Oliver Lindberg an independent editor, content consultant and founder of web conference series Pixel Pioneers, a conference for front-end developers and UX/UI designers.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I’ve worked on the editorial side of the tech industry for more than 16 years. I got into it through net magazine, a print publication for web designers and developers, which I edited from 2012 to 2016.
The mag really shaped my career but has sadly just closed, after 25 years on the newsstand. You can find out more on my thoughts on the history of the mag and the future of print media by reading this interview.
Around three and half years ago I went freelance to work as an independent editor, content strategist, and conference curator/organiser.
I currently split my time between producing content for clients such as Adobe, Shopify, and Wix, and organising Pixel Pioneers – an affordable community conference for front-end developers and UX/UI designers with a focus on actionable takeaways.
2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
I work from home, so it’s not terribly exciting! It also means that the current COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t impacted my workflow as massively as it has other people’s.
What has changed, however, is that everyone is at home now: I’m sharing the house with my wife and our nine-year-old daughter, which adds a new challenge to working from home!
Generally, I spend the day editing or writing articles, researching topics and emailing people. I also spend some time in Slack and on Twitter, both to communicate with clients and to keep up social interactions – as working from home can be a lonely affair. Of course I’m also regularly on video calls, like everyone else.
For example, I’ve just had a really interesting Zoom chat with a front-end developer in Australia for an upcoming article. It’s pretty amazing that technology allows us to do that.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
I can work pretty much anywhere there’s wifi. When things are more normal, and we’re not living through a global pandemic, I occasionally attend industry events around Europe.
When I travel, I work on my laptop and keep up with my emails as much as possible. It’s also a nice break from the routine. I’m usually more productive and feel inspired when I return from conferences or meetups.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
My daughter was six when I went freelance. Being able to spend more time with her played a significant role in deciding to quit my job. Now I have more flexibility to do that.
Work-life balance also means being organised and creating a schedule that fits your situation and your personality. I’m in the lucky position to have a constant stream of work at the moment, and it would be easy to work all the time but that would be a bad idea.
For me it’s important to restrict working hours pretty much to 9 to 5 and not work on weekends, so I can spend time with my family and do my fair share of whatever needs doing around the house. Having downtime also ensures you stay productive and don’t burn out.
5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?
I think the ability to say ‘no’ is really important, especially for a freelancer. It can be tempting to say ‘yes’ and accept every work offer but you’re going to overwhelm yourself. I therefore also try and arrange realistic deadlines with my clients.
Luckily, they’re all quite flexible and understand if sometimes I need a little bit more time (a delay can be inevitable when you’re waiting for a contributor to get back to you).
I also write to-do lists and am pretty old-school in that respect. I find it helps me visualise and remember something better if I actually write it down on paper. So I usually start each day by making a list of tasks that are realistic to complete within the working hours. And I also have one big sheet of paper on my desk with a list of all the work that I’m currently working on.
As I usually juggle work for five clients, it helps me have a good overview of everything that’s going on.
I also use spreadsheets to stay organised, and I try and be as responsive and communicative with my clients as possible. This means replying to emails as quickly as I can (during UK working hours) and prioritising work when it’s becoming urgent (for example, when an article has been scheduled to go live and I need to review and resolve a stakeholder’s edits).
But on the flip side, it’s also important to switch off and not make yourself available 24/7. I work with clients in different time zones, and I will reply to messages outside of UK working hours, but only if it’s urgent and can’t wait. At some point I just need to put my phone down and focus on life.
6) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?
I don’t think it’s as much about books for me but I pick up tips from articles and conference talks.
For example, a few years ago I booked software architect Jason Lengstorf to give a conference talk on how he cut his working hours in half and somehow managed to get more done (which prompted me to invite him to write this accompanying article on 4 inconvenient truths about getting things done).
There are also some great tips in these posts on time management for freelancers, time-tracking, and boosting your productivity.
7) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?
I think it’s really important to take little breaks, even if it’s just to get up and make yourself a cup of tea. I find I am able to concentrate better if I am away from the screen for a few minutes.
I also go for a walk, usually at lunchtime, to get some fresh air and a bit of exercise. Weather permitting, I then spend as much time as possible away from the screen on the weekend, maybe go for a cycle ride, a long walk in the countryside, or just sit in the garden reading a book.
Since we’ve been in lockdown due to COVID-19, I’ve put a few other things in place to ensure I stay productive. In order to keep fit, both mentally and physically, I do PE with Joe with my daughter every day. I also occasionally take her on my daily walk, and we count the rainbows that children in the neighbourhood have put up on their windows.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
I’d love to read an interview with Gavin Strange, a director and designer at Aardman. He’s just so passionate, enthusiastic, and driven that it’d be really interesting to find out how he fits it all in, especially as a father of a young child. That’s what I’d like to hear about most: how other people, in similar situations that I can relate to, balance their work with family life.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Try out different productivity techniques and stick to the ones that work best for you. And be realistic about what you can achieve in a day. Don’t put yourself under too much pressure. Sometimes you have a bad day, and that’s okay. We all do.
Especially at the moment, in the midst of a global pandemic, you can’t expect to be as productive as usual. This is an extreme version of working from home, and you need to balance it with your family and with your mental health.
Overall, it’s important to remind yourself once in a while that there’s more to life than work, and to feel good about switching off. Whether it’s reading a book, watching a film or series, playing a game with your family, catching up with friends, going for a walk or cycle, having a change of scenery – these can all have a big effect on your productivity.
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