Feeling Overwhelmed?

Join the club.

Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed. It isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. But it is bothersome — an uncomfortable feeling that makes me question everything about my life.

I’ve made some serious personal decisions recently that are likely to rock my world over the coming months. This is a stressful situation that’s not made any easier by the lack of support by friends and family members. I’m going it alone — as I so often do — and it’s weighing heavily on my mind.

But the feeling of being overwhelmed is primarily due to my workload. As a freelancer, I work when there’s work to do. When there isn’t work to do, I’m usually waiting for or looking for more work. Sometimes I need to make work. Other times, work appears unexpectedly — even when I don’t want it or have time for it. But I have to do it all — to turn down work is to possibly miss out on future work.

Such is the life of a freelancer.

Right now, I’m working on four content creation (writing, video, etc.) projects:

  • Book CoverFinishing up a special iBooks 2 interactive edition of my iBooks Author book. This requires me to record and edit dozens of screencast videos and completely re-layout the book in iBooks Author. The good news: I might be able to finish up today. That is, if Alex the Bird can keep quiet and the landscapers don’t spend much time blowing leaves outside my window. And the neighbor’s dog doesn’t bark nonstop for an hour. Again.
  • Lynda LogoPrepare scripts for a revision of my Twitter Essential Training course on Lynda.com. We’ll be recording this course soon and I want to be fully prepared before I fly out to Lynda to record. And my new producer, wants to see the scripts, too.
  • An aerial photography book. I began writing this last year and have put it aside repeatedly because I need artwork and photos that I can’t produce on my own. I suspect it’ll have to wait until this summer to finish up.
  • A book of helicopter pilot stories. I’m collecting these stories from other pilots and plan to compile them in a book for release later this spring. As I get more and more bogged down with other things, however, the self-imposed deadline keeps slipping. I suspect this will be finished up when I get to Washington, too.

Of course, with Mac OS X Mountain Lion announced, I know what I’ll be doing first when I get to Washington: Revising my Mac OS X Lion book for the new version of the OS. Oh, yeah — and then there’s the videos and Websites I’ve been asked to create for a handful of winemakers up there.

It’s not just writing work and the occasional helicopter flight that’s stacked up before me. It’s all the paperwork that goes with it.

I have two separate businesses, each with their own bank accounts and accounting records. I don’t have an accountant — hell, I am an accountant; my BBA is in accounting. To hire an accountant would be silly, since I could do that work myself and save a bunch of money. So I do. Or I try to. Often, it just stacks up, waiting for me to get to. I haven’t balanced a bank account in several months. And I’m only partially switched from Quicken (since it no longer works in the current version of Mac OS) to iBank (which I really don’t like). It’ll take days to sort out the accounting mess I face when I get around to it.

And then comes tax time. What a freaking nightmare that is.

And then my annual migration back to Washington. That’s a logistics issue. Find someone to fly up to Washington with me to help cover the flight costs. Do the flight. Catch a commercial flight back to Arizona. Pack the RV, get the truck ready. (Did I mention that I might have to buy a new truck this year, too? And take delivery before the end of April?) Make the 1200-mile drive to the Wenatchee area. Retrieve the helicopter from wherever I left it in Washington. Get my contracts set up for summer work.

Of course, that’s if there is summer work. My clients never want to sign up until after the last frost. There’s a chance I might get to Washington with the helicopter and a frost will wipe out the cherry crop. No need for my services then. Ready to fly but no clients. How do you think this possibility affects my stress levels?

On the flip side, there might be too much work for me to take on by myself. Then I have to scramble and find people who are willing to put their life on hold for 3-6 weeks and wait around for the rain in Washington. I’ve already started collecting possible candidate phone numbers. None of them are happy that they’ll have to wait until May to know whether there might be work for them.

Before I leave Arizona, however, I do have to pack up everything I own that’s in our Phoenix condo in case it’s rented or sold while I’m gone. That’s a whole office full of stuff, as well as clothes and other personal effects. Hell, I haven’t had enough time to unpack the boxes that brought some of this stuff here.

And I did mention that I have to travel to Lynda.com for a week to record a course, right?

And there is the possibility of a very big client needing to fly with me in late March or early April, before I go to Washington. Unfortunately, they can’t pin down a date. Once they do, if I’m not available, I’ll lose that job — and it’s not the kind of job I want to lose.

Along the way, I need to start seriously considering where I’m going to live and what I’m going to do when my work in Washington is done this year. I’ve been wanting to relocate for years. I’m sick of Wickenburg’s small-mindedness and the bullshit politics and greed that have ruined the town. Phoenix is no gem, either — except on February days like yesterday when the temperature hovers in the high 70s and there’s not a cloud in the sky. The personal decisions I’ve made recently give me a good opportunity to make the change. Unfortunately, I don’t know where I want to live. I’m leaning toward Oregon — perhaps in the Portland area — but who knows?

So with all this on my plate and on my mind is it any wonder that I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed?

But this is typical in my life — and in the life of most hardworking freelancers and business owners. Things don’t get done by themselves. And if things aren’t done, I start feeling it in the bank account. I don’t know about you, but I like to pay my bills on time and eat.

Guess I’d better get back to work.

How NOT to Provide Instructions to Your Web Developer

Hint: Embedding images in a Microsoft Word file is never a good idea.

WheelsYears ago, I received a flyer in the mailn about a replacement for my helicopter’s stock ground handling wheels. For those of you who don’t know, you move a helicopter around on the ground by attaching wheels that lift the skids off the ground so you can push it. The stock wheels on my helicopter — then an R22 — were too small for me to clear the runners for my hangar door. These larger wheels — called “Big Wheels” — would give me the extra clearance I needed to get over the lip.

Trouble is, I didn’t want to spend $450 on a set of wheels, sight unseen.

So I offered the manufacturer a free Web site in exchange for the wheels. Being a guy who wasn’t particularly Internet savvy, he said yes. And thus began our relationship.

In the ten or so years since then, Walt has given me numerous items of ground handling equipment to test out. Some of it I really liked — like the Big Wheels that he gave me for my R22 and, later, for my R44. Others, not so much — the original tow bar design, for example, wasn’t quite beefy enough to tow my R44 from my hangar to my departure area some distance away at the airport. But it was all great quality stuff that I was pleased to have the opportunity to use and show off. In exchange, Walt got a respectable-looking website, first coded in HTML and then upgraded as a WordPress-based CMS. Lots of pictures — some of which I’d taken with my helicopter as model; the one above is an example. (Yes, my first helicopter had white skids).

The only thing that kind of bugged me over the years was the way Walt requested updates to the site. He’d sometimes send random photos with notes. Sometimes I’d make a requested change and then he’d respond with another change to the same page. I’d get bursts of email messages from him with new content. It got to the point that I’d usually wait a week or two after hearing from him to make sure there wasn’t anything else on the way. That led to me forgetting to take care of things for him and him politely reminding me and me finally getting it done.

Please understand that I don’t mind updating his site periodically. It’s not as if he does it every month — or even every year. It really isn’t (or should’t be) much work. And I use the wheels regularly. I don’t feel as if I’ve done enough work to cover the cost of them yet. After all, it isn’t as if I created some super spectacular custom solution for him. It’s not as if I spent weeks of my life developing and maintaining his site. And he really is a nice man who makes a great product.

About a month or so ago, I got an email message from Walt’s wife. (I didn’t even know he was married.) She wanted to know the best way to request changes. I told her to put them all into one email message.

The email messages started arriving a while later. Note that I used the plural form of the word message. I was busy with other things — a book, travel, etc. — and I didn’t take a look at them right away. She emailed me to confirm that I’d received them. I said I had and would get to it as soon as I could. She waited another week and then sent another email with a note saying that she’d put all the changes in one document, as I’d requested.

Attached was a Word document.

And then I looked at the other email messages. They all included Word documents, too.

I don’t recall asking for a Word document and I know damn well I never told her to embed the images in a Word document. There are few things as painful to me (or likely to anyone else) than removing more than 50 images from a Word document file.

EditsBut what’s worse is that she created it with Word tables and used notes inside the table cells to indicate which images to keep and which ones to remove.

Yes, that’s right — she also sent me images I already had. Images that were on the website.

And did I mention that the images were all different sizes and resolutions and proportions? They look the same here because she resized and cropped them in Word. But they’re all over the map when it comes to size and some of them are as tiny as 2-1/2 inches wide at 72 dpi. This is supposed to replace images that were at least 6 inches wide at 72 dpi. Do you know what they look like when I try to scale them up?

But it’s the inconsistent use of little down-pointing arrows and the positions of the images that I’m struggling with. Is she pointing to a replacement or the one I’m supposed to delete?

Understand that she didn’t reproduce the page the way it appears on the website. She didn’t label them the way they are on the website. From what she’s sent, it’s not even clear whether she’s introducing new products, removing old products, or just playing a really mean joke on me.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Walt and I love his Big Wheels. (Seriously: if you have to pull an R22 or R44 or R66 around, these are the wheels you need.) He’s a nice person and his wife seems very nice, too. It’s extremely difficult, however, to get the job done with what they sent. And not to scream in frustration.

I know they’re doing the best they can. But I also know that this could easily be a post in Clients from Hell.

So now I’m waiting for her to get back to me with more information and possibly some newer, larger photos so I can finish up, take a deep breath, and go have a martini.

Do you understand now why I don’t do websites for other people anymore?

Who Is Your Website Designed For?

Your visitors or your advertisers?

If I wake up before 6 AM and don’t have a morning appointment, my routine includes lounging in bed until 6 with my iPad, catching up on the social networks (Twitter and Facebook), Words with Friends games in progress, and perhaps email or RSS feeds. It’s a nice, leisurely way to start the day.

This morning, while browsing through Facebook statuses, I found a link that interested me. It was in the typical “Top Ten” (or in this case, Top 11) format and, from its description, it promised to be an interesting look back at a specific company’s products. I clicked the link and this is what happened:

  1. The page loaded with an ad overlaid on it. The ad was almost full-screen and there was no way to close it. I had to wait it out — about 10-15 seconds, during which time I didn’t tap anything for fear of being transported to another site.
  2. An ad-filled page appeared with a tiny introductory paragraph near the top and the first list item beneath it.

That was it. To see the other 10 items on the list, I’d have to view 10 more ad-filled pages.

Oh, and did I mention that some of those ads had blinking and flashing components designed to draw your attention away from any content you might have come to see? The kind of ads that make you want to shove your fist through your computer display?

Clearly, the site was designed to benefit its advertisers more than its readers. Since the site builders/owners obviously didn’t give a crap about visitors, I closed the browser window in frustration and went on with my life, making a mental note to avoid that site in the future.

Am I the only one who does this?

Am I the only one who cares more about my time than wading through ads and other clutter to find the content I came to a site for? The only one who gives up when she knows the browsing experience will be so full of frustration that it’s best to avoid it altogether? The only one who gets pissed off when its so damn obvious that the site owner cares more about maximizing ad space — and revenue, I assume — than building a solid base of regular visitors?

Does anyone actually click those freaking ads?

I admit it: I hate website ads so much that I installed ad blocker software on my laptops and desktop computer. I don’t usually see ads at all — which doesn’t really matter because I never click them. It’s only when I use my iPad to visit sites that I’m bombarded with this crap. Honestly: I don’t know how anyone can stand it.

And yes, I do realize that many sites exist solely to make a profit. And yes, I do realize that advertising is the usual way to monetize a site. But no, I can’t imagine trashing up a site so badly with ads that it drives potential visitors away.

Isn’t there a better solution? One that provides links to products and services that might actually be of interest to visitors? One that’s accessible and visible without flashing colors and animated graphics?

Who are these sites designed for, anyway?

A New Look

This site was long overdue for a facelift.

Last night, on impulse, I switched this site’s theme from a highly modified version of iNove to WordPress’s brand-new Twenty Eleven. Unless I’ve had an impulse to change it again since writing this, you’re probably looking at it right now.

The site was long overdue for the change. A while back, in an effort to show off more of my photos, I’d added a plugin to pull thumbnail images from my photo gallery and arrange them as clickable links in the header. I realized belatedly that this seriously slowed down the loading of the site. Some people even commented about it. Something had to be done.

There are several reasons it took so long to make the change:

  • I couldn’t find a theme I liked. Really. I have a terrible time imagining how I could modify a theme to meet my own needs.
  • Most themes I liked either looked too “bloggy” or too “magaziney.” I couldn’t find one in between that I could imagine changing.
  • I couldn’t find a theme that had built-in support for mobile devices.
  • I didn’t have the time to sit down and do the work necessary to make major modifications to a theme.
  • I actually liked the way my site looked with its current setup.

But after upgrading the site to WordPress 3.2, I noticed a brand new theme: Twenty Eleven. Like its predecessor, Twenty Ten, it had clean lines and a lot of built-in features. It also had the benefit of being created by the makers of WordPress, so I knew it would be compatible and show off WordPress features. Working with it would give me a good opportunity to dive into theme customization again. Even though I didn’t have time to play with it right away, there would be plenty of opportunities to tweak it over the coming weeks and months.

And if there’s something I really enjoy doing, it’s tweaking a WordPress theme to suit my needs.

So yesterday, I made the switch. And this morning, I dumped a few of my own images into the random header folder to personalize it enough for prime time.

I’ll be modifying it as time goes on. Would love to know what you think and am open to suggestions for changes. Use the comments link — well, “Reply” link right now; it’s on my list to change — to share your thoughts.

Just Say NO to Flash

Are you as frustrated as I am about Web sites relying on Flash?

I need to share a little rant here.

Flash LogoUntil recently, I never realized how many Web sites are built around Flash. I’m not talking about sites that include Flash animations here and there. I’m talking about sites completely contained in a Flash animation.

Like this monstrosity: http://www.stingraysushi.com/

Stingray Sushi is a restaurant. Its site includes a menu, which can only be viewed in that Flash animation.

Now I don’t know about you, but sometimes I look for a restaurant when I’m on the go. I’ll whip out my iPhone or iPad, open the Maps app, and search for restaurant. Or I’ll use the Safari browser to Google a specific restaurant. Either way, my goal is to see the Home page for the restaurant so I can learn more about it and the food it serves before I drive/walk over. To do that, I need to be able to see the Home page or, at least, a menu.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), I’ll never be able to see the Home page for Stingray Sushi on my iPhone or iPad.

Now you might want to blame Apple for this. After all, it’s Apple that decided that it won’t support Flash.

But I blame the Web developer. Apple mobile devices, including the iPhone and iPad, have been available for nearly four years. Apple is currently the fourth largest seller of mobile phones, with millions of iPhones out in the wild. Apple is also the top seller of tablet computers, with millions of iPads out in the wild. Developers who continue to base entire sites on Flash are basically thumbing their noses at iPhone/iPad users, telling them that they simply aren’t important enough to view the oh-so-valuable Flash content on their Web sites.

I have two words for these developers, and they’re not “thank you.”

So when I reach a site I can’t view on my device — whatever that device is — do you think I’ll visit that business?

Do you think that I’m interested in rewarding a business for the frustration their Flash-based site has generated by actually buying something there?

There are alternatives to Flash. Many alternatives. HTML 5 is one of them. But apparently, Web developers would rather lean on a crutch like Flash than move forward with new, more compatible technology.

Why does this continue to be an issue?

Just say no to Flash.