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  • Tips and Tools for 2016

    [Originally posted 6 Jan 2016]

    I prefer ‘goals’ to ‘resolutions’, and this year I’m aiming to beef up my freelance business game in the areas of workflow organization, time management, and health. I’m also going to start keeping a semi-regular blog for when the mood strikes, which is one of my to-do list scribbles that is far overdue.

    I’ll kick it off with a grab bag of 11 things that I’ve found beneficial to my workflow (and life-flow) that I want to share with anyone who might find them useful rolling into 2016 (links in headers):

    XpenseTracker App

    A $4.99 mobile app to take the stress out of assignment expenses. Seriously, this app is awesome. Keeping track of expenses and receipts (mostly scribbled scraps of paper from local taxis and cafes) is nobody’s favorite part of a job, but this really poofs the pain away. With endless configurations perfect for journalism assignments, you take photos of each receipt, log it in, and everything gets beautifully sorted at the end into a clean PDF to email off.  (Thanks, Jonah!)

    Silicon Power External Drives

    I’ve gone with a Lacie Rugged setup from the start, I’ve had enough nerve-wrecking issues with them that I’ve moved to Silicon Power drives. SP offers military grade ‘rugged’ drives for a fraction of the cost (I’ve heard due to their lack of advertising). A 2TB runs just over $100, and a 1TB for around $60. I’ve used two for a few years, and when one started lagging, I sent it in under their warranty and got all my data back two days later on a brand new unit. Couldn’t ask for better customer service. I have four now and swap my Lacies out with them when I have spare cash.

    IWMF’s Emergency Fund for Women

    Overall, there’s a undeniable lack of mental health support resources in the journalism industry, especially for freelancers. Last year, the wonderful organization IWMF has expanded their Emergency Fund for women who are struggling with trauma and seek financial assistance. I am very open about the mental health issues I’ve struggled with as a result of working in Egypt’s conflict scene as a woman, and this grant has been my lifeline to getting the help that I needed to heal and get back to working at my full potential. I can’t speak high enough of the IWMF’s professionalism and understanding around the issue of trauma, please share this resource with all of your lady colleagues!

    Time Out break app

    There’s been a few times this year that I’ve been editing or working for so long that I get eye strain or hand pain. The Time Out app has helped remind me to take breaks, get up and stretch, and avoid embarrassing millennial issues like laptop-induced eye and hand strain at 25...

    Google Flights & Hopper.com

    We all know that the online flight purchase experience is insanely behind the times. I’ve been surprised to find how many people haven’t heard that Google has a game-changing flight search engine now. It isn’t perfect, but when there’s a map with potential locations/prices for spontaneous adventures and a calendar of every day’s price (no more date-change-refreshing!), I’m a happy Mustard. I also use hopper.com/reports to broadly scout cheapest times of the year for different flightpaths with one click..

    Trello

    Normally my to-do lists are scribbly post-it scraps of paper that end of getting blown off of my desk and under the couch. Trello is a free, simple project management interface that can be whatever you want it to be. I use it personally for my short and long term to-do lists and story plans. You can also add multiple people, so I have separate boards to manage projects that the photo collective I’m in or other groups are working on together. It’s the first bookmarked tab on my laptop and an app on my phone, so my lists and project notes are always with me and not under the couch. (Thanks John!)

    Better Back

    Yes, I’m recommending something for back support. I’m wearing it now as I type, and every other day I’m working from home. Better Back was a mega-successful Kickstarter targeted at the fleet of people that are sitting every day for work. My posture is lacking, and it doesn’t take very long when I’m out shooting with my hunky DM3 or sitting in front of a screen before my lower back starts whining. I might look like a dingus wearing it, but it’s my house and health and I don’t care. It runs for $59, which may seem steep, but considering the amount of time I’ve worn it and the positive impact it’s had (and will have in the long run), it’s one of those ‘I’m going to use this every single day’ things that I definitely found is worth it.

    Stop, Breathe, and Think app/website

    A self-care regime is critical for journalists covering traumatic stories, but unfortunately publication support for mental health resources is lacking and most freelancers can’t afford the care they sometimes need. The Breathe app is by no means is a fix-all, but I’ve found that it’s a very helpful (and free) audio meditation tool that can be added to your self-care approach to managing anxiety and stress. 

    Blundstone Boots

    I’ve been on a continuous hunt for both the perfect camera bag and perfect all-purpose footwear until this year. I saw an Instagram post by fellow Koan Collective member Alex Potter, who mentioned her beloved Blundstones as a trusted choice. After a ton of research, I finally got a pair of Blundstone 500s in London and have worn them almost every day since. They’ve been through Scottish Highland bogs, rainy bike road trips in Vietnam, dusty hikes in Myanmar, and a significant amount of tiger feces in Thailand. They’re comfortable and appropriate for working in the field in most climates, and can be dressed smart as well.

    Gura Gear Kiboko 22L Camera Backpack

    I’ve been through 3 camera bags over the past 4 years and all left more to be desired with combo of storage space/layout and back support. This year I decided to try the Kiboko 22L, and I’m pretty happy with it. It’s a bit bulkier than I’d like, but there’s plenty of space (no more seam-busting pack jobs), so many nifty pockets, and is much easier on my back for long hauls with the comfy straps and built-in waist support. I like the front butterfly access and how all of the bag’s zippers close together at the top for when I use a cable lock. This is my travel backpack that stays in the hotel. For day use, I throw fashion out the window for the sake of my back and use a Kata waist pack.

    Stock photo

    MoonCup (or The Keeper or DivaCup or Lunette or FleurCup etc etc)

    If this makes you uncomfortable, get over it. Having a vagina is expensive and can be a pain whether you’re in the field or out. Most journo ladies have a fun story of how they’ve run out of supplies in conservative or rural environments or got caught in other awkward or dodgy monthly predicaments. I’ll say it until I die: Menstrual cups are an absolute game changer. I made the swap 5 years ago, and I’ve spent a total of $30 since then, and it’s been a hugely positive lifestyle change. Zero hassle, zero surprises, zero environmental and health impact. It takes some getting used to, but once you do you’ll never have to worry about wasting packing space, searching the shelves, or makeshift hold-overs ever again. I’ll spare you the photo. (I’m a zealot and always down to answer questions for those who are curious to switch.)