire cultural values can and will be influenced by the (lack of) availability and slowly, surely, belief systems and perceptions of free thinking and free will may be curtailed, even ceasing to (legally) exist.   Hello, 2084.
    This is why I will not lock my photo, book or audio content in any on-line silo.  I will always have off-line access to my copies of digital media and I encourage others to do this also.
    Does this make me a stubborn git? Or does this make me someone who is not prepared to endure extortionate business practices with items as important as art, literature and music…?

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    It takes a long time to ditch those applications with which you’re intimately familiar.

    It starts, quite often, with your Office Suite.  No, I’m not talking about desk and chair, but rather Microsoft Office.  Excel is an excellent spreadsheet tool, there’s no doubt of that.  But quite often, people like to work differently to the prescribed “norm”, and Libre Office allows just that.  It’s not the only open source office suite, of course: there’s also KOffice, the Abiword/Gnumeric combiniation and so on.

    Recently I’ve ditched other proprietary applications which I have worked with for years.  Why?  Well, for one I believe that switching applications is good, because it challenges you to think differently.  You have to learn new ways of doing old things, and this can help you think of new, better things to do.

    Secondly, you get no love with proprietary applications.  Time and again, you pay your money and end up getting no support.  So, really, what is the point?  I’m not just talking about Microsoft, either; many proprietary software vendors are only able to make a profit by re-packaging open source software and selling access to it from within a proprietary system. Parallels, I’m thinking of you here.

    The only way to beat companies is to not buy their products. It’s this simple.  Here are the ways I have ditched proprietary software:

    • Operating System: was Microsoft Windows XP, is now Fedora (16, currently)
    • Email:  was Microsoft Outlook, is now Mozilla Thunderbird
    • Office: was Microsoft Office, is now Libre Office
    • Web Browser: was always Firefox 😉
    • ..the list goes on…

    I think it may be a good idea to start calling this “Fortnightly [p]review”…


    Last week

    Work
    • [-] Update CRM database with new data/purge old
    • [X] Layout fixes for customer web site
    • [-] Modify company site (content/volume/images)
    • [ ] Price review
    • [ ] Review marketing and sketch out action plan
    • [-] Draft templates for sales process
    • [-] Add help documentation for new web-based calendar tool
    • [X] Hosting set-up
    • [X] Prepare for new project (TBC)
    • [X] Complete SVN/Bugzilla integration project
    • [X] Housekeeping
    Life
    • [ ] Continue documentation effort for F/LOSS project
    • [X] Kung Fu
    • [X] Swimming x 2
    • [X] Finish sci-fi book
    • [X] Continue Personal Development
    Misc
    • [-] Uphold commitments @ old residence – see through to completion
    • [X] Cook something I’ve never cooked before (excludes dog, cat, rat, etc)
    • [X] Check out lenses for the DSLR

    This week
    Work

    • [ ] It’s all about the shopping cart system :-), but if there’s any time left…
    • [ ] Organise and attend various 1-2-1 meetings
    • [-] Update CRM database with new data/purge old
    • [-] Modify company site (content/volume/images)
    • [ ] Price review
    • [ ] Review marketing and sketch out action plan
    • [-] Finish templates for sales process
    • [-] Finish help documentation for new web-based calendar tool

    Life

    • [ ] Continue documentation effort for F/LOSS project
    • [ ] Kung Fu – reacquaint myself with yellow sash routines
    • [ ] Swimming x 2

    Misc

    • [ ] Cook something I’ve never cooked before
    • [ ] Test a couple of lenses for the DSLR
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    My “Get real! :-)” week was pretty good.  Lots achieved.

    Work

    • [X] Approve new service Ts & Cs
    • [ ] Kexi – liaise on mailing list re testing issues…
    • [X] Small updates to client web site
    • [X] Database updates to client site
    • [-] Layout work for high priority customer project (linked with CMS dev)
    • [ ] CMS development
    • [ ] Feature-freeze spec
    • [ ] Roadmap & assign target dates
    • [ ] Soft launch on test web site
  • [-] Complete additional web forms to service other business areas (really!)
  • [-] Business web site changes – higher priority
  • [-] Complete SVN/Bugzilla integration project.
  • [-] Networking event
  • [X] Clarify new sales process
  • [X] Re-evaluate financial goals for August/September and prioritise accordingly.

    Unplanned extras

  • Resolved a situation with web hosting accounts unable to access email.
  • Revised UML Use Cases & Activity Diagrams and put into action for sales process revision.
  • Life

    • [X] Pick up files from a cool F/LOSS project and start documenting…
    • [-] 2 swims – 1 mile each
    • [-] Cook something “new”!
    • [X] Social life: this week, it’s on Thursday! 🙂
    • [-] Address issues with service providers
    • [-] Finish the book Getting Things Done
    • If time, use orgmode in more of a GTD-style method

    Misc

    My life doesn’t revolve around the television.  I don’t watch any terrestrial broadcasts.  I am especially uninterested in “prime”-time offerings (e.g. soaps). Ugh.  Instead…

    This week 

    It’s a sea-change.  Day off planned, plus lots of stuff happening outside of work mean I’m taking a break from planning anything at all.  A number of loose ends to tie up and various new ideas to ponder mean I’ll still be busy thinking all week.  🙂

    I recently ‘dented’ (tweeted on identi.ca) a question to a group of software developers: what music do they listen to that is conducive to coding?I received a variety of answers, with just as wide-ranging tastes as you could expect, really. Clearly, I hadn’t conducted a very economic experiment. Perhaps I was asking the wrong question.

    The question I should have asked is this: which music do you listen to that evokes a calm, creative and logical state of mind? In other words, I needed to key-word the question to (a) elicit greater impact on the reader and (b) give the question more scope, more context.

    The premise of the question is the science behind brainwaves. Apparently, alpha waves in the brain (those which occur at between 8-13Hz [cycles per second]) are the most conducive to creative AND logical thinking. It is commonly associated with a meditative state of mind, deeply relaxed, daydreaming, fantasizing and creatively visualising various scenarios.

    This dispels some notion that left brain/right brain dominance exists. I can’t remember which is which, but it is said that the right hemisphere is more creative and the left, more logical/analytical. Or vice versa.

    But this alpha wave state could, in fact, also support such dominance, if it allowed for the idea of submission of the dominant region during periods of relaxation. In other words, we will have one personality profile when active, busy, even stressed, and another profile when relaxed, calm, clear.

    It follows, then, the people seeking to produce creative works – whether it be software code, writing, visual art or music, should always seek the best environment to create alpha brain waves. Music is just one component; meditation, light scents, lighting, physical comfort and staying hydrated also contribute, as does the avoidance of caffiene and alcohol.

    But for me, most of all, it’s music.  And quite often, that’s trance. 😉

    I’ve never been one for uploading my images in different places.  I don’t upload images to albums in Facebook or into Blogger itself.  Instead, I prefer to centralilse all my image storage at Flickr Picasa.

    The main reason for this is was that Flickr has been around a long time, is a veteran Yahoo web application, and has a great Javascript-based uploader which works flawlessly on Linux browsers – well, Firefox at least.  Unlike that stupid Java-applet attempt courtesy of Facebook’s programming team.  Sorry guys, “almost, but no cigar”.

    However, given that Yahoo charges for something that is an added detour from something else (Google+) that is essentially free, it no longer seems necessary to use it.

    So, when we see another wintry spell in the UK, perhaps I’ll take the aging Pentax *istDL out for another burn somewhere.

    Or maybe I’ll cling on to the Samsung Galaxy S (mk1) and the ease of Android 🙂

    I have two blogs hosted by Google/Blogger (a blog for work, life and general stuff that interests me) and WordPress (a blog just for work).  I differentiate these on the basis of content type as opposed to areas of interest.  That is, purely commercial (or tech-commercial) stuff goes to the WordPress one.

    And yet, I wonder, what is the point?  With the ability to group, tag, label and so on, I can collect similar articles together in a variety of ways.  Anyone with half a brain, left or right, would be able to see that any articles I have labelled “business” are probably more commercially-oriented that ones labelled “may contain nuts”.

    The problem is, I don’t want to miss the party – anywhere. WordPress blogs seem, by some opinion, so popular that it makes me wonder if WordPress is more of a writer’s platform than blogger, and that blogger is something more akin to myspace for the blogosphere – a kind of scrawly, messy, throw-together-but-informative kind of creative jumble.  Perhaps I’m being harsh of others’ blogger blogs, even if I’m being slightly too kind to my own… 😉

    Conversely, the opinions cited in various threads (1, 2, 3) would suggest that Blogger is the way to go, at least for feedback options and template customisability.

    Regardless, I am not entirely convinced that either system is, actually, tremendously brilliant. Maybe I’d be a better person to judge once I’ve committed a thousand or two- more articles to cyberspace and then regret/celebrate making the wrong/right choice.

    Then everyone would really thank me for my opinion.  Then disregard it.  😉