Handy tips to make your computer usable again



One day, Mr T sauntered over to my laptop and sat down on my chair. He wanted to do a quick check on something and didn’t want to power up his own laptop so he decided to use mine. Here’s the conversation that ensued:

Mr. T: What is wrong with your computer?

Me: Nothing. There’s nothing wrong with my computer.

Mr. T: Why is it taking a minute or so just to open one application?

Me: Isn’t it like that? Doesn’t yours do the same?

Mr. T: No.

After what seemed like a few more torturous minutes, he decided to abandon ship, but not before closing all my tabs to reveal my desktop (which I had hoped he wouldn’t do, and I’ll explain why in a minute.)

He gasped. And had to cover his mouth at the horror of it all.

Remember how I was telling you about how I got myself back into the drivers seat after a few months of being unproductive? One the things I wanted to tackle first and foremost was my computer. It handled the brunt of everything – a lot of things came in, but nothing ever got screened out. Just to give you an idea of how messy it was – my desktop was filled with files littered all over the screen’s real estate. And if I downloaded anything new onto my Desktop, it would be sitting on top of another file. Yes. My files were double-parked on top of each other.

It was that bad.

To my defence, I knew where everything was – it was an unorganised mess, but it was my mess nonetheless.

I was ashamed to let Mr T see my desktop because his was spotless. He works the three folder maximum rule and sticks religiously by it. Me? I had files parked on top of one another – leaving just 3 folders on my desktop was a superhuman feat I cannot pull off. But I knew the time had come for me to do something about it when opening applications became a waiting game – and one I had been a willing participant for far too long.

I’ve decided that if I couldn’t get a handle on my files, I had to get something or someone to do it for me.

Enter Hazel.

Over here, I don’t really let on much about how much I am a geek. You know, the sort of person that gets extremely excited at how technology can be leveraged to make my life easier. That’s me. But when I found out that I could have someone file things for me automatically, I was over the moon.

Anyway, back to Hazel.

What it is, is that it’s an application that manages files for you according to the rules you set for them.

So for example, I have a bad habit of letting my Downloads folder run amok. Because it’s the one place where everything goes – bills, images, PDFs, etc., – I forget about the things I’ve downloaded, so it languishes there for months on end, eating up my free space. What Hazel can do for me is to watch my Downloads folder and then organises them for me based what I tell it.

So what I do is to make Hazel search for bills that I’ve downloaded, and sort them into relevant folders, plus rename them with the date of the bill. All without me doing anything besides downloading the folder. Here’s where I learnt it from.

Here are some other things that I’m using Hazel for:

  • Archiving projects that are untouched for more than 30 days
  • Organise my downloads into weekly folders (instead of having my Downloads folder filled with single files)
  • Resizing large images automatically (with the help of Automator) – this is useful for sorting out your portfolios ensure that they all have a consistent pixel width or size! Or if you blog, but like me, hate powering up Adobe Photoshop to edit the pictures, then you will weep at how handy this is.
  • Check out more articles and tricks herehere, and here.

I’m still checking out what other things I can do with Hazel, but I thought I’d share what I’ve been doing! (And in case you’re curious; no, I’m not being paid to endorse them – the makers don’t know I exist, but I just wanted to share it because it’s that good.)

Some other changes I’ve made to make it all better (please bear in mind these are mainly for Apple users):

  • I downloaded Disk Inventory X – a free software – that shows me what’s taking up space in this Mac of mine. There are other paid alternatives like Daisy Disk (has a beautiful interface) and WhatSize (helps to identify duplicate files among other things) so it depends on what you’re looking for to clear space out!
  • I’m using Dropbox Pro (1TB of space synced to a server) so I’ll have my files with me where ever I go! Plus I won’t have to worry about losing my computer due to a faulty drive (hey it happened to me before, and it was not pleasant!) I’ve been using their free account for a few years now and it’s most definitely the one program I’ve used the most on my laptop. If you’d like to get a free account for yourself to test it out, here’s some extra space on me.
  • While I’m using Dropbox, I’m careful to also back up my computer’s hard drive to an external hard drive as a secondary backup. And I do that via an application called Time Machine that’s already in your Mac (sorry Windows users!) Edit: Windows/Unix peeps can check out Crashplan – a free software that does the same thing as Time Machine!
  • For the final clean up, I’m also offloading my archives into a DVD so that it won’t take up space on my computer. So basically I have triplicates of everything. See why here.
  • To speed up my Mac (it’s from early 2011), I’m going add more memory to it (bumping up my 4GB RAM to 8GB) instead of buying a new laptop – the current specs I’ve noticed isn’t that far off, and all I need is a bit of boost to make mine better!

So there you go! I hope you’ve scored some useful tips on how to maintain your computer  – it’s what I’ve personally tried and done to help me with my cluttered laptop situation. While I know that most artists and illustrators would rather run their nails over a chalkboard than to fiddle around with their computer (did you not hear about my desktop situation?) but hey, if it means not having to bite your nails everytime you see a spinning ball when your application loads up, I’d say it’s totally worth it.

Got more tips? Share them with me in the comments!

[Illustration by Rebecca Mock]

Lessons on how to bounce back after an unproductive rut


As you’ve most probably read in my previous post about how the final weeks of December through to February has been the most unproductive for me work wise, I’ve tried to identify what the reasons were for this lapse in productivity. After all, it’s a good 3 months off my calendar – a quarter of the year that could have been spent on getting my hands dirty and my schedule full: new clients, portfolio, projects, etc.

So I’ve whittled it down to 3 things on my end – maybe you could identify with some of these issues that I’ve faced and maybe, just maybe, it’s what’s holding you back too. And of course I’m not going to leave you hanging! Once you’ve gone through the list, I’ll let you in on what worked for me for hauling my butt into gear!

Problem #1: Holidays

Ah, the good ol’ holiday season. For some it can stretch from November to January, or maybe it could be spring/summer/winter holidays. Or maybe you’re just back from traveling and have trouble getting back into the swing of things. Hey it happens – we need a holiday right after our holidays! Holidays are great though – they allow you to recharge after a hectic year, and helps to balance out the challenges of work and life. But starting up a routine again after a few weeks or a couple of months of not doing much work-related stuff (or maybe you’re only doing the fun stuff) is almost like switching the ignition of a parked car that’s been idle for a few months. It groans, heaves and simply doesn’t comply. Rattling it all the more might give you more sighs and fake starts, but you’ll soon notice that no amount of cajoling will bring it to life. Welcome to the post-holiday blues.

Problem #2: Emotional stress

I was a bit of a wreck in October, after I lost my dog to cancer. I won’t lie – it was hard leading up to the final moments. I had a class to run as well, all I could do was to hold it in and just compartmentalise my thoughts and emotions, doing things proactively instead of just worrying too much with nothing to show for it. So my time was divided between managing my classes and doing research on canine cancer, along with finding alternative therapies to help make my dog more comfortable. I was pulled into a few different directions and my emotions were running on the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I was lucky that I was working while I took care of my dog, because it allowed me to break away, even if it was just a few hours everyday. The downside to it was that I was a bit of a mess for a couple of weeks after everything ended. I felt as though a big weight was lifted off my shoulders as the compartments I had assigned within my mind all crumbled away. I felt everything all at once. I was tired.

Problem #3: Being unwell

I had severe acid reflux for 3 weeks prior to my Melbourne trip, out of the blue. I was nauseous all the time, and didn’t have any appetite to eat (the constant nausea had a lot to do with that), and to top it all off, I couldn’t sleep lying down because bile would come up into my throat. A round of blood tests and ultrasounds later, I found nothing that could explain my symptoms. I finally found the cause after a bit of fluke – it turned out that a particular medicine I was taking had caused the symptoms. Once I stopped, everything returned back to normal. So while my body took quite a beating a month back, I’m much better. I’m still tired though, and feel as though I’m still catching up on the sleep that I lost.

Finding your flow: A 4-step process

So those were the 3 issues that I faced during the last few months. It might be different for you depending on what you’re facing at the moment, but I’ve found that it doesn’t matter what you’ve experienced – the important thing is to get back up on your feet. I recently started to focus on how I could propel myself out from this bit of a slump and I found that the below tips work really well for me. So while I’m still gaining steam to get back into full-on work mode, I know I’ll get there! And here’s to hoping you will too.

Tip #1: Rediscovering inspiration

When you’re sick/emotional/away from your desk (or your workplace), it takes a bit of time to get back into the swing of things. I know this because with the crazy highs and lows that come with all the above mentioned scenarios, sitting still at a desk and actually doing work doesn’t sound attractive at all. Nope siree. So it’s either inspiration overload (holidays) or I-am-not-in-the-mood-for-anything (emotional/being ill) sort of situation.

What worked for me this time round was to slowly allow a bit of online perusing to trickle into my schedule. As a personal rule, I don’t often visit blogs or Pinterest. I prefer to do my reading through an RSS reader (Pulse on the iPhone) and as for Pinterest, I only allow myself a 15 minute peek every now and then because otherwise I’d look up from my computer and realised that I lost an hour in what I now refer to as the Vortex of Time Suckage.

So what happened was that by injecting my eyeballs with these sort of short doses of imagery on a daily basis, it got me pumped up again. In a kick-in-the-ass pants kind of way. The one where you clutch your hair, slap your forehead and go “That so-and-so who did this-and-that is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! WHAT THE HECK AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?!” You know, existential questions.

At least that’s what worked for me. Every time.

Tip #2: Reorganising your workspace

I love clean tables. I just haven’t been able to maintain one for a very long stretch of time.

Just to lay it all out on the table (ahem); I’m not the most organised person in the world when it comes to my desk. I have 2 – 3 different sketchbooks (because I like having separate books for each project) and a weekly journal propped open, all strewn about – depending on what I’m working on. I also have some loose papers flying about: printed materials, bills, notices, boring stuff so that it forces me to do something about them. Filing them away means never ever getting to them so they’re there staring at me until I settle them once and for all.

So yes, there’s bound to be a mess here and there; but it’s an organised mess and it’s the sort I don’t mind because I know what lies where and when. Clearing my desk is a task I enjoy, because with every task I finish, I get to clear it off my table. Physically.

Those letters and boring stuff? All gone. Those sketchbooks that I have haphazardly strewn around? I sometimes close them (gasp!), set them aside and choose to focus on one thing for a while. I do this each time I wrap up a big project, but also when I’m feeling a little meh. Clearing things away and reorganising my workspace helps me fill in the mental void I feel whenever I’m away from my desk for too long. When I give my desk a once over, I discover things that are left unsettled, projects that need filing, and obligations to fulfil. Knowing where I am and what needs to be done quickly kicks me into problem-solving mode, and then I realise it wasn’t all that bad. Once I took care of the boring bits, I get all tingly about starting fresh. Because it means that there’s now room for new things. Exciting things.

Tip #3: Creating deadlines and sticking to it

You know what has also really worked in getting me back into work? Deadlines.

If you’re a fellow procrastinator who’d rather wait until the final hours to a deadline before you even feel a glimmer fear, I feel you. Self imposed deadlines can sometimes be dodged (AHA!), but when you’ve got a commitment to others, you’re trapped. So what do you do? You give up the cheese. You’ll scramble for a bit and curse yourself for binge watching Downton Abbey while eating a truckload of cookies. But then adrenaline kicks in – you dust off your computer, crack your knuckles and get down to business.

Setting a date for projects and tasks and actually pencilling them into your calendar (I use Google Calendar) will help you get a bird’s eye view of your schedule. It also allows you to see how much time you have to do non-business/fun stuff (no judgement – let’s get real here) and how much time left you have to work on a particular task or project. I’ve found that having rigid time slots makes me feel claustrophobic, so I set goals for each day and allow my own rhythm to decide when I want to do it.

Break down your major project milestones into things you can do every day – don’t just schedule the deadline on a date with no idea on what you need to do to make it happen. There’s nothing wrong with being a little disorganised, but you’ll need to know what needs to get done, period. When or how it happens is entirely up to you, and once you’ve had a good think about how you’ll manage things, slacking off isn’t a bad thing. Because if you know what you’re doing and then it becomes purposeful slacking. There’s a difference!

Tip #4: Follow through on your new routine

I start my day with a shower and a bowl of yoghurt and muesli for breakfast. Sometimes I slip in a 10-minute yoga stretch, but to be honest, I haven’t been doing those for a little while. Doing it makes me feel better though, so I’m starting it up again (writing this just reminded me of it). After breakfast, I putter about in the garden and put my herb containers out in the morning sun before going to my desk to start my workday. That’s been my routine for the past couple of weeks.

For you though, maybe it’s when you make a cup of coffee and sit at the table, or when you go for a jog in the morning before you start your work. Building up a routine is definitely something I recommend for freelancers or those who work from home. And I’m not the only one. Ever notice how out of whack you get when your schedule gets messed up a few days/weeks in a row? That’s what happens when you run into the 3 problems I mentioned above: your routine gets screwed up. Going back to a routine is one the best things you can do to fan the flames of productivity.

Find out when your body works best – is it during the day? Or after lunch? Or perhaps you’re more relaxed at night? Knowing and recognising the cues your body and brain is trying to tell you will help you work more efficiently instead of merely pushing through the motions. Do you feel like a nap? Go ahead, take one. Are you in the zone and need total silence and concentration for an hour? Do it. Map out the times when you feel your best in a diary and when you’re not; and it will help you go a long way in getting things done.

No one ever said that you’ll need to work at your desk for 8 hours straight to be productive – maybe it’s how you like it, but I know I can’t do those anymore. As I grow older, I find myself breaking my day up into chunks – a block of time where I’m being really productive, and there’s a block of time where I’ll be catching up on fun TV show or a book. Because my hours aren’t quite set, my productive periods can run into the night as well, occasionally. I love that about working from home.

So there you go! I hope you find these tips useful – they’re what I’ve personally done to get myself into my work chair this week. I’m going to level with you on this: you’re not going to wake up productive the next day. Some people might, but like a sugar rush after eating a whole bowl of M & M’s – it’s only temporary. So don’t worry if you’re taking a little longer than usual to shake yourself off of whatever’s got you down. You’ll get there!


If you know how it feels like to be down and out and managed to snap out of it, why not share your story and tips to help out other fellow artists? Shout it out in the comments!

And if you like this article, don’t miss a beat – sign up for our mailing list where you’ll get an email whenever I have something worthy to share (and it includes the full article mind you – I don’t do link-baity stuff – yuck). If that’s music to your ears, then here’s where you can sign up for Pikaland’s fun and free newsletter!

[Embroidery by Karolin Reichardt, for her 2014 series called Iceberg.]

The madness that was Chinese New Year

The beginning of each year always seems like a mad rush for me. There’s Christmas, and then New Year and pretty soon before you know it, Chinese New Year has come around, complete with cymbals, angpows and a good dose of firecrackers. (That video above perfectly illustrates what I feel like right now). I feel as though the beginning is just beginning – again – as the last of beginnings roll around.

Maybe that’s a good thing. Think about it – if you lost a bit of fair time recuperating for hectic year-end holiday season during New Year, you can always think of Chinese New Year as your much needed boost to wipe the slate clean (especially when your resolutions haven’t quite kicked in yet).

A resolution for resolutions perhaps?

All I know is, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Happy Chinese New Year all, and if you’re in need of some goat puns to ring it in (there’s just so many this year!), here’s a good recap of the ones that are currently running in South East Asia. And this.

I kid you not. (see what I did there?)

{ Video by Flatmind, credit goes to Elia Gardella and a team. See more details over at Behance. }