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Playlist: Featuring Evernote

tame-overwhelmObject: Taming the mental, digital and physical clutter of information overload so I have what I need, when I need it, clearing space for imagining and creating.

What Didn’t Work: File folders, piles of paper on my desk, random post-it notes, mental notes, asking friends to “remind me,” loading up my desktop, archiving important project notes in email, allowing “to consider” items to clog up my to-do list, bookmarking web research, and more.

My Aha! Moment: I discovered Michael Hyatt’s post about using tags rather than using notebooks to organize Evernote, and suddenly, I understood why Evernote hadn’t yet worked for me. My system was overly complicated. Also, I wasn’t thinking strategically enough.

How I Play:

  • Like Michael Hyatt, I use tags as my major organization system. My default notebook is called “inbox,” which I use as a collection bin for incoming files.
  • Once I tag files, I move them into the larger notebook called “cabinet.”
  • I also have a couple notebooks where I keep items to share with others, such as “NK content,” where I keep all my blogging materials to share with my team.
  • Symbols are my secret weapon! For instance, I use a * in front of all tags that have to do with projects. That way, when I’m tagging a file, I can type a *WP: and pull up all the project tags for Writerly Play. I use a ~ for all tags that are active such as ~to consider and ~to study.
  • Shortcuts are also powerful. By adding my ~ tags as shortcuts, I can easily access these categories which need my attention on an ongoing basis.
  • Organize your tags in the Tag view. You can stack tags which are related to one another so you can better see your system. Create a stack for “shared” to keep any tags created by others who share notebooks with you from tangling up your own system.

Player’s Notes:

  • Keep your system loose and organic. It’s easy to create new tags and move notes as a batch from one tag to another. Rather than trying to set up your entire system perfectly, just begin, and refine as you go.
  • If you were lucky enough to have a parent or teacher who gave you color-coded buckets or drawers to hold your toys or craft supplies, you already understand how to make Evernote work for you. Use your tags as bins. When one bin starts to overflow, or becomes too much of a mishmash, set up a new bin.
  • Think strategically. First, identify the problem. “I’m getting all of this inbound content from pros about how to set up my blog or how to master social media, and I can’t review it as fast as it comes in. I file it and then I lose it.” Then, come up with a tag-based solution. “I can add a ~to study tag to keep all of those incoming files, and make that tag a shortcut. Then, when I’m in the study mood, I can scan all of the options and choose the content that’s most important to consume first.

Take it to the Next Level:

  • Try out note links. Every note has it’s own URL, which means you can link your notes to one another. I use a master note for what I call {ccentral}, which shows my my entire project list at a glance, including all of my areas of responsibility, and some key notes to reference. In combination with my to-do app, Nozbe, this has become a powerful way for me to keep tabs weekly on how projects are progressing.
  • Use links to give you easy access to outside files. Navigating to google sheets files, for instance, can be a multi-step chore. By linking to those files in a note, you can streamline the process, and keep that file with other project related files.
  • Use reminders. Instead of trying to remember to consider signing up for that conference, to check out that gift idea, or buy those theatre tickets later, use Evernote as a tickler file, sending you a reminder to consider the idea just when the time is right.

Playlist: Featuring Hemingway

Naomi’s Playlist is an eclectic collection of tools that help me approach my work as play. My hope is that they’ll do the same for you!
fresh-perspectiveObject: Seeing my writing from a new angle for my final edit. Noticing passive language. Identifying complex sentences and being intentional about sentence structure.

What Didn’t Work: Reading over work I’d written, revised and edited many, many times, trying to see with fresh eyes and fine-tune at the sentence and word choice level.

My Aha! Moment: I was up against a deadline and had to do a final revision of a full book, but I was also exhausted after pushing to draft and revise in just four weeks. I didn’t have time to put the book away so I could see it with fresh perspective. I started reading through, and found myself saying, “Yes, that paragraph is fine. Yep, that one is too.”

I knew my draft couldn’t already be perfect. There’s always more that can be done to fine-tune sentences once the drafting and the revision are done. But how was I supposed to see the sentences with fresh eyes, when I was so tired? That’s when I heard about Hemingway … it’s a-maz-ing.

You paste your writing into Hemingway and the app calculates how many sentences are hard to read, how many are very hard to read, how many phrases have simpler alternatives, how many adverbs you used, and how many times you used passive voice. Each type of issue is highlighted with a different color.

How I Play:
  • I start by drafting and revising my book in Scrivener.
  • Then, I paste each chapter into Hemingway one at a time, to give myself a manageable section of writing with which to work.
  • As I review the highlighted sentences, I ask myself: “Do I want to leave that complex sentence? If so, is there another sentence I can simplify to lower the overall complexity?” “Do I need that adverb or use of passive voice? How else might I say the same thing?”
  • After I’ve made all the changes I’d like to make in the chapter, I paste the text into my final document and finalize the formatting.
Player’s Notes:
  • I try not to judge my writing as “good” or “bad” based on what comes back highlighted. Particularly with creative writing, there are reasons for making stylistic choices. I use Hemingway to help focus my attention on the sentences which may still need to be considered. If I choose to leave a hard-to-read or very-hard-to-read sentence, I make sure I’m doing so on purpose.
  • I read the full chapter, not just the highlighted sentences. Often, seeing the text reformatted this way causes me to see new possibilities for the sentences which aren’t highlighted, too.
Take it to the Next Level:
  • Consider what kinds of writing might benefit from a close edit such as this. Hemingway isn’t just for fiction! Do you have a complex email or project outline to send to your team? Might your sales copy or blog post benefit from a readability check-up?

Playlist: Featuring Waze

find your wayObject: Setting realistic expectations for my drive time, and avoiding traffic whenever possible. Also, making my drive-time productive thinking or learning time rather than stressed-out finding-my-way time.
What Didn’t Work: Relying on my favorite back-road route only to find that today that route was clogged with construction traffic. Planning to be to a client in half an hour, only to find that today, an accident had caused a twenty minute delay. Spending my whole drive stressed out and blindly trying other routes instead of being able to relax and spend the time thinking about projects or learning from podcasts or escaping into a story audiobook-style.
My Aha! Moment: I have a strong internal compass, so it took me a long time to give in and let Waze take the lead. But, after enough frustration, and a few unexpected late arrivals for clients, I decided to rely on Waze and its ability to calculate drive-time in real-time. Now, I can text my clients and let them know if the drive may take longer than planned.
How I Play:
  • I use a suction cup mount for my phone in my car, so I can see Waze safely as I drive.
  • I’ve made it a habit to start up Waze whenever I’m on my way somewhere and time is an issue. I don’t navigate on errands or other more meandering trips, but my husband hopes that my habit will evolve. He uses Waze for nearly every trip we take out of the neighborhood.
  • I email or text myself the address of new places I’m headed, so I can easily paste the location into the Waze search. That said, the search function on the app is powerful, and public places are usually simple to locate inside the app itself.
Player’s Notes:
  • As long as traffic seems normal, I turn off the app about ten minutes from home. I don’t need all the last turn-by-turn instructions, and that way I can listen to my audiobook or podcast in peace.
Take it to the Next Level:
  • I’m trying out TripLog, too, to track business mileage. Since I start up Waze for each drive, it’s just one more step to also start TripLog. Maybe TripLog will make the playlist sometime soon.

Playlist: Featuring Smencils

Different.Object: Reminding myself to play a little in the middle of a busy work-day.
What Didn’t Work: Telling myself to lighten up. Brow-beating myself when I got to the end of the day and realized I hadn’t even taken even two minutes to have fun… major fail on the play front. Was I a hypocrite, preaching play yet never doing it myself?
My Aha! Moment: My mom gave me a set of Smencils for Christmas. There’s something about smell that touches your heart and transports you someplace different. Just try to write with a root-beer scented pencil and stay in a no-nonsense mood.
How I Play:
  • I keep my smencils on my desk and pull one out every now and again when I need to brainstorm and would like to add a little play to the process.
Player’s Notes:
  • Keep your smencils in their containers, so they maintain their scents as long as possible.
Take it to the Next Level:
  • Bring out your smencils for your next team meeting or one-on-one session. Let your colleagues or students in on the fun, and add some whimsy to your time together.

Playlist: Featuring Timely App

WHERE DOES THEObject: Understanding how my time is spent, to gain a big picture view (and if needed, adjust) my work-habits.
What Didn’t Work: Trying to put things on the calendar and stick to strict pre-determined time slots. Hopping from one project to another in response to whatever pinged at the moment. Simply hoping I was getting to all of my projects. Only vaguely being able to answer the question: so how long did it take to… (fill in the blank)?
My Aha! Moment: I was listening to Amy Porterfield’s podcast (Episode 47). In this interesting interview about mindset she interviewed Todd Herman. Todd suggested keeping a chart of $10 work, $100 work, and $1000 work for a week. The challenge was to notice each task you did and record it into one of those columns. I loved the idea of the activity, but wasn’t yet in the place where I could afford to outsource anything. Outsourcing is the ultimate goal of the activity— acknowledging that when you’re the content-maker, creating your content is your greatest contribution, and that perhaps you oughtn’t to be coding HTML so your website works.
I remember thinking, “But I don’t even know which projects I’m spending my time on, let alone the amount of money I’d someday be able to pay someone to do the tasks!” For me, the first problem to tackle was “which project does this task fit into?” I needed to better understand where my hours were going before I could determine where any time-leaks might be. Maybe I was spending 20 hours a week on a project, but on all of the wrong parts of the project. Or maybe I was ignoring certain projects for too long, only returning to them after they had turned into raging problem-fires. I needed a way to track my time.
Enter the Timely app, a very nice-to-look-at visual time-tracking tool.
How I Play:
  • I’ve connected the Timely app with my main calendar, so the app knows what I’m supposed to spend my time on.
  • I can create a new task with just a couple easy clicks on my phone or desktop, and start a timer or enter time spent manually.
  • I use big categories, such as “admin” or “planning,” and sometimes add a few notes. The main thing for me is to see what I’m doing in broad strokes.
Player’s Notes:
  • If my day gets busy and I forget to record some time spent, I record estimates at the end of the day, when I still remember.
  • Timely has saved me so much time going back and trying to remember, particularly with invoices. Often, scheduling and hourly billing shifts due to various factors, so having a day-by-day record what actually happened is very helpful.
Take it to the Next Level:
  • Review how your time was spent every couple weeks with the Timely reports. Are there trends that point to problems? If so, how can you turn that problem into a question, for which you can then seek a solution?

Dare Accepted

coinWhat’s so frightening? What’s causing me to halt in my tracks and ask myself if I really want to accept the call, after all?

It’s this bothersome set of questions which should have simple answers, but when considered honestly, have the power to block me entirely.

What questions?

Will I, or will I not, dare to put my heart on the line–literally–put my passion for letting play into my creative process online for all to see? Do I, or do I not, believe that learning to play, and thus, Writerly Play, will transform writers’ lives? Am I, or am I not, willing to share my ups and downs as I continue to learn to dive in and play, myself? Will I commit to show up regularly online? Do I believe in this message enough to invest time, effort and courage in sharing it?

Here’s what I realized, looking at my cards from this past month. I’ve been dabbling. I’ve been cramming Writerly Play, and what I feel I’m supposed to work on creatively into the nooks and crannies of my life. And those nooks and crannies continue to shrink, and shrink and shrink. Life calls, after all. Someone asks me to take on a quick consulting gig. Someone else asks me to add a project to my list. I’m getting paid–and asked directly for–what others see I’m capable of doing. This isn’t their fault, not one bit. I haven’t shown them what’s deeper. I haven’t shared, truly, my vision. I’ve got it all bottled up inside of me and I keep hoping and wishing and dreaming

So, today, I’m headed out to toss my coin into Los Gatos Creek, and then I’m coming home to start spreading the news about Writerly Play–and to face all the fears and challenges that go hand in hand with that journey. I’m committing to dive in and dive deep–for real this time. Even when I doubt that anyone is listening, I’ll keep the vision in mind and keep writing, keep creating. Most importantly, I’ll keep playing, even when play seems like the least important thing on my list. Because that’s the thing about the most important things in our lives–they’re not the ones that shout for our attention. And yet they need our attention most of all.


A Challenge Posed…

IMG_1273As I’ve been working through my hero’s journey process, I’ve been reading The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. After the chapter on the Call to Adventure, there’s a chapter on Refusing the Call, which I assumed I’d skip. Since I set this process out for myself ahead of time, I knew it would feel false to purposely “refuse the call.” Obviously, I planned to accept the adventure. I committed to taking the journey when I created my travelogue journal and bought the coins for each stage and found the hollow book in which to put my daily notes.

But low and behold, a surprise! I shouldn’t have been surprised, given the fact that no one has ever heard of a simple hero’s journey. The point of setting out was to tackle something challenging, to grow personally and creatively, to wrestle those parts of myself that derail me and get in my way.  A hero’s journey stretches a traveler’s courage, patience and hope. Often, a hero’s journey leads a traveler to the brink of despair.

In fact, this epic nature of a hero’s journey was the reason I wasn’t sure setting the process up for myself ahead of time would work. How could I be sure I’d face something authentically challenging? If I knew ahead of time I was headed to a difficult place, wouldn’t I avoid the worst of it or act as thought I were facing a true challenge when in point of fact it was more of a speed bump?

Nope. Turns out there is plenty of room for surprise.

On Saturday, I took out my cards from this past month and laid them all out on the floor. These cards, in case you haven’t read about them before, are notes I’ve been writing, one per day, on a key thought or discovery from the day. They read with sentences and phrases such as “Big projects are best tackled one step at a time,” or “Exercise patience,” or “Story matters. It’s how we make sense of the world…” I organized my notes and found that they became a sort of narrative that flowed one thought to the other. Rather than flowing in a chronological order from day to day, re-ordered, the cards made a kaleidoscopic picture of where my mind has traveled, and gave me a sense (which I couldn’t have otherwise articulated) of what the call to adventure truly is, right now, in my life.

And once I realized what the call was, I thought I’d simply move forward. I’d already planned to toss my coin into water to cross from one stage of the journey to the next, so all I needed to do was to go out and do it. But, that was when I stalled out. All day, I had a myriad of excuses. Maybe I’d do it tomorrow.

On Sunday, it was the same. Maybe tomorrow.

Monday? Yep, you’ve got it. Total avoidance.

So, I read the chapter on refusing the call, and my reaction (and resistance) started to make more sense. I’ll tell you more about it tomorrow.

Savoring Ordinary Life

IMG_1086The experiment is underway! In the Hero’s Journey, the character starts out in Ordinary Life. Usually, there is a bit of restlessness, or the potential for something to change, but the goal in this stage of any story is to establish what is before the adventure begins.

It’s not easy to see what IS in your own life without making changes. In fact, at least for me, it’s impossible. Probably it won’t surprise anyone that during this month as I pondered my Ordinary Life, I found myself organizing my office and closet and kitchen cabinets. The more you notice what is, the more you think, I wonder how I might make this better?

I spent some time before Christmas looking back over the past year, noticing growth and also areas of my life that needed more of my attention. Long-time readers of this blog will know that I use six key areas as touchpoints to make sure I’m not losing track of what’s important. Since balance in day-to-day living isn’t really possible–when we focus intently on one thing, other parts of life are bound to get messy–I look over chunks of time, say a month, or just recently, a year, to review how I’m doing. And… success! With longer term perspective, I saw growth in all the areas that matter to me. Probably this kind of growth happens every year, but when I don’t look at my life big picture, I don’t see it. Too often, I berate myself all about what I didn’t get done and am blind to what’s right in front of my face. Does this ever happen to you?

IMG_1084In any case, if you’d like to read about my six areas of focus, check out the post. The point today is that these six areas provided lenses to see the outgoing year and frame my goals for this coming year.

I’ve been reading many blog posts about why resolutions don’t work. I agree with much of what’s being said, but I also think many of them miss a very important detail. Life isn’t a huge mountain that we climb and climb and climb. All of those people climbing are hoping to reach a destination, right? But we’ve all heard the maxim that “life’s a journey” so many times it goes in one ear and out the other. Yeah, yeah, yeah, but my journey is actually leading somewhere and it’s just over that next peak. Well, that next one… Actually, the next.. until we’re so discouraged, we sit down on the trail and wait for the buzzards.

IMG_1088Here’s what I think. Life IS a journey. But the vistas aren’t as easily apparent as actual mountaintops. We have to intentionally find those trail markers and create ways to celebrate the vistas. Before we can do that, we have to notice them. And that’s exactly why am so excited about this Hero’s Journey project. We’re all the main characters of our own stories. We’re all on journeys. We can stumble along the trail, or we can celebrate it as we go. By choosing to see life as a journey with stages, by transitioning intentionally from one to the other, I’m becoming more aware of just how incredible a life story can be, in all of its ups and downs.

The next stage of the Hero’s Journey happens when the Call for Adventure comes. I knew I couldn’t force this call, so every day, I’m putting one card in a box, with a thought about what has been on my mind that day. When the end of the month comes and it’s time to move on, I’ll look at what I’ve collected and see what comes clear. In what direction should I head this year? For me, prayer is a large part of this process, too. I believe when we ask for direction, whether the answer is subtle or a knock over the head, clarity comes.

IMG_1090As I planned out the year, I knew I’d need a physical way to move from one stage to another. We need celebrations such as birthday parties and graduations to mark transitions in our lives, and we need smaller ones, too, to mark the smaller moments of our lives. So, when it was time to move away from Ordinary Life into Listening for the Call, I took my first coin to a river and tossed it in. We were in Bend, so we chose a snowy bridge with a view of the mountain. Recently, I read in Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years about choosing to create memorable scenes in our lives. I completely agree. Why not go for it?

When I got home to California, I took out all the cards I’d collected from each day of the first stage, and saw some interesting patterns. The biggest pattern included “one thing at a time,” and “patience,” and “be present.” These were good reminders. My favorite card read, “if you want the right answer, ask the right questions.” So, this month, as I’m listening, I’m keeping track of my questions, and pushing myself to ask more, too. Here’s to life’s adventure… onward!

A Hero’s Journey Experiment few years ago, I made a decision that changed my life. Even though I had a BFA in Theatre Arts and was pursuing an MFA in Writing for Children,  I felt like someone pretending to be an artist. All around me, highly creative people produced inspired work. I was the ugly step-sister craftsperson. I worked hard, sure, but I was also too careful, too structured. While my work was adequate, lightning wasn’t striking.

I’d hit my natural ceiling. Without drastic action, I wasn’t going to grow. The moment that actually pushed me over the edge was an editor reading my manuscript and telling me, “You’re not writing what you need to be writing. This story is well-written, sure, but you–you’re not in here.”

Why was being an artist so important to me? To me, living life as an artist meant risking asking the big questions. It meant stretching to my outer limits and beyond. It meant seeking truth in the hopes of shining light for others. My role models, Madeleine L’Engle and C.S. Lewis, had both done this with their work. Their fiction and nonfiction had reached out of the pages of their books and challenged me to live a bigger, a more meaningful, life. No one could guarantee that my work would have this significance, I knew. However, if I only dipped my toe into the creative ocean and never dared to dive in, well… my work would never have more than toe-dip impact.

At the time, I was writing my creative thesis on the importance of play in the creative process. I’d been approaching this task intellectually, squishing every last bit of fun out of my play. I was trying to force myself to act like an artist, all the time becoming less and less inspired. So, I wrote to my graduate advisor and announced, “I’m going to write a play, a hero’s journey, about my process of learning how to play. I’m going to start now.”

plays-the-thingShe responded: “Cool!” and then, “Are you sure it will work?” I wasn’t, to be honest. But I assured her it would. In the end, committing to the process was what made it work. I wrote the play and produced it. Through the process of journaling, shaping the story, rehearsing with the cast, creating costumes, sets and choreography, composing music, and learning how to edit video, I battled some of my deepest challenges: perfectionism, the need for control, and the search for my unique voice in the sea of creative voices in the world, to name a sampling.

After the play ended, though, I felt at odds. I’d been engaging with life in a new way, but after we finished the production, I slipped back into life as usual. My old habits returned, stomping down those fresh shoots of artistry that had started to sprout.

Fast forward to December 2014. My inbox was being bombarded with offerings of goal-setting courses and books. I watched some of the videos and listened to two very insightful books, The One Thing by Gary Keller and Essentialism by Greg McKeown. I went through Donald Miller’s Creating Your Life Plan. As pieces fell in place, I realized I needed a practice that combined the inner work I needed to do with my outer goals, work and otherwise. We are not simply what we do, but what we focus our energy on day in and day out can’t help but affect who we become.

What I needed was a new hero’s journey. So, I made another decision. I decided to try a hero’s journey experiment this year. I’m going to share some thoughts along the way here, on my blog, because I know a travelogue can often help a traveler experience sights and experiences on a deeper level. Perhaps my travels will inspire you to ask a new question or to try an experiment of your own. We’ll see what happens together.

Here’s how I’m setting out.

journeyI put together a journal in which I reviewed key successes from last year, as well as habits and thinking I need to let go. I added pages where I can map out the journey and take notes along the way for each stage. One tool I knew I’d need was a symbol to help me transition from stage to stage. I bought small coins, and plan to drop each into a fountain or wishing well as I say goodbye to one stage and hello to the next. Also, to keep myself open to the possibilities, I’m collecting one thought per day in my hero’s journey book. For instance, when I’m Listening for the Call, I’ll write down one word or phrase per day. Then, when I come to the end of the month and am ready to Cross the Threshold, I can review the cards to see what pattern emerges from the sum of those days.

I started, of course, with Ordinary Life. What does that mean? I’ve been working on noticing where I am, right here and now. I’ve been organizing and decluttering my spaces, making room for whatever might be coming next. Another focus has been on building healthy habits such as exercise and blocking off regular time for writing. I’ve been practicing saying no, when appropriate.

I’m planning on tossing my first coin into a fountain around January 1. Then, it will be time to start Listening for the Call. I can’t help but believe that something extraordinary might show up. In any case, I know that by committing to the journey, I am engaging with life. I’m living the artist’s life.

Fruit and Fizz

9781607745983I’m loving Kombucha Revolution by Stephen Lee. With brightly colored illustrations and interesting combinations, Lee encourages readers to drink Kombucha, the “wonder drink.” An ancient home-brewed tea, Kombucha “detoxifies the body, aids digestion and reenergizes the mind…” What could be better? The book encourages healthy living with a flair of creativity, riffing off the original Kombucha with such recipes as “Lavendar Lemonade Kombucha,” “Kombucha Root Beer Sasparilla,”  and even “Edamame Kombucha Spread.” Overall, I appreciate the fun and flair with which this book is written, and am enjoying exploring the recipes. Give it a try, I think you’ll like it too!

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.