Hey, I'm Marc 👋
I'm a independent WordPress developer based in Birmingham, UK. This is my blog where I share my thoughts on freelancing, productivity, technology and more.
I loved reading Patrick Collison’s Fast Project. He has compiled a list of ambitious projects that were completed incredibly quickly. Some of my favourite examples include the iPod shipping in 290 days after being started and Amazon Prime being brought to life in 6 weeks.
After a few weeks off over the holiday period, I’ve been using The Theme System Journal to help get my habits back on track.
These are the daily habits I’m currently tracking:
- Reading (20 mins+)
- Writing (20 mins+)
- Complete highlight
- Deep work (3 hours+)
- Close activity rings
- Go for a walk
- No alcohol
- Finish work at 5:30pm
A summary of what went well and what went badly in 2019, plus the things I’m thinking about for 2020.
When I started redesigning this website a few weeks ago, I started from a blank slate (an empty WordPress theme directory and a couple of Sass files that I use to start new projects). Since then, I’ve built out most of the core components to get the site looking reasonable.
On the surface, a blog design is simple. You have posts and pages and that’s usually about it. But when you dig deeper, you realise there’s lots of little design decisions that need to be made.
One such design decision is how blog posts are displayed. The previous version of my blog listed posts chronologically, like this:
No dates, no content, just a list of blog posts. This approach is fine if each post is a self-contained topic, but it doesn’t feel particularly well suited to a ‘weblog’ where each post can vary in size. Clicking through to a post with two or three lines of text doesn’t feel right.
Now take Manton Reece’s blog as example:
Manton’s blog has two types of posts: full articles and microposts. This is the approach I decided I wanted to take. Sometimes I just want to a share a thought or a link and several lines of text is all that is required. This smaller bite-size approach to blogging is called microblogging (incidentally, Manton runs micro.blog).
This is the design I’ve ended up with. Very much inspired by Manton, I now have two types of post: a standard post and a note. I’m still experimenting with the format, but I hope that now that a post can be tweet-sized, it’ll make it easier to get back into the habit of publishing.
One of my goals for next year is to write and publish more often (as it has been for the past few years and I’ve horrifically failed at). But, as everyone knows, before you can start writing you have to redesign your website.
This week I’ve booked out a chunk of time to redesign and rebuild my site from the ground up. The hope is that a fresh new site will provide the perfect platform to start writing and publishing again in the new year.
Here are a few of my thoughts as I start the project:
- I’m sticking with WordPress and plan to fully embrace Gutenberg. I know there are lots of great platforms out there to choose from, but it makes sense to stick with what I know given that my business specialises in WordPress development.
- I want the site to load as fast as possible. It will be minimalist in style and I’ll only include what is absolutely necessary.
- I’m going to stick with Sass. While I’ve enjoyed writing vanilla CSS again lately, there’s still a few things that I find useful: mixins, imports, etc.
The tools I’ll be using to build the website look something like this:
- Visual Studio Code, my code editor of choice
- Laravel Valet for my local development environment
- Gulp for compiling Sass
- WordPress as the CMS, with just two plugins initially: ACF and WP Migrate DB Pro
- Fathom for privacy-friendly analytics
- GitHub as my code repository
- DeployHQ for code deployments
- My hosting setup will remain the same: Digital Ocean paired with Server Pilot
I’ll be “live designing” as I go, so the plan is to launch updates throughout the week. I’ll be sharing the process as I go.
In no particular order, here are some of my favourite reads from 2018.
One of the wonderful benefits of these annual reviews is that it encourages you to look back at the year as a whole. I was reminded that 2018 was actually a really good year.
Some of my thoughts on why and how to host a mastermind retreat.
I’ve always enjoyed reading about the tools and gear other people use. I stumbled on Matt Mullenweg’s “What’s in my bag” post in 2014 and I’ve followed his updates since. But it’s only in the past year or so—as I’ve been working more frequently from coffee shops, co-working spaces and client offices—that I’ve begun to invest in my own travel setup.
What follows is my everyday bag. I keep it permanently packed (minus the laptop), so it’s always ready to go when I head out.
A curated list of my favourite books from 2017.
What went well and what went badly in 2017 and things I’m thinking about for 2018.
My thoughts on setting good goals.
David Sparks on why he prefers to use RSS:
The reason I’ve stuck with RSS is the way in which I work. Twitter is the social network that I participate in most and yet sometimes days go by where I don’t load the application. I like to work in focused bursts. If I’m deep into writing a book or a legal client project. I basically ignore everything else. I close my mail application, tell my phone service to take my calls, and I definitely don’t open Twitter. When I finish the job, I can then go back to the Internet. I’ll check in on Twitter, but I won’t be able to get my news from it. That only works if you go into Twitter much more frequently than I do. That’s why RSS is such a great solution for me. If a few days go by, I can open RSS and go through my carefully curated list of websites and get caught back up with the world.
When Google Reader shut down in 2013, I stopped using RSS. RSS felt like yet another inbox to attend to, so I ditched it and used Twitter instead. But in the past few months, I’ve returned to RSS and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed keeping up with a select few sites.
My return to RSS was based on two factors:
1) I’m using Twitter way less than I used to. I’m not enjoying it as much as I did. Twitter was how I kept up, but not anymore.
2) I’m using an iPad more. Reading RSS feeds on a tablet-sized device is a great experience.
I completely agree with Sparks advice on subscribing to high signal, low noise sites:
RSS is so easy to implement that it’s a slippery slope between having RSS feeds for just a few websites and instead of having RSS feeds for hundreds of websites. If you’re not careful, every time you open your RSS reader, there will be 1,000 unread articles waiting for you, which completely defeats the purpose of using RSS. The trick to using RSS is to be brutal with your subscriptions. I think the key is looking for websites with high signal and low noise. Sites that publish one or two articles a day (or even one to two articles a week) but make them good articles are much more valuable and RSS feed than sites that published 30 articles a day.
Seth Godin, author and blogger, just published his 7000th post. Every day, Seth writes and publishes to his blog.
And his secret?
The secret to writing a daily blog is to write every day. And to queue it up and blog it. There is no other secret.
Simple, but not easy.
A transcription of a talk I gave at Staffs Web Meetup in October, 2017. I share some of the lessons I’ve learnt during the first 3 years of running my business.
Charles Roper wrote a great piece called Kaizen in which he talks about breaking down big things into small steps:
In taking tiny steps, we become accustomed to the change. We get used to it little by little. As time goes on, we increase our exposure to the change. Habits form, routines solidify, and, as if by magic, we find we’ve grown. We’ve made progress. This is how we defeat the fear. We practice. We do something so easy it seems stupid. That’s the trick.
Charles asks what is the smallest thing I can do? in the context of writing daily:
Five minutes of writing per day, perhaps? That sounds reasonable. How about one sentence? That’s pretty Kaizen. Or a tweet’s worth? Ideal. So I’ll aim to write just a tweet’s worth of something every day for 30 days. A paragraph, maybe. Or just a sentence or two. It’ll take around five minutes at most.
That’s a great approach to daily writing. But it applies to much more than just writing. If there’s a habit you want to build, ask what is the smallest step you can take?
Here are the filters I currently use in Todoist:
(today | overdue) & p1 | p2
MIT’s, or Most Important Tasks, is a concept I got from Zen to Done. ZTD, written by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits fame, is a simplified and more practical take on Getting Things Done. It’s a short book and much more approachable than GTD.
Each morning – or if I’m really organised, the evening before – I decide on what my MIT’s are for the day. I try and choose about 3 things which I do this by assigning priority 1 or priority 2 to those tasks.
This filter then shows any tasks that are marked as priority 1 or priority 2 and are either overdue or due today.
There’s usually around 10 tasks in my Today view, but the MIT’s are what I focus on. I’ll try and get them done early in the day if possible so that other things don’t get in the way.
@errands | @groceries
The Errands filter shows any tasks that are labelled @Errands or @Groceries. I add things that I need to Todoist with either of those two labels. That way, when I’m in a supermarket or need to run errands, I just use this filter so that I won’t forget the milk or batteries or whatever else it is I might need.
Today’s batched tasks
(overdue | today) & @Batch
A few times a week, I’ll use this filter to help clear out the small tasks that I need to get done. First, I go through Todoist and add the label @Batch to any small tasks that will take around 10 minutes or less to complete.
I then sit down for around an hour and blast through this filter. Tasks that I might batch include updating a client on a project, sending or keeping on top of invoices, making a quick phone call, small updates to a client website, and so on. I can often get through 4-10 tasks in just an hour by using this filter.
All batched tasks
Similar to the filter above, this shows all tasks labelled @Batch but regardless of due date. If I have a spare 30 minutes and my tasks for the day are complete, I’ll often work from this list.
7 days & @Waiting
If I’m waiting on something from someone, I’ll add it as a task with a label of @Waiting. This filter than shows all the things I’m waiting on over the next week. I review this filter at the start of the week so I can plan accordingly. It’s also useful as a reminder to follow up if necessary.
90 days old
created before: -90 days
The filters I have marked in grey are part of my monthly review.
This filter shows all tasks that were created over 90 days ago. Tasks that appear in this filter are often tasks that have slipped through the cracks and need scheduling or are no longer important and can be deleted.
Due in next 30 days
This filter shows all tasks that are due in the next 30 days. During the review, I look over what needs to be done in the next month. One of things I like about this filter is it helps spot particularly busy days so I can move tasks around accordingly.
No due date
no due date
As you’d expect, this filter lists all tasks without a due date. Like the 90 days old filter, this helps surface tasks that I may have forgotten about or are no longer important and can be removed.
I have a Routines project with Daily, Weekly, Monthly and Periodic recurring tasks. This filter shows them all as well as any recurring tasks in other projects. I like to review them on a monthly basis because too many recurring tasks can easily clog up the system.
This shows all the tasks in my Todoist account, ordered by project. I don’t use this filter very often but it is handy for major reviews.
For the past few months, Todoist has been my task manager of choice. I’ve invested a lot of time in tweaking it to find a setup I’m happy with. This is the first post in a mini series I’ll be doing on Todoist.
First, I wanted to share my custom start page. In Todoist, the start page is what you see when you click on the logo in the top left corner. You can customise what appears on this page by going to Settings and selecting from the “start page” drop down.
I started by using complex queries to show my various priorities and projects and labels. But honestly, I didn’t find that particularly useful. Now I’ve opted for an incredibly simple start page and I use it multiple times a day.
Before I dive into the start page I use, I want to explain the problem I’m trying to solve. I start by searching through my Today view or perhaps use a Filter to find a task I want to work on next. I then start working on that task. But before I know it, I’ve been distracted and I’m no longer working on that task. It might be an incoming call, a knock at the door, or an interruption of my own making (Twitter or Slack most likely). I then forget what I was working on and start on something else. It’s not until later when I review Todoist again that I have that realisation: “Oh yeah, that’s what I was working on.”
This is a problem when you have a large degree of autonomy with your time. You can work on what you want, when you want. But jumping around tasks like this is hugely inefficient.
To get around this, I find the task I want to work on and then apply a label of “Now”. My start page uses a custom query to show the @Now label like this:
Now, when I lose track of what I’m working on, I jump straight to the start page which shows me the task I was working on. Once that task is done, I check it off, find another task to work on, add the @Now label, and off I go.
I’m not sure if this is useful to anyone else but it seems to work for me.
Yuval Harari, author of the fantastic book Sapiens (which I’ve started and still need to finish), was a recent guest on The James Altucher Show. Go listen, it’s a great interview.
One of my favourite parts was Yuval’s brief thoughts on meditation. He explained that he starts and finishes every work day with one hours meditation. He explains:
“(Meditation) gives me balance, peace, and calmness and the ability to find myself.”
“The idea of meditation is to forget about all the stories in your mind. Just observe reality as it is. What is actually happening right here, right now? You start with very simple things like observing the breath coming in and out of your nostrils or you observe the sensations in your body. This is reality.
For all of history, people have given more and more importance to imaginary stories and they’ve been losing the ability to tell the difference between fiction and reality. Meditation is one of the best ways to regain this ability and really tell the difference between what is real and what is a fiction in my mind.”
In episode 44 of Cortex, Myke and Grey discussed time tracking. I have a love/hate relationship with time tracking. As an employee, I hated it. It made no sense to track 7.5 hours per day (because who does that much productive work in a day?). But as someone who is self-employed, it makes total sense (and I can see why I was made to do it as an employee).
As Grey says in the episode: if you care about how you’re spending your time, track your time.
Myke and Grey talk about the revelations they had while tracking their time, which match my own:
- Your brain has no idea how much time you’re spending on stuff. You can’t trust yourself to have any sense of how long it takes to do things.
- You think you’re working way more than you actually are.
- You’ll spot patterns. You’ll notice that those busy periods will catch up with you.