Tag Archives: Freelance

iPad Journal: Invoicing with FileMaker Pro

One of my common tasks as a freelancer is invoicing. I've used FileMaker Pro for this task for more than a decade. I host a custom built database on my Mac Mini which is shared and accessed on the local network via FileMaker Go on the iPad. FileMaker Go is an excellent app that lets me do almost anything the full version of FileMaker Pro does. It does not allow for editing the design of the database itself, which is to say, creating layouts, fields, etc. But I have full access to all data and can edit and add new records as I need.

Each client gets a record and then multiple invoices can be created for that client. Each invoice can have an unlimited number of line items added. When I'm ready to send the invoice I click a button which brings up a dialog and with one click to confirm I get a new email with the invoice attached as a pdf. I can then add any note into the body of the email and send. Simple and effective and done right from the iPad. The invoice get's marked as having been sent and dated. With a glance I can look at my invoice list and see those that haven't been paid as well as the outstanding balance for all invoices. If I need to find invoices in a certain time period it's easy as FileMaker Go has great search features. All of this from the iPad.

The only thing I need to use the Mac for is editing the design of the database which I do only rarely. But it's true that a Mac or Windows machine is necessary to add new fields, scripts, layouts or anything related to the building of a database.

Work at Home: My Setup

After years of using only Mac laptops, the most recent being a 2011 MacBook Air, I made the decision in the winter of 2014 to transition to a desktop Mac. Kaleesha was writing her first book and needed a better laptop so I took the opportunity to make the move. My reasons were for choosing the MacMini (late 2012): price and my decision to begin sitting and standing rather than working in a reclined position. I’d tried this with the laptop but it just didn’t take. A MacMini would leave me no choice but to be at the desk.

I’d been using an iPad since the first iteration in 2010 and was pretty confident that it would serve well as a laptop replacement for my off hours browsing or any tasks that didn’t require a Mac. This has been the perfect set-up for me.

Most of my work on the Mac is either graphic design or html/css coding. All design work is taken care of with the usual Adobe apps and the web work via Panic’s excellent Coda. Other usuals: Safari, Mail, Wunderlist, Fantastical, Byword, iBank, Paperless, Pages, Numbers and Keynote. Oh, and iTunes which not only serves me but the whole house.

On the iPad 3, recently upgraded to the iPad Air 2*, my main apps are Feedly, Transmit, Byword, Drafts, Twitter, Numbers, Fantastical, Wunderlist, Scanner Pro, Kindle and iBooks. As an amateur astronomer SkySafari gets alot of use along with Numbers for recording observations with the iPad that are later transfered to FileMaker Pro on the Mac.

With Mavericks and iOS 7 the convenience of always in sync everything has been a fantastic feature making switching between devices mostly frictionless. It’s only gotten better with Yosemite and iOS 8 both of which have performed exceptionally for me. Practically everything seems to sync in one way or another. Some examples: Transmit and Coda bookmarks, Wunderlist tasks, iWork documents, Byword documents and practically everything else.

One possible change to my workflow: Pixelmator. I’ve used it a bit on the Mac but now with a new powerful iOS version I intend to become more familiar with it. That I can now do real image editing and design work on an iPad with this much power (and finally 2 GB of RAM) is a potential game changer. When combined with apps such as Transmit and extensions I anticipate that I now have a device which will make on-the-go web work that much easier as my ability to use and share files between apps and devices is a fantastic new feature of iOS8. For example, a photo emailed to me by a client is easily saved to photos, edited with a Pixelmator extension and then opened in Transmit for upload to a server.

Of course, having said all that, I don’t want to go back to my former portable-based workflow. I’m VERY happy with my standing desk and intend to continue working there but it is very helpful to now have the option of getting more work done when I need to be away from my desk.

Two other bits of gadgetry worth mentioning.

The iPhone 5C has been great for keeping up with email, twitter and RSS as well as reading books. Other tasks for the iPhone usually include scanning documents with Scanner Pro, remote control for iTunes and AppleTV. The hotspot feature has also been a real plus for getting things done while on the road.

My newest office kit is a Logitech K811 which I’ve only had for a few days. I think this is the best keyboard I’ve ever used. Bluetooth pairing with multiple devices was super simple and switching between them as fast as hitting a single button. The keyboard turns off automatically when not in use and turns on instantly when my fingers are placed on it. The slightly concave keys feel great and unlike the Apple keyboard (my previous favorite) this keyboard has backlighting. It’s not super light but light enough that I won’t mind taking it out with me. The iPad/keyboard combo is still far lighter and more compact than a MacBook Air. As I write this Kaleesha is creating a sleeve for the iPad/keyboard combo. Sweet.

  • A note about the Air 2. It was gifted to me by my aunt and uncle and I mention them because until the release of the iPad they had no intention of ever owning computers. Like several others in my family (my mother, grandmother, aunt, and a few others) had previously only ever used their desktop computers for playing those old school card games. For various reasons they had not used the internet at all or only very little. All of them are now daily users of the internet in a variety of forms. For several of them their iPads were their introductions to Apple and they now own iPhones as well.

Work at Home: Taking Breaks

As a freelancer I have the freedom to work at a pace that I control with as many rest breaks as I think I need. It’s one of the many great reasons to freelance and it’s not just a matter of convenience but also of health and productivity. my tendency is to work a two-three hour block between breakfast and lunch and then between lunch and dinner. Within those blocks I work 45 minutes with 15 minute breaks. I’m not using any kind of app to remind me to break so this fluctuates a bit and is usually influenced a bit by my surroundings or natural needs to take a bathroom break or to get a drink. It’s just as common for me to work thirty minutes and break for ten minutes when I feel the need.

There are days when I am between projects and on such days my rest/work pattern falls away completely. I’ll take care of miscellaneous tasks such as scanning receipts or clearing out accumulated desk clutter between extra time catching up on social media and RSS feeds. It’s not uncommon for me to have one such day durning the normal “work week”.

In short, it is a natural cycle of focused work balanced with rest and relaxation as needed. The result is a sense of productive well being and and a body of work that I and my clients are happy with.