Morning Rituals and Routines

My morning desk mess

Do you have a morning routine or rituals to get you started for the day? I’ve always been a morning person, and I’ve learned that in starting a business I need to guard that morning time with all I’m worth. I recently started to guard that schedule by avoiding any appointments or meetings before noon. There is no way to work around that completely–right now I have a Wednesday morning class at Cloud 9 Art School on sketching which gives me joy, so at the moment, that is the one exception.

I usually wake up between 5:30 and 6:00. I really hate alarm clocks, and so I’ve managed to train my body clock to wake up on its own. I feel like waking up to an alarm is the worst possible thing for your body–to be jarred awake from whichever sleep cycle you are in.

That first hour is for me. I get up, take the dog out, and then fix my first cup of coffee in the morning. I then take a long bath with a book or the latest New Yorker or Vanity Fair. Me-time. Me, glorious fricking, me-time. People always ask how I find time to read as many books as I do, and this is it. I don’t meditate, this is my meditation.

I love the smell of book ink in the morning.

Umberto Eco

After getting dressed I head back downstairs, feed the cats and dog, and then open up my journal and start a new page for the day. On one side I write up my schedule for the day. I learned this trick from Cal Newport’s Deep Work. By hand, I write down the times of the day and then I first pen in appointments and meetings (allowing travel time), and then I block off time for deep cognitive work–for me right now, that is focusing on getting my new business off the ground. I’ve always been a little absent-minded about my calendar, so the act of writing out appointments from my Outlook schedule into this notebook is a way for me to acknowledge each scheduled item. Since I’ve been doing this routine, it is rare to miss or be late. I try to leave open space in the schedule for changes and to work on my “action list.” I also list out my morning routine.

Around this time is when I have to wake up any kids in the household for school prep and then drive them to the bus stop. A good day is when everyone makes it to the bus on time, and if I have to drive them in, they owe me an hour of my lost productivity.

After the bus stop I pop in at the Starbucks down the hill for a latte or flat white. Some days I bring my journal with me (no laptop), drink my coffee, and write my Artist’s Way morning pages. That is three whole pages of writing. For me, I’m usually acknowledging the work and schedule for the day ahead and sometimes musing and recording what has happened in my life since I last wrote in the journal. I leave the laptop at home because if I have a screen near my morning pages and journal, I can easily be sucked into the black hole of lost time. And I don’t like email to be the first thing I deal with in the morning–another black hole of lost time.

When I return home it is time to hit the list. I strive to work non-stop until noon. I work on my business, and alternate it with my morning routine around the house. For the business I usually have one or two priorities for the day. For example, today I’ll be working on a mini-marketing plan for an upcoming class I’m teaching and then want to get started on planning a course around Digital Minimalism.

The business work is always changing, but my morning routine is fairly stable. It involves:
*morning pages
*clearing my desk
*a load of laundry
*cleaning the kitchen
*anything else

Afternoons are for appointments, errands, meetings, sketching, writing, and whatever suits my fancy. Sometimes that involves a nap after lunch. So refreshing and I may sneak in another chapter or two in the book I’m reading.

My morning routine is never quite finalized. What I need to work on next is completing a couple of items before bedtime, so I have more time in the morning to hit the ground running. The two I need to work on are making sure the kitchen is clean before bedtime and clearing my desk. I hate a messy desk, but I always seem to make my desk messy.

What is your morning routine? Have you posted your morning routine on a blog? What tips do you have for getting your day started right? What about tips from night owls?

Make sure you check out my upcoming class on the Artist’s Way. It starts Fall 2019 at Cloud 9 Art School, but registration is open now.

Draw a Leaf.

I used to draw all the time when I was an adolescent. I drew endless horses and copied pictures from my Teen magazines. I sketched all the major actors (quite badly) in Gone with the Wind. I created fantasy house plans and fantasy pets. Since that time I may have doodled a little during meetings. I had some faces I liked to draw and I would also sketch animals in their purest five-year-old sense, barely better than a stick figure with thick legs. And lots of spirals. I think the last time I had truly sketched was one afternoon at the Ashland Oregon Festival. I bought a journal and sketched an ink drawing of Shakespeare while sitting on a blanket in the sun in the park. I must have been in my mid-twenties which puts that a couple of decades in the past.

Not that I haven’t wanted to quit being creative. I kept busy with other crafts like needlepoint and quilting. But now, that was over a decade ago.

I’ve wanted to get back to drawing and I’ve also always wanted to try watercolor. For the past few years, I can’t tell you the number of sketchbooks and pen & pencil sets I’ve bought intending to start. Then I would sit and stare at a blank page not knowing where to begin. Eventually, the journals would be absconded by the kids and the pencil sets would be broken apart and doled out to be found broken and crammed in the corners of the SUV right where the vacuum wouldn’t reach.

Needing an outlet for my creativity, I took the Artist’s Way workshop offered at Cloud 9 Art School with Charlene Freeman and that class changed my life. I had been searching and needed to uncover that side of myself again that made room for art. While that class allowed me to explore through my morning pages and my Artist’s Dates, I started making some changes in my life and my appearance. First, I chopped all my hair off. That act was simply liberating. I bought a new pink purse and tied a cherry blossom scarf I bought to it because sometimes you have to look the part to find your muse.

Next, I decided to take a sketching class at Cloud 9. Since Charlene is such a fantastic teacher I signed up for her Nature Sketchbooking class. I bought all of the class materials–which were listed on her site. A proper mixed media journal, some paint brushes, and a Field Artist Pro Travel Watercolor Set with 12 half pan colors.

What happened next was just as liberating as getting my hair pixied. The first day of class Charlene had us pick a natural item to draw and paint. There were feathers, and other items, but I chose the small leaf. Charlene had us fill in a title page in our sketchbook and then we were to go to town with our pens and the watercolors.

That was it. That was all I needed. Someone to tell me, “Here is a leaf. Sketch it and then paint it.” That simple leaf was the push I needed. I started taking photos of nature around me–other leaves and started drawing them. I grabbed an illustration from a Pinterest board of a Stellar Jay and I painted that. I captured flowers in my garden and in my kitchen window. I found an image of a pinecone tattoo, put it to paper and colored it in how I thought it should look. A jaunty duck strolled past me at Chateau Ste Michelle and demanded to be memorialized. Postcards, book illustrations, Sunset magazine photos, everything has become fodder for my sketchbook. Mr. Squirrely Squirrel (or Doug the Squirrel) decided the kitchen windows birdhouse was scalable allowing me to get in close enough for a couple of character studies.

I’m waiting for the paint to dry on the last page of my first sketchbook– some mushrooms from an old botanical print. I’m taking another sketchbook class and I’ll be facilitating the next session of the Artist Way at Cloud 9. I hope you’ll join me there. What sort of push have you been waiting for? What kind of creativity have you been putting off in your life and you are ready to say, “Now is the time.” Let’s do this together!

100 Diagrams That Changed the World: Book Review

As an Infographic nut I love this wonderful little book, Scott Christianson’s 100 Diagrams That Changed the World. Each diagram includes a photo or reproduction starting with the Cave Drawings done 30,000 years ago in France all the way to a diagram of the iPod. In between you’d be quite surprised to learn that the first bar chart was created by William Playfair in 1786 (or at least I was). Or that the first exploded view diagram was created by Mariano Taccola way back around 1450. 

I was very pleased to find not only the expected entries by da Vinci and Descartes, but a diagram from my personal hero Ben Franklin for his bifocals. I was surprised to learn that Bacteria was first diagramed by Leeuwenhoek back in 1683. 1683! There are some interesting call-outs like for Ikea’s Flat-Pack Furniture (1956) which makes me want to curse when I read it, and even Carl Sagan’s Pioneer Placque which shipped out into space in 1972.

My only beef with this book lays in the design itself. Seriously–what is up lately with graphic designers not being able to design for print? Each entry has a couple introductory sentences which are printed in such a light gray as to be unreadable in the evening by a person over their forties. It has to be readable folks! That is the point!

 

This is Service Design Thinking: Book Review

This is Service Design Thinking was designed to be a much needed textbook on the new interdisciplinary approach to designing services. If you work at all in in high tech you would be well served by reading this book–but service design touches almost any business.

The content is good–I especially enjoyed the middle sections that describe a number of methodologies for designing services. I’ve worked with a few myself including personas, idea generation (SWOT and mindmapping), agile development, storytelling, and my personal favorite–business model canvas.  (Damn, I need to make sure all that is on my LinkedIn profile!) I also enjoyed some of the included in-depth articles on deep service design thinking. The essay on “Integrating Service Design Thinking and Motivational Psychology” by Fergus Bisset and “Service Design and Biophila” by Renato Troncon are worth the price of admission.

A shout-out now if you want to see world-class design affecting real people in action. Watch this video by Krista Donaldson and the folks at D-Rev.

So now what I didn’t really like about this textbook… And mind you, I’m coming at this from an experienced book editor in high tech. The book was crowd-sourced but I think lacks a strong lead editor. It is a collection of material and I guess that is okay for a textbook like this, but I prefer having one expert guide me through the work of others than sifting through myself.

And the book was so over-designed as to be distracting. It has a number of bells and whistles–color-coded sections, ribbon bookmarks, a poster, pre-highlights and so many icons there is a map to the icons in the back. All of this is rather distracting. I hate having my books pre-highlighted for me. If I find it important, I will highlight it. I can do that. I kind of disagreed with whoever made some of the highlighting decisions.

I hope there will be a second edition because this is a good book, but it needs the hand of a firm editor to take it to the next level for me.

But I will keep the book on my shelf and will probably check out other titles that are referenced.

And if you work on services– do take a look at the Business Model Canvas. If I were to pick one method over the others that would be it for me. I can learn so much about how a business works by taking it through the canvas just on my own.

Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette: A Novel

Little did I suspect when I picked up Microserfs by Douglas Coupland back in the mid nineties that just a few short years later I’d be working for the man myself (or as I like to call him now Uncle Bill). Like Coupland’s novel Generation X, Microserfs was fun and inventive and really captured a moment in time for me. It was about a group of programmers escaping Microsoft in Redmond to move to the bay area and form their own start-up. I distinctly remember the flat food scene–characters slipping a programmer Kraft cheese slices under his office door after he refused to come out.

I did the move myself backwards, moving up from Silicon Valley and nestled in to the Pacific Northwest and into my own office in Redmond. Two things I noticed when I moved here from the Bay Area–that despite the fact that I arrived in 1998 and many of my colleagues back then were millionaires, the parking lot was a lot less flashy than any would have been in Palo Alto, the other that I immediately stopped talking about how much rent I paid. I moved here and I loved the region–the color of the skies and waters, the green of the trees, the granoly people, the left-wing politics that were a given…The fact that when the sun WAS shining for the first time this Californian actually noticed it and appreciated it. And then of course there was the Microsoft culture. Everything you’ve heard and worse. The long hours, the excitement over stock splits, the huge retirement parties for millionaires, the highly smart type A and extremely competitive people who probably move a bit too fast for their own good. And then the things that you probably didn’t know–that the people who work here really are amazing, family-oriented, and with a high rate of Asperger’s. Intense, yes, always intense but maybe a bit mellowed over the years. And even a number of those that retired…returned.

Over the years, starting with Microserfs, I’ve been on the look-out for novels where Microsoft or its executives and/or it’s culture are featured. Someday, maybe, I expect there to be a college lit course on American Literature in the Dot Com and Post-Dot Com Era because there have actually been a number of them. Among the list I would also include:

  • The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman. One of my favorite novels of 2011, the main heroine of the novel is the CEO of a start-up in 1999, while her sister works in an antiquarian bookstore owned by a former Microsoft employee and millionaire. This book has been compared to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and is a wonderful read if you like intelligence. I felt this really did capture what was happening during this time period and the book was nominated for the
  • Options: The Secret Life of Steve Jobs by Daniel Lyons. Lyons, the tech reporter who also anonymously wrote the Fake Steve Jobs blog turned his writing to this novel. Since the book is about Apple, of course both Ballmer and Gates show up as characters in this hilarious love letter to the absurdities of the super rich and the dot com era. I have this one back again in my to read pile to see how it stacks up now after Jobs is gone.

All three of these novels were humorous– the Cookbook Collector maybe a little more subtle. I guess I should revise that college course to the Comic Novel of American Literature in the Dot Com and Post Dot Com Era.

All this is to add one more book to my list–Maria Semper’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette. When I read an article about Semple’s use of Microsoft and Seattle in her book, I immediately downloaded it on my Kindle and started to read it that evening. Microsoft is only a minor character in this book, Bernadette’s husband is a VP in charge of a highly anticipated project. The main focus is on Bernadette, a former award winning architect who has retired to Seattle to raise her daughter and through a series of unfortunate events starts to unravel and then disappears.

I loved this book–because this one captures not only some of Microsoft’s culture, but the whole Pacific Northwest region–the Helicopter Moms, the pretentious school involvement, the Tom Douglas restaurants, Chihuly chandeliers, the horrible drivers, the famous Seattle freeze, which she captures all in this passage:

“My great-grandfather was a fur trapper in Alaska,” Audrey said. “Warren’s great-grandfather bought furs from him. My point is, you come in here with your Microsoft money and think you belong. But you don’t belong.”

She nails the culture at Microsoft–the meeting rooms, the Connector buses, nd something I’ve always wondered WTF at Microsoft–the diminishing numbers of much needed admins.

“Another oddity: there are no assistants. Elgie heads a team of 250, and they all share one assistant. Or admins, as they’re called, accent on the “ad.” In L.A., someone half as important as Elgie would have two assistants, and assistants for their assistants, until every bright son or daughter or anyone west of the 405 was on the payroll. But not at Microsoft. They do everything themselves through specially coded portals.”

And the sky. Semple gets it here:

“I’ll miss the afternoons when I’d go out on our lawn and throw my head back. The sky in Seattle is so low, it felt like God had lowered a silk parachute over us. Every feeling I ever knew was up in that sky. Twinkling, joyous sunlight; airy, giggling cloud wisps; blinding columns of sun. Orbs of gold, pink, flesh, utterly cheesy in their luminosity. Gigantic puffy clouds, welcoming, forgiving, repeating infitetly across the horizon as if between mirrors; and slices of rain, pounding wet misery in the distance now, but soon on us, and in another part of the sky, a black stain, rainless.”

The novel is great fun. The plot was awesome and I even shed a tear over the Runaway Bunny. You can see Maria’s hilarious book trailer for it here.