#The100DayProject

100dayproject

A new challenge!

I came across #the100dayproject on Instagram this weekend, a little late to the game, and not much chance to prepare. It started yesterday so I’ve already missed a day, but I’m hoping to squeeze in two day’s worth of the project today.

So, what is it?

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[image via #the100dayproject]

It’s that simple! Pick something fun to make, and do it every day for 100 days. At the end you should have a wonderful collection of work, some of it will rock, some of it will suck, but it’ll all be there.

I’m going to be breaking out the watercolours for this one, and doing a small watercolour painting of a plant every day for 100 days. Simplicity is key for me, I don’t have the time to dedicate hours a day to this project, but 10 minutes? No problem.

You can follow along with me over on Instagram where I’ll be using the hashtags #the100dayproject and #100daysofpaintedplants. I’ll hopefully have the first two up this evening!

Are you taking part? Let me know, I’d love to follow along!

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What I’m Reading: March 2015

whatimreadingmarch2015

Another good reading month! Here’s what I read with a succinct review/opinion on each:

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

I’ve mentioned before that Neil Gaiman is my all time favourite author. I love his short stories, children’s books, and grown-up novels alike. This latest short story collection doesn’t disappoint, there were some stories that were better than others, of course, but overall I found it a really great read.

My favourite stories from this anthology were: Black Dog (because, Shadow), The Return of the Thin White Duke, The Sleeper and the Spindle, and The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains.

Be aware that there are quite a lot of stories in the collection that have already been published in other short story anthologies, or on their own.

Buy it here

Long Way Round by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman

Oh man. I’m so obsessed with Long Way Round and Long Way Down, the two motorbike adventures that Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman took in the early 2000s. I remember watching the series when they were first on TV and loving them, and since they appeared on Netflix I think I’ve watched each series at least 4 times. Obsessed.

I’d been meaning to pick up the books at some point, but they weren’t super-cheap on Amazon and, for 10ish year old books, I didn’t want pay a huge amount. However, we recently popped into the ever wonderful Barter Books (amazing, amazing place) and I found both the books.

I read the first one in March and thought it was great, lots of extra bits that didn’t feature in the TV series, and maps/kit lists that I also found interesting.

This is for you if you appreciate the need for adventure, you don’t mind a bit of “my rolex is too heavy” navel gazing, you’re interested in hearing about how cultures across the world are appreciated through the eyes of a Hollywood actor & his mate, and you have a passing appreciation for motorbikes. This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me? Loved it.

Buy it here

The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman

This came up on a kindle daily deal a few months ago, and whilst not having a huge knowledge of Sarah Silverman, I’ve known about her since she Fucked Matt Damon and God, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I was pleasantly surprised. An easy read, laugh out loud funny in places, kinda gross in others, but great for connecting more lines in the world of the SNL family.

Buy it here

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

I got this on Audiobook because I really enjoyed listening to Tina Fey’s book, narrated by herself, and had similar hopes for this one from Amy Poehler. The audiobook features a bunch of guest voices, from Patrick Stewart to Kathleen Turner, which made it a really fun listen.

This read as more of a bunch of essays about Poehler’s life rather than an A-B. With chapters on her childhood, her days at SNL, and having her own kids, it painted a really nice picture of how hard she’s worked to get where she is.

I’d definitely recommend going for the audio version!

Buy it here on Audio, or here in text

Outlander #1 by Diana Gabaldon

You know I love a good trashy book, and mixed with history? fantasy/science fiction? Scotland? A muscley, hairy, ginger leading man? and a foul-mouthed leading lady? It’s almost as if Gabaldon was writing this in 1991 for future-me.

To be totally honest I only heard about the Outlander series recently, with the TV series coming to Amazon Prime. A few googles lead me to the book, which promised to be perfect for A Song of Ice and Fire (GoT) fans. After seeing Melanie had enjoyed the first book, I decided to give it a go.

It’s not a short book but the story moves along quite quickly (unlike GoT). There’s a lot of sex. Like, a LOT. But it doesn’t distract from the story, it’s not bodice-ripping orgies or anything, and it’s definitely not the main focus of the book. There’s a good amount of historical fact too, which as a history geek I found really interesting. It’s set around the Scottish Highlands, near where we stay when we go to Scotland, so being able to accurately picture the landscape was captivating (much like when I read Wuthering Heights).

I’ve read some reviews where people talk about certain aspects of abuse between Claire and Jamie, and while I understand their concerns, I think it’s very difficult to judge a historical situation with a modern yard stick. It’s certainly a tricky one, and it’s a subject often talked about on some of the history podcasts I listen to.

If you want to read a more in depth review of Outlander, then definitely head over to Melanie’s blog post about it!

Buy it here

Keep up to date with what I’m reading on Goodreads.

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Is your website mobile friendly? It’d better be!

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Ah, Google. Holding the fates of search traffic in its hands. The next Google algorithm change on April 21st means that your site’s mobile friendliness is going to be taken into account.

Let me break it down…

Google’s Algorithm

Google’s algorithm is a program that uses several bits of information to display the relevant results when you do a search. Google uses things like keywords, content age, your location and PageRank to decide what to display. The next algorithm change on April 21st 2015 is a move towards showing content that displays nicely on the device the searcher is using.

Mobile friendliness as a ranking system

Google will use your website’s mobile friendliness to decide where it should appear in the search results on mobile devicess. This is huge because so much traffic now comes from handheld devices. Check your stats on Google Analytics, I know that my site gets approximately 25% of its traffic via mobile.

mobilestats

Why are Google doing this?

Google want their users to receive the best quality search results possible, and that means serving them content that will display nicely on, and be optimised for, their devices.

How do I know if my site is mobile friendly?

The easiest way is to use the free tool that Google has created, the Mobile-Friendly test. By entering your URL, Google will check to see if your website is already mobile friendly.

Screenshot 2015-03-30 15.38.30

If you get this message, you’re all set.

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If you get this one, you’ve got some work to do (you won’t even believe what website this was, a huge, huge blog).

Help! My site’s not mobile friendly!

There are a few ways to fix this, and it all boils down to what platform you’re running your website with. Briefly, here are a few fixes for common set-ups. Google have also created a great resource on the options available for you, read that here.

Self Hosted WordPress

  1. If you’re thinking of upgrading your theme, or getting a custom design, make sure you’re getting mobile friendly (or responsive). The base themes (twentyfifteen for example) are all mobile friendly.
  2. You can use a plugin that will server a different version of your site to mobile uses. Jetpack and WPTouch are two such plugins.
  3. Convert your current theme with the help of a developer. This can be messy, though, and I wouldn’t recommend it.

Blogger

The easiest fix for Blogger is to simply turn on your mobile template. Blogger provides one by default, and whilst it’s not the prettiest of templates, it does what it does. Head to your blog template settings, and click the gear icon under the “Mobile” template. Then select a mobile template. Voila!

Of course, you can also go down the route of using a mobile friendly template in the first place, which will look way better than a default Blogger template!

Things to keep in mind

Based on the previous few years, mobile traffic is only set to increase. While you might want to put a quick fix in place now, it’s imperative that you take time to consider how your website behaves on mobile devices from now on in. That means making sure that your site looks bomb-awesome on all devices, not just desktop. I’ve offered responsive web design as standard for the past few years, and I’ve really sung its praises to all my clients. If you’re set to start working with a web designer any time soon, make sure your site’s going to perform well across all devices.

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How to be a Web Designer: My Story

howtobeawebdesigner1

One of the most common questions I get asked about web design and development is how I came to do what I do. Did I go to school to learn how to make websites? Where did I learn the ins and outs of WordPress? Here’s the first in a new series, starting with my story, sort of like X-Men Origins.

Since I started messing around on the internet back when I was around 13, I’ve always tinkered with HTML and CSS. From an early starting ground of Geocities, to wanting my livejournal posts to look prettier, I became pretty competent with how the whole HTML thing worked.

I didn’t go to school for web design or development, I actually studied “Interactive Arts” at University – it’s basically Fine Art with a modern slant. Throughout my degree, which was very much self led anyway (read: we did whatever the fuck we wanted), I started building websites. I wanted to make a website for one of my projects which is where I discovered self-hosted WordPress sites.

I spent a cold, grimy, Saturday afternoon in Manchester during my third year of University installing and setting up WordPress on an old domain. Luckily Adam was out with friends, my first foray into WordPress was sooo frustrating. Lots of swears. But, when it was there? And working? Ah. I was kinda hooked from then on in. 

While looking for work as a fresh-from-university-graduate (with a ridiculously unemployable degree), I stumbled across an advert for a Front End Web Developer. I didn’t even know that that was a thing! The job description seemed to fall inline with what I’d self-taught myself over the years, so I applied.

I interviewed, did a website building test, and got the job. While not technically qualified, I proved I could do what was needed which was, apparently, more than a lot of the graduates in the actual web design/development field could. Plus, my two bosses had completely irrelevant degrees too, and they both ran web design/development companies.

I spent a happy 4 years working at Common Agency in Huddersfield, learning as I went, and becoming somewhat of an expert at Wordpress simply by trial and error. Common Agency turned their sights more towards app development, and I started getting itchy feet for something new. I quit the day job in 2011 to concentrate on my own freelance web design and development career, and to work more on my brand, Finest Imaginary.

The rest, as they say, is history.

I’m still learning how to be a web designer/developer, the learning never stops. That’s one of the things I love about this side of my career, there is always something new to learn. Technology has moved on so much since I started being a web designer/developer, there was no such thing as RWD (or we didn’t have a name for it, at least) or mobile optimisation back then, and I’m pretty sure I used to build my earliest websites with iFrames and tables. Erk.

The moral of my story? Don’t think that not having a formal education in something means that you can’t be successful (unless you want to be a surgeon or something, then it’s pretty necessary). If you want to be a web designer then just get stuck in. Make websites. Learn stuff. There’s a wealth of free, brilliant advice and tutorials available on the internet, I’ll be sharing my best resources next time!

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5 Productivity Tasks to Try This Week

5-productivity-tasks-to-try-this-week

I mainly work On-The-Internet, which means there are an untold number of distractions that can turn my productivity scale down to 0.

Shiny new thing! Doge! Weasel on a woodpecker! (I mean, come on!)

I also work from my home office surrounded by fun things such as laundry, 3 crazy animals that want playing with, and Netflix. This week I’m going to be concentrating on increasing my productivity without totally altering the way I work, want to join in?

There’s nothing extreme or bullshitty here, no massive life-altering changes, just small things that’ll help you be more productive for maybe 1-2hrs in your work day. That might seem small, but it adds up to over a day’s worth of work over the course of a week!

1// Only answer emails/check your inbox at certain points during the day

This one always works for me, as I’m quick to jump on emails as soon as they hit my inbox. I always find myself glancing back at the gmail tab and checking if anything’s come in. Instead, I’m going to be checking my email first thing in the morning, and replying to anything that needs a response, and then having another check in at lunch time and the end of the day.

Previous daily time spent on email: 1.5-2hrs, new daily time spent on email: 1hr.

2// Checking in with RescueTime to see where I’m getting most distracted.

Have you used RescueTime? It’s a great app that really lets you see (in time and percentages) how productive you’re being. My big distractors are Facebook and Twitter, so I’m going to aim to decrease the amount of time spent on those each day.

Previous daily time spent on twitter/facebook: 1.5hrs, new daily time spent on twitter/facebook: 1hr.

3// Have some Pomodoro sessions

The Pomodoro technique is great, but I find it pretty intense. I work flat out during the 20-minute stretches, which yeah.. is brilliant for productivity, but then I feel exhausted after a couple of hours. I’m going to aim to do 3hrs of Pomodoro each day this week.

It’s hard to give a time for this kind of thing, but I would say (based on RescueTime graphs) it makes me about 25-30% more productive during those sessions, leading to an increase in productivity of around an hour.

4// Schedule time for workouts/laundry/non-work things

You might typically class these as distractions, but scheduling in time for non-work things during a working day often makes me more productive in all aspects. If I don’t schedule things in, I end up trying to do 10 things at once and not doing any of them well. Whereas, if I schedule 15 minutes to laundry-sort, or 20 minutes for a workout, then I set myself to task and don’t waste time.

Again, hard to pin-point the actual productivity increase here, and really.. workouts & laundry, though not productive in the making-money-work sense, are productive by way of having-your-shit-together. Here, it’s more about scheduling things in and making sure things get done, leading to less stress, rushing and “ARGH LAUNDRY” anxiety. 

5// Add more to your to do list that you think you can achieve

Having a big daily to do list might seem daunting, but it also revs you up for crossing off as much as you possibly can. The days when my to do list is a little bare? I end up taking it easy and just doing what’s on there. Beef up your list, and make sure you’re listing out small, achievable steps for each of the day’s goals.

Other tiny ways to be more productive:

  • Reward yourself with a coffee/tea/biscuit whenever you’ve finished something big.
  • If you have an idea mid-work, write that shit down and leave it for later. It’ll still be there.
  • Listen to a playlist that gets you in the zone, this might be one of Spotify’s “focus” playlists, or an album you can have on in the background.
  • Recognise your productivity traits and use them to your advantage. Whenever I’m in a “get shit done” frame of mind, I always yank my hair up into a high-pony. Sometimes you have to put the cart before the horse, so by yanking my hair up my brain goes “oh, right! let’s do this!”. This analogy got really horsey.
  •  Stay hydrated! Your brain will thank you by being more alert.

Do you have any small changes that make you more productive? I’d love to hear them! Let me know in the comments :)

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