Archive for September, 2011
On Wednesday last week, I produced 32 hours worth of coding output. But unlike my reckless younger self, I did not have to put in an ‘all nighter’ or work two days flat without a break (I was known to do both when I was 18). No, on this particular Wednesday, I got out of bed at 7am, started work, finished at a little before 4:40pm, and yet had produced 32 hours worth of code.
I had done this through Evernote. I have talked about Evernote before, but thought I would share how I use this marvel of technology.
Ripping Apart Projects with Evernote
Whenever I complete a project for a customer, I add 3 or 4 hours of project time into my plans. When the project is delivered, just before I file it away to my document storage system, I then rip it apart. I run through all of the code I have produced, looking for the ‘clever stuff’ – code that does a particular function, or overcomes a problem, or is just generally useful.
All these bits of code then get copied to Evernote in one of a dozen different areas. I have areas for VB.NET, C#.net, SQL scripts, SQL tricks, DOS commands, VBA, VBS, and a host of others. Sometimes I copy 3 or 4 lines of code, sometimes its entire routines, sometimes whole files. Each gets a good title of what it is it does.
How I worked 32 hours
So on this particular Wednesday, I thought as an experiment I would list what I was going to do, and how long it would take me to code from scratch. Then I coded it in my usual way – coding some of it by hand, but finding large blocks already coded in Evernote, and i just copy, paste and tweak. I like to think of myself as a bit of a Frankenstein of a coder.
The result is that in a little over 7 hours or work time, I had coded what I estimated would have taken me 32-34 hours by hand. And of course there is the bonus – the copied code has already been used, therefore tested, therefore less bugs when reused, therefore less testing needed.
So I worked 7 hours, the code should have taken 32 hours; what do you think the customer got billed, 7 or 32 hours? Who do you think got the difference in to their bank account?
All the tools I use (such as Visual Studio) have their own snippet catalogue systems, and I could use those. So why do I use Evernote? Simple – portability. I can see my notes on my PC, on my phone, on my tablet, and at a customer site. It’s all searchable, all findable, quick, easy and free.
Bless you Evernote for making me more productive, and allowing me to bill more than I could possibly work.
Just call me Professor Frankenstein.
I don’t know about you, but the hardest thing for me about being an independent freelancer is the gap between projects. At least when you work in a ‘normal job’ with a boss, it is their responsibility to bring in the customers, and make sure that every day, there is something to do. When you work for yourself, those gaps between projects can sometimes seem bigger than the grand canyon.
Even though the years of freelancing experience has allowed be to become accustomed to them, I still find it hard when one gig finishes, and you wait for the next to start. The slow time can sometimes make the self doubt and worry creep in, and make you start to look at the vacancy ads at the back of papers.
If you ever find yourself facing the abyss of slow time between work, can I present my list of 5 ways to get through The Gap Between Projects:
- Know you are all right – the most important thing for the slow times and gaps is money management. Knowing that you have however many months of cash behind you can remove a lot of the panic. If you have saved as you earned, then you should have a cash reserve behind you (tell me you didn’t spent it all!). As always, a good accounting tool such as Freeagent can help tell you the real situation. And once your figures are in order, project forward using cash flow analysis to see exactly when the cash will run out.
- Small Actions – Next, take the time to complete all the small stuff. All the stuff you put off when you were working 24 hours a day on projects. Get up to date on the filing, the scanning, the organising, the record keeping, the sorting out of the rubbish that should have been thrown. It will help you feel more productive and will give you a healthy efficient environment for when the next project starts.
- Marketing – Whilst doing your money management and small action jobs, mix in the marketing. A clever marketing person I know once told me that between jobs, its very easy to panic and throw lots of money in desperate measures (such as sending out 10,000 mail shots to local companies). She advised small steady steps. Maybe look at a small bid adwords campaign, or drafting 3 or 4 letters a day. Constant, steady, controlled and cost-effective marketing is what wins the day.
- Take Some Me Time – What about taking some You (or Me) time? If you know a project is coming to an end soon, and there is going to be a delay between projects, why not schedule a short trip somewhere? The money management and cash flow will tell you if you can afford it, and whether you are looking at a walking holiday close to home, or a around the world cruise.
- Skill Refresh – Take time to learn or refresh some skills. I recently had 3 or 4 days between projects, so I decided to organise all my filing, install SharePoint, and learn how to use it (through one of those learn in 30 days books). It had four outcomes; I learnt a new skill (how to program a SharePoint portal), I had a better filing system, my system makes me more productive in my next project, and my time was taken up – I didn’t sit around wondering what to do.
If you plan and organise things right, sometimes those gaps between projects can be the break that you need.
I thought it was about time I mentioned one of the key parts to my small business – my business Server. If my server was a person, it would be the hardest, most cost effective employee I could imagine. Without my business server, I would be lost.
Some freelancers and small businesses run very happily from a laptop or PC. But when I first setup my business, setting up the server was one of the first things I did – and I haven’t looked back.
Setup and re-setup and disk crashes
Just with any employee, the small business server has been a mixture of great moments, productivity, mixed with despair and desperation. When I first set up my server, I went for the cheapest option possible – no disk replication, no backup media, no thought to what I was going to really use it for. Which of course meant that when I had a disk fail on me, I had the joy of setting it up all over again.
And my server has been the target of bullies (in the form of hackers trying to break in and turn it into some kind of drone), suffered from memory crashes, and all kinds of other misfortunes. However, I have learnt from these mistakes, and now have nice redundant disks, virus protection, port blocking and a host of other nice features.
This may all seem like a lot of work (and it has been), but the experience gained of setting up the server (multiple times) and the benefits it brings outweigh the cost and time many times over.
What My Server does
So in case you think you don’t need a server, I thought it would be useful to list some of the things that my hard working server does for me and my business:
- Exchange – Most importantly, my server runs Windows Server and Exchange. Which means I can access my emails from anywhere in the world (using Exchange OWA on the web). It also syncs my emails, appointments and contacts with my phones, and the phones of my employees and contractors. All emails are stored on the server, so no email is lost, and all can be searched.
- Trend micro – anti spam and virus – The next important thing my server does is run anti spam and virus software. This may not seem much, but it means I never have to read emails about buying medications, enlarging myself, or working out which bank I want to deposit the $20million I have just inherited (from the royal relative I have never heard of)
- Printing and backups – The bread and butter of my company is the crafting of electronic solutions (software). Using the software features of Windows or Mac, any changes are automatically backed up to the server which means it’s almost impossible to lose work. Using the Windows or Mac features, the server also deals with all the printing I need.
- Sharepoint – I use sharepoint (2007) as my office document store. All scanned documents, office documents, specifications, agreements and customer files are stored on the server by customer and project. Using sharepoint as my electronic document management (EDM) solution means I, my staff and my customers can access the documents we need wherever we are or whenever we need them.
- Project Control – Using some software I developed, my server connects to my on-line project system, the email system and the sharepoint server, and ensures projects are on track. When its required, it sends out alerts, or notifications or documents which needs to be approved. It’s like a project manager in a small black box.
- Home and Office automation – My server also runs my home and office automation. It powers down devices when nobody is at home, switches lights on and off (when it starts to get dark, or when we are away to deter break-ins), monitors power use, and runs home/office security. Its all very neat. It also means I can change heating of my home or office from wherever I am in the world. My server connects to all my devices including heating, light and power using a system called “X10” (google it if you are interested).
- Monitors all hardware – the server next monitors all other hardware. It checks all drivers are up to date, installs updates on clients (including Windows updates), checks disks, checks patches, checks virus status, paper in printers, and a whole host more. Anything found to be a problem is reported or corrected as required.
- Streams videos and music – Next we come to entertainment. My server streams movies around my home and office, and streams music around my home/office using Squeezeboxes. No more CD, DVD or BluRay cases cluttering up the place. More information on this can be found here.
- Holds collections of E-books, music and movies – Connected to my server is an external QNAP T410 4-way external disk array (packing 4 x 2TB disks, giving me 4Tb of storage duplicated for redundancy using RAID). This means if a disk fails (which can happen), nothing is lost as it’s all duplicated. Everybody can find the tune or e-book they want from the central store on the server.
- Records podcasts and radio –As if that wasn’t enough, my server also records podcasts and radio shows for me (using software called replay av). Radio is recorded from a connected DAB Radio tuned into Radio4 (for money and business shows), and podcasts are recorded from their published internet sites. I can then listen to the podcasts on my phone when I am working, driving or travelling. Perfect.
I really do love my home/business server. Whilst I am busy working, sleeping, or away on holiday, it stays busy ensuring emails get through, viruses are blocked, and projects stay in control. It is worth its weight in gold.