Hindsight is 2020!

Everyone around the world will agree that 2020 was a unique year in many aspects. We all have faced different challenges this year which taught us unique lessons. As a freelancer & a mom, my lessons are very specific.

Lessons Learned

The biggest lesson of 2020 has been to value myself more. I do so much in my life, but have never learned to talk about it in a nice way or to value it as important. I always pushed it away saying it was nothing and I was just doing my job. Whether it is teaching my kids something important, or making sure they have our emotional support or dealing with a client or working on my plugins, I have realized that I do not stop to think about all the effort I put into these things.

A month into shelter in place I realized how well I was able to manage my time and my kids’ schedules. I helped my kids get into a routine with their distance learning along with working more time than before.

If I am going to change one thing in the coming year, it will be this. I am going to make a note of all the things I do for myself, my family and my business and I am going to remember them. It might be that every mom or freelancer or entrepreneur is also doing the same thing as me. But, it still does not make what I do any less. I need to remember this big time.

The second lesson I learned is to write. Writing everyday has changed my mind so much. I always had anxiety and in the past few years, it has become an issue. There are many ways to deal with it, but writing has been the best for me. I wish I had done it all through the year. I started writing regularly in about November and the difference in two months is huge. Sometimes it is coherent writing and sometimes it is a brain dump sort of writing. This has helped me clear my mind. This is something I will be definitely keeping up in the new year.

My Work

Last year, even with all its challenges was a huge year for me in terms of my growth. I didn’t have many clients this year, but I did work on the Chamber Dashboard plugins and checked off a lot of tasks and projects. I learned to write Gutenberg blocks and converted most of the shortcodes in the plugins to blocks. We still have a few to go which will be completed in 2021. I also wrote a Gutenberg ready theme for Chamber Dashboard plugins which will be released to the WP repo in Jan or Feb this year. It is a minimal theme with a few basic page templates.

WP Category Dropdown plugin grew up to 600+ active installations this year. A couple of years ago, a client with a travel blog wanted to a similar functionality for her blog. She categorized her posts with country and city and wanted to show the cities in a dropdown when the country was selected. I couldn’t find a plugin to do this and wrote some custom code which I later released as a plugin. I have a few user requested features in my to-do list for the plugin this year.

Contributing to WordPress

I was part of the WP 5.6 release squad. This is huge. I don’t feel like I did enough to get credit for this, but I did help in some little ways. I would have loved to do more. I learned so much from the entire process. There is so much co-ordination between time zones, so much respect for fellow squad members and so much opportunity for growth. I am so glad to have had the opportunity to be a part of this team.

I also contributed to the end user WordPress docs. This year, I am planning to contribute to the developer docs as well.

Learning

As usual, I did spend a lot of time learning new things this year. Starting with building Gutenberg blocks, I spent time exploring ways to make my work faster and better.

The best thing I did was to setup a proper testing and development localhost environment. I have been using XAMPP for a long time, but I finally setup VS code editor with the localhost and my development has become so much easier and faster. I also setup Docker for my local WordPress testing and it is so nice to be finally able to test my plugins & themes using Docker.

Hope is what makes the world keep going even during the worst global pandemic. Here is hoping that we will get to go out and meet friends & family and I would love to attend a WordCamp or two this year. 

2019 – A quick review

As we enter a new year, I am unable to decide if it was a good year. Work wise, it was not a good year. I didn’t hit most of the targets I had set for myself, but in terms of family and personal issues, it was one of the better years.

I have been reflecting on the past year and the past decade and there are many things to celebrate. I started working with WordPress in 2009. That is when I started my own personal blog in WordPress.com. I moved it to a self hosted blog this year. When I look back, I have come a long way. I have worked as a full time WordPress developer for a company. I quit and started freelancing without much knowledge of how to run things. I worked with some amazing clients to whom I am always thankful for.

I helped organize 3 WordCamps in Seattle and was the lead organizer for one of them. This was an experience I will cherish forever. I started running meetups and slowly got better at public speaking. Ten years ago, I was terrified to stand up in front of a few people. This year, I gave my first WordCamp talk. That was a huge accomplishment for me. After moving out of Seattle, I joinded the #wpdiversity team working on bringing more diversity into the WordPress space. The best part of being in the WordPress community is the amazing friends I made and how welcome I felt. Most of my successes can be traced back to how much support I was given by the fellow community members.

A few weeks ago, I came across a tweet from Aurooba talking about her word of the year.

I loved that idea so much that I wanted to have a word of the year for myself. It didn’t take long to come up with the word, but I thought about it for a while before deciding on it. The word I came up with is ‘Create‘. That is going to be my primary goal for 2020.

Create can mean anything from creating content to creating opportunities. I want to create time for myself. I want to work on my hobbies a lot more this year and create the things I love. In terms of work, there are so many things to create as a plugin and theme developer. I have a lot of ideas in my mind which I plan to work on this year.

Here is to the next year and the next decade which will hopefully give all of us many reasons to celebrate and be happy and content.

Happy New Year!!!

How I effectively manage my time as a work at home freelancer

I have been a freelancer working from home for over 4 years. It gives me the flexibility I need, but is also very challenging. I constantly have to wear many hats as a freelancer. Add being a mom and working from home to that and life becomes a juggling field. Managing my time effectively is the only way I can survive each day.

In the past four years, I have read a number of articles about time management. There are very few of these articles geared towards people like me. Most of them talk about scheduling your day in a certain way – like waking up early, or getting a few hours of work done before going out for a workout etc.

I am not saying that is impossible, but with two kids and a husband whose work hours vary every day, there is very little order in my daily schedule. I am a person who loves schedules and loves to plan her day ahead. But, I have keep adjusting my schedule for all the things that seem to creep up during the course of a day/week.

So, whenever I turn to the internet to find tips to organize my day, I just end of feeling dejected or overwhelmed because I cannot have the kind of order that most of the posts talk about. That’s just our household. So, I decided to come up with a schedule that works for me.

Here are some things I have been doing for a while and some I have added in the past few months. This includes using the right tools and having some strict rules for myself.

Having fixed hours for working

I cannot stress this enough for myself. Since I work from home, it is very easy to think that I have all the time in the world to finish my work. I have been a victim to this a lot of times. Even now if I am not careful, I fall victim to this. So, I have made it a habit to tell myself that when the kids are in school, it is work time for me. I make my coffee, grab my breakfast and head to my office room.

When I go to pick up the kids, it is never the end of my workday, but I do know that I will not get much time to work after that unless I intend to give up some sleep. So, I have been scheduling my most important work for the morning so that I feel accomplished when I go to school at pick up time.

Getting an early start

I have always been a morning person. There are times I can sit until 1 am to finish my work, but that is very rare. I can sleep at 11 am and wake up at 5 am the next day with little difficulty. So, I now schedule a big chunk of work for the morning time. I am at my desk by 5 am with my tea. I work until 6:30 without a break. I usually schedule development work for this time. My mind is fresh and I can totally concentrate.

In the last month or so, I have noticed that this pattern has been getting me good results. So, even when I sleep late, I feel like getting up early to work on my favorite stuff.

I used to get really frustrated when I couldn’t wake up early enough and that frustration was affecting my work. I realized that I just have to prioritize my things to accomplish everything I need to. So, if I am up late or one of the tasks takes a much longer time than I planned for, I give up on things like elaborate lunch or dinners and make it really easy on me. That gives me the extra time to finish my work for that day.

I started planning ahead and always have a few things on hand to whip up healthy dinners on days when I am too busy. This planning has taken a lot of stress out of my day.

Maintaining a task list

Having a task management system is very essential to the life of a freelancer. If there is no set way of making sure the tasks get done, chaos sets in very quickly. There are umpteen number of task and project management systems for both individuals and teams. I have tried a number of them. Somehow nothing seems to work the way I want it to. If there are some features that are good, there are some which are pretty daunting.

After trying a bunch of them, I now have settled into a routine of using Asana, OneNote and my notebook. I have all my projects in Asana and OneNote. When I plan my project, I come up with individual tasks that need to be accomplished. All of those tasks go into Asana into respective projects.

Every week I review my projects and assign due dates to tasks that need to be completed in that week. This gives me a nice calendar with all my tasks. Then every day, I go over my calendar in Asana and check off the completed tasks. The rest of the tasks either stay or get moved to a different date based on the progress.

But, one thing I don’t like in Asana is that the calendar with the task list can get too overwhelming for me. When I started doing this, it was good, but I also got carried away with unnecessary tasks. I would look at my task calendar and jump between tasks.

To avoid the temptation to switch between tasks, I started using a simple notebook. Now I make a list of projects I need to work on the next day. It is just a simple list of the broad topics in the order I want to work on them. Physically writing them down somehow makes me more accountable to finish those tasks. Now, I open only that project I need to work in Asana and sort the tasks by the due date.

This helps me finish the tasks on the list for that day and then I can move on to the next project.

Scheduling client calls at specific times

Initially I used to schedule calls any time of the day that worked for me and/or my clients. I realized that when I do that my productivity suffered. I had to switch gears in the middle of my work to take the call and it disrupted my work flow. Now, I have a Calendly account and I try to schedule calls only through that. It has helped me a lot to know that my mornings are usually undisturbed and I can schedule my MIT’s during that time. Afternoons are now reserved for admin work and any client calls I need to take.

Sending out the Calendly link to clients also helps me avoid the number of emails back and forth to schedule calls.

Multitasking

I agree that most of the times, multitasking is a myth. We cannot focus more than one thing at a time. But, with kids at home in the evenings and having to juggle everything from their home works to dinner to planning meals for the next day, I am used to multitasking. Although I never do that while working on my priority tasks of the day, there are other times when I enjoy doing that.

I listen to a few podcasts and I regularly go through WordPress.tv to find some nice WordCamp talks that I want to watch. I bookmark them and add them to my Pocket account. So, when I am cooking dinner or working out in the gym, I usually listen to these podcasts or watch these videos. Sometimes, when I am cleaning up around the house, I just go around listening to the podcasts.

There are a few other things I wish to add to my list this year. One of them is to automate more processes that I do on a regular basis. This is something I have been trying to work on for the past few months, but I haven’t been able to put everything in place yet. This is one of my biggest goals for 2019.

Are there any tips you can give to a fellow freelancer? Is there anything that worked for you specifically? Please share them!

My favorite tools as a freelancer

Being a freelancer comes with its perks and issues. I have been a full time freelance WordPress developer for the past 3.5 years and I have been through the ups and downs of it. As a freelancer, I need to wear a lot of hats in order get my business going. Sometimes, I find it easy and at other times, I just want to crawl into bed and not think about stuff.

Since, things don’t vanish when I crawl into bed, I had to decide how to deal with them. After reading many articles about freelancing, I decided that I just need the right tools to get things done. There are so many different tools to choose from – each offering different ways of achieving the same thing. Choosing the right one for your business is very important.

After finding the ones that I liked, I had to make the choice of deciding if that tool was right for me. Not every time management or project/task management tool clicked with me. Some of them have fancy features and integrate with a bunch of other apps. But, do I really need all that functionality? Deciding on this was very difficult.

After spending many number of hours searching for the right tools, I finally have a bunch of them that I can rely on. Here are the tools that I use on a regular basis to keep my work manageable and my mind sane.

Toggl

Toggl is a time tracking app. I have tried a lot of different apps but, this was it for me. It is very easy to use and simple enough to set up. When I started using this, I started to see how I was wasting time. I got much more productive after I started using Toggl.

It is very simple and easy to use. I tried the free version for a year before deciding to pay for it. For $9.00/month, it is totally worth it. I can keep track of my projects, my clients and the hours I spend on each task. I also keep track of time spent on volunteering and social media which helps me a lot during my weekly review.

Wave

I use Wave for keeping track of my invoices and accounts. The reason I chose this was that it is free. It lets me connect to my bank account and keep track of my invoices and payments. I can send out estimates too. I wouldn’t say this is the best out there. There are some minor stuff that can be improved and I whine about those every year during tax time (mostly). But, I still use it because it is simple enough and works for me.

OneNote

OneNote is something I have come to depend on a lot lately. I tried many other methods of keeping my projects and my notes all in one place where I can go to for reference. Evernote is good, but somehow OneNote is better. It helps me keep track of all my notes. As I am working on projects, I write myself notes that tell me the status of the project, or the plugin documentation that needs to go on the website once the plugin updates are live etc.. I used to write them down all in a notebook, but it became very difficult to keep track of that notebook. So, I forced myself to use something that can either live on my computer or I can access it online.

My blogging buddy, Nichole showed me a very interesting way of project and task management using OneNote. That was the moment I got hooked. I have tried many other apps, but keep coming back to OneNote. The more I use it, the more I learn and make things easier for myself.

Asana

I use Asana as part of the Chamber Dashboard team where we all need access to the tasks and the comments on a particular task. I have never managed to make Asana work for my personal projects, but for teams, Asana is amazing. Before we started with Asana, we had ideas and upcoming tasks in all sorts of places – distributed between all of us. We communicated mainly through email and finding the email thread regarding a particular task is not easy sometimes.

Asana helped us reduce all this clutter. Now, we have a centralized place where we can note down ideas, upload files for testing and most importantly add comments back and forth. After we release the plugin updates, in case we ever want to check, it is very easy to find the archived tasks.

Gmail and Outlook

I use Gmail for my business email, and I use Outlook as my email client. Outlook integrates very nicely with OneNote. So, any emails that come in that have articles or items that need to be read, can be pushed into OneNote with a single click from Outlook. That feature is very handy.

Any tools that have helped you with your business?

 

My thoughts on working as a freelancer

 

I have been working as a full time freelance WordPress developer for the past few years. There have been many ups and downs and there have been many times when I considered seriously going back to be a full-time employee at a company again. Over the summer, when we moved to the Bay Area, I was kind of tempted again to go find a job in a company. But, after going through a couple of interviews, I realized that working in an office with fixed timings is not for me. It might change one day, but for now, I feel good about my decision.

So, as the new year approaches, and I look back at my year and see what I have accomplished and what I would like for the next year, there are a few things I am happy about and me staying a freelancer is one of them.¬†Among the others are sticking with a productivity system for longer than a month and also diligently working on the Chamber Dashboard plugins. Those are topics for another day. Today I want to talk more about why working as a freelancer has been good for me, my family and my clients. Continue reading “My thoughts on working as a freelancer”

Back to the world of Freelancing!

I finally made the time to bring this site and blog out of its long slumber and hibernation. When I started working for a small web development company, I never spent time on this blog. I had so many things to write here – but I never made the time to do so. Now, as I am back in the freelancing world, I have decided to bring it back to life.

When I started my career as a freelancer a few years ago, I did not have many clients. I realize now that I was not confident enough to quote the right price for the projects that came my way. So, I had very few projects that did not pay well.

Continue reading “Back to the world of Freelancing!”

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