Artisan Blog

Freelancing and Sick Days

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Freelancing and Sick Days

Illness comes upon us all on occasion. No matter how we eat or exercise or how many times a day we wash our hands, we get sick. But for freelancers, getting sick has an added bonus: no paid sick days.

Many freelancers will work on days they would take off if they worked in corporate jobs. Missed deadlines and unhappy clients are bad for business. Here are our tips for working when you’re under the weather, without missing part of your paycheck:

Don’t push yourself--Today is not the day to tackle a big project that isn’t urgent, even if you planned to. Your best work may be unattainable and you might end up having to do things over again later. Take it easy, slow and steady.

Let your clients know--If you get to the point where you really have to stop for the day and rest, communicate that. Most people are understanding--they’ve been there, too.

Keep it simple--Make a list of what really needs to be done today and another of what can be done tomorrow. Stick to today’s list.

Put it off--If there is flexibility about when your work gets done, put it off for a couple of days until you feel better. Working on Saturday may not be the most fun, but if it means you can take a nap on Thursday, that might be the best thing.

Do you work through illness or take time off? Let us know in the comments!

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative


Distractions Can Be a Good Thing

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Distractions Can Be a Good Thing

Are you easily distracted? Distractions can work for us--or against us, depending on what we are trying to accomplish and what kind of distractions they are. Here are some pros and cons of distractions and some ways to use them to your advantage:

Your Smartphone:

Notifications interrupt you all day long--Facebook messages, emails from co-workers, texts from your spouse, requests from your manager.

Pros: The communications you receive during your work day from team members, colleagues and managers may be interruptions that clarify the project you are working on or improve collaboration. They could also offer valuable suggestions. These interruptions could improve productivity, rather than damage it.

Cons: Off-topic notifications can disrupt your work flow for no good reason.

Solution: Consider turning off notifications from social media during working hours and let your friends and family know that you will get back to them when you take a break (you are taking breaks, right?). Set up an emergency code with your spouse and children for things that need to be taken care of immediately and let the rest of the personal communications wait a little while.

Email:

An email might be urgent to the sender but not to you.

Pros: Email is a great timesaver--no need to walk over to your colleague’s office to chat about your project every few minutes, email also keeps a good written record for later evaluation of your process.

Cons: All of our Inboxes are filled with emails we will never read or can read after the workday is over. But if we see them, we will click on them.

Solution: Spend some serious time creating filters for your Inbox so that you will see the emails that you need to see right away, but only see the less important missives when you have time to choose.

Wandering Thoughts:

Can't help them, but you can stop beating yourself up about them.

Pros: Letting your mind wander can lead to creative ideas that might never have occurred to you if you were plugging along, trying to stay on task.

Cons: Letting your mind wander for too long can make you miss your deadline.

Solution: Schedule break times during your workday. Read 10 pages of a novel. Think about what you want to make for dinner. Give yourself time to let your project marinate in the back of your mind instead of the front. You might come up with something truly innovative on that wandering path.

Welcoming distractions is counter-intuitive. Focus is easier to see as a positive. But if you embrace the distractions that work for you, it might improve your work product--and your productivity!

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative


Creativity Savings Time

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Creativity Savings Time

We will be turning our clocks forward this weekend and although we will have the same amount of light as before, it will land in different places. We started wondering: how does changing the light affect creativity?

Researchers from the University of Hohenheim and the University of Stuttgart recently published a study about this very question. They found that drawings made by study subjects were much more creative if done in dim light than in normal or bright light. Those who worked in dim lights felt “free from constraints.” Creativity was even increased when the study subjects described sitting in a dark room, while actually drawing in normal light.

Dim light was best for idea generation, although it did not have a beneficial effect on implementation--the subjects needed good light to produce quality artwork, but their ideas were more creative when they felt the freedom which came from dim light.

Daylight savings time will add light back into our evenings--not bright light, but maybe just the right light. It will be interesting to observe the difference.

Of course, when my alarm goes off at what my body thinks is 4:30am on Monday, I’m not going to feel very creative, I expect. But I hope I will get a burst of creative energy from the evening light we’ve been missing for so long. New project, here I come!

Do you feel a burst of energy in the spring? Are you driven to start new things? Tell us about it!

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative


Reflections: Perfection

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Reflections: Perfection

Are you a perfectionist? There are certainly areas of my life where I would like to be perfect, but I’m comfortable knowing that I cannot achieve it in everything all the time. The quest for perfection can be motivating or it can stop us from ever feeling a sense of accomplishment.

Not everything requires perfection all the time and taking a moment to establish whether what you are working on needs that level of attention or whether the cost of trying is just too high can make the difference between a good day and a miserable one.

Ask yourself:
  • Is perfection possible? Be realistic about what can be done. You might have to rely on others for work product or be required to follow suggestions with which you don’t agree. Assess the situation pragmatically.
  • Is perfection desirable? If you are an artist in any medium, perfection is not really your goal, making art is. In my artistic life, I take the imperfections in stride. After all, if I needed perfect every time, I could make a recording and just play it, but that is nothing like the excitement of live performance.
  • Is perfection worth the cost? Sure you might achieve perfection, if only you didn’t have to sleep or eat, but that is a high price to pay, especially at the holidays when you want to spend time with friends and family. And while you might achieve technical perfection, you might lose on creativity if you don’t keep your energy reserves full.
  • Is efficient and functional more important than perfect? We’ve seen it in the Affordable Care Act website situation--what is needed is a site that works and works well. And quickly. Perfect could get in the way of what is truly needful under some circumstances.
  • Can I let go of perfection? If you are a perfectionist, you may have the most trouble with this one. Being able to walk away--even temporarily--when something has reached a good stopping place is a discipline worth fostering.
I’m grateful not to be a perfectionist. Except, of course, in music...and grammar...and spelling. Let me know if I missed anything!

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative


Staying Productive During the Holidays

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Staying Productive During the Holidays

If you’re like everyone I know, this is your busiest time of the year. Not only are we all doing our year-end assessments and strategy sessions for 2014, we are spending time outside of work preparing for celebrations, houseguests and gift-giving.

You might feel like you have something filling up every waking moment already, but unless you are functioning at a high level all the time, there is still room for you to get more done quicker and maybe even reduce your stress. After all, there’s almost nothing as relaxing as checking that last item off your to-do list.

We recently read an article on Amex Open Forum by Michael Beck of Skyline Group International about the 4 elements of what he calls “personal energy” and they sound pretty on point. Mr. Beck tells us that to be productive, we must keep all 4 energy reserves topped up:

Physical Energy--You cannot function at your peak without a healthy body. Eat small, nutritious meals often and make sure you are getting enough sleep, whatever amount that is for you.

Emotional Energy--Focus on the positives. Make a list of what went great yesterday or what you are grateful for before you start your day. Practice positive self-talk. Not only will you be able to maintain your equilibrium, but you can have a positive influence on the stressed out people around you.

Mental Energy--Take breaks. We cannot emphasize this enough. High productivity is impossible to maintain over many hours in a row. Take a 15 or 20 minute break every 90 minutes. Walk around the block, read a book, listen to some music, even close your eyes for a catnap. Your next 90 minutes will be just as productive as the last.

Inspirational Energy--Whether you get your best ideas when you draw or run or sing or read, carve out time to do the things that inspire you. You’re not wasting time--you’re saving it by getting your ideas lined up for when you get down to work.

This time of year can be overwhelming, but it’s amazing what we can get done in just a few weeks. What if we were this productive all year round?

We would love to hear your suggestions for staying productive throughout this busy time of year!

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative


Being Your Own Mentor

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Being Your Own Mentor

At Artisan Creative, we are big fans of mentorship. Artisan Founder Jamie Douraghy is passionate about mentoring and being mentored. There are times, however, when we find ourselves without a mentor for a situation we are trying to navigate. Can you be your own mentor? 

Yes!

We went back and took a look at our interview with Jamie to see if any of his advice applies to being your own mentor:
  • Mentors help you learn from their mistakes. Make sure you don’t miss any opportunities to learn from your own.

  • Believe in yourself. Use positive language in your self-talk, just like the positive language you would get from a great mentor. You are capable of more than you think.
Some other ways to mentor yourself:

Consciously seek inspiration--Read, go to cultural events, practice activities that inspire you and bring you joy. Inspire yourself.

Explore career options--Your skills and passions may lead you in a different direction than you think. Let them.

Set goals and hold yourself accountable--Develop a system for checking on your own progress. Software that works as a tickler or scheduled email reminders work for us.

Seek out professional development opportunities--Learn new things and meet new people. You don't always need an introduction. Who knows, you might find a real-life mentor!

There are insights and encouragement that can only get from another person with different experience and a unique point-of-view, but even if you find yourself between mentors, you don’t have to give up all of the advantages a mentor brings to your professional life. Give yourself a present this holiday season--be your own mentor!

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative


Revise Your Resume Now

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Revise Your Resume Now

How long has it been since you read your own resume? A month? Three months? Since you got your current job? Unless you have revised your resume since the end of the summer, you have waited long enough. 

Why revise your resume if you’re not looking for a new job? Here are some of our reasons for spending time tweaking your resume even if you are happy where you are working:

  • Memory is tricky--Right now you have a great handle on the numbers for that big project you just completed. Those numbers will not stay at the front of your mind when you get immersed in the next one. Add bullet points with quantifiable data to your resume before the details get away from you.
  • Resumes are not just for job search--If you want to take on a volunteer opportunity that uses your professional skills, join a professional organization or do some networking (which you should do often), a current resume is a quick summary of your experience for anyone who is interested. 
  • The longer you wait, the longer it takes--Someday you will need or want to have a great--and current--resume. If you keep it up to date every quarter, it won’t take you long to bring it right up to today, but if you have to work back two or three years, it will take many more hours to make it work.
  • You never know--No one likes to think about it, but many layoffs are at short notice. I have a friend who found out on a recent Friday that it was her last day of work. If your resume is always current, you have one less thing to worry about if an unanticipated period of unemployment comes along.

My career coach told us to spend 5 hours on our resumes every quarter and at the time it sounded like a lot. But I know that it will be much harder to remember my accomplishments of this year when next year has begun. Think about spending an hour or two this week on your resume--you’ll be glad you did!

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative


Messy Desk? Congratulations!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Messy Desk? Congratulations!

I have a confession to make. Clutter does not bother me. Which is a good thing, considering I share my workspace with 2 teenagers, 2 dogs, a cat and a spouse. Luckily, dogs take naps, teens go to school and my spouse goes to work elsewhere, but they do leave behind enough clutter to drive anyone else crazy.

A recent study we read about in Pacific Standard Magazine discovered that I may not have to clean the house before I finish this post:

“‘Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights,” a team of researchers led by the University of Minnesota’s Kathleen Vohs writes in the journal Psychological Science. “Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe.’”

The study used the challenge of having to find something innovative to do with ping-pong balls while working in a neat room or a messy room. The messy room subjects and the neat room subjects came up with the same number of ideas, but the messy room folks’ ideas were more innovative.

You might have noticed that we like these kinds of studies: what makes people more creative or helps them get past creative blocks. Of course, we are all different and have our individual preferences. If you need a tidy space before your ideas can flow, plan time to tidy up before you sit down to work on that project so the clutter doesn’t get in the way. But if you’re okay with a little chaos in your workspace, you might come up with better ideas.

The bottom line is know yourself. Your process is yours--own it. And try to be tolerant of colleagues and co-workers who have different preferences. The person in the cubicle next to you might need all those post-it notes on the walls to help her to think outside the cube.

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative


Time: More Than Money

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Time: More Than Money

The old saying goes, “Time is money.” Benjamin Franklin was supposed to have made up this aphorism. The provenance is not clear, but the sentiment has lasted centuries. Is it true?

Let’s look at what time really is.

An Investment--When we put time into learning new things so that we can grow in skill and ability, we make an investment in our future. It could be personal growth or even satisfaction in increased competence. Time is capital.

Productivity--Time spent working could be thought of as money, but that work is also support of relationships with co-workers and clients, creativity and innovation. A client or a company pays you for that time, but money is not all it represents.

Experience--Especially when you are on a job search, how much time you spent in different roles becomes a commodity of its own. You made a salary or were paid an hourly rate, but the time spent performing the tasks and completing the projects in your previous jobs made you the professional you are today and provides the stories you will tell at your next interview.

A Finite Resource--There is a point in our working lives when we realize that we have a limited amount of time left for work, for family, for learning, for growth. We start to think about how we want to spend that resource. Money could run out, but time is sure to.

For me, it comes down to this: Time is time. And it is more valuable than money will ever be. When I invest my time in a client, I am making a choice not just to use their resources, but also my own. When I learn something new, I am investing in my future. When I decide to spend years with a company, I am hoping that those years will lead to more challenging roles. And when I spend time giving back, I know that time has more value to the organizations I volunteer with because their resources can go to the cause which is our shared passion.

Time is more than money. Time is the most valuable, most precious thing we have. How will you spend yours?

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative

P.S. If you would like to get a glimpse of where I spent 30+ hours giving back last week, check out jbhsvma.com!


Just Busy Enough

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Just Busy Enough

“How is everything?” friends and colleagues ask. If your answer is--like mine is often--”I’m super busy!” we hope it is for the right reasons. Perhaps we should be aiming for “Just busy enough, thanks!”

Lots of projects

It’s nice to be wanted and appreciated for your skills and innovative ideas. Having a lot of projects to choose from is a great reason to be busy, as long as all of those projects are ones you want to do for clients who are professional and trustworthy. Choose your clients wisely.

Balancing work and life

When you’re working, you’re working hard and working efficiently, but you are also spending time on your hobbies, doing things that you are passionate about, and with friends and family. Busy during working hours is definitely the right kind of busy--as long as working hours aren’t 24/7.

Focus

Goal-oriented, once you have started a project, you work at it until it’s finished and then take a break. You probably experience a high degree of job satisfaction because you can check things off your list and relax when you’re done. And then you have time to relax, reflect and recharge.

There are times when we all get too busy, though, and it seems like a never-ending cycle. How can you get out of that loop?

Set a schedule--Separate working hours and personal hours and stick to your plan. You will soon teach yourself to work more efficiently within those limitations.

Be honest with yourself and your clients about how much you can take on--More work is great for the pocketbook, but if you are reaching your effective limit, negotiate for a start date a couple of weeks away. If your client really wants you, they can probably wait a reasonable time.

Turn off your notifications--Often overwhelming levels of busyness are a factor of how many times we are interrupted. We all need to remember we don’t need to check our email every 3 minutes or even answer the phone right away. Get to the end of that block of time and then check and see if anything was urgent.

"Just busy enough" is much better than not busy enough, but if you hear yourself complaining about how busy you are, it might be time to evaluate the reasons why. I really am “super busy” but it’s all with projects and clients I am passionate about, as well as volunteer responsibilities. I take regularly scheduled breaks and never work on Saturdays, no matter what. And I carry my hobby with me so I can relax when I find I finished something earlier than I expected. Just busy enough, thanks!

What do you do to make sure you are just busy enough? Give us your tips in the comments!

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative



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