This article was originally published on Guardian Careers.

When it comes to getting ahead at work, your ability to argue your corner and defend your ideas can be as important as the ideas themselves. Don’t let an inability to advocate for yourself be the reason your hard work and talent goes unappreciated. Here’s how to hold your own in any work scenario.



Whether you’re suggesting a new social media strategy or hustling for a pay rise, put your commercial hat on and gather evidence that supports your point of view. This could range from effective strategies you have observed elsewhere or recent successes you’ve had at work. If you present an argument that’s backed up with relevant data – such as statistics or examples of quantifiable contributions you have made to the company – you will find it easier to convince people of your ideas.



Find out who the people you need to convince are and what their agendas might be. Put yourself in their shoes – is the person who has the final say in signing off on your idea trying to meet a target? Are they dealing with a sudden change in management? Or worried about the safety of their job? An obvious but often overlooked truth is that the success of your ideas will depend on your ability to understand other peoples’ needs. I started my career working in ad agencies, and every boss reiterated the importance of being aware of the environment in which our clients were operating.

On a related note: make sure you’re talking to the right person. If you are in a relatively junior position, there might be a few levels between you and the decision-makers in your company. If that’s the case, make it as easy as possible for whoever is acting as a go-between to sell your idea further up the chain. Put together a PowerPoint presentation or a case study, and try to pre-empt and address any pushback they might face. Make their life easier and they are more likely to look favourably on your idea.



It’s all very well doing your homework and being prepared, but the way you present your ideas is almost as important as the ideas themselves. Whether you do it consciously or unwittingly, littering your sentences with caveats and apologies in an effort to seem more agreeable is a sure-fire way to undermine your credibility. Qualifiers like ‘I might be wrong on this but …’, or ‘… does that make sense?’ don’t scream confidence. The same goes for using the word “just” as a way to soften the impact of your words. Instead of saying ‘I just feel like’, say ‘I think’; instead of ‘I was just wondering …’ ask ‘Can you let me know?’. Notice the difference? Stop apologising for having the audacity to have an opinion.



A useful trick if you’re shy about speaking up in meetings is to “say something at the start, even if that’s simply a matter of joining in the pre-meeting small talk”, says Pilar Peace, creative director at ad agency Mother. Often, the longer a meeting goes on without you having said anything, the more pressure you feel to dazzle with whatever you do eventually say, which can make you clam up even more. So break the ice early on. It’s a figurative and literal throat-clearing, so the sound of your voice doesn’t come as a surprise, either to you or to the rest of the room. Try it – it’s a game-changer.

Photo by Gray Malin

Photo by Gray Malin

This article was originally published on SUITCASE Magazine.

One of the main joys of being self-employed is that – provided I have my laptop, a strong cup of coffee and a speedy wi-fi connection to hand – I can get my work done from wherever I choose. Case in point: when I was working on Women Who (the platform for creative working women I set up in 2016) I impulsively took a trip to Provence a few days before its launch, safe in the knowledge that I could get most of what I needed done without actually needing to be in London, where I’m based. It’s a similar story with the modern career guide I’ve recently written, Little Black Book: A Toolkit For Working Women, which I eked out in coffee shops and libraries around the world. As I was writing it, I had in mind the many ambitious and entrepreneurial women I know who – like me – are increasingly drawn to careers they can make work from (pretty much) any corner of the globe.

So far so good – but it’s important to remember that combining work and travel does come with its fair share of challenges – making it work requires a bit of upfront planning if you want to stay organised (and sane). With that in mind, here are some practical tips on how to stay productive when you’re on the go.



  • First things first – make sure you’ve got a decent data roaming plan in place. Without one, you’ll be at the mercy of unreliable wi-fi hotspots – or worse, end up being stung with an eye-watering bill for the sake of a few emails and tweets. Three’s Feel at Home tariff is great for UK-dwellers, whilst T-Mobile provides a similarly affordable data plan for US-based frequent flyers.
  • Consider investing in an iPad and keyboard combo instead of lugging a heavy laptop around with you for the duration of your trip. Downsizing to a tablet can take a little getting used to at first, but you’ll quickly realise you can get just as much done as you would on a laptop, and lighten your load in the process.
  • Check the small print on your travel insurance to make sure it covers any expensive equipment you’ll be taking with you, and that the excess on them isn’t ridiculously high. If you’re travelling on the company dime you’re (probably) covered anyway, but otherwise make sure that loss, theft or accidental damage – all of which are far more likely to happen when you’re in transit – don’t end up spoiling your trip.



    • Clothing wise, stick to clothes made from fabrics that won’t wrinkle easily – so cashmere and wool during the winter, and jersey and polyester-blend cottons when the weather warms up. One-pieces in particular are your friend when travelling as they mean less time spent planning outfits or trying to co-ordinate separates, so opt for jumpsuits and dresses if you can.
    • Being smart about your luggage situation can make all the difference, so keep things straightforward and stick to the following three items:
      • A suitcase (duh). Opt for a 4-wheeled model for maximum ease, ideally in a carry-on size.
      • A work bag for day-to-day use. This should be large enough to carry your laptop and notebooks around town, and sturdy enough not to fall apart on you mid-trip.
      • A small pouch (or two) for storing the important stuff: passports, travel documents, ear plugs, phone chargers – basically anything you’ll repeatedly be reaching for whilst en route, and don’t want hidden in the depths of your luggage.
    • If you can bear to travel with carry-on luggage only, do so – you’ll be glad of it when you’ve just landed and get to skip baggage reclaim purgatory, especially if you’re heading straight to a meeting. Turning up sweaty and dishevelled because you’ve been wrestling a 30kg suitcase from airport to Uber is not a good look. On that note – if you are getting off a long flight and heading straight to work, make sure you pack a toothbrush, mini toothpaste and spare top near the top of your hand luggage, so you can freshen up quickly before landing.



    • As much as possible, try to maintain some semblance of the routine you usually adhere to at home. If (for example) Wednesdays are usually your designated day for sorting out your finances, make that a priority when you’re away for work too. Sticking to your regular routine will make trips away feel much less disruptive, and you’ll spend less time scrambling to catch up once you’re back in the office.
    • Make use of any communal lobby areas in your hotel to work from (or if you’re AirBnb-ing it, find a local coffee spot you can decamp to for a few hours). Staying cooped up in your room your entire trip can make for a fairly claustrophobic experience, which isn’t exactly conducive to productivity – plus, the chance to absorb the local atmosphere is one of the perks of getting to travel for work, so get outside and soak it up!
    Spring Flowers

    Blossoms blooming, sun shining, and finally being able to ditch the heavy jumpers and ankle boots – there’s a reason why spring is my favourite season of them all. If the warmer weather and longer days have given you a fresh burst of energy, why not channel some of that energy into spring cleaning your life, and set yourself up for a new phase of mental clarity and productive working?

    Read on for some easy ways to streamline your life inside and outside of the office.



    Pay attention to the environments you’re in, and the spaces you create.




    It’s no secret that the human brain responds well to aesthetically pleasing visuals - if your surroundings are looking tired or drab, that’s bound to have an impact on your day-to-day mood. To refocus your aesthetic in a way that's conducive to clarity, try creating a moodboard full of the sorts of visuals that reflect the vibe you want to recreate in your everyday life. If you're pressed for time (or space) then Pinterest is obviously perfect for creating virtual moodboards, but if you can, hang up a corkboard somewhere you’ll see it every day for maximum impact. Then get creative!



    I'm all about the easy wins, and I guarantee you tidying up your desk is a quick and easy task with a disproportionately powerful gains when it comes to improving your mental clarity. That giant stack of papers you haven’t picked up in months? Go through it right now, filing the important things, and chucking the rest (preferably in a recycling bin). Feel better? Thought so.



    At this time of year everything’s in bloom, and there’s no reason why your indoor spaces shouldn’t be too. Add some greenery to your work and living spaces to give them – and you – an instant boost: snake plants, bromeliads, and rubber plants are all aesthetically pleasing choices that also thrive indoors. Or (if you’re feeling fancy) treat yourself to some fresh flowers for your desktop once a week – I’m currently obsessed with ranunculus blooms, pictured above.



    If you dress like a slob, you’ll feel like one too – and that way unproductivity lies, so treat yourself to one or two key pieces to refresh your look for the months ahead. Never underestimate the power of the clothes you wear on a day-to-day basis to impact your mindset, and the way you feel about your work.



    The most important piece of the puzzle.




    Why not check in with the New Year’s resolutions you made back in January, to remind yourself of the goals you’ve set yourself for 2017 and renew your efforts on any you’ve let slip by the wayside? Here’s a reminder of how to set yourself up for success when it comes to making (and keeping) resolutions.



    With the warmer weather and longer days, now’s the perfect time to take your workout outdoors, so swap the fluorescent gym lights for fresh air and sunshine for an instant mood boost. Why not keep things interesting by taking up a sport instead of exercising solo – join a local netball or football team, and enjoy the added bonus of keeping your mind stimulated at the same time as getting fit.



    Warmer weather also means lighter, fresher meals, so try to incorporate more fresh fruit and vegetables into your diet to keep your energy levels up. Chef and food writer Anna Jones is an excellent source of delicious veg-based recipes that steer clear of Ottolenghi-esque levels of complication.



    Get your affairs in order.




    If you’re self-employed, now's the time to assess your clients and projects carefully to determine which ones are the money-makers - and which ones are the money pits.Which clients, projects, or strategies are profitable, and which ones require you to spend more time on them than really makes sense? Examine and evaluate where you’ve been expending your energies thus far this year, and think about what you need to do more – and less – of to grow your income as the year progresses.



    There’s a lot of talk about the benefits of ‘digital detoxing’ these days – but how do you actually do that? Start by unfollowing any social media accounts that don’t actually add any value to your life (you know the ones), and unsubscribing from all those newsletters and email alerts you don’t even remember signing up for – Unroll.Me is hands-down the quickest and easiest way out there to streamline your inbox.



    Review your bank statement for subscriptions or accounts you’d forgotten you’re signed up for. Chances are there’ll be at least one or two you never actually use, which means you can make some easy savings with minimal effort.


    Happy spring cleaning!


    The reality of the modern creative economy is that it’s harder and harder to be a ‘full-time’ creative, and to make a living exclusively from whatever happens to be your chosen craft. A perfect storm of factors (including but not limited to: an increase in the cost of living, the arrival of the Internet, and a general devaluation of creative work) means that at least initially, you’ll likely have to balance pursuing your creative passions – the work that fulfils you and feels like the reason you get out of bed in the morning – with the work that actually pays the bills.

    Whilst that might seem far from ideal, having to fit your creative work around your 9 - 5 doesn’t have to be a bad thing: for starters, it’ll force you to be far more efficient than if you had the perceived holy grail of 24/7 free time to dedicate to your craft. I can tell you from experience that having to balance a side project with a 9 - 5 makes you far more ruthless with your time and quicker with your decisions, both of which are invaluable skills to cultivate. Plus, there's the advantage of being able to experiment with different creative projects and goals whilst still having the safety net of a steady paycheck to keep you afloat. Having the breathing room to test the waters without jumping headfirst into self-employment, or putting pressure on your creative work to pay the bills straight away can be invaluable for the quality of your output.

    Whether your goal is finding more time for creativity around your day job just for fun, or you’re trying to pivot your career to a point where your side hustle is your day job – here’s some useful guidance on how to balance the two.



    Resist the urge to put in time on your personal projects whilst you’re on someone else’s clock. If every time your boss walks past your desk, you’re on the landing page of, that’s not a good look (and no matter how discreet you think you’re being, your colleagues will notice). At best, it’s unprofessional – at worst you’re leaving yourself open to disciplinary action, or worse. Remember too that most contracts (particularly within the creative industries) tend to include a clause whereby anything created on work premises, or using work resources is by law the property of your employer. Your day job is presumably the part of your working life that pays the bills, so don’t do anything to jeopardise that.



    Try to find out whether there’s scope for you to scale back to a 3 or 4 day week. That extra day or two could be the boost you need to make genuine headway on your personal projects, as you’ll spend less time ‘getting into the swing of things’ and picking up on where you left off. Of course, depending on your current salary and financial situation, the pay cut involved may or may not be feasible – but if you do go down this route, make sure the arrangement is mutually beneficial. That means (gently) enforcing the boundaries of your ‘off’ days with full-time colleagues, who might take a while to get used to your new routine. You don’t want to take a pay cut only to end up doing pretty much the same amount of work, but for less pay.



    Ask around – are any of your creative friends also working on side projects? Finding a like-minded person to bounce ideas off or go to talks with (even if you’re not working together directly) can be hugely motivating.



    These could be anything from landing a new freelance client to getting your personal website up and running. Having some concrete goals and deadlines to aim towards will help give you a sense of direction, and keep you on track.



    Instead of returning home from a long day at the office to spend your evenings working, why not try clocking in a few hours before you go to work, whilst your brain is still fresh? Something that really worked for me in the run up to the launch of Women Who (when I also happened to be working a full-time freelance contract) was waking up early a couple of mornings a week, so I could squeeze in a few hours of work before heading to, um, work. To say that I’m not a morning person would be an understatement, so that definitely wasn’t easy at first – but realising how much I could accomplish before I’d even done my morning commute meant that the potential of those early starts quickly became pretty addictive. Plus, flipping my schedule also meant I still had my evenings free to wind down or see friends (as long as I was home by a reasonable hour), so I rarely felt as though I was sacrificing my personal life for work.



    Don’t subject yourself to unnecessary pressure by setting overly ambitious goals – vowing to dedicate every single one of your evenings and weekends to your side project straight off the bat is pretty unrealistic, and commitments like that are only going to set you up for disappointment. Instead start small – aim to put in an hour or two a week, and gradually build up to a level that’s sustainable alongside all the other demands in your personal and professional life.



    No matter when you decide to make extra time for your side hustle, schedule the time into your diary as you would any other meeting, and treat it with the same level of seriousness. Uphold the commitment as though it were an arrangement with a friend, or a meeting with your boss. Don’t schedule over it, don’t re-arrange it. Just do it.

    Diana Ross


    “Instead of looking at the past, I put myself ahead twenty years and try to look at what I need to do now in order to get there then.”

    – Diana Ross


    If you’re in the market for career guidance, you could probably do a lot worse than following the advice of a hugely successful and award-winning music icon. I'm the first to admit that I don't have an awful lot in common with Diana Ross (I can't sing to save my life, for starters - and that hair!), but we do have something of a similar ethos when it comes to career philosophies. Like the Queen of Motown, I’m a big believer in having a ‘big picture’ career goal in mind, mainly because of how easy it is to get caught up in the day-to-day grind of working life, and unintentionally spend years working, but without actually making any tangible progress. It's why I religiously make New Year's resolutions at the start of each year - I find having a bigger picture goal in mind incredibly useful, in both my personal and professional life.

    Which brings me to a useful thought exercise I discovered a while ago, whilst flicking through Gem Barton’s excellent book Don’t Get A Job Make A Job. A collection of case studies of designers, entrepreneurs and creatives who’ve forged new and interesting business models, coming across Ms Ross’s quote a few days ago reminded me of a passage by architect Jimenez Lai, below:


    “My advice is: write a few “fake” CVs for versions of your future selves – craft them, let your ambition run wild, project a few futures. No-one is watching, and there is no sense in feeling ashamed about these fake futures. I promise you, as you print them out and hold your plural futures in your hands, you will gain a deep sense of clarity about what you want to do and what you do not care to do”.


    If you’re struggling to find a sense of direction or career clarity, why not take 30 minutes this week to write yourself a dream future CV (or three)? As Lai suggests, be completely honest with yourself about your career goals, even the wildly aspirational ones that seem completely out of reach. Think about what you want to be doing and how you’d like to be working in 5 -10 years’ time (or as far ahead as you can reasonably imagine – personally I struggle to envision where I want to be in twenty years’ time à la Ms Ross, but 5 - 10 I can kind of manage).


    Some useful questions to consider might be:

    • What skills do you want to be using most often?
    • What kind of environment do you want to be working in? Do you want to be working as part of (or leading) a team? Working in-house? Running a small business? Freelancing?
    • What kind of projects do you want to be working on? Big commercial briefs? Or smaller indie projects?
    • Where do you want to see your work being displayed or consumed? And by whom?
    • What do you want your average working day to look like? Think of this as a microcosm of how you spend your time)

    Then work backwards, breaking your ‘big picture’ goal down into the individual steps you think might get you there – think about the skills you need to polish up on, knowledge or experience you need to gain, or the gaps in your network you need to fill.


    As always, I find that committing your thoughts to paper is clarifying in a way just endlessly mulling them over rarely is - the first time I tried this exercise some months ago, I ended up surprising myself with a few latent ambitions I hadn’t really realised I was harbouring, and (importantly) identifying some of the changes I needed to make to my working life to help me achieve them. Hopefully you’ll find it does the same for you.


    When you consider the sheer number of technological advancements the 21st century has produced, you'd be forgiven for being somewhat surprised to learn that my most relied-upon productivity tool isn’t say, the iPhone, or even the precious gift of email. It’s definitely not Slack, and it isn’t Dropbox either. No – as brilliant and necessary as all of these inventions are, my secret weapon when it comes to productivity is, drumroll...

    The humble list.

    I love making lists, and generally have several on the go at any given moment, from smaller day-to-day lists to bigger 'master lists'. I have a list of things I want to achieve by the time I’m 30 (tick tock), as well as a seemingly never-ending list of ‘life admin’ stored on my phone. I’ve even been known to get a bit meta and make a list of all my other various lists, although in hindsight, making a to-do list with ‘consolidate other lists’ on it that one time was probably a bit much.

    Part of the reason I rely on lists so much is because of the simple fact that I have a terrible short-term memory. Whether it’s an interesting idea or a bit of admin – if I don’t write something down as soon as I think of it, chances are I’ll forget it forever (or at least until it’s horribly urgent or long overdue, preferably both). But more importantly, I find that making lists keeps me accountable, and allows me to make objective decisions about what I need to do, and when. I'm convinced lists are the key to getting shit done – so here’s some advice on how and why to deploy them most effectively, so you too can experience the life-enhancing properties of a well-structured list.

    And for the record, you don't need a list of all your other lists. That was a dumb thing to do.

    Part I: The Benefits


    By far the most significant benefit of using lists in your working life is that they free up crucial thinking space. By spending a few minutes planning your workflow upfront instead of trying to store dozens of tasks in your head, you free up your brain to do the real work of creative thinking the rest of the time.



    Breaking down larger goals into the sum of their parts can turn seemingly abstract goals into concrete tasks, which are easier to work through. Lists also help you keep track of your progress – if you find that a particular task on your ‘day-to-day’ list (more on that in Part II) keeps cropping up week after week, it’s probably an indicator of a) something you need to stop dodging and just deal with once and for all, or b) something that’s actually not particularly vital, and probably doesn’t need to be on your task list at all. Keep an eye out for those problem items so you can decide which of those two categories they fall into, and act accordingly.



    Let's face it - crossing items off to-do lists is pretty satisfying, and being able to see a visual representation of what you’ve already completed can give you a sense of achievement that helps spur you on.


    Part II: Getting Started

    There are the two key lists I rely on, structured thus:


    These are the longer term objectives – career goals and bigger projects, or perhaps skills you want to acquire. Break this list down into four categories:

    • >1 month
    • 1-3 months
    • 3-6 months
    • 6 months+

    Review it every few weeks to see how you’re getting on, and remind yourself of what’s on the horizon for the next few months.

    2. DAY-TO-DAY

    This one’s for your short-term goals i.e. the more immediately pressing tasks that need to be completed in the days and weeks ahead. At the start of each week, make a list of your goals for that week, breaking them down into individual tasks – the more detailed the better! This stage is something of a brain dump, so just jot down everything that comes to mind, without worrying about its relative importance or difficulty.  You might find it helpful to categorise tasks by theme as you write them down, putting them under separate headings (e.g. writing, finances, events etc.).

    Then, take two minutes to prioritise, numbering tasks in order of importance/urgency. This is crucial, and means when you’ve finished one task, you don’t waste mental energy figuring out what to do next, helping to eliminate decision fatigue

    Review this list each morning to find out what’s on the agenda for the day.


    Finally, whilst I’m happy to digitise most aspects of my life, I’m a firm believer in getting important lists like these down on paper (and here’s a roundup of the best stationery around to help you on that front). The very process of committing your thoughts to paper is often really illuminating, and it means your goals won't get lost in the jumble of draft tweets and Chrome tabs that dominate our digital lives.


    Happy list-making!