Warning: may contain mild ranting

First came the paper coffee cups with the label: ‘Warning – contents may be hot’.
Then came the packets of nuts printed with: ‘Warning – may contain nuts’.

Today, I noticed my packet of tissues says: ‘Please check all paper tissues have been removed from garments before washing’.

I resent having the obvious pointed out to me by a piece of packaging. What’s next? Shoe boxes emblazoned with: ‘Warning – failure to tie laces may cause shoe wearer to lose vertical orientation’?

Up-sell Girl: waitressing gone wrong

These days, restaurant staff members are always trying to up-sell or cross-sell. Slightly irritating – if I wanted a salad with my steak, I’d have asked for it – but I understand they’re just doing their job.

However, on Saturday, a waitress in Lussmanns (St Albans) went too far. I ordered a burger and chips, and she asked if I’d like some onion rings. Fair enough, I thought. “No thank you”, I politely replied. Then she said: “Would you like some nice…..cabbage?”

Ah yes, cabbage. That classic burger accompaniment. What was I thinking, leaving off the cabbage?

Then there was the meal I had a few weeks ago in the Covent Garden branch of The Real Greek, where the waitress kept going on and on about the DELICIOUS lamb special, and how ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS it was and how my friend and I had to order it. We didn’t. At the end of the meal, she told us how there were several lamb specials left that hadn’t sold, and what a shame it was because they were so tasty, and how we must order it next time, because it is SO DELICIOUS. I asked her if she’d be taking the leftover lamb home, since she was such a fan. “I don’t eat lamb”, she said.

Not the one(sie) for me

I’ve never really understand the appeal of the onesie. People argue that it’s comfortable, that it makes them feel relaxed, that it keeps them really warm. But what’s relaxing and warm about stripping half naked every time you visit the loo? And who can be bothered with all that faffing around?

Clearly, people aren’t deterred by fiddly zips and chilly bathroom trips, because Marks & Spencer has just released a £199 luxury version – in chic cashmere, presumably to minimise the ‘babygro’ factor.

Think I’ll stick to my slanket.

Limited-edition love

I hate limited-edition goods. Actually, that’s not strictly true. I’m ridiculously proud of my hand-numbered vinyls and artwork.

What I really hate is limited-edition make-up. The new shade that’s so perfect you want to marry it, but it jilts you at the altar and is never seen again.

Tired of being left with sad lipstick stubs and almost-empty eye shadows to ration out for special occasions, I’m just saying no to limited-edition. What’s the point of falling in love when you already know it can’t last?

When Halloween-themed copy goes wrong

‘Pasty’ and ‘scary’ – two words I wouldn’t expect to see in the same sentence. But a well-known bakers’ in-store posters (spotted by the brilliant comedian David Ephgrave) are currently advertising a ‘scary’ chicken madras pasty. What could possibly be frightening about food? Ah…food poisoning. Not convinced they’ve thought this one through.

I honestly believe that, if a theme isn’t at all relevant to the product you’re promoting, it’s best not to use it. Otherwise, it can come across as desperate or downright confusing.

Write to be understood

When writing formal communications, many people favour long or uncommon words, lengthy sentences and lots of detail – possibly in the belief it will make them sound more intelligent or ‘official’. But what effect does this have on the reader?

Here’s an example taken from a sign I spotted recently – note the use of ‘enacted’, ‘adhere’ and ‘utilise’:

“USE OF TOILETS. To help prevent problems with the system always adhere to the following: The cisterns have 2 types of flush, a “short flush” (enacted by pressing the handle down and releasing quickly) and a long flush (requiring the handle to be held down for 5 or 6 seconds). ALWAYS UTILISE THE LONG FLUSH”

Blimey. I think what they’re trying to say is, ‘please hold the handle down for 6 seconds when flushing’.

The problem with writing in the style of the example is that it forces the reader to work too hard. It’s tiring and tedious. And it comes across as pretty unfriendly.

I’m a big fan of writing in plain English. It’s not necessarily about using the shortest word possible; it’s about using the most familiar word, and cutting out the waffle. Writing is, after all, just a means of communicating information from your brain to another’s – the clearer your writing, the more effectively you’ll get your point across.

6 tips for home workers

Can you be relaxed and disciplined at the same time? If you work from home, I think you have to be. While there isn’t a more chilled-out environment to work in than your own house (no boss, no fixed hours and no dress code), you need to be very strict with yourself to get stuff done. Here’s what works for me.

1. Stick to a routine
Probably the most appealing thing about working from home is the flexibility. You can do what you want, when you want to – whether that’s staying in bed till 11am or starting work at 9pm.

However, I’ve found what works best for me is sticking to the same routine most days. I get up at 7.30am and have a rule that I have to shower, eat breakfast and make myself look presentable before I’m allowed to open my laptop – otherwise, before I know it, it’s 4pm and I’m still in my dressing gown. And I can’t do my best work if I’m feeling like a slob.

2. Set yourself goals
Being your own boss means there’s no-one to tell you what to do. But this also means there’s no-one to motivate you. I like to set myself little goals throughout the day to help stay focused. For example, “send x number of emails before lunch” or “finish this paragraph before making a cup of tea”.

3. Ban the web when you have a deadline
Email, Facebook and Twitter can really sap your time. If you need to get something done asap, keep your web browser closed.

4. Forget multi-tasking
Constantly switching from one task to another has been proven to be less  productive. If you have several urgent pieces of work jostling for priority, it’s better to block off a decent amount of time to work on each – at least half an hour, preferably an hour.

Saying that, if you have writer’s block or you’re feeling fatigued, changing projects can help.

5. Lead yourself not into temptation
I love reading, and I do it whenever I can – especially when I’m eating breakfast. But I’ve learned it’s better to read a magazine than a novel. I can tell myself to stop reading once I’ve finished an article, whereas I find it really, really hard to put down a book. I have a similar principle for websites, trying to stick to blogs that have a few small updates for me to catch up on rather than news sites that can suck me in for hours.

6. Don’t forget to enjoy the benefits
Going it alone can be stressful and scary at times, so it’s important to remember why you chose to do it. Savour that smug feeling you get when your friends complain about their commute or another run-in with the boss.

For me, one of the best things about working from home is being able to inject more fun into the day. When I need a break from writing, I like to warble away to a karaoke track on YouTube, play an instrument or dance around the room – not really advisable in the office.

How do you make your day more productive, or just more fun?