Monkeys, Squirrels, Artists, and Shiny Things

SquirrelDo you misplace your keys, lose track of time and show up late for appointments, or only remember to pay your bills once the disconnect notice arrives? What about projects and deadlines? Do you start everything you do with a bang, only to fizzle out before you finish? Or maybe you just have trouble sticking to a routine that keeps your life running smoothly. In any case, I feel you.

I’ve been there. Until a few years ago, my life was a hot mess of distraction. It’s a trait that seems to go hand in hand with creative brilliance, and since so many of my clients and readers fall into the brilliant artist or entrepreneur category, organization and project planning is a frequent focus of my work. I’ve been outlining my systems during one-on-one consults for months, and I’ve seen them work for all sorts of people.

The benefit to focusing on this type of work via private consultations is that we can ask each other questions, dialogue, and then use the shared information to  customize a plan that works for your unique situation. The drawback, of course, is that not everyone has the money to pay for one-on-one creativity consultations to help them organize their lives and creative endeavors. I’ve compiled and condensed the basics into an ebook, “Monkeys, Squirrels, Artists, and Shiny Things,” so you can access the information anytime you want. You can buy it here for just $5.99. If you don’t have a Kindle, or you’d be just as happy with a simple PDF, click here to buy it for $3.99. Just send me a note with your payment, and I’ll email you the file.

If you’re looking for a miracle fix, this isn’t it. But if you’re looking for a simple strategy to get yourself organized that doesn’t require anything fancy or expensive, give it a shot. I did the legwork of several years of trial and error (lots and lots of error) to figure out how to simplify in a way that isn’t complicated. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never found that approach to work for more than a few days. All you’ll need to get started is a notebook with three sections, a pen, and the commitment to try something new.

Note: The reviews are positive so far, but there aren’t many! You can read them here. After you read the book, if you’d do me the favor of writing a review, I’d really appreciate it!


Great Ideas vs Great Execution

IdeasIf you’re reading this, I know that your head is full of great ideas. After all, you’re creative, or you feel like you used to be creative, or you’re yearning to tap into your creativity for the first time in as long as you can remember. People with that sort of desire tend to have a propensity for great ideas. It’s a given.

Now, you might not feel like you can fully access your great ideas at the moment, but that doesn’t mean they’re not in there. Of course they are. If they weren’t, you wouldn’t feel the insatiable tug to tease them out of hiding and into being.

We don’t try to find things unless we believe they exist.

Before you can create, you must have the idea that you are capable of creating. After you have the idea, you have to allow yourself to believe it. After you believe it, you must summon up the courage to begin. After you summon up the courage to begin, you have to keep going. You have to see your idea through to fruition in order to have created something.

Being creative begins with having great ideas, but being creative is not the same as creating.

Creating is 10% great ideas and 90% execution.

In other words, if you want to make things happen, you’re going to have to work for them. Some of that work will feel like play. You’ll find your flow, and the hours will pass by in a blink. Those are the parts that feed your soul and create ecstatic feelings of living the dream. You might even tap into that creative sweet spot that feels akin to having a transcendental experience.

This creator’s high is very real. And it is very worthwhile. It’s a gift.

But then, there are the other parts. Seeing a project through, all the way from the first eureka! moment that causes you to jump out of the shower covered in a film of body wash in order to write it down, to the moment of completion, is rarely (okay, maybe never) just the transcendental state of flow.

There are other components to execution. Components that are less than thrilling to contemplate. Components to which many creative people are averse.

Oh. Those.

No one wants to talk about those! We’d all rather stick to talking about our great ideas and the super-happy-fun-times.

No one wants to hear that in order to be a successful artist or creative entrepreneur, sometimes you’ll have to spend hours on a task so boring and tedious, you might refer (only in that moment, you’re not insane) to your past life as a data analyst as exhilarating.

No one wants to hear that you might have to give up, or greatly cut down on, things like your favorite TV shows, other hobbies, long naps, social gatherings, and sleeping in on weekends. Maybe for a long time. Or that you might sometimes find yourself in the position of having to work such long hours to hit a deadline that you convince yourself that life has no meaning other than sleep. Sleep is the meaning of life.

With the exception of some of the extroverts of our ilk, very few creative people are excited to hear that it isn’t enough to be good at what you do. You’re also going to have to get good at telling people what you do. Yes, that means networking and marketing. To a lot of people, networking and marketing are terrifying concepts. To others, they’re dirty words.

That doesn’t sound like fun. That sounds like a whole lot of hard work. It doesn’t sound like creating. It sounds like business with a capital B. For boring.

Executing a Great Idea is Hard Work.

Which is why so many great ideas never get beyond the idea phase. And if simply having the great ideas is enough to sustain and fulfill you, you’ll receive zero judgment from me. Hell, I’ve had no fewer than 157,836 great ideas in my lifetime that I never pursued. They simply weren’t important enough to me to invest what it would have taken to get them off the ground. Plus, no one is capable of executing that many great ideas. There aren’t enough hours in a lifetime.

If your ideas don’t matter enough to you to see them through, there is nothing wrong with that. Not one thing. You know why? Well, first of all, because this is your life, and no one has to live it but you. That alone is enough. But there’s something else. Something even more important than that.

When it is the right idea, you will move heaven and earth to see it to fruition. When your idea is based on something that you believe in so fully, or brings you so much joy and fulfillment, that you know that you’ll have deathbed regrets if you don’t at least try, you’re going to give it all you’ve got.

You might not ever find yourself giddy over fixing broken code on your website or learning about the pros and cons of short copy versus long copy on a sales page, but you’ll do it.

You might not ever feel a rush of euphoria while learning about putting together a newsletter or attending a networking event.

You know when you will feel it? When all of those puzzle pieces, all of those multifaceted chunks of hard work, the ones comprised of moving past fear and inertia, start twisting and turning, and clicking into place. They form a big picture that looks one hell of a lot like a completed project, or maybe even a business.

You will feel the high when you realize that this time, maybe for the first time ever, you invested yourself fully in what matters to you. You did the work. You didn’t just think about it, you did it.

You’ll feel it as the realization hits you full force. You’re not just creative. You’re a creator.

Reminder: If you’re ready to start executing your ideas, or if you want help coming up with the ideas to execute, Creativity Consultations are Pay What You Can until the end of April. It’s my way of offering up thanks for getting to do what I love for a living, including the tedious and scary parts. Click here to enter your own price and then send me a note at to set up your consultation time.

Is Your Schedule Screwing Up Your Life?


You’re not getting the things done that matter the most to you.

You’re busy all the time, but you never seem to accomplish much of anything. You’ve tried three different types of day planners, Google calendar, and a slew of the most popular apps that promise to whip your days into shape.

Time management. Productivity. Creating work/life balance.

When you glance at your calendar or day planner, it doesn’t bring satisfaction or relief. You can’t remember the last time you were truly present in the moment.

No matter what you’re doing, your thoughts are always racing, trying to put out the next fire before it begins, creating internal chaos and panic about all of the things falling by the wayside. Adrenaline courses through your veins, wreaking havoc on your nervous system.

You’re stressed out.

You’re not just stressed out, you’re terrified.

In fact, sometimes you’re so stressed out and terrified that you worry that it’s going to kill you. Or cause a nervous breakdown.

I’m the queen of time management, but I’ll let you in on a little secret…

I used to be busy all the time without accomplishing shit. I felt like I was on a hamster wheel, spinning faster and faster, racing towards an imaginary finish line that never materialized. It was depressing and demoralizing. I felt like I was defective.

Worst of all, I just didn’t get it. Other people seemed to have ten times as much to show for the same number of hours spent working. I wasn’t lazy. I was working my ass off!

But nothing was happening. No change. No progress. Nothing. Just a dark, lonely well of not enough.

It wasn’t until I tore up my day planner with its stupid little time slots that the tide began to turn.

I know that this type of scheduling works for some people. It doesn’t work for me.

This is Why I Preach Anti-Schedule Time Management

If you know where I’m coming from, if you’ve felt the overwhelm and dread of feeling like you’re not enough, can’t possibly do enough, and therefore, will never have enough, I’m talking to you.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You’re not failing at life. You’re using a method that’s failing you.

Ditching the Schedule and Finding Your Rhythm

After I tore up my day planner, I was adrift for a month or so. Probably because I didn’t have the good sense to do it before I had reached the point of true crisis (as a quick aside, I don’t recommend this method). When I finally started to get my act together.

Trial and Error

I found out that I needed to keep it simple. Otherwise, the tendency to do fifty semi-important things while ignoring the three or four that really matter is too overpowering.

A Somewhat Mortifying Real Life Example of Why Schedules Didn’t Work for Me

Sometimes I do crazy things like saving embarrassing reminders of things I’ve done wrong. I tore up the day planner, but not before setting aside a particularly fantastic example of a day that went straight to hell on the Teflon paved road of good intentions.

This is what the schedule said:

6 a.m. Wake up. Coffee. Email.

7 a.m. Yoga. Meditate. Shower. Dress.

8 a.m. Work project not worth mentioning now (needs to be finished by end of the day).

11 a.m. Kid’s doctor appointment.

Noon Lunch.

1 p.m. Another work project not worth mentioning now (due tomorrow).

4 p.m. Grocery store.

5 p.m. Make dinner and sit around the table doing happy togetherness family-time things.

7 p.m. Dishes, laundry, house tidying with the assistance of bluebirds and singing fairies.

8 p.m. Read a book! For pleasure! In a hot bath!

9 p.m. Get ready for tomorrow. Lay out clothes. Pack a lunch. Make a schedule.

10 p.m. Go to bed.

This is what actually happened:

6 a.m. The alarm went off. Because I was chronically exhausted, I tried to hit snooze. Only I was half asleep and didn’t realize that I actually turned it off entirely.

7:15 a.m. Woke up and freaked out, because that is the reasonable thing to do when you oversleep by an hour and fifteen minutes. Rushed to the coffeepot and frantically got it going. Rushed to shower. Cut ankle shaving. Got out of shower. Dripped blood everywhere. The stupid cut was pouring, even though it was approximately the size of the period at the end of this sentence.

7:40 a.m. Dressed. Bloody wad of toilet paper stuck to ankle. Spilled coffee. Left the mess. Supposed to be at work in twenty minutes. Knew it was going to take 25 minutes to get to the office.

8 a.m. Sat in standstill traffic on the highway (Note: there will always, always, always be an accident during rush hour on days like this).

8:39 a.m. Greeted warmly at office by death glares and the silent treatment. Started the project of extreme unimportance. Got interrupted at least ten times to deal with busy-work of no consequence.

10:30 a.m. Project 1/5 complete. Turned off computer. Drove to school to check daughter out for doctor’s appointment. Arrived on time.

11 a.m. Doctor was running behind. Way behind. Enjoyed great selection of three-year-old magazines.

Noon Moved from waiting room to exam room. Waited half hour.

12:30 p.m. Doctor graced us with her presence for exactly four minutes and thirty seconds.

12:40 p.m. Daughter announced hunger. And that lunch period ended ten minutes ago. Detoured through McDonald’s drive-thru.

1 p.m. Daughter with stomach full of questionable hamburger safely back in school.

1:15 p.m. Greeted warmly at office by death glares and the silent treatment. Bit lip to keep from crying. Thought hateful things. Pretended to work while focusing on not crying.

2 p.m. Calmed down. Actual work ensued.

4:00 p.m. Project 3/4 finished. Kept going while everyone else packed up and left.

6 p.m. Project done. Phone exploded from too many texts asking about dinner.

6:15 p.m. Drove by grocery store. Kept going. Called pizza delivery at stop light.

6:45 p.m. Pulled into driveway. Yelled at pizza delivery boy that I was here! With cash! Don’t leave!

6:48 p.m. Set pizza on table. Kids descended on pizza like feral animals. Kids disappeared into rooms with pizza. Too exhausted to insist that asses get back to table for happy family time. Ate slice standing at counter.

7 p.m. Started work on second project not worth mentioning.

10 p.m. Tossed load of clothes in washer. Helped crying kid with math homework I didn’t understand. Nodded in agreement when told I suck at math. Wrote note on homework explaining same.

11 p.m. Forgot clothes in washer. Collapsed into bed.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

And Then I Found My Rhythm…

Scheduling screws up my days. Mostly because I chronically underestimate the amount of time something is going to take. I never allotted enough hours to do things to completion and do them well.

With a rhythm, nothing goes into a time slot unless it can’t be avoided. Coffee dates, yes. Doctor’s appointments, yes. Deadlines for clients, yes. Projects, no. Household chores and errands, no.

Goodbye, time slots. Hello, prioritization. Once I found my rhythm, it was impossible to fall behind, because I was always exactly where I needed to be.

4 Things You Need to Succeed When Ditching Your Schedule

  1. Know Thy Rhythm – Everyone has their own distinct rhythm. The key is figuring out your own. When do you feel the most creative? At what time of day are you the most mentally alert? Do you have a midday slump or another time of day when your energy wanes? Utilize the times of day when you’re at your best. During the most productive periods of your day, you should be 100% focused on your highest priorities. Save the mindless tedium for your midday slump.
  2. For the Love of God and Cute Baby Animals, Make a List – Not lists. List. One. Singular. Write down absolutely everything you can think of that you need or want to get done from now until forever.
  3. Priorities, Yo! – Assess that list and be brutally honest about the importance of each thing. No one gives a shit if your grout is spotless. You might lose clients if you miss a deadline. Therefore, you are not going to clean the grout before you meet the deadline. Period. Circle the three most important things in red. Do those things. Don’t check your email. Stay away from Facebook. Don’t even think of taking a detour through other items on the list. Do one thing. Cross it off. Do the next. Cross it off. If you get the three most important things done, circle three more. Repeat the process until it’s time to go to bed.
  4. A Timer (What the What? But You Said No Schedule!) –
    It’s not for scheduling anything but breaks. The human brain requires them. If you’re not taking regular breaks, your brain can’t work efficiently. You are not a machine. There are different methods for this, but the one that works the best for me is making use of ultradian rhythms.  I work for 90 minutes without interruption, then take a 30 minute break. I use the half hour breaks to eat, go to the bathroom, exercise, meditate, and do the mindless, tedious tasks on my list.

It’s a Potent and Painless Method That Removes Failure as an Option

If you consistently do your most critical tasks first, you will consistently go to bed knowing that you accomplished all that you possibly could that day. As a side note, when I say that I prioritize the most important things on the list, I’m talking about the big picture, not just work.

Work is important, but it’s not everything. Time with your partner and kids should be high priority. So should exercise, meditation, or whatever forms of self-care you prefer.

Just do one thing and do it well. Then let it go and move on to the next thing. That’s all you have to do.

There’s time enough. You are enough. What you do will be enough.

photo credit: <a href=””>Brandon Christopher Warren</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;