tips

Losing the Battle Against My Circadian Rhythm

At another job at which I work, I recently had to cover for a coworker who was on a well-deserved vacation. What this meant was getting up at 4 a.m. every day for the past week in order to meet a morning deadline. Here’s what I experienced on my pre-dawn commute to work:

  • Robins. I heard them a lot. Many people enjoy the sound of robins, but to me, the sound of those filthy red-breasted worm-eaters was just a reminder as to how freaking early it was.
  • Bobbing LEDs. These are used by joggers and bicyclists and serve as a shocking reminder that some people are up at this hour by choice. Seriously.
  • No traffic. Because all the sane people are still in bed. Their warm, soft beds. Maybe with their spouses. Snoring quietly, their eyes dusted gently by the sandman, dreaming under a smiling moon and twinkling stars. 

Once I actually got to work and downed my 14th cup of coffee, I discovered something. I was productive as heck. Why is that? (Don’t say it was 14 cups of coffee because that’s a slight exaggeration.)

It’s possible that with only one or two other unfortunate souls in the office there were fewer distractions. But I also believe that my brain just works better in the early morning. I’m working faster, and my output is more accurate. Yet, after lunch, I want nothing more than to stare blankly at a blank computer screen.

So I have to ask again, why is that?

In search of answers, I read this Wall Street Journal piece that cites molecular and computational biology professor Steve Kay — a man whose job title sounds more impressive than anything I’ll ever do in my life. According to Kay, most folks who work a 9-5 job are at their best in the late mornings, and we tend to drop off shortly after lunch.

The piece also argues that we should instead organize our lives around natural body clock — our “circadian rhythms,” citing “potential health benefits.” The WSJ paraphrases Kay, stating: “Disruption of circadian rhythms has been linked to such problems as diabetes, depression, dementia and obesity.”

Then there’s this article in Harvard Business Review, makings the case for managers to schedule workflow and deadline around that circadian flow.

I never used to work so well in the morning, but that’s changed as my youth has faded. It’s not surprising that our body clock changes as we get older. That teenagers are hardwired to sleep in and work late is nothing new, for example, although there is a movement underfoot to require schools to start later in the day to accommodate that rhythm.

So how did we get here? Why do most folks work 9-5 when our body tells us to take a 3-hour break after lunch? This infographic from Podio.com provides some answers, with its roots made in the wake of the British Industrial Revolution.

My day isn’t 9-5. Rather I start anywhere between 5-6:30 a.m., depending on the day ahead, and whether I need to take time in the day to address the latest family crisis. What this means is my own circadian rhythm has me fighting the desire to eat lunch at 10 am and nap until 3 pm, at which point I start to feel productive again—right when it’s time to go home.

The lesson for me is to get as much done as early as possible because when noon rolls around, it’s all down hill. As I’m writing this, it’s 2:30 in the afternoon and I find that my productivity has dipped sharply. For example, it took me an hour to write the previous sentence. So it’s time to wrap this up.

Good night and sweet dreams.

5 Tips for Organizing Files (on Your Computer)

This may come as a surprise, but in my college years, my laptop was drastically more organized than it is now. Perhaps because I had more incentive to be organized back then- assignments for classes, thesis, job and other post-college material, plus any random photos I wanted to save (the ‘cloud’ didn’t exist back then, after all) took up space on my desktop, so if I didn’t have some sort of organization, I’d drive myself crazy. These days, that same laptop is primarily used for random personal stuff and I’m not nearly as diligent about keeping it organized (especially since I’m not spending as much time on it as I was in college).

The good news is, at work I’m much more organized. It helps that a lot of what I work on has to get accessed by other people- I’d rather have people coming over to my house when it’s clean rather than a sloppy mess, after all. Wherever you lie on the spectrum of organization on your computer, here are 5 tips for getting rid of a cluttered desktop and files with long, weird names.

Choose a Destination. Where do you primarily want to save your stuff? Some options include directly on your desktop, in a place like Dropbox or Google Drive, a USB, etc. Choosing one location and sticking to it also helps with being able to relocate something later on. Of course, some combination of these things works as well, i.e. all photos are saved in Dropbox while your collection of satirical essays lives in a folder on your desktop. Consistency is key.

The exception to saving to multiple places is creating backups- always a good idea. Remember not to save your backup in the same place you saved the original (because that kind of defeats the purpose).

Folders and Sub-Folders. Making a folder is easy, and so is dumping documents and other materials into that folder. But if you have a really vague folder, like “Photos,” it can still be maddening to try to find anything in there. That’s where sub-folders come in handy. On my personal computer, for instance, I have a vague folder called “Bates.” Can you imagine what a mess it would be if I just put everything from my years at Bates into that folder and called it a day? Instead, when you open that folder, you see 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and Thesis (anyone who went to Bates knows that Thesis deserves its own folder).

Your folders and sub-folders are up to you: how your brain works and what type of material you are working with.You can even have a folder named “Voltron 5000” that has your child’s school pictures, as long as you’re easily able to find what you need.

File Names. Another tip for file organization is appropriately naming your documents and files. When it comes to finding a file, it doesn’t help if you have several “untitled” documents or downloads that are a 15-character series of random letters and numbers. It’s just as important to be thoughtful about how you’re naming files as how you’re storing them, from an organizational standpoint.  https://www.howtogeek.com/howto/15677/zen-and-the-art-of-file-and-folder-organization/

Clean Out Downloads Folder. If you’re cranking out work and are in the zone, chances are you’re probably saving things where it’s easiest (Desktop and/or Downloads). My recommendation, before your desktop is suddenly drowning in files, is to schedule a time at least once a week to organize these files. Move them out of Downloads to a permanent location (and no, your desktop doesn’t count). This could be a matter of putting it in the appropriate folder or moving it to the trash.

Share the System. If you’re working in a system like Dropbox and have multiple people with their hands in the pot, adding and updating files, it’s important to make sure everyone is on the same page with the system, otherwise things will get messy. Have one or two people decide on “The System” (if you try to get everyone involved there can be a lot of back and forth) with other people giving feedback will ensure you’re thinking of organization in a complete way.

Once the system is decided, post places where it is easy to see: the company’s Google Drive, a private employee-only part of the website, etc. so people can easily refer to it.

Additional Resources:

Dropbox Tips for Organizing Files 

Google Drive Tips on Organizing Files

4 Things You Can Do to Create a Perfectly Organized Google Drive

Zen and the Art of File and Folder Organization

If you’re anything like us, your computer is like your toolbox for getting things done. Cleaning it out will reward you in increased productivity, decreased headaches, and (ideally) a faster running computer.

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

The Mighty Macro

OK, so here’s a secret. I’m a trekkie. Have been ever since my family borrowed Star Trek III on VHS from the library, circa 1985. If you looked at my Christmas tree last month, you would see it festooned with ornaments resembling Star Trek starships (nothing says “Seasons Greetings” like a miniature Klingon Bird of Prey!).

Speaking of the holidays, I got a cool little gift from my wife — a clip-on macro lens for my iPhone’s camera. I immediately started taking shots of the aforementioned tree ornaments. But then I thought about how helpful this little lens would be for product shots, and how they’re a great affordable option for shooting product on a budget.

The beauty of Macro photography is how it allows your clients or customers to see product details that would otherwise be difficult to capture using a standard smartphone lens.

A macro lens for a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera will run you a cool $300 on the low-end. That’s on top of the cost of the camera itself, which can range from $500 to the thousands. And then you have to learn how to use the setup.

For entrepreneurs with a limited budget and even more limited time, however, consider dropping a few bucks on this cool little lens you can clip onto most any smartphone.

Woodworkers- want to emphasize that loving detail in a hand-carved reliquary, or maybe you want to accentuate the natural beauty of wood grain? Snap a photo using your macro lens and upload it directly to your website or Facebook page.

Bakers- want to show off your artistic skills in molding fondant onto a custom cake? Macro lens.

Florists- want to post an Instagram pic of the details of a really cool arrangement? Macro lens.

PHOTO OF GUITAR HEADSTOCK W/REGULAR LENS (NOTE THE TUNING PEGS):

CLOSE-UP OF HEADSTOCK’S TUNING PEG WITH A MACRO LENS:

Tips and tricks

  • Clip the macro lens attachment over your camera’s built-in lens and start experimenting with different angles. Shoot overhead, high, low, etc.
  • Make sure your product is in the best possible shape, polished and dusted if applicable. Macro is all about detail, and so any imperfections your product may have are gonna pop.
  • Word to the wise: any object placed in front of your camera’s lens — even a transparent object like another, clear lens — reduces the amount of light the image sensor receives. This in turn means your camera needs fire at a slower shutter speed to allow more light. So be sure you’re shooting in a well-lit area to improve the clarity of your photo.
  • Also, think about investing in a mini-tripod to attach to your phone. This will help reduce camera-shake and result in better-focused photos.
  • If you get a kit with multiple smart phone lenses, try the macro lens with a wide angle lens for even more flexibility in your product shoots. These were taken with a combo wide angle and macro:

Finally, have fun with it, because macro lenses open a new world of angles and possibilities!

Take Note: Tips on Having (and Keeping) Your Ideas

Do you know someone who always has an idea for something? When you talk to them, it seems like their mind is going a mile a minute, while you have maybe half an idea a day, wondering how this person can be “on” all the time. I’m generally cyclic, going through periodic idea spells and no-idea spells, which seems to be the norm. In the no-idea spells, I tend to notice the idea people more, and find myself wondering how they do what they do. As it turns out, it’s partially a gift, and partially a practice.

You might have heard of James Altucher’s “10 Ideas a Day” exercise. It’s similar to a gratitude journal, where you sit down every morning and write down ten ideas, if not more. The theory is the “idea muscle” is one that can atrophy, like any other muscle, when it’s not used. Although the explanation felt a bit aggressive for my taste, I’m all for becoming an idea person. Ten ideas a day, how hard can that be? (I tried it this morning, and similar to this article explaining the experience, I “started sweating” around number 4).

Altucher’s idea exercise is great for carving out some time to get your brain moving, but realistically, our brains aren’t going to limit idea-generation to this small piece of the day. Whenever I have a brilliant idea for something, it arrives at a super inconvenient time, and I fall into the trap of “Oh, I’ll totally remember this later- it’s so amazing, how could I forget it?” But…then I do.

Those of us who have been burned by this experience enough times will find ways to avoid this happening again. Others might be blessed with being idea machines, so the loss of one idea doesn’t feel as tragic. Here are some of the best tips I’ve had for jotting down these ideas (with and without technology):

  1. ALWAYS write it down. Whatever your idea is, make sure you get it out of your head to a more tangible place (paper, phone, etc). I’d say 87% of the time, unless I write it down, I only remember having an awesome idea, but not the idea itself. It’s pretty frustrating. To avoid this, there are a few things you can do, depending on your personal preferences. If you are a pen and paper person, one idea is to always keep a notepad close by. If you’re more of a phone person, there are all kinds of apps you can use to keep track of ideas. If you just want to jot down the idea and nothing else, the Notes app that comes with most phones is an easy way to jot things down and have them saved for later. But, if you want to get into some high-end note taking, apps like Papyrus, Evernote, and more let you dictate, add pictures, and share your notes with others. And, most of them are free!
  2. Be Consistent. One of my issues is being super inconsistent about where I put them. Then, when I need to find something again, I’m scrambling around because “it could be in one of six places.” Whatever time you might have saved writing down your idea gets lost trying to track it down again. This article recommends not only keeping your notes in a consistent place, but separating them by types for a higher level of efficiency. This might mean having an app on your phone totally dedicated to business related notes/ideas, while jotting down notes for a screenplay in a notebook you carry around. No matter what system you choose, the key is to be consistent across the board.
  3. Make sure it’s decipherable. Not your handwriting, although it’s a good first step. Sometimes, if we’re in a huge rush, we jot down a few words and carry on our way. Later, when we revisit them, it looks like complete gibberish. Losing an idea this way is arguably more heartbreaking, because you’ve actually put some effort into saving the idea. Avoiding this type of heartbreak involves finding the line between writing too much and too little. Allow yourself the time to write down as much as you think you’ll need to jog your memory.
It really only has to make sense to you...

It really only has to make sense to you…

4. Revisit. Don’t leave your ideas to sit around collecting dust. At the end of the week/month/whatever interval you choose, go back and look over what you’ve written down. More on organizing notes will come in a later blog post, but in revisiting your notes you’re sorting out ideas you might actually want to take action on at some point later on. After all, what’s the point of writing all these ideas down if you aren’t going to see one or two of them through?

Whether you consider yourself an idea person or not, writing down your ideas when you have them, be consistent and clear, and go back and look them over every now and then. What are some ways that you’ve found to get notes from in your head onto paper?

This month’s theme is all about notes, stay tuned for future posts throughout the month!

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Tech Thursday: How to Get More People to Read Your Blog

This week, we’re going to discuss a topic that is near and dear to us: blogging. We spend a lot of time reading blogs, and writing our own blog posts, and have encountered some interesting material out there.

If you spend any time at all writing blogs (or content for the internet in general), this video is for you!

After you’ve written your blog post, there are a few things to keep in mind that may affect the number of people who are going to read your blog (and ideally, keep reading it!)

As a bonus, we break out into song this time around (it was bound to happen eventually…).

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

How To Make A Good RFP

When larger organizations or businesses put a web design project (or other projects) out to bid, they often make an RFP (request for proposals) that they email to prospective candidates or post online somewhere. This includes basically a summary of what they are looking for. Then if someone is interested in bidding, they can write a proposal based on the criteria and submit it for consideration.

As someone who reads a lot of RFPs and occasionally consults people on how to write them, I thought now might be a good time for a blog post about them from a designer’s perspective (writing proposals/bids with them in mind). I use the example of website design but some of these can apply to any RFP.

Think ahead.

When you are in an industry where you do subcontract work, you have to line up work months ahead of when you’ll actually do it. Because you have to build in time for the projects you already have going on, the stuff you’ve promised people you will do, and any sporatic stuff that may come up for inactive clients. It’s a balancing act.

Just to give you an idea, I’m bidding on work I’ll do in July. So think of approaching your RFP process before your busy season, for your sanity and your designer’s sake.

Creating an RFP will make sure you are comparing apples to apples. 

I once lost a job for a restaurant website. I somehow got to see the winning bid afterward. It did not include putting their menu online, making a mobile friendly version of the site, and other (I thought) necessary items for the website that I had included in my more expensive proposal. Clearly the person making the decision had just went to the bottom of each bid sheet and looked at the final number.

Different web designers think different things are necessary. Different clients think different things are necessary. The only way to put everyone on the same page and fairly compare bids is to write an RFP including your requirements, your timeline, your budget, and anything else you want considered in your website design. Yes, it is worth taking the time to do because you will get what you want in the end. Because you’ll have asked for it.

Focus on what you want in terms of functionality. 

As my friend and virtual coworker Matt Baya would say, we have to bake the cake (put the content and functionality into a website) before we ice it (design it).

Now content on websites had been made relatively easy by content management systems like Joomla, Wordpress, and Drupal. I can probably show your board, staff, and you how to update content on your website in about an hour once it’s online. (But if you are doing a responsive site, your designer will need all the content going on the website up front.)

The ‘hard’ part of website development though is how the site will function. Do you need a bilingual website? A website that updates from a real estate data feed? A form that populates a spreadsheet? These functional things will take up a majority of your website designer’s time. If you want an interactive map, business directory, ad spaces with the ability for advertisers to log in and change those ads themselves… these are the things to put in your RFP to get a true quote.

Good, fast, or cheap, pick two. 

Speaking of this, make sure to communicate priority of each item. If you want a $4000 website with a ton of functionality done in four weeks, it’s not going to happen. I mean I want to marry a millionaire sushi chef who does supermodeling on the side and loves cleaning my house. (Just kidding, Derrick.) But you get my point right?

If you have a tight timeline and a limited budget, you’ll need to give up some functional requirements. If you have a limited budget and want a website ‘like the New York Times’ (I have actually heard this before), you’ll need to work on a longer timeline with someone who’s probably very busy with other projects.

In your RFP, let people know what your main concern is…. and don’t feel bad that it’s your budget. Just say so up front.

Everyone wants a ‘nice clean’ design, instead ask about design process and example work.


I would be shocked (well actually really amused)  if anyone told me they wanted an awful, cluttered design for their new website. Everyone wants a clean design that’s modern, like Apple’s website. (Three different clients have told me this exact example.)

But here’s a common thing I’ve seen. People will show me their brochures, business cards, sign, pictures of their store and then they’ll show me a website they like that looks *nothing* like their brand that they want me to make for them. This is where there has to be some meeting of the minds because your website should look like your brand. Maybe just in a more modern way then your 10 year old brochure can.

If it were me, I’d trust the firm you choose to come up with something for using any materials you have to give them, assuming you like other designs they did for people. Ask to see their portfolio and ask about their design process rather than specifying design in the RFP. If you like the firm’s past work and their process, you’ll end up with a design you like, trust me.

Asking for things like spec designs before you award the project is like trying to eek free work out of us, not cool.

If you seem high maintenance, we will stay away. 

There are little clues in your proposal that will make spending the four hours I’ll take to write it not worth the effort, mainly if it seems like you will be a giant pain in our butt.

I may write another blog post on this sometime but let’s just say if you are asking me to jump through a lot of hoops to get to a project, it makes me think you don’t want a partner to create an amazing website but instead someone who will kiss your butt. If we are going to have an open honest dialogue together and I am going to work really hard for you, this is not a healthy dynamic to start with. I promise not to be a drama queen if you can promise the same!

So to summarize, writing an RFP is totally worth it if you want a website to look like and work like you want with your main criteria met. It also makes sure that as you are comparing different design firms that you have more of a fair even basis to do so.

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.