A Bit of Backstory

A quick hop over to Bordeaux a couple of months ago turned into a prolonged stay. Two days quickly turned into two weeks. My return flight was for the 15th April, just 90 minutes after UK airspace closed.

I can’t deny that my initial reaction was a verging on delight ((I was very very lucky, I was stuck in what is effectively my second home, surrounded by friends and with a roof over my head.)) . It’s never easy to leave again and I thought, hey, I work remotely, another day or so can’t hurt, right? Wrong.

Not only had I come away without half of the tools I use daily for my job, I had opted to leave my research for my law work back in the UK, considering that a 2 day break from essay-writing would do me good . Combined with a gross underestimation of the developping situation and…

… I lost 10 days to panic, stress, self-flaggellation and flitting around. As someone who travels frequently, and who therefore prides herself in being able to work anywhere, this was an eye-opening experience.



After a few years spent blaming my poor output and efficiency on my tools, I came to realise that actually, it’s all down to me, my attitude and my effort. Following this mantra, I took the minimum with me: my laptop, iPhone and iPhone headset. The mistake I made there was twofold: using the trackpad on the MacBook Pro for hours on end, day in day out, is a recipe for disaster. Secondly, I underestimated the utility of my large headphones.

The headphones, are, it turns out, what makes it for me. Having something physical on my head creates a barrier between me and the outside world. They serve not only to alert those around me to the fact that I’m not approachable, but they cut me off entirely. These put me in the zone. I also make use of a particular playlist which I listen to when absolute focus is needed.

Concentration or Isolation?

As someone who regularly works from pubs, bars, caf├ęs and restaurants I didn’t expect to have any problems working from a friends’ kitchen table. Another amateur mistake. I can work in the middle of a crowd of screaming banshees without the slightest problem, just as long as I don’t know any of them. Conversation is the one thing that tears my focus to shreds. I realised that in working out of all these crowded place I’m not searching for company, I’m simply trying to avoid total isolation. I’ve always struggled with saying no, so imposing the fact that I’m working on and therefore don’t wish to be disturbed on others doesn’t come naturally. I’m also a hopeless chatterbox…


I wasn’t prepared to be away for very long, so was neither in the frame of mind to attack meatier tasks, nor did I have the necessary notes and equipement. This has taught me that i need to vastly improve my organisiation. My life is a mess of lists, scattered between OmniFocus, TaskPaper and various scraps of paper in my notebook(s). I have no clear picture of priorities or ongoing responsibilities, and being thrown into an unexpected situation only served to undeline this.

What now?

  • Excuses over, it’s time to go paperless as far as possible ((ScanSnap here I come!)).
  • It’s not the tools that do the work, it’s me. I’m all I need.
  • Nevertheless, I realise that it’s OK to need a particular tool to work well, we’re not perfect. My job and sanity are the priorites.
  • It’s important to remain disciplined when out of my familiar working environment(s).
  • It’s time to establish, and maintain a work life balance I can be happy with.

I’m working hard to crawl myself out of the mess I’ve made, but I’ve learned a lot about how I function, and what I can do to improve my efficiency and focus. I’m currently in the middle of 5 weeks dedicated entirely ((in theory, but I’m yet to manage to escape work for more than a couple of days. This is another aspect of my life that I need to ‘fix’.)) to the law side of my life. This is an opportunity which I need to seize with both hands only to come back in a few weeks’ time energised and ready to sort through the accumulated detritus in order make the most of a job and life I love.

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  1. Well working from different places, I recently learned, that some form of paperless working is quite good. So I really try to avoid paper, as much as I can these days. But on the other hand I would not want to miss my little notebook. the creativity, that goes into handwriting. the ability to quickly sketch out an idea, where ever I am, really is important to me. the only drawback is, that I manually have to transfer these scribbles/ideas to a digital form.

    But i think that is manageable. Sorry for my bad written English and greetings from Germany.

  2. Hi,
    Came across link to your site in a WP forum thread. Sure enough it seems to be the same Hanni who has so graciously helped me through serial coding crises for the past two years or so. Thanks, and best wishes. Jim (Doc)

  3. It was a good article writing style. I think you might have learned (as you said : eye-opening) a lot of things in those days, although it might have been a difficult time. Can you think about going for a vacation for nearly 2-3 months without your equips and any advance technology and just roaming here and there without any particular reason, just to enjoy the nature or watching the living habits of people. (my Eng might be uneasy in understanding but its not too bad). I would suggest you to try to do so or just think so. To test ‘my balance of life’ I sometimes put myself intentionally in unbalancing situations! greetings!!

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