2016 monthly challenges (part 2)

So here we are, 15 days in to 2016 so Happy (sort-of) New Year everyone!

As an update on my monthly challenges part 1, I decided to swop the challenge for January (no TV) with February (write a diary everyday). Partly because I felt keeping a diary was a better challenge to start a new year with and partly (mostly) because there are some films out this month that I really want to see. I appreciate is perhaps not the most disciplined attitude to take but better to be honest!

I am so far enjoying writing and haven’t found it too much of an effort to do so each day, although I was hoping i’d unlock lots of profound thoughts and dreams and it’s mostly stuck to what I’ve been up to and the trivial things that are on my mind. I’m hoping this will evolve as the month goes on and it’s definitely something I would like to continue beyond January (not least because I bought some lovely notebooks that I would like to use!).

BOKAC notebooks

As for the rest of my year, here is what has been fixed so far.

July – Meditate every day for 30 minutes. I’m particularly looking forward to this one as I really struggle to focus for long or even short periods of time and often flit between multiple tasks at once, which is not productive. I would like to feel clearer headed and I think meditation would help. I’ll look into various apps and podcasts – I think the obvious choice is Headspace but if anyone has any suggestions, I am all ears!

August – Get in touch with someone who I haven’t spoken to for a while, everyday. This is another one i’m looking forward to, although I think I might struggle to think of 31 people that I haven’t been in touch with recently who I do want to get back in contact with…some friends from uni, colleagues from previous jobs and friends I made when I lived abroad spring to mind but I’ll have to decide whether I want to scrape the friendship barrel so to speak (and hope they don’t read this!) or perhaps i’ll combine this with another challenge.

September – December are still up in the air for various reasons but I would like part of this time to involve remote working (ideally in California), inspired by Josh who runs Stand4Socks (as a side note, their socks make great presents or just make you feel good about doing something charitable if you want to jazz up your sock collection).

If you have set yourself a challenge(s) for this year, or if you’ve started on some new year’s resolutions, i’d love to hear how you’re getting on!

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Life lessons from a 13 year old

I have never underestimated how much us ‘adults’ (I use that term loosely as most of the time I still feel like a child) can learn from children. Their way of viewing the world through uninfluenced eyes is always remarkable and I was reminded of this during a recent babysitting appointment.

I was babysitting for one of BOKAC’s first families who have a 9 year old daughter and a 13 year old son. I was chatting to their son about exams and how he feels about them having recently completed his 13+ and now that GCSE’s weren’t too far away.

I used to HATE exams. To the extent that I would cry myself to sleep before a class test, because I was so worried about it. I was always a hard worker but the format and process of an exam would send me into turmoil. Even now, I count my lucky stars that exams are over and I will (hopefully) never have to take one again.

I obviously didn’t relay this to their son and just said that they were never my strong point. His reply was that actually, he enjoyed exams because it meant there was something tangible to work towards and whatever the outcome, there was always a sense of satisfaction having done it. Even if you didn’t do as well as you hoped, you could still feel proud of the preparation you went through beforehand and know that you had achieved something by completing the task (these were pretty much his exact words, although I wasn’t writing them down!).

I was so impressed by his mature, wise and grounded attitude and it has been on my mind all day. We always focus on the result, without stopping to congratulate ourselves for the work we are putting in to get there or appreciating how much we’re learning on the way.

This lesson is paraphrased in lots of different ways but to hear it from someone relatively young and specifically related to exams, which I had always bookmarked as a topic I had nothing positive to say about (except that they’re over) made me see it with fresh eyes.

This conversation is yet another reason why I love running Babysitters of Kensington & Chelsea (and now Babysitters of Southwark too!) so much.

What are some of the life lessons that you’ve learnt from children?

Prufrock #OfficeToday

I am writing this in one of the most trendy places I have ever been. Prufrock is not only a coffee shop come coffee academy come coffee purchasing arena but it is also home to the coolest coffee drinkers ever known (I don’t include myself in that set!). It may be close to the hustle of corporate Chancery Lane and Holborn but it is a far cry from corporate.

From Prufrock's website

From Prufrock’s website

My latte was exactly the way I like it. Smooth, creamy, nutty and served in duck egg blue china (i’m a sucker for trendy). It was £3.30 (would have been £3 if I had had cash) which is pretty punchy but not as punchy as the sausage rolls retailing for £5.50 each (served with leaves).

Come to mamma

Come to mamma

I arrived at 2.15pm on a Wednesday to kill an hour before a meeting in Farringdon. I liked the atmosphere and my latte really was spot on but I wouldn’t come back here to work, mainly because it is SO noisy! Music is blasted at full volume (yes I am aware of how like my mother I sound) and the floors, tables, chairs and counters are all wooden which means nothing is soaked up.

Also, I couldn’t see any plug sockets so make sure you come with your laptop on full charge if you do plan to get some work done.

BOKAC Prufrock

This is a great place to meet a friend for coffee (i’d stick to lunch from the market outside on Leather Lane) or if you’re the type who likes a lot of noise to concentrate.

I’d also be very keen to come back and try one of the coffee classes as i’d love to know how to make the perfect latte at home.

  • Coffee: 8/10
  • Ambience: 7/10
  • Price: 6/10
  • Good place to work: 5/10
  • Overall: 6.5/10

TAP Coffee #OfficeToday

I was in a pretty tetchy mood as I stepped off the no.10 bus on Oxford Street. Despite leaving at 11.30am on a Thursday, it took over an hour to travel the 5 miles from Kensington. WHAT ARE ALL THESE PEOPLE DOING?! Why aren’t they in an office (like I probably should be..)?

Anyway, my mood was transformed as I stepped into TAP Coffee on Rathbone Place and was greeted by the two friendly barista’s. It looks exactly like what people have come to expect from trendy coffee places: Wooden benches, white walls, fast wi-fi and a selection of brownies and healthy salads on offer.

I really can't emphasise enough that photography is not my strong point (in case that's not obvious)

I really can’t emphasise enough that photography is not my strong point (in case that’s not obvious)

Being situated in Soho/Fitzrovia (there are two more branches nearby, one on Wardour Street and one just off Tottenham Court Road. I’m not quite sure what the logic was in choosing sites so close together but I’m sure it’s working) the conversations I was eavesdropping on were from a lot of PR/Media types talking about impending trips to LA and recent colleague engagements.

My latte was delicious – rich, smooth and the perfect temperature (‘proper’ coffee drinkers seem to think coffee should be served warm rather than hot which I vehemently disagree with). I didn’t have anything to eat and most of the people seemed to be sipping on coffees rather than having lunch but the food did look delicious.

I was able to while away an hour clearing out my inbox (I have full-blown inbox OCD which is not at all conducive to running a successful business), tweaking my summer marketing plan and typing up this post. Lovely!

If I wasn’t trying to work my way through the best coffee shops London has to offer, I would definitely be back next week.

  • Coffee: 8/10
  • Ambience: 8/10
  • Price: 8/10
  • Good place to work: 9/10
  • Overall: 8/10

I am all of the annoying people in your office

I may or may not be experiencing a bit of a bank holiday slump (I am) and therefore feeling a touch (very) pessimistic but it dawned on me this morning that becoming self-employed has not exempt me from the office stereotypes – much to my horror I have in fact become all of the people that I used to loathe when I was a full-time employee.

The Horrible Boss

The one that never says thank you, is all stick and no carrot and generally an all around grumpy and energy sapping individual – yup you’re looking at her. When I finish my day, instead of thinking “Good work, enjoy your evening” it’s “Ok, you finally got that done but why haven’t you started this yet?”

The Suck-up

Eager to please, the need to be liked seeps off her – oh hi Anna! I am a morning person but i’ll try and impress even myself with early starts, exercise before breakfast and being at my desk and ready to work at 7.30am with a neat to-do list lined up. The horrible boss is pleased to have at least one person in the office who is raring to go but is enthusiasm about all she can muster?

The Slacker

The one who finds a way to wriggle out of every task and spends most of their mornings hopping between Twitter, Facebook, BBC News and lifestyle blogs – just me? The suck-up tries so hard to set them up for their best working day yet but then the slacker just comes and, well, does nothing.

The Office B*tch

The poison that pervades the office walls with negative comments, backhanded compliments and whispers behind your back of “What does she actually do here?”. The mature part of you says to ignore her but you can’t help shake the niggling feeling that she might be right.

BOKAC employee of the month

Ok, at the risk of dragging you all down my negative road (or of sounding borderline schizophrenic), here are some rules that I try and stick to so that I can become my favourite person to work with!

1. You can only do what you can do. Don’t expect to complete a thousand tasks in a day, that’s not possible.

2. Slow and steady wins the race. Yes, some people can work for 20 hours at a million miles an hour but I can’t and that’s alright.

3. Reward good work rather than punishing bad. I set myself chunks of tasks to get through with a reward (e.g. going out for a coffee or a walk in the park) after each chunk.

4. I try and stick to the routine below as much as possible (although the Horrible Boss may think the power nap is a step too far..)

Infographic from Stylist magazine

Infographic from Stylist magazine

IOD #OfficeToday

When I started running BOKAC full-time, I joined the IOD on Pall Mall (you can read about this here) and generally go once a week. It’s great for when I need a change of scenery and if I have meetings, it’s a lot less awkward than hosting them in my bedroom.

However, there is for me, one major drawback to the IOD (apart from the fact that it is incredibly male dominated – at any one time i’d say the working rooms are filled 85% with men and I am yet to see a male waiter) which is that the coffee is really bad.

Now this is of course only in my humble opinion and I do not claim to be a coffee expert. I like my latte’s to have that nutty, smooth flavour and my favourite coffee (although I am yet to #OfficeToday it) is Nude Espresso. The IOD latte’s in comparison taste very bitter and have an almost metallic or burnt flavour. The milk is frothed to within an inch of its life and the whole package can be likened to bad hotel coffee spitting out of an ancient machine (think conference facility in a motorway hotel).

A half drunk latte with a lipstick stain is not easy on the eye but it didn't look that tasty to begin with

A half drunk latte with a lipstick stain is not easy on the eye but it didn’t look that tasty to begin with

Aside from the coffee, the IOD has a lot of plus points as a place to work from. It’s in a great location, the building is beautiful (if you like traditional decor) with high ceilings, lots of tables and the staff could not be nicer. The wifi is excellent and you can easily spend the day powering through your to-do list. Plus it looks mega impressive to people you’re meeting (I like to pretend that it is in fact all BOKAC HQ and everyone there is an employee but they’re just too engrossed in their work to bombard me with questions. 1% of the time, it works).

  • Coffee: 1/10
  • Ambience: 7/10
  • Price: 4/10 (it’s not expensive but £2.75 for a bad coffee is too much)
  • Good place to work: 8/10
  • Overall: 5/10

Timberyard #OfficeToday

On lists of ‘best London coffee shops to work from’, Timberyard often comes out top so I was excited to try it out.

There are two branches: Old Street and Covent Garden and I went to the Covent Garden one yesterday.

The setting is pretty much freelance heaven.

Window benches and a big sofa upstairs, loads of tables downstairs and two meeting rooms if you want to take coffee shop office’ing to the next level.

The latte was excellent in flavour, although a bit small and not as hot as I would have liked (£2.90). However (brace yourself for this because I am easily pleased) it came beautifully presented on a wooden board complete with its own sugar pot plus bottle of water which I thought was a nice touch to my coffee ‘experience’.

In case it's not obvious thanks to Instagram, my photography skills leave much to be desired.

In case it’s not obvious thanks to Instagram, my photography skills leave much to be desired.

I also scrounged a bite of my working companions’ oreo/fudge/salted caramel brownie and it was the closest to crack i’ve ever been.

The staff were lovely and the place was full to the brim with mac books when I arrived at 2pm until I left.

The downside was that the wifi is pretty slow so although they are technically set up for a good work session, you wouldn’t really want to stay for more than an hour. It would be a great hideout if you’re in central London and wanting a nice place to do some emails between meetings though.

  • Coffee: 6/10
  • Ambience: 8/10
  • Price: 7/10
  • Good place to work: 7/10
  • Overall: 7/10

Nordic Bakery #OfficeToday

I visited the Nordic Bakery in Baker Street a while back and as I was near their Golden Square branch yesterday, I thought i’d give them another go.

Nordic Bakery are famous (I think) for their cinnamon buns and as I was experiencing an 11.30am hunger pang, I treated myself to one of these bad boys and a latte:

BOKAC cinnamon bun nordic bakery

Image from The Motley Spicer blog (click picture for link). Warm, cinnamony deliciousness.

The buns are a decent size and very dense so nice and filling and I believe they are £2.80. I think my expectations may have been a little too high as I thought they were very nice but not mind blowing. Definitely try one if you’re there but I wouldn’t say they are worth a pilgrimage.

The latte was big which I liked but a fraction too milky for me to proclaim it an excellent one. It was hot though which is something I often find to be lacking and I intensely dislike tepid coffee. It was £2.60 which is pretty standard for Central London.

The cafe itself is lovely: beautifully designed, high ceilings, light and has a mix of customers who are popping in for a coffee/meeting during work and those enjoying the fact that they can just sit with a coffee in the middle of the day on a Thursday.

I disastrously forgot to ask whether they had wi-fi before I had ordered and paid and they don’t! They also don’t have plug sockets so I get the distinct impression they are not looking for cheap layabouts to come and use their cafe as an office..

However, as I had already ordered, I made the most of the situation by sorting out some to-do lists and eavesdropping on a conversation between a very strange Californian man telling his friend (they hugged when they said hello so I assume they were friends) that he had found Jesus – not in a religious way but in an actual Jesus-is-alive-and-lives-in-Miami-way.

I stayed until my laptop ran out of battery (not long since I hadn’t fully charged it before I left) and went on my merry way.

Due to the lack of wi-fi and plug sockets, I wouldn’t go back to work there but I would definitely meet a friend or go if I had a free afternoon and a good book one weekend.

  • Coffee: 7/10
  • Ambience: 7/10
  • Price: 7/10
  • Good place to work: 3/10
  • Overall: 6/10

New series: Office Today

Since I work on my own, I don’t have any real need to rent an office full-time so I either work from home or at the IoD.

However, I try and vary my working environment as much as possible as I strongly believe that new surroundings help you think creatively, solve niggling problems and you never know who you might meet.

An extra plus is that I love lattes and coffee shops these days are often set up for people like me who are chained to their laptops and are suckers for wooden benches, fast wi-fi and being in the company of other people chained to their laptops.

I keep a list of all the coffee shops I want to try around London and thought I would take the opportunity to write a blog post about each one.

So if you’re looking for a new place to work, love coffee or just want a way to kill a few minutes every so often, this series #OfficeToday is for you!

This particular latte was from The Wildflower Cafe in Westbourne Grove - excellent latte and lovely cafe but I think they prefer the eating crowd rather than the working crowd.

This particular latte was from The Wildflower Cafe in Westbourne Grove – excellent latte and lovely cafe but I think they prefer the eating crowd rather than the working crowd.

Embracing the competition

I was recently contacted by a company who are looking to partner with a number of babysitting agencies. In trying to work out whether this was an attractive proposition to go ahead with, I decided to get in contact with some of the other fantastic babysitting/nannying services in London to see if they had been approached and what their thoughts were.

Starting and running a business is extremely hard work and all-consuming and as a result, people are incredibly protective over their brand/client list/industry (I am certainly guilty of this). However, there are enough factors working against business owners and I don’t think those working in the same field should be one of them. Everyone sets up a business because they feel they have something unique to offer so in theory, there shouldn’t be any fear of treading on toes.

I would correct Shakespeare and say 'Trust until you have a reason not to'

I would correct Shakespeare and say ‘Trust until you have a reason not to’

I’m not saying I would handover my client database but I can certainly see the value in building relationships with and helping those who work in similar industries. A little competition is always healthy and if there was no one else trying to do something similar to BOKAC, I would be extremely worried about what I was missing that had put others off! As the emphasis on relationships and human contact is so crucial, there has not (as yet) been a dominant international resource for parents looking to book a babysitter and for this reason, agencies tend to remain small. However, as the world of online childcare is rapidly expanding, the potential to ‘unionise’ and stand together against any major players who try and enter, is incredibly powerful.

The response I got from the other babysitting agencies was overwhelmingly positive. All were more than happy to help and willing to discuss their thoughts on the partnership proposition. I am delighted that I can now recommend the agencies who specialise in nannying placements (BOKAC specialises in babysitting requirements primarily but we do get a lot of enquiries from families looking for a full-time nanny) to parents as I have previously only been able to respond unhelpfully.

Just kidding...!

Just kidding…!

Does your company or the company you work for embrace its competitors and can you share any success stories as an example? If so, i’d love to hear from you: acameron@bokac.co.uk.