Three side-by-side images of a tan brown phone with five white dial buttons, numbered one through five.

Mid-year check-in: Four productivity tools I’m loving for creative projects (and how I use them)


In January, I wrote about six smartphone apps and creative writing productivity tools I planned to use to stay motivated on my personal projects throughout 2021.

Am I still using those? Yes.

But now, seven months deep, I’m still trying to avoid work about work.

Aren’t we all? Hell yes.

“60% of time is spent on work coordination, rather than the skilled, strategic jobs we’ve been hired to do,” according to Asana’s Anatomy of Work Index 2021.

Yellow and pink text reading, "We spend more time on work coordination than on the work itself."

I feeeeeeel that. In my professional work certainly, and in my personal work as well. Even though I’m not coordinating with a team of designers, clients, or account managers while, say, drafting a novel or making a new embroidery collection, I still find myself tinkering away for hours on planning, documentation, and (my ultimate seems-like-work-but-isn’t guilty pleasure time suck) video streaming Skillshare/Creative Live videos.

So in July, I reassessed how I was working on these things. It was time to think about my time. Given that the pandemic wasn’t keeping us under lock and key anymore, I needed to adjust my routine for the quicker post-pandem pace and packed schedule. Here are four new tools and strategies I implemented to get myself in a rhythm—and keep myself making.


For writing: Airtable

OMG! I love Airtable! A friend told me about this spreadsheet app while we were on our final quarantine walk. It’s free and the UX is intuitive, especially if you’re familiar with Excel or Google Sheets. My favorite aspect of Airtable is that I can upload documents, jpegs, and various other things directly into a cell block. 

I have one Airtable project set up with three tabs, one for each of my writing projects: a novel, a book of creative nonfiction, and my blog. From there, I’m able to schedule out each piece of the larger work, add photos for reference or posting, and drop in both the Google doc link and the Word doc of the final version so I can move on. 

Pink and yellow text reading, “Writing will always be interesting to me, because even if life has no meaning, writing does. It’s all about discovery, personal and otherwise.” Jo Ann Beard

I know I could keep a folder on my cloud somewhere with all of this content, but it’s so nice to have it linearly lined up, with deadlines attached, and the ability to just dump it when I’m done so it doesn’t take up space in my drive. 

Writing tasks can be overwhelming to me because I get ~too~ into them and, when I’m in that addictive headspace, I feel like I have to write the entire book in the next month. But writing is also my most important thing. With Airtable I don’t fold under the demanding weight of such self-imposed pressure. I just keep ticking things off, bird by bird

For reading: GoFullPage Chrome extension

App fatigue is real. According to the Anatomy of Work Index, U.S. employees jump between 13 tools an average of 30 times per day. Yikes. I think I hit even higher numbers when it comes to things I want to read. GoFullPage has helped with this personal brand of digital distraction. When clicked, the extension will basically scan the entire web page you’re on and turn it into a PDF or jpeg.

Pink and yellow text reading, "On average, we jump between 13 tools, 30 times a day."

I use GoFullPage for saving things I want to read later as well as for capturing clips of my professional writing. I capture what I want to read, download it, and save the PDF in a “To read” folder on my drive. I have time set aside on Saturdays that I scroll through the folder and read whatever still intrigues me and then delete the damn thing when I’m through. 

I tried using the “Reading List” feature on Chrome for a process like this, but then I just racked up links on links on links and never read any of them. With GoFullPage, I don’t have endless tabs open, and there’s just enough effort required to capture and save the page as a PDF that I must decide if I truly, truly want to read it. Adding it to the Reading List was way too simple. The potential discards clogged up the line.

For getting sh*t done: Do not disturb phone setting

I mean, it’s obvious what this does, right? Turn it on for your phone and it will quiet all alerts. I get by with a little help from my robot friends, etc. Every morning I block out my day hour by hour. (I know this is a little intense, but my Meyers Briggs Personality Test confirms this kind of planning is best for my sensitive lil heart/mind. INFPs are for lovers.) I use Do Not Disturb when I’m on an hour-block that requires focus, which is usually writing, but this can also be helpful for administrative work or artmaking.

Pink and yellow text reading, "Focus sprints of uninterrupted worked time made teams 43% more productive."

Productivity research from UC Berkeley’s Becoming Superhuman Lab found that 92% of people believe that “carving out a daily block of uninterrupted time called a ‘Focus Sprint,’ where they do not need to toggle between apps or constantly monitor the inbox, would positively impact their and their team’s productivity.” Teams that used these Focus Sprints reported they were 43% more productive. Sign. Me. Up.

For regular to-do tracking: Asana’s board view

“Individuals could save 6 hours and 5 minutes every week—290 hours per year—through improved processes,” like clearly defining roles and responsibilities, the Anatomy of Work Index found. Plus, nearly 70% of respondents said they would feel better-equipped to hit personal targets with clear processes to manage work. This seems obvious, but do you give your personal creative work the same approach? Why not? 

How to save 290 hours per year of wasted work time? Get a better process.

I have been using a free version of Asana for my personal tasks for a while now, but I simply could not make a calendar view of tasks work for me. I would just blow right by the deadlines when paying-work had to rise to the top of my to-do list. I tried switching to board view, et voila. Now we’re cooking.

My board view is essentially a habit tracker with four columns, or boards, set up: Monday-Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monthly. Under each column I have five or six tasks that are related to my creative projects. For example, I write one paragraph a day on my novel every weekday, Saturdays are for embroidery, etc. The task descriptions never change, I just check and uncheck items as I complete them each day. 

This process has been ideal because I don’t have to hold every task in my head or copy-paste the tasks to every day’s to-do list. They’re not tied to a time-specific requirement, so I am able to remain flexible depending on what the rest of my day looks like. And then, since I have a slew of separate Asana projects set up for more detailed notes on each creative task, I can stay within one program to jot down notes as they arise.


Matching totebag, notebook, and bookbag by macro.baby

Back to school bookbag and notebook combos


These back to school bookbag and notebook combos by macro.baby fit the trends—and everything else you need them to hold.

The backpacks have a heavy-duty construction, padded nylon backs and bottoms with durable spun poly fabric, and an interior pocket for a laptop. The notebooks are on a high-quality 70-pound paper and feature an anti-scuff laminate cover with a super-soft matte feel.

Mostly, though, they look cool, right? Right.


Colorblock

Pop of pink

Cool shapes


I got a new job, so here are late highlights from my old one


I started a new job in June as a senior content strategist and writer at a Chicago studio (also fully remote!). But between making that transition and traveling for several weeks throughout the month, I haven’t had a chance to post a proper update. Now the point feels moot, so instead I’ll share some of my final work for the college — interviews with recent alum and students. It was such a pleasure writing and editing for California College of the Arts, and I can’t wait to visit campus — and the beach — when I finally get out to the Bay later this year. 🙂

“Writers, poets, playwrights, screenwriters, filmmakers, painters, printmakers, movement practitioners. I’m here to tell you that you’re needed. I was recently having this conversation with one of my friends in the humanities and they said, ‘Well, we’re not curing cancer.’ And I thought, fuck that. I might be inspiring the person who does.

Alum spotlight: Digital media scholar Dorothy Santos

“We have to honor that the environment already gave us those resources to produce those textiles and we need to honor those materials. They’re still useful and they’re beautiful. We just have to find innovative ways to use them. As a society, we consume so many things, all the time, that it won’t be possible to sustain. I like thinking about the hidden history of materials.

The hidden journey of Melissa Rodriguez

“Yes, it is hard—and sometimes even terrifying—but it’s also delicious to be in charge of yourself, to not be subject to other people’s expectations of where you should go and what you should be.”

Alum spotlight: Writer Julie Lythcott-Haims

“Sometimes people get so careerist in the artistic sense; they think it is all being in the studio. But some of my best work and connections were more organic. It’s not something you can game. You have to figure out where the heat is and invest your time and energy—and make the work. So many people get caught up in what the secret is that they don’t have any work when they crack it.”

Stars aligned: Diedrick Brackens and Lauren O’Connell discuss their new exhibition


~FIVE YEARS SOBER~


Five years is 1,825 days. ⁠

It’s 12 steps and two weekly meetups.⁠

It’s one husband, three therapists, and a better best friend.⁠

It’s a boost on a bad day.⁠

It’s a confession on a good one.⁠

It’s a letting go of all that was lost when drowned.⁠

It’s noticing flowers bloom, leaves change, skin prickle, water bend, sirens howl, clouds melt, squirrels race, backs curl, dumplings steam, cake melt, chest tighten, pink glow, humility work, and truth help—for the first time, over and over.⁠

It’s the distance it takes to be the same shape, stitching, color, and silhouette of spirit—turned right-side out.⁠

It’s the whole of all that is countless.⁠

Five years no booze. 🕺✨ One year no haircut. 😷⁠ (Five year sober anniversary candle by Huff Designs, a wonderful gift from a wonderful friend.)

Photo essay: Plants of my pandemic


I’m one shot deep into full inoculation. On my calendar, April 19, two weeks after our second shot, is circled in red, the outline of a wound, the unceremonious ending of a dread-full chugging along. I feel… complicated about it? I’ll be able to go hang out. Visit my masked neighbors. Be out again with people and friends. That makes me so happy but I am also shy about making plans, anxious about over-committing, afraid of under-committing. I feel like I have atrophied to my desk chair and the monotony of quarantine has emptied me, a hollowed tree trunk on its side. I have been growing behind a fence, having a conversation with myself in a gated space. And I feel trepidation about what to do once it is gone.


Art as self-authorization


I spent most of January in an escapist headspace, burrowing down into several subjects, my fascination with which have taken me by surprise.

1) Richard Yates. I read Revolutionary Road in 2008 when the movie came out because my tween brain imprinted on Titanic-era Kate and Leo in 1997 and I’m pretty much subconsciously committed to following them in a space ship to Mars if they were featured as star-crossed lovers in its alien-infested bowels.

But. I never watched Revolutionary Road the movie for some reason? Probably because I read the book first and it was devastating; too devastating to see on screen right afterward. Fast forward almost 13 years later, the movie’s on HBO Max and with all this quarantine time on my hands, I gave it a crinoline-skirted whirl and… god damn. Devastating, yes indeed, but I was surprised at how differently I thought of the characters and the plot with some years as an adult under my belt. (APRIL, I KNOW, IT SUCKS YOU CAN’T SELF ACTUALIZE BECAUSE OF THINGS OUTSIDE YOUR CONTROL, BUT YOU LUCKY BITCH, JUST ENJOY YOUR HOUSE AND WORK-FREE LIFE OMFG.)

Perhaps my bleak outlook is quarantine related. Or could it be because the movie is different from the book? I bought a three-book tome of Richard Yates’ work and decided to find out. This turned out to be the biggest January 2021 gift of all! What a cynical, destructive, brutal, little worm Revolutionary Road is. 😍 Like the girl-smirking-at-house-fire meme in book form. I love it, and I find such unrepentant catharsis in how slowly but surely Yates dismantles each character with the kind of rage-eyed honesty no one wants to be in front of but, if you see the people the way he does, feels so rewarding and relieving to watch.

And how he does it is startling. Funny almost. You can’t even see it coming. Example: The following savory paragraph about how the children can sleep comfortably now that their parents have stopped fighting (because mom and dad are high on their unrealistic self-deluded fantasy that will eventually kill someone but we’ll get there soon enough!).

“They could lie drowsing now under the sound of kindly voices in the living room, a sound whose intricately rhythmic rise and fall would slowly turn into the shape of their dreams. And if they came awake later to turn over and reach with their toes for new cool places in the sheets, they knew the sound would still be there—one voice very deep and the other soft and pretty, talking and talking, as substantial and soothing as a blue range of mountains seen from far away.”

Then, next paragraph, like a slap in the face from a surly sugar plum fairy:

“This whole country’s rotten with sentimentality,” Frank said one night…

HA!


2) Dennis Rodman. I know, girl! I don’t know! Whyyy?

This minor obsession was inspired by another thing we finally watched: The Last Dance docu-series, which chronicles the 1990s Chicago Bulls as they went for their sixth and final title. At first I was really grooving on Scottie Pippen, learning about his playing style, often relegated to the second paragraph (rightfully so) behind Michael Jordan (GOAT). Then I met Dennis “The Worm” Rodman. Like, basketball Dennis Rodman. I’m so compelled by him! I’m trying to figure out why? I love the way he played basketball, I know that much. Gutter ball go-getter, beast hunter of the rankest of rebounds, trash-talking trash man king of the trash can people…


3) Art as self-authorization. That both of the angry, broken-hearted people listed above struggled with addiction issues all their lives, is the only thing not surprising to me.

I’m interested in people who have channeled extraordinary pain into something else and then turned that “something else” into a brand new something else. Something only they could do or make or be. And if it’s got a little dash of rebellious, self-supporting stank on it, even better. Dennis Rodman became his own performance art piece on the basketball court after accepting that the love/loyalty he thought existed in the world did not, in fact, exist; turning into Dennis Rodman as we now know and (I) love him was the alternative to suicide. For Yates, writing about loneliness, hopelessness, and self-dishonesty the way he did throbs with recognition; this is someone who lived most of their life feeling like a balloon within a balloon, disconnected from others and bumbling about in the void.

Maybe what’s appealing to me about Yates and Rodman right now relates to the third thing I thought about a lot this past month: the idea that being an artist is simply a matter of self-authorization—authorizing yourself to see what you see and express it however you see fit, then move on. I dig that. Feel inspired by it. Even when it comes from deeply flawed sources. Especially when it comes from deeply flawed sources (who have tried and failed to redeem themselves over and over). For those artists I am “rotten with sentimentality.”

Related: Below are some videos I made for my gallery’s Instagram stories this month. I ~authorized~ myself to learn how to animate my work and post it even if I don’t think it’s perfect yet. Can’t wait to see what February brings. Stay healthy, friends.

Mom Genes


Memphis


New Playground


Yo Yo Mama