James Dowen

Category: Productivity

How to work remotely as Coronavirus strikes…

So COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is now a super real thing, and looks like it will have detrimental effects to our way of life, the economy, health, and so much more. In light of recent events, a lot of employers are looking at how their employees can work remotely. It’s a big change for a lot of them, but it’s something that should be embraced and comes with numerous benefits. As a remote worker, you:

  • Don’t have to spend time commuting, which could be 2 hours (or even more) for some people every single day
  • This means you save money on travel (fuel, trains, etc)
  • It also means you have more personal time. If you start work at 9am, and your commute doesn’t exist because you’re working from home, then guess what – you have plenty of free time up until 9am. It also means when 5pm arrives (or whenever you finish for the day), you don’t have to spend more time getting home – you’re already there
  • Can generally focus more and not get involved in office politics, and other pointless office tasks

I’ve worked remotely for at least 6+ years as a web designer/developer, and luckily I’ve being busy for every day of that so I’ve had no time to slack off. But below are my tips for working effectively from home, and creating that streamlined environment to get your work done.

Time management

If you’re new to working from home, then this is especially difficult. It’s extremely tempting to do some washing up, watch a film, not get out of bed, and so on. Unfortunately, do enough of that during working hours and your team will soon know about it through the volume of work you’re producing.

Be strict with yourself, and make sure you only do work between your allocated hours. However, you can always make the most of being at home during your lunch break (and any other breaks).

This is partly related to creating a good working environment…

A distraction free working environment

Yes, there are numerous distractions while working at home. Whether it’s the house work that needs doing, or that great new series you’re hooked on. In order to stop these distractions and temptations, it’s ideal to create a working environment to separate you from your private life.

I always stick to working in my home office. It creates separation from my personal life, and only includes work related equipment. This way, I can’t be tempted to switch on the TV or walk over to the dishwasher and empty it. However, not everyone has the luxury of a home office – but it doesn’t mean you can’t create your own separate work environment. Whether that’s a desk in the corner of the living room, or a dining table – as long as you’re not slumped on the sofa or in bed on your laptop, then it’s better than nothing.

This also helps with switching off, you can leave your working environment when the day is complete and spend time with your family.

Reliable technology

There’s nothing worse than working from home with a sub-standard WiFi connection or a really old computer. It slows your down and makes your work process unbearable. You will need the ability to take calls over the internet, upload files, send emails, all without your internet losing connection half way through.

This related to the distraction point above, but it’s always ideal to purchase a pair of noise cancelling headphones. It can block out the surrounding environment if others are at home with you, and also allows you to focus more in your own little bubble. I personally use the AirPods Pro – great piece of kit!

Depending on the type of work you do, a second or external monitor is a great way to make use of screen real estate. With more working space on your screen, you can have multiple windows open at the same time – thus boosting productivity in some cases.

Communication

If your team are used to seeing you face to face, then all of a sudden remote working can be a small shock to the system. Luckily, there are numerous solutions out there to keep you in touch with your team, such as Skype, Slack, Zoom and Google Hangouts.

It’s important that communication is maintained so everyone is aware of progress, and so that help/support can be given to you (or from you) where possible. This keeps all teams engaged.


Overall, to just remember to stay healthy and look after yourself as working remotely can also be a fast tracked way to becoming a couch potato!

On another note, I have a job that allows me to work from anywhere. If you’re looking for a web designer, web developer, or online software developer, then visit my main website to read more about me and get in touch!

My thoughts on the 2019 16 Inch MacBook Pro

Since 2017, pretty much all of my work was produced from the then-new 2016 15 inch MacBook Pro with the touch bar. I never switched right away, as I was a stubborn Windows user at the time and sworn by it, but after some temptation (well, peer pressure), I made the switch and bought the 16GB RAM model off Amazon at a slightly reduced price.

I never looked back, and my Windows tower PC has been locked away in the garage ever since. I’m not even sure it turns on now.

Anyway, fast forward to 2019 and I’m in love with the MacBook experience. So in love that I ploughed nearly £4,000 on a more specced our 16 inch MacBook Pro in November just gone.

The specification I ordered.

I’ve now used the 2019 model for just over a month, and it fulfills every one of my needs and brings some much welcomes improvements on the 2016 model, including;

  • The new scissor switch keyboard, which hopefully means I won’t have to take this laptop to Apple 3 times
  • The return of the escape key, which is so much more developer friendly
  • The 16 inch screen, of course. That extra screen space actually makes a huge difference
  • The extra power with the much higher spec configuration

The MacBook is perfect for me because it allows for portability within seconds, but also allows me to use in “desktop mode” while connected to my ultrawide external monitor (which is 90% of the time).

Using iPad Pro for Web Development

As I began travelling more and more, it became quite a responsibility to travel with a heavy £3,000 MacBook Pro. I wanted an alternative that would still allow me to carry out business and work tasks, such as email and programming.

Visiting the Apple Store was more than enough to persuade me to make the leap and purchase the 12.9 inch 2018 iPad Pro – although it came at a cost of nearly £1,200 with the Smart Keyboard Folio addon.

As well as web development, it’s extremely handy for client meetings and calls. It’s great for making annotations to web pages, taking notes and hosting Skype calls.

After purchasing the iPad, you’ll also need the relevant apps in order to carry out your coding tasks. I went with Coda at a cost of £23.99, as it’s important that you choose a coding tool that does everything you need it to.

After extensive research, I found this to be the best one for my needs; although I understand developers needs differ so it’s important to do your research, read the reviews and check out some YouTube videos. The better apps will cost, but are ultimately a small price to pay in comparison to the iPad itself and for completing quality work.

I’m an avid PHPStorm fan, but it seems the developers currently have no plan to bring this software to iOS just yet. Coda is the closest alternative I could find, which includes key features similar PHPStorm such as “projects”, which Coda refers to as “sites”, and of course FTP – which saves having to use a separate app. The one thing Coda lacks is the ability to hook up to version control such as Github, but that’s probably down to the lack of software to support it from the iOS side.

The iPad will mainly be used for backend coding, as front end is still a struggle without being able to use certain features, especially Inspect Element as found on many desktop browsers. However, Coda is still great for most forms of coding, especially with the range of syntax highlighting available for HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, Python, and more. They do have various front end tools, such as a preview mode to see your changes live without going into the browser, but I’d still find this very tricky to use if coding from a static design.

Although becoming less frequent with the power of the internet, when meeting a client in person we can easily annotate a web design together to get an understanding of their required changes and additions. This can be a lot easier than writing a list with no clear direction in many cases. This becomes even more fun if you opted to purchase the Apple Pencil, which is something I’d recommend if you’re a graphic designer especially.

Ultimately, the iPad Pro is a great portable tool for anyone in the web design or development business regardless of your role. They do offer a smaller model, but from what I’ve seen it would be more of a struggle to work efficiently from. There’s also many other things that can be done to accelerate your professional or personal life.

Web Designer/Developer Office Tour 2019

After moving house in June of 2018, I thought it would be beneficial to turn one of the rooms into a fully functional office. As a web designer/developer, it’s important that my working environment is comfy, well equipped and suitable to my working style. I’ve collated some photos below of certain key areas of the office, including the equipment and tech I use.


My primary working machine is the Space Grey Macbook Pro, operating with 16GB of RAM – mostly linked up to an external curved monitor (also the reason for its closed lid and the plant hiding the adapters).

I used to be a dual screen monitor kind of guy, but since upgrading to this 4K Ultrawide LG curved monitor, I haven’t looked back. The screen quality and resolution allows for a productive workflow.

Originally using the white Apple Magic Keyboard and Mouse, I switched to the Space Grey versions in the New Year.

I often get in the “zone” with the Apple AirPods with music, but they’re also perfect for calls with clients and partners.

I needed some colour in the room, so a few green plants are well suited for this.

As well as some colour, the walls were genuinely plain anyway, so a few art prints don’t go a miss.

Ergonomics is very important when your job requires you to sit down for a lot of the day, so a high quality and sturdy chair is a must have.

Although rarely used, I have a mini “chill out” area in the corner for a sofa and small side table.

Let a robot gain you Instagram followers

I’m a regular user of Instagram, and I’ve managed to build up a good following over the past couple of years I’ve been using it for by posting good photos and interacting with others. Recently though, I created a way to automate the interaction part of my account by creating a robot.

How the robot works is by automatically liking certain photos on hashtags related to my account. For example, it will automatically like hundreds of photos a day with the hashtags #webdesign, #webdevelopment, and more. In turn, this spreads your name across the Instagram network and gets people looking at your profile – which in a lot of cases results in them liking your photos and following you.

However, the robot can do so much more. It can automatically follow users, unfollow users, comment on photos, send private messages, and so on. I chose not to do this on my account because I like to control these things myself (not let a robot do it for me). I have used these techniques on other business accounts which are now gaining thousands of followers each month.

If you’d like access to the robot to grow your following, just email me your Instagram username to hello@jamesdowen.com and we can discuss further.

3 Quick Shortcuts for PHPStorm

PHPStorm is my IDE of choice for all web based projects as it provides an easy to use development environment for all of the technologies I use – especially PHP.

It also comes fully equipped with plenty of shortcuts to make life easier, of which three can be found below:

CTRL-D – Duplicate the current selected line.

Instead of writing out full HTML, generate it using Emmet (already built into PHPStorm). Simply type as below and press tab.

CTRL-Shift-F – Find/replace a phrase in your entire project.

MacBook Pro 2016 – OLED Design Concept

So many of us (myself included) have been waiting a long time for Apple to update the MacBook Pro range – with the last major update been back in 2012. I have a 2012 MacBook Pro model myself, but it’s in dire need of an update and I’ve been patiently waiting for Apple to announce something new.

There’s rumours around the web claiming that the new model will feature an OLED display (amongst other things). Take a look at the OLED design concepts by Martin Hajek below:

Macbook Pro 2016 OLED

Macbook Pro 2016 OLED

Macbook Pro 2016 OLED

Macbook Pro 2016 OLED

Why I started blogging…

Often I sit on a train, travelling to various places of work. Whether it be Adventure, GardenSite, or elsewhere – there’s a good chance I’ll be bored during my journey. I spend an average of 1.5 hours on a train on a typical working day (Monday to Friday) – and I feel like I’m wasting every minute of that time. So I wanted to do something productive. So I thought I may as well start blogging.

I could always do some web development work, but writing code from my phone isn’t the easiest of tasks.

A blog also gives me a place to share the things I find interesting and a place to share my thoughts on various topics that interest me.

I plan to publish a post daily, but how possible that is depends on how busy the train is.

Copyright © 2020 James Dowen