What’s your workspace telling you?

A couple of notes:

First off, apologies for the cat meowing + phone ringing interruption in the video. I was going to re-record, but to be honest, this was like my tenth take already (lots of camera issues!) so I figured I’d best not tempt fate.

Books mentioned: A Whole New Mind by Dan Pink & How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci by Michael Gelb

What I mean by taking a daily/monthly goals template & turning it into a mini dry erase board:

Taking something like this (except I’m creating my own), printing it out, and framing it a la this – so that the goals template is covered by glass and magically becomes dry-erase-able. Voila! One each for daily and monthly goals/priorities. (I’m still planning on using my paper planner – which is also always on my desk – for laying out my weeks.)

And that’s about it! Any questions? Any thoughts on how you’re going to improve your workspace? 

If you loved this post or found it super useful, please share it with your friends. After all, that’s how good ideas spread, right?

How to use Springpad to stay on top of your projects & tasks

Goodness gracious, that hiatus was a bit longer than I meant it to be. Our move went just a tad bumpier than intended (and by just a tad bumpier, I mean a hell of a lot bumpier), so it took me longer to get back on my feet than I thought it would. But! I’m back, and with a video that several of you requested: how to use Springpad to stay on top of your projects and tasks.

Springpad is my note-saver and online organizer of choice, and I’ve mentioned it several times, but I’ve never given an in-depth explanation of why I really love it and how I use it. This video aims to remedy that:

Video notes: 

Notebook: highest level of organization in Springpad – basically, the categories that you put notes in.

Notes: pieces of information, there are many different formats for you to pick from – so you can use the best format for the specific piece of information that you need to save, depending on what you want to do with it

A note can be in more than one notebook at once, which is hugely useful for reasons mentioned in the video.

How I use notebooks – two ways:

  • Projects/categories/clients
  • Sorting information for action

First way: Projects/Clients 

Anything related to a specific project or client goes in that notebook. Examples:

  • Notes on specific services or ebooks
  • Notes on ideas you’ve had related to this particular project (it’s a great idea to have one note for each project that’s a dedicated idea garden)
  • Bookmarks of web pages you’ve created using the clipper that are relevant to this project or client (for reference or inspiration)
  • Checklist of actions that relate to a specific aspect of a project ((I didn’t want to get too into it in the video because I knew it would already be long, but I use checklists for a specific kind of tasks. Those tasks being short, relatively easy tasks that can be done in a few minutes and aren’t deadline oriented or time-specific. The way that I use the actionable checklists that I create from books or information is that I set aside some time on a specific day (an hour on Wednesday is my current choice) and for that hour, I work through the checklists.))
  • Tasks or events related to a specific job or client (which you can then sync to your Google calendar, if you so choose)

Second use: Sorting information for action

Refer to this post for a detailed breakdown of the information sorting technique I’m talking about in the video.

Closing notes & project vs. action view:

When I want to look at things, I can choose whether I want to look at the project view or the action view. I can look at the action view at the beginning of every week and use the list of actions that I know need to get done to map out of my week. I can look at the project view to keep me on track with a particular project, find inspiration to work on that project, or figure out what to do next. This is another reason I really love Springpad: it lets you actively filter information instead of just flinging it at you all at once.

And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen! Any questions I can answer? Anything you wish I would have covered in the video? Any compliments on my choice of background & colors? I’d love to hear ’em!

If you loved this post or found it super useful, please share it with your friends. After all, that’s how good ideas spread, right?

How to figure out which idea to start on next

how to figure out which idea to work

One of those problems-that’s-kinda-good-to-have is the problem of too many ideas.

On the one hand, it’s something of a blessing to have all of these ideas zipping around your head like kittens with a ball of string. On the other hand, it can also be headache inducing and give you the paralyzing fear of not knowing which idea to start on next. If you’re paralyzed, you’re not taking action; and if you’re not taking action, those ideas don’t end up doing any good.

How do you pick one idea to start on next?

For those of us who have this problem, it can be incredibly difficult to put one on the backburner. We want to work on everything at the same time and create amazing things, but that’s not always possible (and can often just lead to not finishing any of the ideas you’re working on – especially if you’re not a meticulous planner).

The secret is to look to your priorities to show you which idea to work on next. Which, of course, is fairly obvious and sounds like a great idea, but can be hard to carry out in practice. So instead of just telling you that and leaving you hanging, I’m going to show you a process for figuring out what, exactly, your priorities are right now, and how that fits in with the ideas running around in your head.

You’ll need a sheet of paper. And a pen. (Or you can go ahead and download + print out the worksheet I made for you, before you get started. Though I suppose you’d still need paper and a pen.)

Write down all of your current ideas that you’re having trouble choosing between. You don’t have to write down the idea in intricate detail, but enough so that upon referring back to this, you’ll know exactly which idea you were speaking of. After you write down all of your ideas, go back through, and for each idea write down two things:

  • What you’ll get from working on the idea and bringing it to fruition. Money? Pride? Fun? Respect? Two or three of these? Whatever it is, write it down.
  • An approximate estimate for how long it will take you to complete this idea. Be realistic, but try not to give yourself too much wiggle room. Think about your current and upcoming commitments, how much free time and energy they’ll leave you, and how flexible they are.

After you finish that, set it aside.

We’re going to zoom out now. Think about what you want to be doing, how you want to feel, and what you want to have in the next one, three, and six months. (Otherwise known as your goals – but thinking of it in these terms can bring things into super-clear focus.) Write this down, in detail.

Look at what you wrote down, and pick out the common threads – usually there will be two or three. These are your top priorities for the next several months. Now, keeping these priorities in mind, skim back over your answers for what you’ll get from working on each idea. And then figure out which idea matches best with your current priorities – and can be completed within the next 1-6 months. If there’s more than one idea that suits the requirements, choose the one that you’re most excited about, or that you can finish first – this’ll build momentum that can transfer over into working on your other ideas.

In the meantime, you need to do something with the ideas that you aren’t working on at the moment.

Part of the reason we can have such an inordinately hard time choosing one idea to work on is that we feel that by doing so, we’re abandoning the other ideas. If you do something that ensures you can come back to those other ideas later, you’re a lot more likely to be able to commit to working on this one idea for now. The best way to do this is to just take your descriptions of the ideas that you’ve already written and store them somewhere – whether online or off. They can be the start of your idea garden, and you can add new ideas as you come up with them.

If you’d like a handy-dandy worksheet to walk you through this process, then you’re in luck – I made one just for you. Download it here.

The care and keeping of ideas, part two

Have you been letting your idea simmer? Ready to really dig into it now? Good, ’cause that’s what we’re doing today!

Once your time is up for the simmering state, it’s time to move on to something else. Even if you’re still not clear on all of the details of the idea, you need to start working with it, because once you actually start playing with the idea as a whole, the details will (eventually) emerge.

To start getting to those details, set a timer (yes, again!). On your phone or of the kitchen sort, it doesn’t matter. Five to ten minutes is good. And for those five to ten minutes, write about the idea. Try not to stop, even if it means you just write gibberish for a few seconds. Write about where the idea came from, what you want to do with it, how you feel when you think about it. Write about what it will mean to people who experience the idea once you finish it, if that’s applicable. Write about how you’re going to work on it. Write whatever tickles your fancy, as long as it’s related to this idea.

And then, when the timer goes off, read these notes. Are there any recurring phrases that jump out at you? Any feelings – whether that’s what you feel when you think about the idea, or what caused the idea, or what people will experience because of this idea – that come up over and over again?

Type up your freewriting (minus any gibberish that you had to write to keep going). Put it into a text cloud generator, and see what words show up the biggest. Create a Venn diagram – what concepts or movements or whatever does your idea exist at the intersection of? Create some sketchnotes on what you’ve found, or on the notes you came up with while you were simmering. Playing with the idea like this helps to make it a more tactile experience, and in turn will solidify it in your mind.

Are you surprised how things turned out? Or was it pretty much what you expected? Sometimes, the additional playing with the idea isn’t even necessary (though it is fun!), and all you have to do is actually start working on the idea for it to coalesce.

If you loved this post or found it super useful, please share it with your friends! After all, that’s how good ideas spread, right?

The care & keeping of ideas, part one

So you have a new idea. Or you think you do, but you can’t really be 100% for sure. Because your new idea, it’s a little shy. And by “a little shy”, I mean, it’s acting like a wild animal that under no circumstances wants to be within 10 feet of you, and keeps bolting any time you get close. Frustrating, to say the least.

As a result, you’re not really clear on the details of this idea. You know it’s a really amazing idea, and that you want to do something with it, but unfortunately, it’s near impossible to take action without, you know, knowing what the end goal is. Once you have the clarity of knowing where you’re going, it’s a hell of a lot easier to figure out not only how to get there, but the best way to get there. (The journey is as important as the destination & all that jazz.)

Sounds great, you say. How do you get that clarity?

The first step is surprisingly counterintuitive: let it simmer. You might think you’ve already been letting it simmer just by acknowledging that you have the idea in the first place – but now it’s time to turn up the heat. And then set a timer.

To do that, pick a time that you’ll start working on the idea. (Suggestion: make it Wednesday, ’cause that’s when part two comes out.) Write it down, say it out loud, think about it really hard, but whatever you do, imprint it firmly in your mind. My theory on this working so well is that it tells your subconscious you’re ready to get down to business, dammit, and your subconscious responds accordingly by working on the idea behind the scenes. In the time between turning up the heat & setting a timer and the time when you plan on actually taking some action on the idea, if you have any thoughts or mini-epiphanies, write it down and then put it out of sight. Keep your notes in a file (online or physical) somewhere, knowing that they’re safe and you don’t have to carry that little nugget of brilliance around in your head, where it might get lost.

As for what to do when the time is up, that comes next in part two. Check back on Wednesday!

If you loved this post or found it super useful, please share it with your friends! After all, that’s how good ideas spread, right?

How to stop drowning in your notes & make them useful instead

how to stop drowning in your notes
It’s happened to all of us. We go to a conference, or buy a product, or watch a great series of videos, or read a thought-provoking book and come away with tons and tons of notes (almost literally). And then, without any useful way to sort the information or process it, the notes end up shoved at the back of a file folder or languishing in a document on our hard drive, never to be read again, all of the information left unused. It’s a sad experience, isn’t it?

Here’s the problem: you don’t have a strategy for tackling all of that information and making it work for you. If you only take one thing away from this article, come up with a strategy. You don’t have to do exactly what I do, come up with your own categories and system that works for you if you like, but just knowing that you have a strategy brings the overwhelm down a notch.

What you need to get started:

  • Somewhere to store the information – I use Springpad (and I’m planning a detailed post on how, exactly, I use it to manage my projects and information, so stay tuned), but you can also use Evernote, Thoughtboxes, or even a plain ol’ paper filing system if that floats your boat.
  • Somewhere to put the actionable items, so that they’ll actually be completed. Do you have a way of sorting and tackling actions and tasks? You’ll need one. (If you don’t, and would like to see an article or series of them addressing the issue, let me know! I’d be happy to write one.)

The method I use is a slightly modified version of the Action Method. If you’d like a more in-depth explanation of the Action Method, check out the website or read Making Ideas Happen (which you should read either way, because it’s fantastic!).

Are you ready for the first, and pretty much only, step?

Sort the information. Yup, it’s that easy. You’ll probably want to keep an original copy of your notes somewhere, all in one piece, so that you can browse it later if you so wish. However, that original copy doesn’t usually do a whole lotta good for actually creating change and letting information sink in, as you may have noticed in the past. Here’s the key to effective sorting – you have to sort it into categories that are useful for you. Not productivity-guru-whatshisname, not big-blogger-over-there, you. Here’s the categories I use, which are fairly adaptable to most peoples’ needs:

  • Actions. These are – you guessed it – the takeaways that are actionable, and that you can do immediately. Not that you will do them immediately (you don’t want to give yourself a miles-long to-do list on one day and then get overwhelmed and throw your hands up at it all), but that you can.
  • Somedays. These are the items that you want to do, but aren’t feasible ideas right now, for whatever reason. You don’t want to lose them, so they go in the “Someday” file, to be reviewed and cleaned out periodically.
  • References. These are the pieces of information that are not actionable, whether immediately or in the forseeable future, but that you want to hang on to for some reason – inspiration, most likely. They’re just as important as the other two, because by going back through your inspiration on a regular basis, you’ll come up with new & exciting ideas, so they get a folder to go in.

When you skim over your notes, a category for something might not pop out at you 100% of the time. You probably had some way of making the important (to you) information stand out, right? Whether that was highlighting it, starring it, underlining it, or just writing it down. Go over each piece of important information and ask yourself how it applies to you – is there an action you can take that relates to this information? Can you take it immediately? The answers to those two questions tells you where it goes. I made you a flowchart so you can see it clearly:

taking action on notes - how to flowchart

(There should, in all honesty, be a box after “Reference” and “Someday item” that says “review periodically”, but I ran out of room. Oh well.)

Now you’ve got the information sorted, in whatever capacity that you do that. The Someday items and References should be filed somewhere where you can easily access them, and then you’ll want to browse through them regularly. How often is up to you, I probably end up looking through mine about twice a month. When something changes about the information or it gives you a new idea, that idea can then get filed accordingly as well.

The Actions need to be put somewhere where you’ll actually, you know, take action on them, otherwise this is all for naught. Sprinkle them throughout your next few days (or weeks, depending on how many there are and your current schedule) and then take steps to make sure they actually get completed.

Now, take a step back and look at things. Feels a lot better, doesn’t it? This is how I process all of my notes, and it’s the only thing that keeps me actually using the information from them instead of letting it sit somewhere, wasted.

Photo via Chris Campbell

What rose trellises have to do with your creativity (& your business)

One of my pet peeves is something I see all too regularly: people using stereotypes as a shield. Specifically, stereotypes about themselves. Specifically, this whole “I’m an ARTEEST, I don’t need no stinkin’ structure” thing.

Here’s the deal: there is some small amount of people who actually do thrive in complete and utter chaos. A very, very small amount of people. Everyone else who uses the “I’m an artist/creative/right-brainer, I can’t do it” excuse is shooting themselves in the foot. (Ow.)

It’s a false divide.

This whole issue of creativity being at odds with other things seems to be a fairly recent development. One that is probably based in that ol’ “right brain vs. left brain” chestnut. Which is kind of ridiculous, given that people (people like cognitive scientists) have been saying for some 25 years that dividing broad activities (such as creativity) up according to brain hemisphere is – well, silly. And, you know, not backed up by the science.

(And I quote, “What we call “creativity” is so diverse that it can’t be localized in the brain very well.” In other words? Creativity: a whole brain activity.)

It can be useful as a shorthand, a tool, but, like many tools, somehow the relationship has got turned around so that the tool is the master and we’re working for it, instead of the other way around. Not very helpful now, is it?

Da Vinci was a painter and a sculptor, a mathematician and an engineer. Nobody told him these things contradicted each other. Ben Franklin played three instruments and composed music in addition to being a crazy-smart scientist. I’m sure there are more examples, but that will suffice for now. (We could probably add JK Rowling to the list – author & amazing business woman.)

It kills your creativity.

When you don’t have any idea where your art supplies are at, or where you left that first draft, or you forgot that awesome new thing you wanted to work on, or you don’t keep track of your ideas so they die on the vine, never coming to fruition…it is not beneficial to your creativity. One would argue that it is, in fact, the other way around.

It kills your business.

And, of course, if you can’t keep track of your art supplies or your first draft or your ideas, chances are you’re having a hard time keeping track of other things, too. Like your clients, and where their projects are at, and what round of revisions you’re on, and how much time you’re actually spending on work, and what your profit margin is. Which translates into:

  • less customers
  • less time
  • less money
  • lots of frustration & overwhelm


You weren’t taught how.

And here’s the reason that, although this myth-shield-excuse really bothers me, I don’t blame you for ending up believing it. The simple fact is, you weren’t taught how to be any other way. People assume that creative folks are a lost cause when it comes to these things, that they really do work best in chaos, that that’s just the way they are. Most schools are woefully inadequate in many areas, and this is one of them – they still encourage this false divide.

Then, by the time you do start hearing about things like “systems” or “organization” or “productivity”, they’re packaged as one-size-fits-all solutions – the assumption being, if it doesn’t fit you, something is wrong with you, not it. They don’t work for you, and you don’t know what does. And it’s easier to just work in the current, somewhat restrictive chaos rather than cut off a part of yourself trying to fit into a too-small box.

You are a rose.

Yes? Hopefully we can agree on that – you are totally amazing & wonderful & beautiful. I believe it wholeheartedly.

Picture a rose bush. This rose bush in particular, it’s not looking bad, per se, but it’s kinda…all over the place. It looks like it’s not really sure where to go. Got it?

Now: give that rose bush a trellis to twine around. Shazam! How’s the rose bush looking now? Much better, yes? Growing tall, reaching towards the sun, dazzling bystanders with its beauty.

Structure will not kill creativity, any more than a trellis will kill a rose bush. It’s an incredibly useful tool that can put you back in control and in power. And it doesn’t have to feel confining or stuffy or boring – it can feel supportive, and bring an ease to things. This might seem totally baffling, but trust me when I say that it can. The results? So, so gorgeous.

What trellises have you built for yourself in your life and work? Where do they need shored up a bit?

Oh, and if you loved this article, please tweet it, like it, share it! I want to get the word out to as many people as possible. Let’s build some trellises!

Attention amplifies

I recently finished reading Find Your Strongest Life by Marcus Buckingham. I totally loved it, for the most part, & have a review (and psst, maybe a giveaway, just sayin’ – keep your eyes peeled) coming up soon. One of the things he mentions is something that’s been a theory of my own for a while – that attention amplifies everything. According to Buckingham, you will never solve a problem on its own terms. Instead of asking “What’s wrong and how can I fix it?”, you should be asking “What would ‘working’ look like?” and then figure out how to create working. Or just focus on what is already working, if at all possible, and amplify that.

I mentioned that Matt and I had a big fight at the beginning of the month. I went into a bit of a panic afterwards, looking up relationship/marriage self-help books on Amazon and websites and yada yada. (Which is what prompted this tweet, in case you were wondering.) A lot of the advice started out with figuring out what each person was doing that wasn’t working, and talking about why it wasn’t working, and what one person does that annoys the other, and things along those lines. Just thinking about this made my chest hurt a little bit. Really? The best advice you can give me is that we should sit down and have a conversation where we point out each others’ flaws? Yuck!

What did we do instead? We decided to declare Wednesdays (free days for both of us) date days, where the entire day is dedicated to spending quality time together. We decided to spend more quality time together in general – no roommate, no computers, just us. We decided that in addition to doing that, we were going to do something every single day – no matter how small of a gesture – that shows the other person how important and cared for they are.

I’m no relationship expert, but I’ll bet that these changes will be better for us than sitting down and pointing out each others’ flaws and how they hurt the other person. They’ve already made me feel a million times more secure in our relationship.

This tactic works everywhere; to great results. Want to eat healthier? Don’t beat yourself up about eating junk food, just make it a rule to eat more good things – and come up with a list of those good things that you can refer to when stuck. Don’t focus on being less lazy – focus on being more active. Don’t focus on spending less, instead try to save more.

By all means, get rid of (or delegate) the things about your work that you don’t love – but put more of your attention on making sure that the things you do love fill your day. Otherwise, you might end up with a workday lacking the things you loathe, but also lacking an abundance of the things you love to do, creating a rather mediocre experience.

Keeping your focus on adding instead of subtracting keeps your mindset open and expansive. It keeps your brain from freaking out about losing item X forever – but chances are you’ll be doing or having much less of it anyways, if not stopping entirely. That’st he wonder of focusing on upping the good, instead of worrying about subtracting every last bit of the bad. As Buckingham notes, by not paying attention to the problems, you’re taking away their fuel, leaving them to whither and die; which in turn creates that much more room for the parts that you’re focusing on – the amazing, strengthening, life affirming moments & actions.

An ode to you & all of your passions

(A lil ditty inspired by this post, & the comment I left on it.)

I know you. I know how annoyed you get, trying to nail yourself into a box every time, only to find that no, this isn’t the right box either. Nothing fits. Everything stifles. You end up frustrated, feeling pulled in every direction, because everyone expects you to choose one thing and focus on that – and to you, choosing only one thing to do or love or think about is like choosing only one finger to use, for the rest of your life.

Whether you identify as a Scanner or a polymath or a Renaissance soul or multipassionate…I know you, and I don’t think you need to change a thing about yourself or how your brain works.

Because what others will call a weakness, I know is actually a strength. (Funny how that works, isn’t it?)

You see solutions other people miss, because you  have a wider background. You can solve the problem while everyone else is standing around scratching their heads & wondering what the hell is going on. You see the connections, the tiny intertwining strands that hold everything together, that apply across fields, across careers. You can tell me what this and that have in common, because you’ve been obsessed with both at one point in your life.

Other people think that you must have no knowledge about anything, because you have so many different interests. But the exact opposite is true! Sure, you may cycle through obsessions, or juggle several different passions at once, or even do both of these things (that’s me!), in a way that mystifies onlookers. But when you get interested in something, you have a driving curiosity to know everything you can about the subject. You’ll leave the library with stacks of books, too many to carry comfortably, and finish them all in a week. You’ll go on eight hour internet reading binges because you need to know, the way others need to eat or breathe or sleep.

And then two weeks or a month or six months later, your interest is satiated, and you move on to something else. But your knowledge isn’t shallow, and you didn’t drop the subject because you’re flaky. If anything, the exact opposite. For those days or weeks or months, you lived and breathed that topic, you totally immersed yourself in it. Your ability to take in, process, and remember huge amounts of information, fast, means that you most likely have much more than a beginner’s level knowledge on that topic – but for someone whose brain doesn’t work the same way, the idea is incomprehensible.

And so they call you a flake, a loser, someone destined to never get anywhere and always go nowhere.

But I know better. And you should, too. You won’t go the same places they want to go, necessarily, but that’s all right – how boring would life be if everyone had the same destination, not to mention the same journey? Fuhgeddaboudit. This way is much more interesting. And you’re not meant to walk those roads, anyways; that would be like taking a Lexus on the Australian outback.

You’re built for something else. Not better, not worse, just different. And that’s okay. Better than okay. That’s fantastic, and so are you. I know this, because I know you.

In style & in life, you gotta work with what you’ve got

Wearing: American Apparel skirt, Aldo shoes, Tarino Tarantino bracelet, all via Buffalo Exchange; Old Navy top via Savers

I went through something of a second growth spurt a year or two ago, around my 21st birthday. Before, I’d had slightly above average boobs that looked big on my small frame; suddenly, I had huge boobs, a butt and hips and thighs to match, and shimmery silver stretch marks that sprouted out of nowhere. I had no idea what to do with this. I wasn’t comfortable with my new body and I tried to make everything look smaller, smaller, smaller (because of course, that’s what women are supposed to do, and even strong-minded women with opinions of their own get sucked in sometimes).

I tried to hide everything, and when that didn’t work out so well, I thought I’d buy pretty, drapey clothes so that at least the architecture of the clothing would be distracting from my actual body underneath it.

As you can guess, it didn’t work so well. I didn’t like it. I didn’t feel comfortable or happy or sexy in these clothes and that, my friends, is not acceptable.

So I said, fuck it.

(As you can see.)

I could mask my curves, try to minimize the epic boobage, and the best I’d come up with would be dowdy, sloppy, Wendy Pepper-wear.

I don’t do dowdy, or sloppy. And I hated Wendy. Austin FTW.


Instead, I play it up. Exagerrate. Work with what I’ve got, as much as I can. The end result may not be to everyone’s liking, but you know what? Neither am I. And that’s okay.

Because when you spend so much time trying to mask your flaws, you’ll end up masking some fabulous things too. And if you’re focusing on “flaws” and “not flaws”, you’ll indubitably end up taking away everything that makes you – you.

(I instantly fell in love with Rachel in this interview, when she said that she loves the gap in her teeth and thinks it’s sexy. Damn straight, Rachel. Damn straight.)

And here’s how it works in life:

If you work on your weaknesses, or even your averagenesses, they’ll never be as strong as your strengths. You’ll just end up uninteresting, unhappy, and uncomfortable.

Instead of trying to level your inner playing field, revel in the unevenness of it, the peaks and valleys.

(The curves, one could say.)

Instead of thinking about minimizing “faults” (psst – who told you they were faults, anyways?), maximize your strong points. The end result is much more compelling – we want to see you, in all of your glory, in all of your aspects – not a cookie cutter vision of what’s trendy or how a nice girl should act.

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