My favourite tools of 2015

The best of 2015

If I hadn’t been too busy having a break from the PC over the Christmas/New Year period, I’d have written this sooner. I did spend some time over the holiday reflecting on tools I’d enjoyed using in 2015 however, so, better late than never, here’s my round-up of favourites from the last 12 months.

Canva
What a find! I’m hugely grateful to Denise Cowle for telling me about Canva, a design tool which is free and helps you put a professional look to presentations, social media images, posters, etc. I’ve used it for PowerPoint slides, Facebook posts, Mailchimp campaigns and blog posts (see top image in this post). It’s totally free unless you choose to use premium images or designs, which are $1 a time, and its drag and drop interface is idiot-proof. Watch out for lots more smart visuals from me in 2016.

Toggl
Another freebie unless you upgrade to their Pro or Business levels, which, if you’re a member of a small team or just working on your own, there is absolutely no need for. Toggl is a time-tracking tool that syncs across your desktop and mobile devices to allow you to keep a log of the time you’re spending on individual projects. Projects can be broken down further to task-level if you need more detail. Smart-looking reports at the end of each day/week/month show you where you’ve spent your time, and you can export these to send to clients with an invoice. Anyone who’s followed my White Ink Facebook page for any time knows I’ve been wedded to my notebook and coloured pens since 2008 for logging time, but last year I had to use Toggl as part of a team for one client, and after a period of ignoring it and assuming I’d forget to turn the timer on and off efficiently, came back to it as an experiment in December. I got into the swing of it so much that I’ve locked the app to my iPhone dock for easy access. Notebook, be gone!

Evernote
This is another tool that I’ve heard project managers, writers and others rave about in the past. I signed up over a year ago, had a fiddle around, then left it in the corner of my desktop to languish. I could see a use for somewhere to save articles to read later but had always just emailed them to myself and put them in an Outlook folder. Then I started writing this blog and came back to Evernote as a place to note down ideas for posts, and store links and images that related to those ideas. Stuck in Gibraltar airport on the way back from holiday, I used Evernote on my iPad to write a blog post, and have been hooked ever since. It’s another tool that syncs across my PC desktop, iPad and iPhone, and has a neat interface that appeals to me. There are lots of useful features such as the ability to tag notes for easy retrieval and categorization, make lists, annotate images, and you can use a messaging feature if you need to discuss anything with a team. As with Toggl, it’s free unless you want to go for Plus or Premium features.

WordPress
I’d been thinking about writing an occasional blog for some time. On the White Ink Facebook page I post a daily tip, link or photo, but sometimes want to write more. Only when I got my sit/stand desk did I finally get round to it, and it was really only after I’d written my first post and published it that I started to look at the Reader feature and read others’ blogs. Prior to that, I’d subscribed to blogs and got email notifications of new posts, but it’s great to have them all in one place. I really wish I’d found the world of blogs sooner – both writing and reading. I’m sure there’s a post about the ones I read most often coming later this year.
WordPress is simple to use (although I’m learning something every time I write and publish a post) and free at the basic level, but if you want to set up a website that’s more than just a blog, make sure you register at WordPress.org rather than WordPress.com. Many more widgets, themes and options available at .org, but not all are free.

Word Swag
Just for fun. This is a free app for funking up your photos with text. Endless options for layouts, colours and backgrounds if you don’t want to use a photo. Expect to see the fruits of my fiddling with this on the blog until I find something to trump it. Haven’t found a sensible use for the ‘creative quotes’ feature yet though.

The one I flirted with but will spend more time getting to know better this year was Periscope. I can see some applications for this in my freelance life, but like any other social media platform, it’s going to take some effort. I’ll let you know how I get on later in the year.

Hope there’s something here that you didn’t already know about. What tools should I be looking into in 2016?

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How to be the project manager’s favourite editor

Most of my work as a freelancer involves putting together teams of editors to work on multi-level, multi-component courses for ELT (English Language Teaching) publishers. Here are some of my top tips for getting to the top of my go-to list.

7
Let me know you’re getting my stuff.
 I don’t want to hear from you every five minutes, but I do want to know you’ve received the brief, successfully downloaded the files you need from the FTP site, and know when I’m expecting to receive a handover from you.
6Keep up to date. 
I expect team members to be comfortable with Word styles, comments and track changes. Knowing how to share your Skype screen, do PDF markup, and use Google Docs and Dropbox are also fairly fundamental these days. For anything else, there’s training.

2Know when to get in touch. Got a query about the brief? Let’s get to the bottom of that before we get underway. All clear? Great. Off we go. There are bound to be questions that come up, but it would be much more efficient all round if you sent them to me on a daily basis or a couple of times a week. Please don’t email me every time you come across something you’re not sure about. Chances are, if you press on a bit, you’ll work it out. If not, I’ll be happy to help, but not ten times a day.

5Tell me if you’re running late. The project manager’s job is to keep things on schedule. If we haven’t been in touch otherwise, I’ll drop you a line each week to check in and make sure everything’s going smoothly. I will ask you if you’re on track for handover on the agreed date. At this point I need to know if you’re not going to meet that date. Telling me everything is fine when it’s not doesn’t help either of us. Now is not the time to be economical with the truth.

1Don’t make excuses. There are a lot of medical conditions that I didn’t know existed before I starting project managing. I’ve learnt a couple of new ones in 2015. I don’t need to know any more in 2016.

4Tell me if you’re going over budget. One of the project manager’s other key jobs is to keep things within budget. If the number of hours agreed for the current stage of the project is 50 and you’ve already done 40 hours and are only half the way through, we’re going to go over budget. We need to talk about why this is. Does the manuscript need more work than anticipated? Do the proofs have a lot of overmatter? Are there a lot of facts that need checking? The next thing we need to do is agree whether the client is happy with the additional hours, and we need to do this in good time before the handover date.

3Keep it real. If you’re working on a long-term project, chances are that there will be some times when you’ll want to snap your laptop lid shut and walk away. (Please do a quick save before you do that.) Take a break, have a change of scene, do something else for a bit. But come back and drop me a line rather than get trapped in a spiral of bad feeling towards the project. It’s good to talk.

That’s what I’d like from you. What can I do for you in return?