Tag: productivity

my big creative year: productivity – the most effective changes

In terms of getting things done more efficiently simple changes have made the most difference. Part of my mission this year is to manage my time better, to be more efficient and more productive in everything I do, to get through necessary tasks more quickly and efficiently, in part to free up time for experimenting and also because creative work benefits from consistent forward motion and structure. So I’ve been trying things and some have helped. The things that have helped the most:


I work standing up. The idea came from a news blurb about the health benefits – it sounded tedious but I was curious so I gave it a try. My sewing machine has always been at standing height – it landed there accidentally. My father’s tool chest is the most stable surface here and my mother’s very heavy White Rotary machine requires a steady base. Plus they belong together.

sewing machine

So the machine sewing part of my day has always been standing but that’s a pretty small part usually and I have developed some bad habits for all the other work I do. I gravitate to the couch and spread out from there. The photo below is from last May, making a big flamingo order.

flamingo mess

The last two big orders were made standing up ( I still made a big mess- that didn’t change). I was remarkably faster and more focused, I enjoyed it and I had more energy. There a couple things I can’t do standing up – like very small hand sewing – so I try to balance tasks out and I limit the standing hours to between 10 and 5 (I can go over if I feel inclined and often I do). The first few days I got tired after just a few hours but that improved quickly. I haven’t gone crazy with fancy equipment or anything – I’ve got a file box on top of my ironing board – it’s getting the job done. I’m surprised at how much standing agrees with me and I think If this was the only change I made I would still come to the end of this year having accomplished more.


I’m a list maker but over the last few years my to do lists migrated to the computer and got fancy: lots of different lists, spread sheets, multi-tiered affairs etc. Lately I went back to no frills paper and pencil list – a little notebook with a list for the day that I make the night before. There is something to writing things down, physically writing things down and it is somehow infinitely more satisfying to me to check something off with a pencil. I need to harness my obsessive compulsive tendencies for good whenever possible. One other change to the to do list – I got a nice notebook. For sketching and recording thoughts I don’t use anything fancy, I find it intimidating and don’t want to spoil it, but for the to do lists it adds something to the ritual.


I talked about this in last week’s post about how the new things I’m trying are effecting me creatively but it gets a mention here too because the structure created by scheduled blog posts, a weekly (mini) news letter ( you can check that out here) and the daily sketchbook practice have been causing me to schedule myself more thoughtfully and more importantly, more realistically. What must be shall be. My tasks have a more defined container and it’s making a huge difference.

my big creative year : what’s working

It’s March! I love March – it always feels like a corner is being turned. And I’m two months into My Big Creative Year. Since beginning (kind of impulsively) I’ve thought a lot about what I mean by that – a big creative year – what do I want from it. The short answer is – to grow. To grow faster, to know myself better and be true to that, to be uncompromising and unapologetic, to challenge my presumptions and explore the farthest reaches of my imagination.

What I’ve learned so far:

The more creative work I do the more creative work I do. Quantity, or maybe more accurately consistency counts. Writing and sharing these posts with you, being intentional and curious and conscious about moving forward, trying new stuff that might not work, and the daily sketchbook practice are having positive effects on all my work, on everything really, there is an energy and agility in my thinking that feels new – I’m solving problems and getting unstuck more easily. The scheduled posts and daily sketchbook are also giving my week structure and shape and definition that’s making me more productive and building some momentum.

sketchbook charlotte  mew 3/1

Searching for something, reaching and experimenting in public does not always feel good – it never has and it never will, but it keeps me moving forward and the commitment and constraints force me to let go of perfection. I love this quote from Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland (I’m reading it right now and loving it- I’ll definitely  talk more about it when I’m done).

“To demand perfection is to deny your ordinary (and universal) humanity, as though you would be better off without it.”

Letting go of perfection, letting go of outcome and expectations and giving myself permission to just respond to things and try stuff and play feels refreshing and like an opening. The sketchbook practice puts me in the moment and focuses me – I lose myself in these little experiments. I think its important that they are small, if I had a lot of time or a bigger space to work in (the little cards I made are small 4.5 x 4.5 inches) I would feel overwhelmed.

sketchbook 3/2

I show up for them every day, whether I want to or not (mostly I have wanted to) and just like physical exercise – it’s not always pretty and it doesn’t need to feel good all the time for the practice to be undeniably valuable and bring growth and transformation.

my big creative year : rescuing time

I know that I could be more efficient and accomplish what I must in far less time than I do. I’m losing hours and hours that could be spent on play and exploration and experimenting. For the last couple months I’ve been recording how I spend my time in excruciating detail. I recorded what my task was, how long I spent on it, what I accomplished, how often and by what I was distracted and how much time I spent in those distractions – even if they were small. It was a tedious and imperfect process that I did not enjoy but It has been enlightening.

I’ve got issues…..

1. structure

I respond very well to structure – always have. When I’m teaching at Squam I can get a ton of stuff done, I’m happy, efficient, productive and relaxed – even though I’m super busy, I am in a place of ease. I would do very well living at summer camp permanently. At home I have not created much meaningful structure for myself. I’m surrounded by distractions and even more importantly I don’t have clearly defined work hours – that has me feeling like I’m working constantly when I’m really not. This is what’s really going on:

Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

packing and shippingPacking and shipping a couple wholesale orders – could take 4 hours, could take all day……

2. smart hours

I am smarter and more creative in the morning, so that work has to come first – even if there is busy work that feels urgent. That stuff will always be there and will always feel urgent.

3. interruptions

Also known as the internet…. I knew it was a problem but keeping a written log highlighted how much of a problem it is. What are these interruptions really costing me in time, focus and serenity?

4. exercise

I’m better with exercise. My brain and everything else works better when I’m consistent about it. I can focus for longer periods of time, I’m sharper, quicker and have more energy. The difference in my productivity is remarkable – the time investment is worth it. Always.

5. email

This is a real trouble spot. I waste a lot of time on email – looking at it, organizing, categorizing, flagging messages, and feeling guilty, embarrassed and overwhelmed. By the time I actually do something about it I’ve handled an email a number of times, stuff gets lost, overlooked etc. – in all that shuffling I’ve created confusion for myself  and annoyance and inconvenience for others. I’m making a cumbersome and overwhelming task more cumbersome and more overwhelming by not just dealing with it once.

 going forward

Just the awareness, observations and exercise of recording my days is having an effect on me. I think it would be a mistake to tackle all 5 issues full-on, all at once though, so I’m picking one to to work on this week: Email.

spider leg tangle

My big, scary, tangled inbox mess.  I will handle email once. I won’t check it until I’m ready to deal with it immediately. And I’m committing an additional 30 minutes everyday to work on the current inbox debacle. I’ll let you know how it goes.

my big creative year

Shadows of  things to come………

fortuny shadows

A big creative year. That’s my wish and intention for myself for 2015. I’m committing to take action on ideas I’ve been sitting on, to look harder and deeper for inspiration and to make more time to explore my curiosity. Curiosity has always been my driving force and trusted compass. It’s so easy to become mired in busyness and lose sight of how important it is to make time to explore. I always intend to make time but the deep and inescapable truth remains that hope is not a strategy. There are though, tools and systems and practices that work if I use them:

The first is so easy and for me might be the most powerful – a note book and a pencil. It’s also the practice I’ve been most consistent with throughout my life. The more you use it the more effective it is. Record ideas immediately as they come to you – it only takes a moment and it must be on paper. I’ll go on and on about this in a future post – I love my notes and sketches but I could be so much more consistent.

Schedule everything – all that stuff I do that keeps the lights on still has to happen but it could be done more efficiently. A lot more efficiently. I’ve been experimenting for a few weeks with how I schedule myself and I’ve learned a bunch I’ll share with you later on. I’m also exploring systems and tools to make some of the less inspiring but important tasks take less time. There is so much available that could help – it just requires attention and planning.

Put ideas and exploring on the schedule, even in a small way.  Ideas need space, time, support, discipline and momentum. Even when I’m super duper busy – there is time somewhere- even 15 minutes can be powerful if its truly focused and consistent.

Collaborate  more- some of my most significant growth and most satisfying projects have come from collaborations. I finished 2014 with a big project with Fortuny that I loved and I’ll share that soon (the photo at the top of the post is a sneak peek). Below are a couple other favorite collaborative projects.

It’s such a simple question: What would you like to happen this year? Why not make it your big creative year too? Each Monday of 2015  I’ll share what I learn –  what I’m experimenting  with, what’s working and what isn’t. And I’d love to hear from you – what would you love to accomplish this year? What new practice will you try?  What challenges you? What lights you up? What tiny change could you make to bring you just a little closer to doing something you’ve dreamed of?