I’m in the midst of a few months of restricted activity due to some medical shenanigans, and my first question I asked after my doctor told me I need to avoid cardio exercise and lifting more than a grocery bag was, “Can I go for walks? Like, for an hour? Or more?”
Thankfully, his answer was yes. I can walk for as long as I’d like.
Since I got into the habit of running this fall, training for a 5k, one of the things I knew might happen but still delighted me when it did was that I’d come to rely on my runs for my mental health. That hour spent purely in pursuit of a made-up goal became an unexpected highlight of my day. Three or four times a week, I got up and out, and it made everything better. My mind felt clearer, my body felt stronger.
Being forced to take it easy is frustrating and disappointing, especially because I was this close to being ready for the 5k.
But at least I can take long walks. And so I have been, every day.
I walk by myself, but I see these walks as being as important to my general life as artist Austin Kleon describes the walks he takes with his family every morning. (I also can’t make it to Creative Mornings – the talks happen too early to accommodate dropping my kid off at school.)
Not only will my body heal while I stroll around the woods and my neighbourhood, my mind will stay healthy, too.
I don’t know about you, but my creative spaces – both in my house and in my brain – are a total disaster these days. Time for some serious spring cleaning!
Starting today, and continuing every Monday and Thursday for a few weeks, join me over on Patreon for a simple yet grand adventure to get these physical and figurative creative spaces into shape so they can help us have the be our best creative selves.
In this first episode of Compulsory in two years (two years!), we return to our roots with an honest conversation with quilter Cheryl Arkison about the power of habit in creative life, and about embracing the mess of, well, pretty much everything.
These are the apps and programs I used the most, relied on, or simply found the most valuable in 2016 – both in my writing and creative work, and in my personal crafty life. All of these are available on pretty much any platform (I use a Mac laptop and an Android smartphone, in case you find that relevant!)
Leave a comment at the end and add your favourites, too!
Some of these are referral or affiliate links. I don't recommend anything I don't actually know and love!
CoSchedule – Though I've used this editorial and social-media calendar for quite a while, this fall I started using it hard. With their introduction of the ReQueue feature, which loops designated posts to be reposted automatically, I cancelled Edgar and haven't looked back. In 2017, I intend to use it for blog planning, too (because in 2017 I intend to get organized).
Trello – I use this list-making app every day. It's where I keep track of links I'll share in my Friday newsletter, and I use it to manage the editorial content for Clarinet News. I also use it with my client to keep track of everything else we work on together – from files to to-do lists to contact information. The free version of Trello is robust on its own; I only upgraded to the Gold version (worth every penny!) when I needed to exceed the free version's file-size limit for uploads.
Evernote – I've used Evernote for years and it continues to be a catch-all for a huge variety of information I need to capture, and I draft a lot of things I write in there, too. I wrote about it a while ago (um, five years ago!), and I pretty much still use it the same way, pretty much every day.
Canva for Work – I started paying for this browser-based graphic-design tool as soon as they launched their paid version a couple of years ago, and I've never questioned the decision. Canva for Work makes it dead simple to set your brand's fonts and default colours, and to apply them to a huge number of predesigned templates for all manner of imagery and documents (including the image at the top of this post, for example). For people like me who aren't graphic designers but rely on great graphics, this is a must-have tool. I even used it to design the cover of my latest ebook.
Facebook Live – Live video isn't new, and I was eager to try out Periscope when it first came on the scene. But Periscope rapidly fell to sexist trolls, and it's only accessible to people who have the app (or maybe they broadcast to Twitter now, too? I stopped following it). Everyone is on Facebook, though. And Facebook weights videos very favourably compared to other kinds of media content, which means that when you go live, and when you archive your broadcast on your page, there's a pretty good chance people will actually see it. And watch it. And comment on it. When I make stuff live on Facebook, my videos get far more engagement with people than any other kinds of posts, and I gain followers. Live video requires no postproduction, so it's a very easy way to enter the world of video. I highly recommend it!
Overdrive – When my family went on a six-week road trip in 2015 a brilliant friend recommended we borrow audiobooks from the library for our kid to listen to in the car. Overdrive is the app most public libraries use to allow their patrons to borrow ebooks and audiobooks. This year, I finally got into audiobooks for myself, and I'm so grateful that I can borrow them without cost from the library! So good.
ConvertKit – When I first committed to writing my weekly newsletter back in 2014, I used TinyLetter to send it. Eventually, it became clear that the newsletter is central to my business, and I switched to MailChimp for its more robust features. MailChimp is a bit of a beast, though, and I never managed to take the time to learn how to do the fancy things I need to do to make email work for my business, especially because I'm not a one-trick pony. Enter ConvertKit. All the things that broke my brain in MailChimp are simple, basic features of ConvertKit. ConvertKit allows me to reach people about specific topics that interest them – like crochet or bullet journaling – while also reaching people with my more general newsletter. It's also what I use to send email content for my online classes. The lower-level plans are more expensive than MailChimp's, and I consider them to be 100% worth the extra expense. I've used ConvertKit for a year now, and I look forward to using it for a long time into the future.
Harvest – Thought I've worked as a freelancer for a long time, this year I took on a major client. I keep track of my hours and send invoices using Harvest, which has super simple apps for my phone and laptop so I can track my time even when I'm on the go. Bonus: Because I'm only working with a single client these days, I can do all this with the free version.
Boardbooster – Pinterest is the single greatest driver of traffic to my website. I used to use Tailwind to manage and track my pins, but after a while I stopped taking the time to use the analytics, and I switched to Boardbooster. It doesn't have as sleek an interface (in fact, though it does very contemporary things, the design of the app seems super dated), but it has great features and it's less expensive than Tailwind. I use the pin-queueing functionality almost daily, and have my biggest boards set up to have older, successful pins automatically reposted. Whether you already rely on Pinterest as a central social medium for your business or you're looking to up your game with it, I recommend checking Boardbooster out.
Chatbooks – This one isn't work-related (though it could be if I wanted it to be...), but it saves me so much time and makes me so happy. Chatbooks is a phone app that takes the snapshots you take, and when you've queued up 60 of them, it prints them in a book and sends it to you. I spend a few minutes each week curating which photos I want to be used, and I love it when a book arrives. No need to worry about printing photos! I get hard-cover books printed, and the quality is great. Shipping to Canada isn't prohibitively expensive, and I've come to rely on this simple service to bridge my digital and physical worlds. So good.
VSCO – Speaking of photos, VSCO is my go-to app for editing photos on my phone for posting on social media. Its interface is a little too designy for my taste – it uses its own icons and gestures instead of more standard iterations, which is like the opposite of user-friendly, but whatever – but it has great filters and straightforward editing tools for functions from cropping and rotating to adjusting exposure and white balance.
Do you use any of these apps? Got tips or tricks? Use and love something that's not listed? Share in the comments!
We’re hosting Rosh Hashanah dinner at our place this year, to celebrate the Jewish New Year. I’m so excited about it. It’s such a fun time to have family over to a house filled with food and cheer. And though Greg is the cook in our family, I’m excited to do some cooking myself, too, this time around. I’ve already made dessert, and I’ll be making a noodle kugel and challah.
It had been a few months since I’d last made any challah, so last weekend I put a loaf in the oven to get back into the swing of it before I make the special round challahs for Rosh Hashanah (at this one time of year, you make them round to symbolize the circle of time and life).
Facebook reminded me last week that it was a year ago that I made challah for the first time. It awoke in me a desire to make it more and more so I could figure out my own favourite recipe (and learn how to make it pretty). Eventually, I not only mastered the six-stranded braid, but I settled on my own favourite recipe, tweaked and nudged from many I experimented with.
Looking back at those original loafs, it’s very cool to see the result of the time and effort I put in. It’s a slow process to make a loaf of bread like this – it takes pretty much all day, though much of the time is spent waiting. I loved doing it over and over again, until I got my bread to be just right – sweet and dense and perfect with some salt on it.
I started my first Bullet Journal two years ago, and it (finally) made me into a notebook-keeper. Which is good, because, being a writer, I was starting to feel like I was doing something wrong in my inability to stick with a notebook habit.
Like with many systems, though, I suppose I got a little antsy, or bored, and when the Get to Work Book came out last year, I thought that maybe its more structured design would enable me to be more structured, while still being flexible enough to accommodate some simple bullet journaling. So I ordered one and fell in love with it.
But the GTWB is big. Quite big. It’s not as easy to tote around as a plain-old notebook. So after a while I started looking around some more, and discovered the Hibonichi planner. Which is small. And lovely. With surprisingly solid, very thin paper my fountain pen wouldn’t bleed through.
And though I enjoyed adapting to the Hibonichi, and it’s just so fabulous, after a disappointingly short time I found myself longing for the less rigid structure of a plain-old notebook Bullet Journal again. The grass is always greener, people. The grass is always greener.
I wanted to be able to take notes wherever I wanted, and have a day’s to-do list be any length it needed to be. I wanted a notebook without much structure that I could just tote around everywhere, to hold all the thoughts, tasks, and notes I need to capture.
DOWNLOAD MY FREE ART & CRAFT HABIT TRACKER WORKSHEET!
So I plucked a brand new notebook from my shelf (which I’d purchased right before the GTWB launched), and took a few minutes to set up a new Bullet Journal. And I felt like I had come home.
Now. In the years since I first came upon this delightfully simple system, bloggers have gone nuts showing off their own journals. I love me some journal eye candy. I love it so much.
But I do not produce an eye-candy journal. No, I most certainly do not. I do not colour-code. I do not adorn. I do not apply fancy hand-lettering to headings and titles. I don’t even try to keep my handwriting in check.
So I thought, though I’ve only been back at it for a week, that I’d show you a few spreads from my new BuJo (that’s what the kids call it these days).
Up at the top of the post is something new I’m trying out this time around: a Calendex; it’s like the love child of an index and a yearly calendar. As you can see, I haven’t actually used it yet. But I do have some things coming up later in the year, so I anticipate I’ll end up using it. Even if I don’t, it sure is pretty. And it’s the first time I took a ruler to my journal. Fancy.
Month & Day Spread
Above is the spread with my February task list on the left, and some daily to-do lists on the right. I didn’t keep a monthly task list in my last journal, but I think I’ll stick with it in this one. It felt pretty good to mark all the February tasks as completed at the end of the month, and it helped to see them all in one place.
For daily to-dos, well. This is why I fell in love with this system in the first place (this, and the whole index idea). It’s second nature to me to make lists this way now (not that it’s terribly different from any other kind of to-do list.) I’ve also added a daily tracker bit in the top-right corner of each day’s list. I’m using this to keep up with exercising and my daily art/craft making habit. In the past, I’ve kept track of my daily making on a dedicated spread, but I’ve come to accept that I don’t end up using dedicated spreads very much, but I do use a daily list. So this is my solution.
(Yes, I totally did end up scoring a pair of Paul Simon tickets on the 24th. Thirteenth Row, Centre. Holy smokes.)
Day & Notes Spread
Heh. So, yeah, I turned the page and totally didn’t do the daily tracking thing on the next few days. I’m back to it now, though.
What I really want to highlight here is that my journal is not tidy. There’s loads of Bullet Journal pr0n around, you guys, and I gotta say it all strikes me as pretty fictional. You can keep a meticulous journal if you write things down after the fact, but there’s just no way that a work-in-progress can be perfect. It’s fiction. So here’s my reality.
On the left, you can see some messy notes. On the right, you can see some very rough notes I started making in pencil, because I knew I’d have to erase things and really mess around.
You might notice that these photos do not feature my beloved fountain pen. I discovered many years ago that two things allow me to keep my handwriting legible: small ruled lines or grids (I was a college-rule student all the way; no wide-ruled paper for me!), and a pen that allows for some friction. In fact, the only time I’m truly happy with my handwriting is when I write in pencil. The friction is ace.
Fountain pens are lovely to write with, and I certainly haven’t given mine up, but they’re just so smooth! Too smooth. I’ve taken to using a Micron pen in this journal, and it’s for sure the right choice.
DOWNLOAD MY FREE ART & CRAFT HABIT TRACKER WORKSHEET!
Do you keep a Bullet Journal? What are your favourite modules and hacks? And is your journal super neat and tidy, or more of a mess like mine?