Podcasts & Learning

I've been listening to podcasts like crazy lately. Podcasts on my way to work. Podcasts at my desk. Podcasts during lunch. (I usually talk to my mom on my way home from work, so no podcasts then.)

I've been catching up on my favorite shows and have discovered a few new ones, too.

Invisible Office Hours with Jason Zook & Paul Jarvis
Action Army with Jason Zook (and often Caroline Kelso Zook)
Being Boss with Kathleen Shannon & Emily Thompson

I've been focusing on mostly business-related topics. I figured that if I have all this dead space where I'm not listening to music or talking to anyone else, I should be learning instead.

My brain is a sponge.

The thing is, it's kind of fun. I don't want to listen to my coworkers quietly cursing their computers around me. I'd much rather listen to a show with some great personalities who can teach me amazing things.

I started to doubt the effectiveness, though, a few weeks back when my mom asked me a question. "Are you actually paying attention?" she asked. "Yes, of course," was my immediate answer, but it really got me thinking.

Maybe I wasn't listening as well as I could be. Sometimes I'd get interrupted by someone else. Sometimes I'd be concentrating so hard on something that I'd tune it out. Sometimes I couldn't help but listen to other things around me. Sometimes I would start and stop an episode a dozen times because the interruptions just kept coming.

But if I'm not listening, why am I even bothering?

When I really thought about it, I decided that it's totally worth it.

I may not be listening to every single word, but I AM catching the main points. I'm hearing snippets of the conversation. I'm still learning SOMETHING.

Plus, it's pretty easy to hit the rewind button if I miss something or pause if someone needs to talk to me.

And chances are, if I stop and read an article instead, I'd be skimming it instead of reading every single word.

So even if I don't have the ability to dedicate 100% of my attention to something, the 64% concentration that I AM dedicating is 64% more than if I wasn't trying at all.

And can't the same be applied to learning anything?

Doing SOME work is better than none at all.

If I only have one hour to practice basketball, that's better than not practicing at all.

I don't have time to complete this entire course, but if I read this one programming tutorial instead, that's better than not trying at all.

I don't have time to complete an entire illustration right now, but if I start my outline now, that's better than not starting at all.

I don't think I follow this rule in my life nearly enough. I'm notorious for thinking, "Well, I don't have time to take this entire course right now, so I'll play video games instead." Instead of doing something small and learning SOMETHING, I'm doing nothing and learning NOTHING.

So I'm going to work on applying this throughout my life. 10 minutes of learning is better than 5, which is better than none at all. In the end, it'll be worth it.

Move

Every January, I choose a single word to be my focus for the year. It's always something that resonates with me, something important that I want to work on.

My 2017 word was MOVE.

Originally, my intention was to move my body more. I was thinking exercise: yoga, walking, hiking, etc. I imagined being active and losing a bunch of weight. 

This is NOT how my year went.

Don't get me wrong. I moved my body a bit. I did a fair amount of yoga (shout out to Yoga with Adriene!). I took a few walks. I spent a bunch of time outside doing cool things.

But MOVE took on a whole different meaning for me.

I found myself moving my body around the map instead.

The story of how this happened for me is one for another day, but all you need to know is that I learned a very valuable lesson this year: I don't need anyone else with me to travel. I can travel all by myself. I am enough.

In the span of a handful of months, I traveled all around the Pacific Northwest on my own. Hurricane Ridge, Whidbey Island, Long Beach, Columbia River Gorge, Olympic Mountains, Crater Lake, Mount Baker, all up and down the northern Washington coast, the Deschutes River, Hole in the Ground, Fort Rock, and so many more. 

I traveled all over Washington and Oregon BY MYSELF.

Talk about exhilarating. It was freeing. It was absolutely amazing.

I moved all over that damn map, from southeastern Oregon all the way to the tip of Washington state.

To top it all off, I met the most amazing man, fell in love... and moved across the border into Oregon. Definitely my biggest move of all.

Talk about some major MOVEs in my life!

Definitely one of my best years to date.

I can't wait to share what my 2018 word is!

On Small Businesses

The older I get, the more it feels important to support small businesses, businesses owned and run by families, businesses with morals and hopes and dreams and true passion for what they do. 

My first job lasted 7 years at a small business that felt like family. When that family was forced to sell and a less passionate family moved in, I left. The magic of a small business was gone. It was no longer about the customers. It was about numbers. No one loved their job anymore. Employees weren't appreciated. 

My next job has lasted nearly 3 years now. Family run for 37 years. The owner wouldn't dream of any other job and she's passionate about every part. I've never questioned my worth as an employee. I've never questioned my spot on the team.

I recently found a new source for craft vinyl, but did a little research before I sent in an order. This owner was known for being an asshole. He was proud of it, even. He didn't care for his customers and made up for it in cheap prices, but with a "what you see is what you get" attitude. These were not customers for life. These weren't customers who wanted to support YOU and your business. They just wanted you for your low prices.

I'll never understand why these customers went there in the first place. Once I read these reviews and saw that an overwhelming majority were truly negative--and had reason to be--I closed the browser tab and never looked back.

It's worth paying a little extra for good service, I think. I want the full experience. I want to feel like I'm making a difference and I want those employees to feel like they're making a difference, too.

My favorite coffee shop is the one with baristas who feel like friends. My favorite shops to buy from on Etsy are the ones who include a little handwritten note in every order. My favorite places to go in my hometown are those that remember me, that valued me as a customer and as a human being. Those will always be the places that matter.

Finding My Place

It's kinda funny. 

I've always considered myself an outdoorsy person. I've always loved hiking and camping and day trips and road trips. But I rarely actually went. If my friends were up for hiking, maybe we'd go on a short, easy hike in the nearest national forest. My family would take us kids on a camping trip once a year...and it would be more like glamping than anything. Day trips to the lake occasionally happened, but not often. Road trips were even more rare. 

My Pinterest boards are filled with camping pics and tips, beautiful mountain shots, and references to cool places to go. But I've never been to any of them. 

Maybe I liked the IDEA of being outdoorsy because I sure as hell wasn't actually spending that much time outside. 

This year, all this has changed.

I think I was holding myself back for a few reasons: I didn't have anyone to go with and I "had things to do."

It's not even halfway through the year yet and I've already learned what might be the greatest lesson of my life: I don't need to wait for anyone else in order to have adventures. I can be alone. It doesn't mean I'm lonely. It doesn't take away from my adventure. It doesn't make it any less wonderful. 

As soon as this lesson sunk into my thick skull, I started going on road trips. Almost weekly, really. Sometimes I'd pick a direction, choose a random destination, and just drive. 

I've seen some beautiful things. 

Of course, it's okay to have trip companions too. They can be delightful. A couple of my cousins have gone with me. My mom rode shotgun for Mother's Day. My dog makes appearances on my trips often. Hopefully soon another travel companion will be home in order to see some sights.

I'm tired of spending my weekends "adulting." Sometimes I have to, of course, but certainly not always. Certainly adventures and living life are more important than vacuuming my floor yet again or catching up on tv shows.

I've never felt more aligned or at peace with myself than I do now. I'm going to blame nature and all the beautiful things I've seen for helping me breathe deeply and open my eyes for the first time. 

All The Things

Why is it that we feel like we have to do all the things? Just one thing isn't enough. Two doesn't work, either. It's all or nothing.

Like marketing. Gotta be blogging. And sending a regular newsletter with exclusive content. And guest blogging. And podcasting. And offering freebies. And getting as many forms of passive income going as possible. And releasing e-courses. And posting on social media.

Oooh, don't even get me started on social media. We've gotta be everywhere. Facebook. Instagram. Pinterest. Twitter. Snapchat. But is it really better to stretch ourselves so thin? Do we really need to reach EVERY SINGLE PERSON?

No.

Because every single person is not our target audience.

But this phenomenon of needing to do all the things extends faaaaar past our businesses. It creeps into our personal lives at an alarming rate.

We've gotta keep up with the Joneses by preparing gourmet meals with recipes we found on Pinterest, working out until we've got six packs, entertain our equally perfect friends regularly, travel around the world, and have the perfect children while balancing the perfect job.

Who's got time for all of that? And you know what? Maybe I don't want all of that. I don't want to entertain regularly. I don't know if I want children at all. And my version of the perfect job may not be yours. The six pack would be nice, but it ain't happening.

I don't have to do all the things to have a happy life.

But how do I figure out what things make me happy?

I just need to listen to my gut. My intuition.

I don't want to use Twitter and Facebook for business? Great. I won't. My target audience probably isn't there anyway.

I don't want to guest post on anyone else's blog or talk on their podcast? Perfect. It ain't happening.

I hate exercise, but want to move my body? I'll compromise by doing yoga occasionally and hiking whenever possible.

None of these things are wrong. They're perfect for me. And maybe they'll change as time goes on. This is okay. I'll change as time goes on, too. My friends and family will change over time. Perhaps we'll change together and we'll start by slowing down and only doing the things that feel right.

Shotgun Rider

I have goody two shoes ingrained in my very being. I follow rules. I do what should be done every time. Oh, I have vices. I drink and I swear like a sailor and sometimes I don't wash my bra quite as often as I should. 

But really, I'm a rule follower. I follow the should not the want. 

And some days this just leaves me restless and anxious and unsettled. 

Today, for instance. I've been in my head too much this week. Overthinking everything. Literally everything. 

I'm a very rational thinker, so sometimes this is okay. But after a long hard week of just THINKING all the time, I've gotta get out of my own head. 

The best way for me to do this is to drive. No destination. Just a journey into the darkness. It has to be at night, dark. I can be alone or with someone, it doesn't matter. Loud music. Windows down. Not a worry in the world except for where I'm gonna turn around. 

Tonight I asked my closest friend if she wanted to drive. I need someone there tonight. She's sick and said she couldn't possibly leave her couch. I understand. Logically, I understand completely. But it makes me sad. 

I want a shotgun rider tonight. 

So instead, I'll probably do what I should and just drive myself home. No long, winding roads. No loud music or windows down. No forgetting my troubles and leaving it all behind.

I'll just go home. 

Solo

I recently went on a date with a guy I'd been talking to via text for about a month. Finally our schedules had aligned and we decided to start with breakfast and then head to the beach for a day of driving and merriment.

I was into him, but I don't think he was very into me. There was no hand holding, no kiss, not even an attempt of a kiss. And then there was no text or call afterward. No good night text. And no good morning text the following day, which we'd gotten into the habit of sending. 

I am bummed. 

That's probably an understatement, but I totally get that it happens. It's not about me. It's not about him. Something just happened and the connection isn't there. 

But I did learn a very important lesson that I hope changes the way I live my life. 

It's okay to be solo. 

He's big into adventuring and exploring. The day before our date, he got into his truck and drove around a quarter of our state just because he could. He drove west until he couldn't anymore, then looped up the coast and back down along he sound until he reached home. Completely solo.

While we talked about the trip on our date, he said to me: "you just have to get out there and go."

He is 100% right. 

This is how I want to be. I want to gas up my truck and just drive all day. I love road trips but why should I wait until I have someone else to go with? If I wait for that forever, I'll never get to see everything I want to see. I just have to get out there and find it myself. 

So even though our date didn't go as well as I'd hoped, I'm glad I got something out of it. I feel a little inspired, a little motivated to do something that's always scared me half to death. There's no reason to be scared. There's no reason I can't see all the things I want to see.

I just have to get out there and do it. 

Reevaluating My Diet

It's not so much WHAT I eat, but how much I eat. I'm an emotional eater and always have been. I'm angry, I eat. I'm happy, I celebrate by eating. I'm bored, I fill the void by eating. I'm stressed, boy, do I eat!

So this year is about reframing this mindset and figuring out how I can be happy and tolerate these mood shifts WITHOUT eating all the time. I keep reminding myself, I don't NEED to eat right now. My body has stored more than enough food and fat to keep me going for a long while.

For anyone who thinks that "starving" myself is bad, that's not what I'm doing. It's small bits of fasting during the day. And then I do my best to choose a nutrient dense food that will fill me up AND nourish my body. 

Food is fuel.

I still love food. I still want to eat the good things. Last night I had a turkey burger and a couple beers. It was delicious and at no time did I feel like I was going overboard. I ate until I was hungry, until I was satisfied. I didn't miss the food that I chose not to eat. I didn't feel like I was missing out on anything. I felt satisfied, both with my food and drink choices.

And that's how I want to feel. My body is a machine and I want to treat it well by giving it good things to eat, treating it well, and respecting it the way I should have been doing all along. 

The Older I Get

The older I get, the more I realize that everyone is doing what they THINK they should do. Okay, maybe not everyone, but I'd say the majority of people. Graduate high school at 18. Go to a four year college. Graduate with crippling student debt and a dozen or more notches in your bedpost. Jump right into a corporate job that sucks your soul and makes you miserable. Be conditioned to think that you like it. The money's good, right?

Except I didn't do any of this. After graduating high school, I didn't get into the college I'd been dreaming about. I got a full time job at a small business. I went to community college off and on. I developed some marketable skills and accidentally started a side business. I didn't date a single person. I learned about myself and grew as a human. 

Some days though I feel like I missed out on all the deadlines. Now I'm 28 and so many of my friends are getting married and having babies. I'm nowhere near that. And every day, I realize that I'm grateful for missing most of those deadlines. 

I haven't found a man to marry yet. I barely feel like I know myself some days so this feels totally reasonable. I'd like a man in my life, of course, but I'm complete without one. It would just be a bonus. 

I don't really want kids. A lot of people around me insist that I'll have them. Maybe I will and maybe I won't. It doesn't make me less of a person if I don't. Right now, though, in this very instant, I'm so very glad that I am childless. 

I screwed up the education thing a dozen times, but still ended up gaining a skill set that could potentially pay my bills. I've learned the value of art and of so many business skills. I don't always have to rely on a steady paycheck in order to make it. I've left jobs amicably. Ive left them not so amicably. I've been sued and I've missed the customers and coworkers that I've left behind. 

I've made friends. I've lost friends. I've made enemies that have become my best friends. I've argued and I've fought with the people around me. I've let myself be a doormat and I've stood up for what is right. I've been stabbed in the back and told what a horrible person I am. I've been hugged a billion times and I've been told that I am an amazing friend. 

It's been messy but it's been REAL. 

All of these tiny things have taught me the most amazing lessons.

So I have to continually remind myself that it's okay that I haven't followed the so-called rule book that it feels like everyone else is following. I've become an amazing person and if one single thing had changed, I would not be the same. Doesn't mean I'd be any worse off, just different. 

Audience

In the olden days of the internet, when blogs were new and exciting, no one had target audiences for them. No one advertised. No one carefully curated their posts as to make sure they all matched and looked just right. Hell, sometimes they didn't even have a "theme" at all!

I kind of miss those days. 

I've wanted to write a blog for so long. I feel the words inside of me sometimes, begging to come out, but I never had any of those things I just listed. No target audience, no advertisers, no theme.

Well, I'm done with that. 

Who is my target audience? I am. I need to write this for myself. Not for anyone else. Not to make money. I don't really give a fuck whether or not anyone reads it. This blog is for me. If someone else reads it? Cool. If no one ever does? Awesome.

And I need to keep reminding myself that my entire life is like that. 

It's. For. Me.

It doesn't matter whether anyone else is involved or I follow anyone else's rules. It doesn't matter if I do what I'm "supposed to do." I don't care what other people think. My life is not pretty and curated. It's messy and wild and ambitious and perfect. And I wouldn't have it any other way. 

This is Not a Test

Lately, I've been feeling more and more like I don't actually control my own life. I spend it

waiting

waiting

waiting.

Waiting for the right career.

Waiting for the right guy to sweep me off my feet.

Waiting for the money to roll in.

Waiting for the happiness to finally find me.

I do all the things I'm "supposed" to do. I do all the things I'm told to do. I do all the things that "everyone else" does.

So why haven't I been feeling great about it?

Photo Credit: instagram.com/heysweetpea

Photo Credit: instagram.com/heysweetpea

I finally realized that I AM in charge of my own life. I get to make my own decisions. I decide to go right or left or up or down or backward or in a circle. It's up to me to make create my own life.

It seems to me that it's all about taking those dreams that I have and making them actual, actionable goals instead of sitting on them and hoping that they magically come to fruition at some point.

So I hope you join me on my journey. I'm going to create my own life, one step at a time, and you can, too.

Review: Austin Kleon's SHOW YOUR WORK

One thing I’ve always strived to improve has been my transparency. It’s also one of the things I’ve always struggled most with. It’s just not instinctual to me. I literally have to pour my time and energy into showing pieces of myself and my work to the world. And it's not even just my work—I don't even update my personal Facebook on a regular basis.

When I realized what Austin Kleon’s newest book was about, I knew I had to have it. The theme is Show Your Work. How apropos. Once I had it in my hands, there was so much for me to learn. Here are a few of my favorite lessons from each chapter:

 

1. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A GENIUS.

Anyone can share their art. There are no limits here.

“You can’t find your voice if you don’t use it.”
“Raw enthusiasm is contagious.”

 

2. THINK PROCESS, NOT PRODUCT.

It's not about the final product; it's about the journey.

“We’re not all artists or astronauts. A lot of us go about our work and feel like we have nothing to show for it at the end of the day. But whatever the nature of your work, there is an art to what you do, and there are people who would be interested in that art, if only you presented it to them in the right way.”

 

3. SHARE SOMETHING SMALL EVERY DAY.

You don't have to post something big. Share small things on a regular basis and you'll keep up your momentum.

“Put yourself, and your work, out there every day and you’ll start meeting some amazing people.” – Bobby Solomon

You should be continually asking yourself this question: “What are you working on?”

Whatever you do, do not overshare.

 

4. OPEN UP YOUR CABINET OF CURIOSITIES.

If someone shares something and you like it, share it, too.

“Your influences are all worth sharing because they clue people in to who you are and what you do—sometimes more than your own work.”
“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you fucking like something, like it.” – Dave Grohl

 

5. TELL GOOD STORIES.

If someone asks you about yourself, tell the truth and tell it with dignity and self-respect. You have to own who and what you are.

Ultimately, humans just want to connect. 

 

6. TEACH WHAT YOU KNOW.

Pass it on. By teaching, you may learn something yourself.

“The minute you learn something, turn around and teach it to others.”


7. DON’T TURN INTO HUMAN SPAM.

Just because you have the power to share does not mean you should overshare.

“Make the stuff you love and talk about the stuff you love and you’ll attract people who love that kind of stuff.”

 

8. LEARN TO TAKE A PUNCH.

Learning to take constructive criticism is one of the most important skills you can learn. You need to be able to put yourself out there and take a hit once in a while.

"Compulsive avoidance of embarrassment is a form of suicide.” – Colin Marshall
“Your work is something you do, not who you are.”

 

9. SELL OUT.

Sellout is a dirty word. You have to make your money somewhere.

"You just have to be as generous as you can, but selfish enough to get your work done.”

 

10. STICK AROUND.

Don't give up. You might have to keep working at it for a long while before you get where you want to be. The trick is to never stop trying.

“Don’t quit your show. Life is very hard without a show, kids.” – Dave Chappelle

Never stop. Done with one project? Move onto the next immediately. Never lose momentum.


Every time I crack open a book by Austin Kleon, I take a piece of advice with me. It doesn’t matter if I’ve never read it before or if I’ve cracked that spine open a thousand times before. There is always something new to learn. I highly suggest you invest in your future by getting a copy of Show Your Work now. While you're at it, grab a copy of Steal Like An Artist if you haven't already. It's worth it.

XXV

Today is my twenty-fifth birthday. In the style of Noah Stokes, here are twenty-five things I've learned during my time on this silly spinning globe.

One. Age doesn't mean a thing.

Two. If you're not making awesome things, you're wasting your time.

Three. Friends come and friends go. This is a natural part of life.

Four. It's not all about you. In fact, it's rarely about you. Don't take things so personally.

Five. Sometimes things don't go as planned. Sometimes better things happen instead.

Six. Everyone has to learn their own lesson.

Seven. Having a job that you hate will take a toll on every other area of your life, too. 

Eight. Procrastinating is a temporary fix to a problem that will still be there later. It'll probably make you just feel worse, too.

Nine. Hangovers suck, but sometimes they're worth it.

Ten. Time goes by quickly, especially when you're wasting it.

Eleven. You can never get that time back.

Twelve. You are the only one who can put your foot down and decide when enough is enough.

Thirteen. Work harder than everyone else. This is where you'll find success.

Fourteen. Things will always happen when they're supposed to happen. Make the most of the in-betweens.

Fifteen. Confidence is one of the most important things you can develop.

Sixteen. Don't put all your eggs in one basket.

Seventeen. It's your job to make yourself interesting.

Eighteen. You have to put yourself out there in order for amazing things happen.

Nineteen. There are always more things you can learn.

Twenty. Everyone's definition of happiness is different.

Twenty-One. There's a difference between being blunt and being an asshole. Not everyone can tread this line and not everyone will appreciate it if you do.

Twenty-Two. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Twenty-Three. Live music is one of the best, most moving, wholly enjoyable experiences you can have.

Twenty-Four. Balance is hard to find, but it's almost always worth it.

Twenty-Five. Overthinking everything will send you to an early grave.

I Haven't Blogged in a Month, or: There are Simply Not Enough Hours in a Day

If I've learned one thing over the last few months, it's that making goals makes you woefully aware of your failure. Now, I don't mean this as an argument to stop  setting goals; on the contrary: I think this acts as a great motivation to stay busy. If you stay busy, you never get bored. If you never get bored, you have the opportunity to always be learning, always be creating, always be innovating.

It's by staying active that the magic happens.

In an effort to prove that it's true, I've kept crazy busy for the last month and a half. Here's what I've been working on since the last time I was here:

I have a lot to learn.
I'm a huge advocate of learning on a continual basis and I really live by this belief. I'm participating in Code Year. Although I'm several weeks behind, I do manage to cram in a few exercises here and there. I take copious notes and practice every time I get a chance. I think the Code Year format is really great - and I love that the lessons aren't time sensitive.

I've also been doing a lot of research, both for myself and for work. Topics vary wildly from screen printing to e-commerce to everything in between, but I absolutely love the process of researching. I love the discovery of information, the organization of all the facts, and finding pleasant surprises while I'm digging through pages and pages of words and numbers.

I've also been studying comics in anticipation of a project collaboration with a very good friend of mine. I nabbed a few books of of Amazon and I've been reading comic books and web comics every chance I get. While my portion of the collaboration would be mostly the artistic aspect, I find the process of writing the comic fascinating.

I got myself a new job!
I don't want to say too much on here yet, but I've been working with a screen printing company for the last few weeks. I'll be working as their Social Media Director - a job title that covers web, social media, marketing, and much more. I'll also be training on the screen printing equipment, which I'm really excited to jump into.

I've been putting together identity concepts and branding ideas. I'll be putting together some print marketing materials soon, as well. I've researched e-commerce solutions in an effort to sell directly from our website. I've been following other apparel companies on Twitter and liking them on Facebook to get an inside glance into the industry. I've sketched out a few t-shirt design ideas, mostly as an effort to take a look at different styles. I've quickly learned that apparel printing is strangely similar, yet drastically different than paper printing. If that makes any sense.

I still have a day job.
Despite that shiny new job, I still have my day job. It's not glamorous by any means, but it pays the bills. I'll be balancing two jobs for a little while longer. Hopefully not too long. :)

There's still the matter of running my business.
I've had several client projects going the last few weeks, nothing really benefitting me monetarily, but several were flat out fun and rewarding. I'm currently working on a wedding invitation for a friend. I just finished up a pinup calendar starring a good friend of mine. I'm actively putting together several different documents for a local Relay For Life team - one that I also participate in, come June. I've also had several smaller things that I've needed to put together for myself.

I made myself a resume!
I've been wanting to make myself a real resume for a while now and I finally got around to it (mostly thanks to that new job I mentioned above). The last time I put together a resume for myself was my senior year of high school, five years ago. Even then, I'd only ever had one job and I didn't actually need the resume to get that job.

To be honest, putting together a real resume was a little stressful. My previous resume had just been a Microsoft Word template printed on white printer paper. I knew that just wouldn't fly as representation of my awesome design skills. Instead, I spent a several hours researching wording, layout, styles, and resumes for other awesome designers. I finally put together something that matched my overall branding and, I feel, represents me well. And, of course, it helped me get my new job.

I have a lot of side projects in the works.
I already mentioned the comic project with my good friend. I've also been flirting with several other ideas, ranging from one end of the spectrum, including video games and cooking (though as completely different projects).

I have no intention of slowing down in the next few weeks. In fact, my day job has gotten a whole lot busier in the last two weeks, Emerald City Comicon is two weeks from Saturday, and I have a ton to do in between everything else. At least I'll stay active - and you should, too!

How I Keep in Constant Motion

I'm one of those people who constantly have something to do. Whether it's a client project, a personal project, or just something I'm learning, there's rarely a moment where I'm bored or without something to do.

Some people may not like this practice, but for me, it's perfect. I can't stand being bored and staying active makes my brain work smarter. Here are a few tricks I use that help me keep in constant motion:

Keep a to-do list.
If you haven't already guessed this from past posts, I'm a huge fan of lists. I keep them for everything, but to-do lists are my first love. I use them for prioritization, to get things out of my head and onto paper, and to just help make sure everything gets done. One of the best things, though, is the flexibility. I can write them down by hand, type them out on my computer, or (my personal favorite) keep track of them in the Action Method Online. Best $10 a month I've ever spent!

Write lists about random things.
This might sound strange, but I'm notorious for just keeping lists of random things. It keeps me creative and always thinking. Once in a while, they spawn new ideas, but more often than not, they're just used for self-reflection. Sometimes these lists are design related, sometimes not. Some of my favorite lists include:

  • What are some things that I like that are not design related?
  • How can I improve my goal setting process?
  • What are my current business expenses? Which ones are unnecessary?
  • What business-related topics do I want to focus on this year?
  • Who is my ideal client?
  • How can I make more money?
  • How can I better schedule my week?

Always have a personal project.
I can't emphasize this point enough. Most designers will agree with me - personal projects are the way to go. They'll keep you active and updated in the industry, as well as (hopefully) help get you in contact with out designers or developers. So many of the apps and projects that I love started out as personal projects.

Read everything you can get your hands on.
I collect books obsessively, both physical books and e-books. I read blogs on a regular basis and use RSS feeds to keep track of them. I browse Twitter constantly and have started referring to Facebook more and more. The more knowledge I gather, the more I love this industry.

Meet with your peers on a regular basis.
I adore meeting with my fellow designer, Jessica Rau, every week. Why, you ask? Firstly, this eats up an entire afternoon every Thursday. Secondly, we also do a mini-book club session, where we read industry-related books and then share our notes each week on the chapters we were supposed to read. Thirdly, we assign ourselves homework, usually relating to the book, but sometimes research related, too. Finally, it's a great opportunity to bounce ideas off of each other, to vent about frustrating client experiences, and to work on new and exciting personal projects together.

It's really quite simple, I think, but it's a hard accomplishment for most people - myself included. It takes an incredible amount of discipline and determination to stay constantly active, but I wouldn't change it for the world.

February: Goals in Review

Remember way back at the beginning of January when I set my yearly goals? Well, 2012 is already 1/12 over and I've made a little progress. I'll only go over the ones I've actually been working on. Let's take a look, shall we: 

BUSINESS

In 2012, I will earn at least $5,000 from freelance work.
This month was a bust. I didn't get only new jobs and got one payment for a job that actually occurred in December. I did have a client interested in my services, but they were on the fence about their previous designer/hosting service and said they'd get back to me. I've yet to hear anything back. Sounds like a no-go.

DESIGN COMMUNITY

In 2012, I will utilize and be more transparent on social media sites.
I haven't made any measurable progress with this goal. I've definitely been more active on Twitter. That being said, I haven't really noticed any difference in followers or conversation.

In 2012, I will write, publish, and promote one new blog each week.
I started off great, but then fell off the wagon, meaning I missed a week. I blame the weather, the power outages, and the Internet outages. Also, the fact that I was stuck in my house with three other people for four days straight may have made an impact. Despite this, I fully intend to keep blogging as if this never happened.

In 2012, I will attend a design-related event or meeting.
I haven't made any plans yet. I did sign up for the Seattle StartUpDigest newsletter that sends out weekly emails telling me about upcoming events in the Seattle area. I've found a couple that look intriguing, but haven't made a move on any of them as of yet.

SKILLSET

In 2012, I will complete a Daily Project.
So far, Make Some Cool Everyday has been a success. I did miss a day, but I made it up the next day. I really like that this topic is a little more lax than last year's (One Song Lyric a Day), so I've tried doing things I never would have normally tried. I've really enjoyed it thus far.

In 2012, I will Actively seek out new skills.
Now here's a goal I've been really working at! I signed up for Treehouse at the beginning of the year and just decided to start at the very beginning of web design, just for the hell of it. It's been a great recap so far, and learning by video is a new concept for me. I also signed up for Code Year and I've been following along with the Javascript lessons each week. They're gone really well so far, and I even convinced my brother to join in.

TRAVEL

I haven't done a single travel-related thing this month. This month, though, I'll get going on the Emerald City Comicon one, for sure.

HEALTH

In 2012, I will plan out my meals a week at a time.
I've done pretty well at this so far. We put a calendar magnet on the fridge. It has a space for each day of the week; in each spot we write in what lunch and dinner will be. Lunch leftovers have never been better!

In 2012, I will visit the Puyallup Farmers Market or Tacoma Boys on a regular basis.
As the Farmers Market isn't open yet this year, I've been going to Tacoma Boys at least once each week. They've had great fruit and veggies every week. My favorites this month: avocados and kale. Yum!

PERSONAL WELLBEING

In 2012, I will read at least 90 fiction books.
I'm off to a rather slow start. I've been reading George R.R. Martin's A Storm of Swords since the first of the month. It's wonderfully good, but so long and so time consuming. I'm almost done with it, though, so it'll only be a matter of a few days until I get to all the review books sitting in a stack on my desk, just waiting for me to read them.

In 2012, I will put at least $2,500 in my savings account.
I've been great at saving so far! I've cut my expenses way, way down and I'm super proud of myself for doing so. Now I just have to keep building it up.

Avoiding Information Overload

One of the first things I discovered when I began reading design blogs was the sheer amount of information. The amount of resources out there is nearly staggering. And really, if you think about it, the same is true all over the Internet.

When I started designing and exploring the Internet for relevant information, I was a crazy pack rat. I swear I saved everything I came across. It was all completely organized, but there was just so much of it that it might as well have been a giant mass of information. Whenever I needed to find something, it was nearly impossible to find it. If I did find it, half the time the article was a year old and out of date or I just too advanced for it.

My biggest issue came when I was learning the ins and outs of Adobe Illustrator. I searched the Internet for tutorials, organized those tutorials into skill levels, and then just started at the beginning. I got through about 20 tutorials before I was ready for something different, something harder. And then I'd get distracted. And then I just stopped using tutorials all together. Incoming jobs and work experience took care of the learning. I finally dumped almost all of the Illustrator links that I'd collected - about 4 years after I began collecting. All that time, just wasted.

Since then, I've learned some very important lessons about collecting knowledge from the Internet. 

Know What You're Looking For
Searching "contracts" yields 254,000,000 results. Searching "graphic design contracts" yields 42,400,000 results. Searching "freelance graphic design contracts" yields 1,180,000 results. While that's still a ridiculously large amount of options, I'd take 1,180,000 over 254,000,000 any day. Plus, I'd wager that that last search phrase will yield results that are much closer to what I'm actually looking for. Don't just take a shot in the dark.

Don't Waste Your Time
I learned quickly what makes a good, useful website and what doesn't. Frankly, in the design community, if the site isn't pleasing to the eye, I won't read it. If it looks like it hasn't been updated since 1999, I won't read it. If ads are overwhelming and largely unrelated to design and/or development, I won't read it. It's very much like judging a book by its cover (I do that, too).

Resist Peer Pressure
Just because the website is popular, has 100,000 RSS followers, and boasts 500 comments per post, does not mean you have to read it. Just because it's the popular kid of the design community doesn't mean that you'll learn valuable information. Likewise, just because the site seems unpopular and only has 1 or 2 RSS followers, doesn't mean it's a waste of time. You might have just found a gold mine.

Skim First, Save Later
I can't tell you how many articles I've decided not to save, simply because I skimmed it and found that it was missing something, didn't interest me, or didn't suit my needs. If it contains the same information as another article that I've read or know I've saved, there's no reason for me to save this one, too. If you doubt its usefulness, just get rid of it.

Limit Yourself
You can't read everything. Don't save everything. Keep only things that are relevant and you think you will actually read at some point.

Organize, Organize, Organize
I'm an obsessive organizer, especially when it comes to my computer. Everything has a place and I'm damn well gonna put it there.  I have a folder for articles and within that folder, more folders. Each one is the topic - "Business," "Pricing," "Print Projects," "Customer Service," etc. I have a separate folder for each Adobe program and any articles or tutorials dealing exclusively with the program. There's one for Web Design-specific topics, and one for Web Development. This helps me find what I want when I want it. Periodically, I reorganize everything.

Don't be Afraid to Delete
This is a lesson that took me a very long time to learn. If I don't think it's a good resource, just delete it. If I don't think I'll ever need it, delete it. If I start to skim it and I don't find it interesting or useful, stop reading and just delete it. If you keep reading it, you're wasting time. If you keep it in your files, you're wasting space and potential search time in the future.

There is an endless amount of information available on the Internet these days and with it comes a great responsibility. What you do with the knowledge is your choice and your choice alone. I can only guide you. 

Go forth and be knowledgable.

Getting Shit Done, pt. 1: Holding Yourself Accountable

I'm pretty good at getting things done. It's always been one of my Secret Super Powers. After a recent conversation with the amazing Jessica Rau, I realized that getting things done is really hard for a lot of people. Which led me to think, how do I do it?

Step 1: I Hold Myself Accountable.

It sounds pretty simple at first glance, right? Ha! I swear, I'm always employing another sneaky move to make myself get done the things that need doing. Some have worked brilliantly, some have taken a violent nosedive and crashed back down to earth. Here's what I've tried and how it's worked out:

Make a To-Do List.
If you don't like to-do lists, call them something different, for all I care. To-do lists have long been one of my favorite things. The best part is: it's so simple! All you have to do is write down the things that you need to do. I write them on paper, I list them out in Word (bullet points are my friend), I type them out in Gmail and email them to myself, I illustrate them in my composition notebook that goes everywhere with me, or, more recently, I use Action Method Online to sort everything for me.

No matter how I do it, keeping a list of what I need to get done is always beneficial. It helps me prioritize and--maybe most importantly--it reminds me of what I actually need to get done. Every time I glance at it, I'm reminded that I need get off Twitter and go back to working.

Set a Deadline.
Action Method Online has seriously helped me with this issue, and for the most part, I get everything done by the deadline. A couple chapters of a book that I need to read before my next meeting with Jessica? Check. The first Code Year 2012 lesson? Check. Nine times out of ten, I know I need to get something done by a certain day, so if I actually give it a deadline, I will remember this fact. Prioritization at its best.

Continually Remind Myself.
This one usually helps me get things done, but never on its own. Put a note in your pocket. Write it on your bathroom mirror. Put a reminder wallpaper on your phone or computer. Write it on a sticky note and stick it to your computer. Chances are, if you constantly remind yourself that you need to do something, eventually you'll either guilt yourself into it or you'll be so tired of seeing the damn reminder that you'll just do it.

Answer to Someone Else.
Sometimes it just doesn't work to rely on myself to get things done. If I suspect this might be the case, I tell everyone I possibly can. My parents, my brother, my boss, my coworkers, my friends, my fellow designers, the barista at the coffee shop (ok, I haven't had to do that last one yet, but I bet if I mention it, they'll bring it up a week or so later). Having your friends and family hound you about getting things done is great. Nothing makes you feel guiltier than telling them that you're still not done with a project due a week ago.

Make a Game of it.
Sometimes the trick is to pretend you're not doing something so terrible. My mom has a trick to make herself stop procrastinating and start typing faster: she pretends she's playing a video game. Everything she does is timed. If she does it in a certain amount of time, she gets bonus points. If she's writing a particular difficult section, she acts as if it's the bonus round, or the Daily Double, if you well. Sometimes all you have to do is distract yourself from what is otherwise an unpleasant experience and it's much easier to just get it done.

Just Fucking do it.
Aaaand this is my Super Secret Trick. I'm really great at making myself guilty. There are a few things that I routinely tell myself: "It needs to get done and I know it, so I need to just do it." "It'll be over with quickly and then I don't have to worry about it anymore." "Think about how disappointed my client will be." "Damn, I just made myself a whole lot more work." Usually, these inner monologues do the trick.

And there you go. This is how I keep myself accountable. There really aren't any secret tricks involved, nor any super powers (though it would be really cool if there were). Just a whole lot of guilt involved.

2012 Goals in Review

Every year, as January 1 gets closer and closer, I scramble to put together a bunch of New Years Resolutions. It's always this half-assed attempt at acting like I'm going to make a difference. I'm pretty sure 99% of the world does the same thing. My downfall? I tend to forget about these goals by the end of January. At least 98% of the world is right there with me, right?

This year, however, that just won't fly. I'm determined to stick to my goals, reflect on my progress on a regular basis, and do one big review at the end of the year. It's not about completing the goal, it's about working toward making a difference in my own life.

For ease, I broke them down into a handful of categories:

BUSINESS

In 2012, I will completely redesign my website.
This has been a necessary evil for a long while, but procrastination gets the best of me every time. This will include a full-scale portfolio, a landing page, a better About Me page, and lots more photos. I really want to brand myself with something I love.

In 2012, I will earn at least $5,000 from freelance work.
This particular goal is the first step toward becoming more self-sufficient. I'd like to move away from studio work and move toward freelancing under the McKelden Creative moniker. I've done some smaller projects for clients in the previous few years, but nothing really worthy of being considered freelance. This needs to change.

In 2012, I will completely separate business and personal expenses.
I've needed to do this for a long while. It's just getting too difficult to keep track of and it'll save me a ton of time come tax time! It's just a matter of setting up new bank accounts and remembering to be organized.

In 2012, I will put together a solid contract and proposal template.
I already have a half-assed version I've put together out of necessity, but it's time to get serious.

DESIGN COMMUNITY

In 2012, I will utilize and be more transparent on social media sites.
After reading Scott Belsky's Making Ideas Happen, I realized that I hold myself back a lot. And if I don't open up and share more (to a certain point, of course!), I'm never going to really feel like a member of the Design & Development Community. I'm tired of reading from the outskirts. It's time to be involved.

In 2012, I will make a connection with another designer or developer.
Back to that same concept of being involved in the design community. I really only interact with one other designer (the amazing Jessica Rau), so I need to make new connections.

In 2012, I will earn an invitation to Dribbble.
I love love love finding great designs on Dribbble, so I'm sure I would love posting to it, too. It's also a great way for me to be involved with the community.

In 2012, I will write, publish, and promote one new blog each week.
This has been such a difficult concept for me in the past, but when I really break it down, one per week is only 52 for an entire year. That's nothing! Plus, how can I expect to become a participating member of the Community if I don't give something back?

In 2012, I will put together and brand both Facebook and Twitter accounts for my business.
No more of this silly generic template stuff. I need full branding across all accounts. And while I'm at it, I should change that Twitter picture that was taken 2 years and 50 pounds ago!

In 2012, I will attend a design-related event or meeting.
I only live 45 minutes south of Seattle - and there are tons of design-related events that happen up there every month! I just need to find and then commit to them.

SKILLSET

In 2012, I will complete a Daily Project.
Last year, I tried to illustrate a different lyric each day. I made it as far as the beginning of August. This year's theme is Make Something Cool Everyday.

In 2012, I will code my first Wordpress theme from scratch.
No more using templates! It's time I started from the very beginning and created my own template, both for personal and business use.

In 2012, I will learn to use my camera really well.
I've had it for almost year and all I know how to do is point and click! I need to know how to do everything!

In 2012, I will Actively seek out new skills.
I love learning and I want to try some new stuff this year, as well as refine the skills I already have. Also on the agenda? Learning in different ways, starting with trying out videos (which I'm usually inclined to never watch).

TRAVEL

In 2012, I will head to the ocean every chance I get.
I only live a couple hours from the ocean, but I only manage to get there once a year if I'm lucky. It doesn't even have to be the same place each time! I could head to Ocean ShoresLong BeachAlki Beach, or a million places in between.

In 2012, I will spend a day in Portland.
Farmers markets, the most amazing giant bookstore, no sales tax, and maybe even an awesome train ride there and back. No reason not to go! This has been a trip in the making for a very long time.

In 2012, I will go camping at Fort Worden.
I missed camping at Fort Worden last year, but this year: family be damned! There is no place in Washington that I love more and an entire week of sleeping in a tent only a short walk from the waves sounds perfect.

In 2012, I will go to PAX.
My brother and I went to the Penny Arcade Expo in 2011, had an amazing time, and have every intention of doing the same thing this year.

In 2012, I will go to Emerald City Comicon.
I haven't been to ECC before, but my amazing friend Becca has agreed to go with me. Fun will be had by all!

In 2012, I will visit friends in Spokane.
Yet another thing I've been putting off forever. I have people that need visiting and 2012 is the year!

HEALTH

In 2012, I will walk 30 miles at the Lakewood Relay For Life.
I made the bet; I can't back down now! Last year, I walked 16 miles. Surely I can almost double that!

In 2012 I will lose 30 pounds.
In 2010, I lost 50 pounds. In 2011, I maintained my lowest weight. It's time to lose more!

In 2012, I will plan out my meals a week at a time.
If I really try, I have this super awesome talent for making dinner and then turning the leftovers into a great lunch the next day. It's just a matter of doing it.

In 2012, I will visit the Puyallup Farmers Market or Tacoma Boys on a regular basis.
I have a weakness for fresh fruits and veggies and I need to actually make an effort to buy them more often! The Farmers Market is only open May through October, but Tacoma Boys offers fresh and local produce year round, so I have no excuse!

PERSONAL WELLBEING

In 2012, I will read at least 90 fiction books.
I read 81 fiction novels in 2011. What's 9 more?

In 2012, I will put at least $2,500 in my savings account.
Seriously, why is it so hard for me to save money? It shouldn't be this difficult.


Whew! I really have my work cut out for me, but I'm determined more than ever! Feel free to share your goals for 2012 and how you're going to get there.

Steal Something

Every good artist will balk at that statement. Every great artist will admit to it. Artists collect everything that they see, read, watch, observe, learn. It’s in our nature to collect everything, internalize it, and then save it for later. Sometimes it’s in the form of ideas. Sometimes they’re more tangible – like the file of 1,000+ photos I have saved on my hard drive, methodically divided into groups, like Print & Packaging, Color Combinations, Web, etc. If I like it, I’ll save it. Even worse is my collection of quotes, but that’s something for another post.

The best thing I ever did with those files, however, was steal an idea. I discovered Austin Kleon’s blog, which is beautiful and illustrated and I wanted to do something just like it.

So I did. I started illustrating articles when I read them. I took notes, used a combination of four colored Sharpie pens, and then drew pictures.

It was a little like being back in high school again. You know, where you drew pictures in the margins, wrote words and outlined them over and over and over again until you accidentally ripped a hole in the paper with your pen.

And it was soothing. I used this opportunity to experiment with typography, sketching, different types of lettering, color combinations, contrast, and hierarchy. Sure, it took me three times longer to read an entire article, but I felt like I was involving myself in the process. I wasn’t skimming over words while my mind wandered.

And to think, it was all because I stole an idea.

Now, to be fair, it wasn’t exactly what Austin was doing over on his own blog. He drew comics and posted them, he had lots of black backgrounds and white text. I was all about the sketch-style lettering, grids, and hierarchy.

Do I feel like a better artist because of it?

Absolutely. I kept myself immersed in my craft in two ways – I was reading articles about my craft and I was actively pursuing it.

And even better, it helped me solve one of my biggest problems – not making anything. In the past, I would read articles – which helped me learn great things, mind you – but I wasn’t practicing what they were preaching.

Which kind of defeated the purpose.

And while this work that I’m making is definitely not worthy of publishing, definitely not going into my portfolio, I secretly adore looking back at it. I think it’s pretty awesome if I do say so myself.