Around this time last year, I wrote a post called 8 Things to do before 8AM. It was all about the morning routine I had, and how I was using it to kick start my day. If you’ve seen that post, or my review of my favourite posts of the year, you’ll know that it got a lot of positive comments.

But when I went back over it, I realised it wasn’t quite accurate to my morning routine now, a year into being a “grown up” so I thought I’d give it a little update. These are the 8 things I actually do before 8 am (the time I have to leave for work – I’m not sure if I would get up quite so early otherwise).

1 – TURN OFF MY ALARM ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROOM

I am such a bad snoozer. I have tried everything, and I have done it for so long that I just get back into bed on autopilot. Currently, I have my alarm on the other side of the room (in a tricky to reach and ever-changing position) so that I give myself the best shot I can of getting up quickly. I have a Newgate alarm clock which is really loud and isn’t as easy to snooze as my phone, plus it means that the first thing I seen on a morning isn’t a blue glowing screen which has to be good for me – right? If you struggle with hitting snooze I highly recommend them.

2 – REHYDRATE

This was in my last list, but it has remained really important. I always have a glass (or half a glass) or water as soon as I can when I get up. It leaves me thinking much more clearly and I’m always thirstier than I realise when I get to it. This isn’t so much of a “this is an incredible morning routine” post, I’m a normal person, but if there’s one thing you take away from this drink your water folks. I even leave a glass out overnight, so I have no excuses and don’t even have to go into the kitchen (AKA I don’t have to get dressed first)

3 – DO SOMETHING TO GET MY BODY MOVING

As I said last year I am never going to be the kind of person who goes on a run or goes to soul cycle before breakfast. I’ve attempted it, more than once, and it just isn’t me. But I do try and have a stretch, or, if I’ve managed not to snooze (so this maybes happens once a week), work my way through this fitness blender video because I have the worst core strength/back issues for a 24-year-old. It’s quite low impact so I don’t get sweaty but it leaves me feeling like I’ve achieved something before I even get to work. Thankfully I’ve done it so many times I can just look at a clock and do it without the video now.

*If you don’t use Fitness Blender it’s an ace source of workouts (of all levels/styles/lengths) for when you don’t want to go out.

4 – MAKE MY BED

It barely takes any time and makes me feel nice when I get home. Plus, I watched this commencement speech and I figured if it had any chance of changing my life it was worth it.

5 – HAVE A MOMENT OF APPRECIATION FOR NATALIE OF LAST NIGHT

Every night I make my lunch for the next day, pack my bag, and lay out my clothes. I even put my oyster card and passes in my coat pockets. Having all of that work done before I even wake up means my mornings are much more streamlined, and I have fewer panics when my brain is still too foggy to function properly.

6 CHECK MY EMAIL

Okay, okay hear me out. I know we’re not supposed to check our phones on a morning. We’re meant to be screen free and happy, unburdened by the outside world. But I’m a person in the real world and I do a job where my day can change at the drop of a hat. So I do check my email (not my social media) before I leave for work, if for no other reason than I need to know I’m going to the right office.

7 – DECIDE ON MY FOCUS FOR THE DAY

I normally write out my to do list for the day the night before, to capture any tasks from the previous day I haven’t done yet. But on a morning, I like to have a quick scan of that list to remind me what I have to do, and to decide what my focus is going to be. At the minute that involves checking my personal kanban board. I’ve found the practice of having just one or sometimes two things as my main priorities for the day makes me a lot more productive and it leaves me feeling better about what I have achieved at the end of the day.

8 – CHECK CITYMAPPER

In 2016 when I was a mere London baby, I had not learned the perils of the Piccadilly line. I didn’t realise how a leaf can cause months of disruption, or how an ill-timed trip out can leave you stuck in a mob outside of a closed station. Thus, I have made many mistakes and had far too many stressful commutes. But like a phoenix, I have risen an almost always well-informed traveller. I check TFL and Citymapper a few times before I leave, and on my way to the station to make sure I get the optimal route. When I have time, I like to get off a stop early and go for a stroll before getting to the office to walk off the feeling of being a sweaty human sardine.

It took me a long time to read this month’s book club pick, in fact I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t have a new review to share with you in time. Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter isn’t a long book, it’s your average 300 pages or so. But the mixture of a change in work schedule and a lot of things kicking off meant that I lost my regular reading time.

Despite those setbacks I knew that I wanted to read Sweetbitter. It, along with Emma Cline’s The Girls, was one of the most hyped books of 2016. It had a load of things I love in a book, a bit of a bildungsroman, an insight into a world I don’t know all that much about, and some romance. But it was Danler’s descriptions of food I was most interested in; good food writing is one of my favourite things to read.

I think the quote on the cover from Stylist – “think Girls meets Kitchen Confidential” – ended up being the most accurate description I read. Danler’s debut follows the classic coming of age format of a small-town girl moving to New York. However, Tess doesn’t dream of being a star or falling in love, she has no ambitions at all. Danler’s slight twist on the norm, still relies on the romanticism of moving to the big city even if the epigrams she often starts chapters with would claim be too jaded to be swept up by the delights of New York. It’s a tone that’s come to be used to describe the contemporary young woman in her own voice in the last couple of years, and it’s something that resonates me as someone who falls into that category.

Tess finds herself a back waiter at a Manhattan restaurant where meals probably cost more than I spend on groceries in a month. As someone who has never worked in a restaurant, but who has watched and read a fair bit about them, I really enjoyed Tess’s perspective. She’s finding her feet, and in a weird middle ground between front and back of house. Tess also finds herself in the middle of a bizarre love triangle, with a bartender called Jake, who she views only sexually, and the experienced waitress who takes Tess under her wing, Simone, who you could say is her real love interest.

As much as I quite enjoyed reading Sweetbitter, I don’t think it was quite deserving of the sparkling praise it received. It had neither the in-depth documentary style look at a restaurant I wanted nor a thrilling plot, so by the time I finally got to the end I had that slightly hollow feeling of “oh that’s it?”. The novel, like its main character, lacked drive or argument. On the one hand, this makes a lot of sense, and reflects a stasis within an industry where everyone is seemingly only waiting until their big break as an author, actor, singer etc. On the other hand, as a reader as much as I’m happy to read about a character’s lack of direction I still want the text I’m reading to get me turning the pages. That said, I did keep reading and I did enjoy a lot of the time I spent reading.

If you’re looking for a slightly more indie feeling beach read or a casual lunch time companion this one is for you. If you watch Girls, Fleabag, or Broadcity I think you’ll like it, especially if you live in or love New York. If you’re looking for something more, I’m not sure if this one is for you. Now, I’ve read Sweetbitter, I’m really looking forward to seeing what Danler writes next (and I’m sure there will be something) to see if she capitalises on and refines what worked in her first novel.

SOME QUESTIONS TO PONDER AS YOU READ

  • Danler’s descriptions of food, and how she interweaves them with the story are one of the most praised elements of the book, what do you make of them?
  • How well do you feel you know any of the characters in the book?
  • Can you imagine the book as a movie? Who would cast in which roles?
  • Endings, for me, can quite often make or break a book, what are your thoughts on how Danler closes Sweetbitter?

IF YOU WANT SOME FURTHER READING TRY…

IF YOU WANT MORE BOOKS LIKE THIS HAVE A LOOK AT…

Why not use Sweetbitter themed bookmark I designed to keep your place as you read? You can print and download it for free here.

As ever, let me know if you’ve read Sweetbitter, or if you have any recommendations for what I should be reading next.

As you may or may not know I recently relaunched my portfolio and opened a little store filled with illustrated goodies. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long while but it wasn’t until recently that I was confident enough in myself to start selling my work and my skills properly. I don’t really like talking about myself, as much as my regular blogging may suggest otherwise, and I certainly don’t like trying to tell people I’m talented, in part because I’m still trying to convince myself.

Throughout the process of setting up the store, and of writing this blog for over a year, I’ve come up with a few ways to get more comfortable with selling myself as someone who’s very uncomfortable with doing so and I thought I would share my learnings with you too, on the off chance they can help someone else.

DECENTRE YOURSELF

You are not the centre of the universe. No one cares as much about your self-promotion or your latest project as much as you do. I don’t say that to be mean, because as soon as I realised that talking about my work became a lot easier for a whole number of reasons. First, it took the pressure off for my work to be perfect. Second, once I realised there are very few people who see every tweet/Instagram (thanks algorithm)/blog post it dawned on me that it was okay, and actually necessary to talk about my work more than once. Third, it meant that I could, and should sell myself harder. There are very few people I see talk about their work and I go “oh no, wait, that’s super arrogant”. If I see someone doing good work 9 times out of 10 I’m just excited to see it.

MAKE SURE YOU HAVE SOMETHING YOU WANT TO SHARE

This sounds really basic but having something you’re really proud of and want to share with the world makes promoting it so much easier. For me, that means making sure I’m undertaking a project for the right reasons e.g. making things I think will make people happy or serve a purpose rather than just having something to sell. It also meant, for my latest big project, my store and portfolio ***LINK***, testing the website with friends to check that it was ready to go out into the world before I even thought about sharing it with you guys. Things don’t have to be perfect, but you have to be happy with them.

TALK ABOUT THE WORK

Once you have work you want to shout about from the rooftops, make sure you’re talking about the work. If you’re uncomfortable selling yourself, sell the work. It’s way easier to talk about some great greeting cards rather than how great you are as an illustrator. Even when you’re talking about your process rather than focusing on your own artistic epiphany (who even has those) talk about the people you designed for, the tools you used, the problem you want to solve, that way you’re making your work personal without having to talk overtly about yourself. The sneaky trick with this one is that you’re inadvertently showing off your skills.

DIVERSIFY YOUR CHANNELS

If you’re feeling self-conscious about spamming people, diversify where you talk about your work and how you talk about it. Rather than tweeting please buy my hand knitted socks 5 times a day, try writing a blog post about why knitted socks are super cosy for winter, or do an Instagram story of your snug feet, or even try and get featured on someone else’s site. Building awareness doesn’t have to mean hitting people over the head with something. Integrate your promotion into useful content and people are far more likely to engage, and you’re far more likely to feel comfortable about doing it because you’re adding value while writing about yourself.

ASK FOR HELP

Ask your friends and family what they would say about your or how they would sell your products. Using their words can take the pressure off you and help you see your work from someone else’s perspective. If you feel a bit more confident, ask them to share your work as well. That way it’s not always you talking about your own work, and you can tap into their networks too.

JUST BITE THE BULLET

At some point you’re just going to have to accept that you’re wonderful and say it loud and proud. Embrace your inner Beyonce and just own it.*

*I’m still working on this one.

I love tea. I love tea so much I made an illustrated zine all about it. So it may come as no excuse that I also love a good tea break when I’m at work. You can often find me refilling my mug with a perfectly steaming brew, between tasks, in moments of stress or lulls in work.

But a tea break isn’t just about what’s in the mug.

The Story Behind: My Zine

TEA TIME IS BREAK TIME

It’s in its name. A tea break is half tea and half break. That means it’s an excuse to get up from your desk and away from your screen and take a couple of minutes out for yourself. For me those minutes are kind of sacred, to the extent that I will turn down offers of a cuppa so I can get up and make my own. Sometimes you just need a little bit of time out to recenter yourself or just think through a problem without the distractions. There’s just something about going through the motions of making a cup of tea that really opened up my mind, maybes it’s the thing of doing something with my hands on autopilot. Once you get back to your desk with your tea there’s a change in your environment and your thinking. You work between sips, which changes your rhythm and how you’re working in a really lovely way – this has often led to half drunk cold cups of tea though.

IT’S A GREAT WAY TO WARM UP

I think it’s a universally acknowledged truth that no office aircon is ever just right. No one has ever uttered the phrase “oh Barbara, you know what, the temperature in here is perfect”. It will always be too hot, or too cold. I feel like that’s especially true now we’re in a transitional season where no one’s quite sure if the central heating should be on. Making yourself a cup of tea is the perfect way to warm your hands after hours of typing or to rehydrate after you’ve lost every drop of moisture in your body to an overzealous aircon unit.

The Story Behind: My Zine

YOU CAN MAKE SOME NEW FRIENDS

The tea round is a true British office tradition. Yorkshire tea (the best tea company) even made a rap about it. Please go and watch it. The tea round is a way of bringing people together, and showing a little care in the workplace. It’s also a great way to find out who has a weird drink request. Next time you stand up to make a cuppa offer to make a round and bask in the warm glow of office appreciation. Plus, hopefully, making one round of seven cups means you’ll get at least one back in the future.

IT’S A TIME TO CATCH UP

While “blessed be the tea makers” taking on the tea round doesn’t have to be a solo endeavour. Sometimes you just need an extra pair of hands, in one office I worked at a tea round could mean anything up to 11 mugs, which I certainly couldn’t have carried on my own. But calling someone else up to join you on a tea run can also be a great excuse to have a chat. Whether that means networking or having a gossip, almost certainly a gossip, use the tea round as a reason for a natter. If you need a longer catch up, you can always pop out or just as someone to grab cuppa with you and use the brew as a way to open up a conversation.

If you enjoyed this post, or are a tea lover, check out my zine  – it’s an ode to my love of tea and it’s super powers. You can even get 10% off if you sign up to my newsletter in the sidebar!

I changed jobs a month or so ago, so I thought I’d share a bit about what it is that I actually do when I’m not writing and drawing on here. Finding a day job that works for me as much as I work for it has been a bit of a tricky search, but I think I’m just about there and I’m really enjoying what I’m doing and learning now.

For those of you who don’t know, here’s a quick bit of background. In September, I completed a yearlong grad scheme with The Engine Group. The scheme included rotations in a number of marketing and communications disciplines including consultancy, PR (corporate and brand), advertising, customer relationship management, and data, as well as options to work in events, sports sponsorship, media creation and media buying. All of these rotations gave me the chance to try out lots of different jobs and to work out which industry, and which kinds of environments, suit me best. If you’re just starting out in a grad scheme, I’ve written a load of posts about my experience and getting the most out of them.

Eventually, I came to the decision that the place I felt most at home, and the place I felt I could get the most out of was digital consultancy. Thankfully, the consultancy I worked for agreed, and so I’m now a part of the Transform team.

Transform focus on putting digital at the heart of a business, meaning they help their clients make sure they have the right services and skills to make their work actually work for real people in 2017. Their work is anchored around strategy, service design and technology working together. So, they’re not really your typical consultancy. They actually build a lot of the services they come up with the strategy for and design.

You know how you can renew your passport online now? That was us! You know how easy it is to do click and collect with Argos? Yeah, we helped make that happen.

They’re also a small tight-knit team of super smart people, which always helps.

My role in all of this is kind of a business analyst/user researcher hybrid, depending on the project, with a focus on service design. But what does all of that actually mean? 

Essentially, I do a lot of research and testing to find out what people want. I spend a lot of time either in businesses, government departments, or out and about interviewing people to find out how they work and then turning that insight into solutions. Then we prototype those solutions, which is something I’m learning to be able to do and test them to make sure they work for the people who are actually going to use them. Seems like common sense, right? That’s the crux of what I do – taking in lots of information and then coming out with the best, common sense solution to the problem, then making sure it works. Outside of those key elements, I also do a fair bit of analysis, workshopping, presentation building, and pitch prepping. No two days are the same, or even in the same seat, which definitely keeps me on my toes.

So that’s what I’m up to now. I know I normally write more about design and work more generally, but would you want me to share more about my day job specifically and working in marketing as a junior? Is Service Design something it would be interesting to learn more about?

Let me know, I want to make sure I’m making content that’s relevant and useful to you guys.