Category Archives: Advice

3 Quick Tips to Jumpstart Your Motivation

DON’t Just sit there, do something

“So many fail because they don’t get started — they don’t go. They don’t overcome inertia. They don’t begin.”


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It’s been a knock down drag out kind of a week. Between the ASAP deadlines, quick turn schedules, open ended project questions, and resulting sleeplessness, I’m tapped. So my lofty goals of regular blog posts get pushed aside every weekday evening for the comforts of the couch and/or a cocktail.

Then there’s the internal battle, the one between myself and my inner critic that likes to label things. I would call my attitude “intertia,” but the critic prefers the word “lazy.” I’m beginning to think that the critical voice is right.

But my present lack of motivation isn’t limited to this blog alone. There have been points throughout this week where I’ve had a tedious pending project task, personal correspondence that’s lagged for days, a sink full of dishes, or the studio billing that needs doing, all of which tended to fall in the backburner column of my to do list.

This got me thinking about the tricks I employ to get things accomplished when burdened by a relentless case of the “don’twannas.” I’ve singled out three of my favorite fire starters:

1. Make a Mark | Back in art school, my foundation-level painting instructor had a wonderful piece of advice that has served me well for over 20 years now. He often referred to the lack of motivation when starting a piece as “the intimidation of the empty canvas.” His simple, but brilliant solution? Just make a mark on the surface — any mark will do — just start doing something.

This trick has gotten me rolling on countless logo and page layout designs. Aimless doodling evolves into more thoughtful sketching, all because the page is no longer blank.

2. Set a Time Limit | When I’ve got a beast of a Photoshop mockup to build or a complex project proposal to write, I’ve found it productive to set a specific window of time to complete the chore. It becomes a game, as in “I’ve got two hours before that lunch meeting. Let’s see how fast I can get this done.”

Not only is the method a good test of your skills, I’ve discovered that once I’m about 15 minutes into any effort that I’ve hit momentum and there’s no point in stopping until the job is done.

Note: This tip is particularly effective for motivating yourself to exercise. When you’re a mile into a jog, already hot, sweaty and possibly a ways from home, you might as well finish your workout.

3. Dangle the Carrot | Concerted effort deserves a reward. I’m forever treating myself to little indulgences once the job is done. It could be something small but pleasurable, like taking the dogs for a hike or coffee with a friend, or for the greater accomplishments (like winning a project), a new pair of shoes.

I encourage you to try these tips the next time you’re feeling less than inspired about a task. You may be surprised at how effective you can be once you just get started. In fact, I’ve combined steps 2 and 3 to get this post written and checked off the to do list.

OK, done! I’m signing off to reward myself with a glass of wine and some loving doggie company, on the couch, of course.



The Friday Fast Five

1. Identity Redesign for Cartoon Network |  Must admit that at the start of the article, I was thinking… hmm, kind of sterile. Then I read a little further down… interesting secondary elements, OK… and the video clip cinched it. WOW! Give yourself a brilliant visual treat and start there.

2. Design Bureau |  Keep the inspiration going with this multidisciplinary, global design digest served up in a clean, straightforward fashion. Diverse, quirky and well-written.

3. Constrainstorming |  When your next brainstorming session gets swamped by possibilities, try these quick tips on exploring potential parameters to focus the group.

4. Establishing the Best Price |  An interesting read on how to employ User Experience to uncover the most compelling price point. Useful for programmers as well as freelance designers (and studios, too!).

5. iTunes U |  One of my core values is to never stop learning, and I’m forever blown away by the amount of quality, Undergrad and Graduate course lectures available online for FREE! My virtual classes have me currently studying up on Sociology, Anthropology and Culture at UC Berkeley, CCA, OTIS and Stanford. Why not join me on “campus” and check out the wide range of subjects at iTunes U?


Moving Past the F.U.D.s



“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”


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Shamefully, this blog has been dormant for several weeks — breeding dust bunnies by the score while I’m sure the few regular visitors simply deleted another blog from their reading list. A passionate plunge into inspirational design finds and a few months of consistent daily posts… Suddenly. Just. Stopped. (Insert the sound of summer peepers here). What happened?

A lot, actually.

In addition to managing a heavy project load, interviewing with new clients and prepping for a vacation, I also decided to address the wild hair that’s been poking at me since the start of 2010. Wanting to make an investment in my studio’s brand, I began researching professional advice on the use of social media for building my business. I hired the best consultant I could find and looked forward to being instantly molded into social media gold.

*Sigh* Good intentions… road to Hell.

What really took place is the reason for this blog’s sudden silence — many weeks of introspection overflowing two jam-packed sessions with a velvet hammer wielding, intensely savvy and warm-hearted woman.* Much of her guidance was toward quick tweaks and longer term overhauls of my current online presence, some things I already knew (but lazily wasn’t acting upon), and other points I didn’t. By reading between the lines of what I thought I wanted, she skillfully uncovered what I truly needed to do — delivering advice that picked at sealed edges and swirled around the crazy aspirations that nest deep within me.

In brief detail, the greatest suggested challenges set before me are to:

1) Commit to shifting the focus and online presentation of my design studio offering (OK… a bit of a lengthy checklist, but certainly doable in time.)

2) Begin generating original content for this blog. (UGH!)

You’re probably thinking, “generate original content, isn’t that what almost every “How to Write a Blog” article suggests?!” Yeah, yeah, I know. But when a professional firmly recommends that you quit hiding behind the work of others and put your expertise out there, IN YOUR OWN WORDS, there’s a little gravity behind it.

And again, UGH! The last thing I wrote of any length was a project proposal, and who really reads those? Between the thought of authoring content for all the internet to see AND making an official foray into a different design discipline… . Well, so began a month of the F.U.D.s — the fear, uncertainty and doubt that start circling whenever I head off in untried directions.

As a graphic designer dealing with everything from identities to brand strategies, I’ve built a steady business on the ability to create something out of nothing. I mean, I start from a freakin’ blank page almost every day. You would think that after 20 professional years, tackling a new endeavor would be relatively easy. But, what I’ve come to realize is that when said new direction involves an a rusty skill set, or worse yet, SOMETHING I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO, I sink into an ocean of self-reflection and those nasty F.U.D.s are at me like sharks on chum.

Really, I think everyone who creates is tormented by these anxieties — designers, business people, artists, thinkers, musicians, writers, performers, speakers, strategists — they all have fear drenched moments when they think, “What the Hell am I doing? I have no idea how to do this. What if this time, I just can’t do it?”

Offering a solution, the great Seth Godin, Author, Entrepreneur, Speaker, and Marketing Mastermind, writes:

“The lizard brain—that prehistoric brainstem that all of us must contend with—doesn’t like being laughed at. It’s the part of our brain that worries about safety and dishes out anger. Being laughed at is the lizard brain’s worst nightmare. And so it shuts down our art. …

What artists over time have figured out is that the resistance is the sole barrier between today and their art. That the act of genius required to produce original and important work is crippled by the resistance, and ignoring the voice of skepticism is critical in doing the work.

And so, we acknowledge it. We stand up and we hear the voice of the lizard brain and we recognize that it’s there and then we walk to the podium and do the work. We acknowledge the lizard so we can ignore it.”


There have been a number of times in my life when I’ve found the guts to ignore my own lizard brain and taken a running leap from some formidable (albeit metaphorical) cliff — moving from a small country to the US, starting my own business with minimal savings or client prospects, ending a long-term but unhealthy relationship. Each time there has been a previously unseen net of support flung my way, and from every risk has come amazing opportunity. Now I find myself in a similar circumstance, about to make yet another jump.

I’ve learned that when you stand on a precipice, you need to remind yourself that while the known seems secure and safe, it offers only fleeting satisfaction. Staying with the everyday, “Oh, I know how to do this” situations may feel stable, but the predictable, well-worn road is an expressway to stagnancy and mediocrity. It is on the unexplored path that you will find true growth — that sticky, itchy and oftentimes searingly painful sensation that precedes the birth of something great.

So, here goes! Time to jump — rather, time to write, get passionate about design, share my strategic secrets, lead, inspire, and be inspired.

Friends, be with me. Fates, be kind. F.U.D.s, be damned.


*BTW, anyone toying with the decision to enlist the talents of the fabulous Gwen Bell should quit stalling and just DO IT. Best business investment EVER. Stick around and you’ll witness my online evolution (big plans ahead!), all due to a well-crafted action plan and much deserved kick in the caboose from this incredible lady. Thank you, Gwen!


The Friday Fast Five

1. Ira Glass on Storytelling | I’m a bit obsessed with the weekly This American Life podcast and look forward to it every Monday. If you’re also are a fan of the show, these videos are a sure treat (though not the best quality). Psst: I encourage you to make a small donation of support to keep the genius of TAL alive! I used the text / phone option that Ira describes at the start of each episode — super easy!

2. The Living Principles: Creative Action for Collective Good | Intrigued by this online community that celebrates design thinking as an agent for positive cultural advancement.

3. Typography: Kalakari Display | This font would look amazing engraved or letterpressed — metallic or light ink on dark stock!

4. 10 TED Talks on Architecture | I’ll be putting some time aside this weekend to catch up on these presentations.

5. Fiber Optic Concrete | Amazing architectural and artistic installation potential.


Proof that Al was a Design Thinker

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”



The Friday Fast Five

1. Seth’s Blog: SlickFinally getting around to reading Seth Godin’s Linchpin, which reminded me to stop in for a glance at his fabulous blog. In today’s post, he reminds us to be authentic. Wise words, as always.

2. DIY Electroluminescent Display Panels | While the technology itself isn’t new, the ability to do it yourself is fairly recent and could make the process more affordable overall (making some of my clients very happy). [via NOTCOT]

3. The Edges of the World, an installation by Ernesto Neto | Adding to my already pressing longing to visit London is this experiential exhibit at the Hayward Gallery. Neto’s work centers around transforming spaces into dramatic, participatory environments that invite the occupants to explore and interact with others. [via NOTCOT]

4. Steelcase Showroom : NeoCon 2010 | I didn’t attend this year, but I’m bound and determined to make it in 2011. In the meantime, I’ve been devouring the NC’10 feeds and images. This one is particularly gorgeous — I expect nothing less from Steelcase.

5. Aarhus Gymnastics and Motor Skills Hall | Closing out on the theme of architectural interiors, this amazing space makes me want to get out and play.


Life is What You Make of It

“Envision, create and believe in your own universe and that universe will form around you.”

TONY HSIEH, from Delivering Happiness, a Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose

Thanks to a very wise woman, I’ve been doing some soul searching (both personal and business related) since yesterday afternoon and this book is resonating in many ways. A quick, simple read that’s threaded with gems of insight from an extremely passionate and brilliant businessman.