Top 10 Ways to Answer the Question: What Do You Do?

Around this time last year, I wrote a post about how hard it was to answer the dreaded questions about what I do for a living when talking to family and friends during the holidays. It didn’t take long to realize that I wasn’t the only who dreads this question, based on the many comments.

To provide you with some holiday ammunition or just a little holiday humor, here are a few of my favorite stories from the comments last year.

Deanna Zandt:

“I often try to make a joke first, it takes the weird edge off for some reason.

Them: So what do you do?
Me: I don’t know…
Them: What?
Me: I don’t know. I get up in the morning, and there’s a laptop there, and I sit at it and type things… [drift off]
Them: Um…
Me: I’m just kidding. I’m a consultant who does online strategy and builds web sites. It’s a weird job and it’s a blast.” Read More about Top 10 Ways to Answer the Question: What Do You Do?

Halloween Costume Ideas for Web Workers

jack_o_lanternAll Hallow’s Eve is nearly upon us, and like many others, I’m scrambling to come up with last-minute costume ideas for the weekend festivities. I can always pull out the old tickle trunk, replete with the bits and pieces of costumes past, but where’s the fun in that? If possible, I like to repeat as little as possible.

Instead, why not embrace my web working identity as a source of costume idea inspiration? These costumes may not be instantly recognizable by everyone, but those who do recognize them will make it all worthwhile, especially if you travel with a web-savvy crowd. Please note that any ribbing that follows is of the good-natured variety. Read More about Halloween Costume Ideas for Web Workers

NaNoWriMo is Nearly Upon Us: Are You Participating?

nano_09_blk_support_120x90November is almost here, and that means it’s also nearly time for NaNoWriMo. That’s National Novel Writing Month, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the abbreviated term. It’s an event run by Office of Letters and Light, a not-for-profit organization that takes as its primary focus encouraging young people to write through various education-based programs.

The goal is for participants to write an entire 50,000-word novel, from start to finish, within the space of a single month. Sound challenging? It should, unless you’re Stephen King, who seems able to match that kind of production without even meaning to. It’s free to enter, although donations are encouraged to help the organization pursue its charitable goals. Read More about NaNoWriMo is Nearly Upon Us: Are You Participating?

My Favorite iPhone Apps

Playing with applications on an Android phone got me thinking about how I use applications on my iPhone. I’m always interested in seeing what applications my friends are using on their phones, so I thought people might be interested in reading about the iPhone applications that I use.

Firewall Your Time

LockdownI recently came across a video by Jon Larkowski entitled, “The Way I Get Things Done,” in which he outlines his personal productivity system. He offered several useful tips for increasing productivity, but the two phrases that really stuck out to me were that you need to firewall your time and guard your attention.
Time is our most precious resource, and how we spend it ultimately determines how successful we are in life and business. Read More about Firewall Your Time

How to Use a Virtual Assistant in Your Business

help wantedIn an earlier post, I mentioned using a virtual assistant (VA) to help with my work so that I could free myself to focus on more important tasks, including taking much-needed time off. Many readers asked who I used for virtual assistant services, and one reader asked for an post on how I use VAs. So I thought I’d share my experience, as it might help you in your own business.
VAs have been very effective in helping me get things done, while freeing me to focus on other, more important, areas of my life and business. Here are a few things to ask yourself before hiring a VA. Read More about How to Use a Virtual Assistant in Your Business

The 80/20 Principle in Practice

Recently, I’ve been doing major cutbacks in my work day. It started with my lead generation. I’d been putting myself through the ringer for six or seven months in an attempt at kicking my results up a notch, only to have the opposite effect. I finally had to draw a line in the sand or run the risk of burning out.
I pulled the plug completely and took a couple of weeks off the lead generation hamster wheel. The result? My incoming leads and my revenue actually increased. Was it that my energy had improved? Maybe. Was it that I was focusing more on the right things? Possibly. Either way, I wasn’t going to stop a good thing. I started cutting back in every way imaginable, and my work schedule was the next to take a hit.
I’m currently in the middle of a “staycation” (you know, when you take a vacation without really going anywhere), and I’m limiting my work time to 2–4 hours per day. Amazingly, I’m still getting roughly the same amount accomplished. Oh, except I’m not checking the news feeds several times per day, only once for five minutes by quickly scanning the highlights, so essentially, I’m having to cut the fat from my day.
Before I started my week, I went through my planned schedule and jotted down the most important 4–5 tasks that should be completed by Friday. I also solicited the help of a virtual assistant to help with a lot of my regular (and necessary) tasks. Everything else got the boot.

Are Your Clients Abusing You?

Being a web worker can mean learning to handle many facets of running a small business, including dealing with difficult clients, which can often be one of the biggest frustrations that come with the territory.
But how do you know if your clients are abusing you? Here are a few telltale signs and tips for how to fix and avoid these situations.
The work keeps creeping in. You start with one description of what is to be done and end up doing something entirely different or something that’s way more involved than the original task.
How to Fix/Avoid It: Have a contract and a clear and agreed-upon scope and schedule for each and every phase or project. Outline exactly what is to be done and when it’s due.
The client expects immediate responses or complete availability. Occasionally, you’ll come across clients who want 100% of your undivided attention. They expect emails to be responded to within an hour and work to be completed at an unrealistic pace.
How to Fix/Avoid It: Set expectations from the start. Explain when you’re available to clients, how quickly you tend to reply to communications, and how you prefer to communicate. You may also wish to explain how you work. For example, do you generally devote a set amount of time to each project or client per day? If so, explain this to clients on the front side so that they know what to expect.

Embracing Information Overload

As a freelancer, I spend most of my time trying to manage information overload. However, despite this obsession with efficiently gathering information, there are also times when I actively seek out that overload. While a fire hose of notifications and feeds can be too distracting when I am working on client work, if I am looking for inspiration, I want to see as much information as possible in the hope that something will catch my eye and provide the inspiration that I need to kick start a new blog post or some other effort.

Here are a few of my favorite tools for embracing information overload.

Don’t Forget to Goof Off Occasionally

One big difference I notice between my life before becoming a full-time web worker, and my life since, is that I actually spend far less time not working now that I work from home. I think distraction is a crucial part of productivity, especially if creativity is part of your job. Which is why I think that there is a certain danger in the zealous work ethic that manifests itself most freelance workers once they shrug off the corporate yoke.

Here are my usual work avoidance tactics, and why I think they actually help me work better in the long run.