I've spent this afternoon revisiting my personal values as part of a strategy session planning what projects I'm going to work on next.
My reason for doing this is simple – without understanding my values, and therefore what is important to me, it's very hard to make decisions about where best to spend my time and what to prioritize.
I've chosen to write out my values as a keyword and supporting statement. That currently looks like this:
Integrity; an unwavering belief in who I am and what I have to give.
Openness; staying curious and sharing what I learn.
Stability; a solid footing from which to grow and thrive.
Trust; building on honesty and clear communication as a foundation for all relationships.
Connection; building relationships for inspiration, encouragement, energy and empathy.
Sustainability; living and working at a sustainable pace, developed through reflection, routine and self-compassion.
With my values clearly articulated, I can go to my list of potential projects and see how they align with them. To do this, I annotate each project with icons (see image below) to represent each value that it fulfils. For example, my weekly newsletter aligns with integrity, openness, trust and connection. This activity helps me to feel more confident in the decisions I make around the projects I prioritize and pursue.
Let me say this first – I'm not against self-promotion, you can't be when you are a one-person business, but I believe there are boundaries and when they are pushed it aggravates me.
I'm writing this as a lament because recently one of the most supportive groups I've been involved with has been hijacked by people promoting their new products and services. When I joined it was a place to ask questions, get feedback or recommendations and share ideas. But those kinds of posts are now few and far between, and I miss it. I miss the safe space among peers to ask for, and offer, help.
I know it doesn't have to be this way. I've been, and am (thankfully), part of at least one community that has succeeded in maintaining a peer support space free from marketing. From what I've observed, the reason it succeeds is that all of the following are in place:
– clear and visible community guidelines
– multiple channels for different topics, rather than a single stream
– active moderators, who challenge guideline breaches
By my calculations I'm reaching a point where I could legitimately claim to have been blogging for 20 years. I began my blogging journey as a teenager back in the early 2000s. My very first blog was on Diary-x.
I clearly got the blogging bug as after that I've had blogs on:
– Wordpress (both hosted and self-hosted)
At any one time I'll have at least two blogs on the go; one more personal and one more professional. I've also set up blogs for specific projects and training programmes. In a past life I even used a blog to teach people how to blog.
I can't say what prompted me to start blogging, but I know why I've continued. A blog is a space to:
– think and explore what interests you
– develop writing skills and style
– express yourself and share ideas publicly
– start conversations and get feedback
Can social media or newsletters replace blogs? I don't think so. These other places to write and express yourself are an addition to, not a replacement for, blogs. If anything, I think we're seeing a renaissance of blogging through challenges like 100 Days to Offload that help build the habit and confidence to write, and services like write.as that make it so much easier to publish.
When you work from home the boundaries of the work day are often blurred. Without the act of physically changing location it can be hard to switch off from work. Over the years I've developed a set of end of day rituals to help with this.
1. End of day review
The very last thing I do at my desk is to write a short review of the day. I answer three questions:
– What went well?
– What challenged or frustrated you?
– What will help you have a good day tomorrow?
It helps me to mentally tie up any loose ends and set myself up for the next day. I'll also clear up any papers or notebooks so I can start afresh in the morning.
2. Fresh air and exercise
The Urban Wanderer describes the act of walking at the start and end the day when working from home as a reverse commute. I find this particularly effective at the end of the day to help empty my mind of work related things. I'm lucky to have a park on my doorstep and so I'll usually do a few laps of that.
3. Offline activity
Spending time away from a screen immediately after finishing work is the best way I know to relax and shift gear. Most days for me this means an hour or so in the kitchen cooking tea. It's an activity that for me signifies the start of my evening.
What rituals do you have to help you switch off from work?
It can be lonely working for yourself. You may see people regularly, but meetings with clients are no proxy for having a team around you.
I'm grateful for the advice I got when I first went freelance to make sure I didn't spend all my time at home in my office. It prompted me to join a local co-working group and attend sessions at least once a month. Later I spent more time co-working, with at least one day per week among the community at Good Space, where I later rented a shared office.
Since the start of the pandemic the ability to go out to co-working spaces and work side-by-side with people has obviously been restricted. Sadly this means that many places, Good Space included, have had to close.
I'm grateful however to other initiatives that create a community for freelancers and other solo-workers. This morning I joined a virtual co-working session run by my local group. Last week I attended daily pomodoro sessions from Othership. And every day I check in with the Leapers community.
There are plenty more communities and sessions like this out there. If you're a freelancer or self-employed and feeling lonely or isolated then I'd pass on the piece of advice given to me – find yourself some co-workers.
There used to be a time when I was among the first to sign up to new websites and apps. I was eager to poke around with other early adopters to see what they offered, how they worked and if there were any benefits for my work or personal life. Some stuck. Others didn't.
There's a reticence now. I'm not sure where it comes from. Maybe it's due to my change in circumstance? When I worked in universities, often I was the one in the team who sussed things out and shared new digital tools. I don't have this role now I'm my own boss. Maybe it's down to the sheer volume of new software that is being released every day? There's no way to keep up with it all, so why not let others filter out the dross. Maybe it's a loss of trust? I'm certainly more conscious about what happens with my personal data and the content I create when I sign up to these things. Maybe I've got better ways to spend my time?