This is a single-page collated account of my experimental play with the new Threads account in which I chronicled a single working day to give some brief insight into life as a data vis freelancer. At the time of publishing, Threads is not open to everyone across all regions so I’ve documented the same sequence of postings into blog post form for anyone who might find it remotely interesting!
Going to try a little experimental threadin’ by chronicling across a continuous series of threads and across the hours of today a brief insight into life as a data vis freelancer.
Welcome to Andy Kirk’s Wednesday 12th July 2023
The alarm went off at 6, which was unwelcome after a particularly bad night’s sleep. I picked up yet-another cold after my holidays so I’ve been ailing over the last few days. Worst of all, I’ve had laryngitis since Saturday and my voice has not recovered, not ideal ahead of 2 days of meetings in London.
Quick check through emails and social channels. With Twitter dying, not much to read or reply to on there. Others are quiet or (like this place) still a bit new. Few admin emails landed, including a very welcome purchase order confirming a nice piece of work coming up in Italy in October. Odd email from someone wanting to be on my podcast but despite his praise for my series, he’s not got anything to do with data vis so appears aimless fishing.
Some last minute panic packing (should have done last night) then left the house around 7:40 to head into Leeds for my train to London. Not departing until 9:15 so dropped anchor in a nice coffee place (‘Sociable Folk’) for the inevitable flat white. Whilst thinking about my day ahead I decided I might try doing a thread about my day on Threads. Email enquiry about potential training course has landed, not a straightforward request so will be one to consider a response to on the train.
The train is on time which is a relief. Travelling to London is a 3 hour door-to-door journey so I always try to bundle as many things into a single visit as possible. This is an overnighter so I have two meetings today and 4 tomorrow. Traveling becomes quite an exercise in optimum logistics…
Best time to travel? Off peak ideally as costs do drop.
Best seat? Travelling south, sit on the right facing forward to avoid melting in the summer sun. Travelling north sit on left. Never table seat, don’t want my legs clashing with others, nor staring straight at random people for 2.5 hours.
Standard or first class carriage? I rarely go first class as it’s £££, I might occasionally treat myself if I’m travelling home late and I’ve earned it, but never on the start of a trip
I’ve then got to consider my inwards travel in and around London and the best place for hotels when I’m staying over. This usually involves a lot of iterating with underground proximity and walking distance, prefer to minimise morning travel when I might be rushed. Hotel costs do increasingly come into my thinking when in London, as the prices post-pandemic are extraordinarily high for a single night stay.
I don’t work too well on trains, too bouncy and jerky. Usually do good thinking though, staring out the window with podcast on. Start off the journey thinking about the day ahead and the various anxieties or the things I need to be alert to. Today’s concern is all about my voice or lack there of. My Vocalzones are going to have to step up today. Two long-ish meetings will involve a fair bit of me talking with the second meeting especially important kicking off a new project. More on that later.
Not unique to freelancers but I am constantly contemplating (and especially on trains) the broader picture of what next week, next month, rest of year, next year looks like. Have I got enough work? Have I got too much? Is it a good mix? Decent earnings? What am I doing to keep relevant? Do I need to evolve my services? I can never rest in to thinking future work prospects are guaranteed. Even after 12 years of good fortune freelancing, I can’t assume this will just go on forever.
30 minutes left on the train journey and though I’ve not been working relentlessly, I’ve been on with a few pressing tasks:
– Arranging flights to Abu Dhabi for work in September
– Managing the progress of editing/producing the next Explore Explain with Beth, and thinking about the scheduling of the remaining 4 episodes
– Comms with some attendees of next week’s online masterclass course
– Realising I’ve a full evening of work to prepare for tomorrow’s main project meeting (more later)
I’m also thinking a lot about the demise of Twitter and the consequences of that as a place that gave me a good platform for years generating footfall to my site, and therefore a key source of commercial exposure through a largely “pull” model. With a fragmented social media future, I’m seriously looking at finding time to resume more active blogging and launch some form of a “push” newsletter/despatch/periodical. I have a to-do list task with a target of addressing this by September
Nearly in London so time for focus on what’s ahead. Two main appointments today:
13:00 lunch meeting (my treat) with my UCL business analytics masters student for whom I’m supervisor for his dissertation project and thesis. He’s an excellent student undertaking a complex project. My supervision experience is limited but mostly it’s common sense advice, progress checking, suggestion making, and generally pastoral.
15:00 meeting with a new client (big investment group) who have contracted me to provide data visualisation design consultancy to help direct the development of a new large screen multi-faceted visualisation “wall” – part informative/part exhibitory. This is the kick off meeting for what will be around 10 days of my time over next few weeks, mainly remote.
Will spend the next free hour in my go-to place – the British Library – doing some prep for what I need out this meeting.
Preparation done, to a degree. Thankfully, with experience in the bank I can usually approach these meetings without much need for rehearsing or prescribing too much beyond an outline of key topics for discussion. Having my laptop armed with my largest slide deck (should I need to relate to any material, examples etc) and a fresh project Miro board ready to collect notes is the key thing. As is listening. THE most important skill in consulting, in my view.
20 minutes until first meeting, so it’s time to depart the British library and jump on the tube down to Bank and then short walk to the lunch venue pre-booked to ensure seating.
(I’m relieved that my weather checks have led me to pretty much judge to perfection my attire for today and tomorrow. But choosing the right clothes weighs heavy on me – too smart? too casual? too “hello fellow kids”? Wish I just had a uniform sometimes)
“Too smart” has never been an issue for you Andy, shouted many people at that last post…
Nice meeting finished with a great student and super nice guy who will excel in whatever path he eventually takes in his life. Supervising a student who is so self motivated, organised, aware of what he’s working on and towards, makes my job so simple.
I’m now in that awkward period I often find myself in cities when between meetings: too soon to arrive at the next one but unable to check in to my hotel (they would charge me £10 for access 23 mins before formal check-in. London gonna London).
You might say “it’s only £10” and you might say “are you from Yorkshire” but these small and at times larger decisions about price versus value are constant as a freelancer and over the years you kind of develop heuristics to help you navigate them as elegantly as possible
On to the next meeting…
Meeting finished. Good session. These initial project launch meetings are always the ones I view as high pressure. You’ve got to make an impression, you’ve got to convey assurance that you understand the brief, the business context, the parameters. Even with materials to refer to, questions listed to ask, notes to shape your contributions it’s seat-of-the-pants stuff. You absorb as much as possible then, and aim to digest and synthesise thereafter.
So the most important task now, that I should be doing rather than chronicling my day, is to rapidly write down all the thoughts, ideas, queries, uncertainties, information I’ve left that meeting with. Otherwise, I’ll be distracted on to the next thing and forget. No two projects are the same, even if they share similar core characteristics, you can’t just rinse-and-repeat this stuff and expect to succeed each time.
17:00 and I’m now checked in to my hotel. I’m staying at one of the Premier Inn Hubs. Micro sized crash pads essentially. Good value, but above all else for today, in the ideal location near to today’s meetings and an ideal starting place for tomorrow’s. The voice has just about held up but my talking budget has now run dry, which is ok as I’m done for the day in terms of interacting with others.
Normally, on stay-overs like this, I might have arranged to meet people for a drink or bite to eat, given how many data vis type people are based down here. However, having lost time last and this week from not feeling well, I need to use this evening to work on preparations for tomorrow’s big meeting (aka meeting #3) – updating on progress and a roadmap for an interactive data vis project I’m directing for a university client. I work well in evenings usually, I need to summon that tonight
To close things off, I’ve had a handful of admin type emails (invoicing, password change requests, broken links on my website, contract signing) and that’s all – been a quiet day email wise which suits me when I’m on the move. I’m going to pay my quarterly VAT, log today’s expenses, source some food and then budget 3 hours of evening work time on my hotel bed.
Unless something dramatically noteworthy happens, I’m going to bring this “day in the life of a freelancer” story to an end. Thanks for reading this far. If you have any questions that might offer any useful insights to you as a fellow or future freelancer, drop me a line on here or via my various channels shown in my bio.