Want to work like a Dragonfly? Try these tools

September 11, 2014

Magi_Standup DeskDragonfly is a preternaturally connected team. We communicate by message, video, and voice with colleagues and clients around the world. We’re often on the go. And when we’re not, we’ve found ways to make our home offices conducive to great work.

I asked our staff for their secrets to keeping their workdays running smoothly.

What I found: we rely on both tech and non-tech gadgets to stay productive and organized. We’ve also made comfort a priority. That’s good news, given that writing and editing both demand long hours at our keyboards. (A few of us have even embraced the standing desk trend!)

Here’s what else I learned from our staff.


Lisa Pere has time tracking down to a science:

I am often working on multiple projects, so I use a tool called Toggl. To use it, all I do is enter a project name and click ‘Start,’ and it starts a timer. If I switch tasks or walk away, I hit ‘Stop.’ I can then start timing another task, but if I go back to the first one, I just use the ‘Continue’ function to pick up the timer where I left off.

It’s really simplified my time tracking, both per project and per day. And I don’t have to dig around for project hours on work that bills once a month. Oh, and it’s free!


Julie Henderson is committed to comfort:

I use two very low-tech objects that making working at my desk and computer more comfortable. The first is a low stool to keep my feet elevated while sitting at my desk. The other is a small gel-filled wrist rest that was a giveaway at a medical conference I attended 12–15 years ago. I’ve used it ever since under my “mousing” wrist. It’s rather worse for the wear, but I immediately notice its absence if a family member moves it or if it has dropped to the floor.

Every now and then, I put my computer screen and keyboard up on some books or a higher table so I can stand while working—but it’s awkward for using the mouse.


Mary Berry’s secret weapon is coffee:

I have to say a coffeepot, a refrigerator to keep cream for coffee cold, and a hard chair with armrests at the proper height to prevent back strain.


Lexy Nesbitt is a die-hard Apple fan:

I am very appreciative of Steve Jobs’ impact on my work life. Everything runs smoothly on my Mac and Apple devices, and Adobe has done a really great job with InDesign. There’s not much more a designer could ask for. OpenType fonts were a fantastic innovation, if a little late to the game.

Podcasts help to keep my left-brain chugging along. Classic Loveline and other shows on the Carolla Digital network keep me laughing.


Magi Walker deftly navigates the digital universe:

The first gadget I encounter each morning is my iPhone, which wakes me up with strumming guitar and “Wake up, Sleepyhead!” Once I’ve checked in with the espresso machine, I pad slowly through the maze of sleeping dogs down the hallway to my office. At my standup desk (a Kangaroo Ergo Desktop), I do a thumbroll on my trackball, tap my wireless keyboard’s spacebar, and my 27” iMac wakes up. I open Firefox and check the daily surge of emails via Google, TeamworkPM, and Webmail.

When I have to go somewhere, I stay connected through my iPhone and the Gmail app as well as a rule set up on Webmail that texts my phone when email comes through. It’s marvelous to be so connected.


Monica Schultz is lost without her planner:

My must-have product is a Zig Ziglar Performance Planner and a blue pen. I don’t know how I ever lived without this calendar/goal planner/to do list/organizer!


Jeni Crockett-Holme stays connected on the go:

My smartphone has become my mobile office. I commute to Richmond (about an hour drive each way) a few times each week, and I use my smartphone to keep track of what’s going on and to respond to e-mail.

If I know it’s going to be a busy day, I’ll take my laptop with me, too, so I can respond quickly to work situations. Richmond’s public libraries have become my office away from the office.


Google tools keep Imee Curiel organized:

Gmail and my Google calendar keep me organized and on top of everything, both personally and professionally. It’s easier to organize all of my projects with Gmail than with services like Hotmail or Outlook. To me, the labeling system makes much more sense than restricting each email message to just one single folder. I seriously would be lost without it.


Diana Ceres opts for flexibility and comfort:

I use an ergobead wrist and mouse pad. I was having issues with carpal tunnel, so my chiropractor recommended them. You can get them at pretty much any office supply store, and they’re awesome. They sink according to your unique hand shape and weight, providing a truly custom fit that is both comfortable and supportive—and they never wear out.

My chiropractor also recommended a Gaiam yoga ball chair, which I use for chair yoga and stretches after long stints at the computer.

Finally, I use a sit/stand station, a contraption that you attach to your desk. You can work either sitting down or standing by simply pulling the keyboard up or down. I like to stand a few times during my workday. Installation is tricky, so it’s helpful if you have a techie friend to help.


Samantha Enslen is also a fan of the “ball chair”:

I’ve had my balance ball chair from Gaiam for eight years, if not longer. I can sit on that thing for hours without getting a sore rump. It doesn’t have arms, and the ball is malleable, so I can also sit with one leg bent under me and one leg behind me, or even straddle it like a horse. When I’m working a lot of hours, it helps to be able to change position frequently.

Like Diana, the other item I depend on is my ergonomic keyboard. The keyboard is split in the middle, and the wrist pad is elevated. That means your wrist bends forward instead of backward, and your fingers droop down on the keyboard in a natural motion.


Jill Davis keeps things refreshingly old-school:

I have no gadgets to speak of. I try to stick to the bare minimum: a nice desktop computer setup, a laptop, a phone, and pencil and paper. That’s it.


Carol Meyers relies on top-quality sound:

I love my Logitech boombox and speakerphone. It’s super cute and compact, and the rechargeable battery lasts 10 hours.

I haul the boombox to the yoga classes I volunteer to teach at Whitman-Walker Health. I pull up a playlist on my iPhone or iPad and, voila, instant atmosphere!

The device is also great for listening to webinars and other online content. The experience is rich and robust compared to the whisper of laptop and iPhone speakers.


Jennifer Lorenzetti gets by with technology, pen and paper, and relaxing views:

As far as gadgets, I depend on my double-wide computer monitor that lets me have two full-size documents open simultaneously. I also couldn’t get by without my iPhone.

To keep my day running, I depend on my old-school paper Franklin Planner. I was always forgetting appointments and to-dos when I tried to keep electronic calendars, but now that I have my day planner back in operation, I can run my businesses, my household, my garden, and my dancing from one place.

I also love the cheapo Xeno ink pens you get from Staples. I order them by the ton. Nothing beats the pleasure of a pen that writes just the way you want it to, especially when you make your living writing.

Finally, what always keeps me going is the view: the view of the garden from my sunroom where I work in the summer, the view of palm trees and beaches from my mobile office when I’m in Key West, and the view of a map of Key West that is my desktop wallpaper when the other two don’t apply.


(Photo: The fabulous Magi Walker at her standing desk—with dog Max keeping watch.)

Mary is a writer and editor with Dragonfly Editorial. Her workday balances high and low tech: a planner for to-dos, legal pads for notetaking, and a potpourri of web apps for staying connected to the world of Dragonfly.

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A Dragonfly abroad: 4 tips for working in Spain

July 20, 2014

Bar del Convent_BarcelonaLet me start by saying that I have the best job in the world.

How else would I be able to spend my summer working from Barcelona, Spain, balancing meetings with clients with trips to the beach?

Not a typical “office job,” that’s for sure.

I’ve been here for about two months now. And in that time, I’ve learned a few things about working in the city’s many sidewalk cafés. Next time you’re in Spain and find yourself needing a place to write, follow these tips:

Understand Spain’s coffee culture.

First off, you can forget about anything remotely resembling American black coffee, either in quantity or taste. Spaniards take their coffee in petite, precise ratios of espresso, milk, and other add-ins. It’s important to know how to order the kind you prefer (I recommend café con leche).

You’ll also want to build coffee time into your schedule. Coffee in Spain is meant to be sipped and savored, not gulped from a travel mug while on the run. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate this relaxing, mind-clearing ritual.


Respect the house rules of the places you visit.

Many cafés in Barcelona offer free wi-fi, although you may have to ask for the contraseña (the password). Keep in mind, though, that the American custom of setting up camp at a coffee shop and working the day away is much less common in Spain and is frowned upon in some locations.

Look for signs or ask a barista about a café’s policy. Some places require that you purchase food or drink each hour you spend there. Others prohibit working on laptops between certain hours. It’s all about shutting the books and enjoying life, people.


If you do plan to stay awhile, look for a good menú.

Lunch, or comida, is Spaniards’ biggest meal. Many restaurants and cafés offer a menú del día, an all-inclusive midday special that’s often less expensive than the sum of its parts. (Not to be confused with the list of all items available to order, which is called the carta.)

A typical menú might include a main course (usually a sandwich or warm baked dish), a side, dessert, and coffee or another drink. A menú of 8 to 10 euros is usually a good deal.


Make the most of your work hours.

If you’re working with colleagues back in the U.S., you’re in luck: you get a major head start on the day’s work. This means you can spend the morning writing in blissful, undisturbed silence before the tide of morning emails rushes in. Or, if you decide to make yourself available in the afternoon and evening for meetings and correspondence back home, you can spend the morning visiting a museum or lingering over coffee and an ensaimada. Either way, you win.


Visiting Barcelona soon? Here are my favorite places to write.

  • Bar del Convent – This spot is tucked inside a 13th-century former convent in one of Barcelona’s oldest neighborhoods. Grab a table on its roomy patio and enjoy shade, a cool breeze, and beautiful surroundings (see photo).
  • Babelia – You could come here to catch up on work—but you might wind up curling up with a book instead. This combination café/secondhand bookstore has a nice selection, including a number of titles in English.
  • Mitte – Plenty of seats, quiet background music, great snacks—what more could a writer abroad want? This space, which doubles as an art venue in the evenings, is a surprisingly serene place to work by day.

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Writerly inspiration from across the pond

July 2, 2014

Oxford_DragonflyEarlier this month, I spent a week traveling through England and Scotland. While there, I filled up on tea and biscuits, saw the English countryside by train, and looked both ways at least three times before crossing any street.

And I discovered that Britain is a language nerd’s dream land. Castles and cathedrals are cool—but I also came across a number of unexpected landmarks that I thought my fellow writers and editors might be interested in.

First stop was Edinburgh, Scotland. The city has been home to writers and editors for centuries and in 2004 was named the first UNESCO City of Literature. Authors like Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle lived there in years past. And more recently, J.K. Rowling famously penned the first two books in the Harry Potter series at The Elephant House, a downtown café.

I stopped in Greyfriars Kirkyard, a cemetery where William Smellie, the first editor of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, is buried. (Another piece of trivia for Potter fans: several tombstones were the inspiration for characters at Hogwarts, including McGonagall and—gasp!—Tom Riddle.)

I ended a day of sightseeing with a visit to the fortuitously named Dragonfly Cocktail Bar. Then, after stops in Glasgow (where I rode a train into the Scottish Highlands), London (and 221B Baker Street, the fictional home of Sherlock Holmes), I made it to Oxford, a delightful college town whose alumni roster is a veritable who’s who of British poetry and literature.

My travel companions and I shared a pint at The Eagle and Child, onetime hangout of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and their literary pals, and I nerded out in front of the Oxford University Press.

Just before hopping on the bus to head to the airport, I spent the morning at an absolutely picturesque café, under a willow tree, in a meadow, with a sidewalk paved with—you guessed it—dragonflies.

Turns out even on vacation, those little bugs are hard to shake.

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