Friday, October 23, 2015

Resident Adventures - Florida Edition

Lately I've been delighting in resurrecting the idea of being a Resident Adventurer. After I had lived in Hong Kong for a year, I was in a state of "in-between"...I wasn't a native, I wasn't a tourist...I was a Resident Adventurer. I've been continuing to move and am now living in my 10th state. I've been trying to bring the idea of becoming an adventurer in my own back yard. 

It looks like I'll be sticking around Florida for a while. It took me a good year to settle in a feel like home. There are elements that made me feel at home immediately because it mixes elements of two places that I have very fond memories of - Texas and Hong Kong. Florida has the flatness (even flatter) of Texas and the weather of Hong Kong. Who knew Florida could be my version of a TexKong? (It's really hard to make up a compound phrase out of Texas and Hong Kong. Texarkana or Texhoma are a wee bit easier.)

These beaches make it easy to adventure. I mean, seriously? How cool is this? It's October!



And my favorite part - my little buddy that adventures with me. This little mischief-maker who likes to take herself on her own adventures if she can escape the fence in the yard (scared me half to death two weeks ago... grandpa fixed the fence so she can't do that anymore), will walk for 2 hours around the beach with me. After the first wave scared her a wee bit, she'll walk in the shallows with no issue whatsoever. 




I thought I wore her out.


But after a 5 minute Trix-nap, she was fine. Too bad for me.



Where are you Resident Adventures?

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Pivoting

Ain't that the way it goes,
Always stumbling into something,
Life's an open road,
You gotta take it,
If you just let go,
Lose your way to find that one thing
You've been missing
You almost missed it all
- "The Way it Goes," Gloriana


Songs that Speak to Me

There is something about the lyrics in Gloriana's 2009 song that really speak to me about my life's journey and my creative exploration. Sometimes getting lost leads to the best breakthroughs!


Texture & Patina - Where I Started

When I started the Texture & Patina collection, I took my cue from the colors in the photographs I took. Then I modified the colors a bit to capture more of what I really wanted. The core design that really struck my fancy was the textured plaid. 





I then added fruit designs with Zentangle inspired doodling in them. My mom thought the fruit made it country-ish. I think I agree.



I'm really torn between the above plaid and the Zentangle inspired background below.




Pivoting

And then I moved to Florida and wanted beach inspired decor. I started with the plaid that I loved so much and just fell in love with the coloring. So, I kept going and created a total of 8 color ways to expand the Texture & Patina Beach Bright collection. There are 12 designs in 8 colors coming over the next three months.



Your turn:

Have you ever "pivoted" creatively? Were you happy with the results? Or disappointed?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

8: Review

Previous Post - 7: Flex - acknowledge changes and adjust




Principle #8: Review

At the end of your self-defined window of time, you take some time to reflect (ideally with your support team), figure out what’s working, what isn’t, think of ways to make it work for you.

At the end of every time box, reflecting on your progress continuously and how you can continue to improve, estimate more accurately, figure out what works for you, what doesn’t. Rework your art. Rework your progress board. How often have you had to change priorities.


Tweak the System

Another area that is ripe for change and adaptation is this process itself! You don’t like sticky notes? Try note cards. Maybe you like technology better than sticky notes? There are a whole host of tools like Trello, Rally, VersionOne, LeanKit, that mimic the paper version. (You can look up Scrum or Agile tools and find a whole host of tools with free subscriptions for individuals.) Maybe this process doesn't quite work for you or sort of does, but you still need a little better task management with a virtual team, so a tool like Asana for virtual team and sticky notes for personal work might be best. Or create your own art and sticky notes. You don’t like coordinating the sticky notes? Mix ‘em up? The whole process is up for grabs for you to tweak and adjust until you are happy with it.





Beyond this system

It might even worth the time to set up a regular (quarterly?) review of your overall business and make sure everything is still working for you. 


  • Does this still work?
  • Is my pricing strategy still working?
  • Is my shipping process efficient?
  • Etc.


Grow the System

If your business grows, you start planning for a large order, a show, or you have some kind of large influx of business, you may need to make modifications to grow this system. If you get to a point where you feel angst and stress, maybe you're finding you have outgrown the system. If you get to this point, let me know! This is great "problem" to have. We can figure out ways to grow the system to meet your new news. This process works with teams of 10 to organizations of 100's.


Changing the System



Nothing in here is required. These are merely a set of guidelines we use (with adaptation) in corporate project management. This process has been adapted to work for the individual and personal time management. I am personally always adapting to see what works best for me and for the teams I work with. The same goes with this system for you. Do what works best for you!

Wherever you are at right now, just take time to sit and think about your feelings towards the process. Do you still feel comfortable? If so, great! Maybe the changes only need to be minor, if at all. 

If you are feeling angst or stress, try to pinpoint what makes you uncomfortable and try some things to change it. It is possible you need make changes: this process is geared to a small scale and maybe you need to figure out how to grow this to handle bigger projects. We run into this same issue technically. You never know until you move forward. Sometimes we know more when we get into the process and if we DID go down a wrong path, we'll take some time to "refactor" (or redo). You know the best for you.


You did it! Are you going in the right direction?

Are you still aligned with your company Mission and Vision? Do you have a Mission and Vision for the product itself? Is the product and your company still aligned? Are you Life Priorities being impacted by your work? If so, are there some adjustments you can make in your work habits to maintain your Life Priorities? Or is hyper-focus and extra time acceptable to your family while you are launching your Product?

Take a few minutes to celebrate your forward movement! You did it! Reward yourself with one of your fun ideas. Take a breather to rejuvenate, get yourself ready and move forward.


Plateauing

At 2 months, we start grooving along, at 5-6 months, we plateau. Either it's getting stale, boring, rote or we're running into real technical problems that the process can't solve. This is when angst, discord, frustration starts manifesting itself on the team. In the case of art, it would be with creative or process issues. Or growing pains! Try to get into a pattern of constantly renewing, revamping, and trying new things at the end of each time box.

Sometimes I let the discordant feelings sit with my teams. Sometimes I look for ways to shake things up. It depends. But one thing important to note: there is never a "destination" in this process. It's always a journey of constantly trying and tweaking.



Thank you for following along in the basic process of using Sticky Note PM (aka Personal Kanban) for your processes. I will continue to talk about Agile and different aspects of it in the creative environment in future posts.


Table of Contents for the Sticky Note PM Program

Monday, October 12, 2015

Hobby to Business Report: Organizing my work to produce a collection

I'm winding up to release Texture and Patina collection.  They are out there in bits and pieces in my shops, but I'm getting more organized for a bi-weekly release of 8 different colors of 12 different patterns. I'm biting my nails and getting all of the administrative pieces in place before I start the launch.

But before the launch, I thought I would share a bit of my process and how I organized the creation of this particular collection. I actually made so much art and didn't use a lot of it, that I'll have a great foundation when I start a new collection. Now I just have to make sure the sketches fit a future collection. Or maybe I'll have a spin-off collection. Hm....

But in the meantime, here is a picture of the pile of papers I sketched and doodled and marked. This is a nice 2-3 inch thick set of folders and papers.


I organically created a system (I love systems) as I progressed through creating this particular collection. I created color palettes and hung papers on walls to get ideas. I think I marinated in the ideas for a good 3 days before I started putting pen to paper. 

Pen and paper vs. digital design

Regarding pen and paper, I find I prefer pen and paper to pure digital design. One of the ways I would describe my core style (at least at the moment) is primitive, organic and colorful. I am particularly enamored with Southwest design because I love the element of organic creation where you see the handwork of the person who made it. That's something I've wanted to preserve in my personal approach to design - my hand in the work. So I maintain my interest in starting the work in pen and paper, then I scan it and manipulate it digitally in Photoshop and Illustrator.

System for editing and choosing final designs

As I started sketching, I experimented with a wide array of ideas. I marked, I sketched, I incorporated Zentangle type doodling into my designs. I marked papers randomly and with different methods.


As I worked, I ended up with quite a pile of papers. I started losing track of what I liked and what I needed to put on hold. I decided I wanted to keep everything I created since it sometimes sparked ideas, but it just didn't necessarily make the final cut.

Also, I found I needed to to "put my drawings away" for a bit either in the folder or put a day or two of time between when I created and when I viewed it again. This allowed me some time to assess whether I really liked it or not. Below is the rough workflow I used for developing this collection and editing it out to the final designs.




Outtakes

And finally, here is a set of outtakes I really like, but didn't make it into this particular version of the collection. Actually, they were going to get included, but I pivoted on the collection and ended up recoloring some of the patterns to a beach theme. I expect to use these in the future. 





Wednesday, October 7, 2015

7: Flex

Previous Post - 6: Focus - hyper focus on one thing at a time, limit your work in progress and blockers



Ah, the realities of a solo artist/creative - big opportunities arise (a large wholesale order!), family crisis arise, a day job might still be a reality, balancing family needs, keeping yourself healthy - all of these will vie for your time. Another scenario that calls for flexibility is when you start developing on Idea that morphs into a better more effective Idea. Being flexible is a key, even if you have to change your ideas mid-stream. How do you adjust without losing the momentum caused by a change? 


Principle #7: Flex

Okay, now you've made your plans, and have started working them. But, as any experienced project manager knows, no plan survives first contact with implementation

One of of the surprising things about this type of project/task management is your ability to flex and change as needed. Most creatives resist organizing and planning because it feels so rigid and inflexible. Not Agile! In fact, one of the core tenets of the Agile Manifesto is "Responding to change over following a plan." Agile is designed to flex with reality, not box you into a corner.

While the overall goal is to complete work and not circle between multiple tasks (see last week's post on Focus,) Agile embraces your natural creative instincts to adjust with changes. The key to success is balancing the tension between your intuition and desire to do something new and intention complete work and put it out into the world. You get better with the tension the more you practice.




I use sticky notes even with writing this post and use them as bullet points for the keys I want to discuss. Being able to move these around and get a clearer sense of how to structure this post is very helpful.

Being able to change your Categories, Focus, Priorities is one of the beautiful things about this process. It's also why I prefer sticky notes over any other tool. Lists are too rigid. With the number of tasks I need to do, a list is outdated as soon as it's written. Digital is as flexible as sticky notes, but it doesn't have the power of being an always-visible reminder of what you need to do. 


Try and Modify 

Once you start something, don't feel too boxed in by what you've started. For example, when I broke my Energy Drain list (below) down into categories, I had four categories. As I started working my "plan" I realized I needed to break one of the categories down into two smaller categories. I plan my week out and my priorities change as the week progresses due to things that come up. Don't worry or overthink it. Just go with the flow.

Don't Overdo the Organization

One of the keys I want to emphasize in this context is don't overdo the organization. Yes, a Type A project manager just said that out loud. Because everything changes. It's really more important (and sometimes harder) to keep everything as simple as possible and no more complex than it needs to be. Complexity kills progress. Keep it as simple as possible but don't feel hemmed in either. Again, balance the tension between the paradoxical states. 




Maintain Momentum

Flexibility as a creative is an advantage and a flaw. It can be a flaw when you are subject to the Shiny New Object Syndrome. Playing with the next ideas leads to loss of focus on becoming really good at one or two things. Context switching and pursuing each new shiny idea really makes for multi-focus. If you multi-focus, pretty soon you end up with a lot of projects started and none finished. 

One of the key points is making sure you have everything written down. If you have to check out from your work for a bit to focus on a family emergency, a health crisis, or an element of your business that takes you away from new business development, having a point of reference is critical. If you maintain your project book or project queue with your Hyper Focus as tightly focused as possible (only one or two sticky notes), when you come back to it you have focus.

When you shift priorities and change up the Hyper Focus, it's good to do a review of your entire queue to make sure you are still focused on the right priority and you haven't forgotten anything. Reviewing and rearranging your sticky notes keeps everything percolating in your brain, without having to worry about forgetting it. This little bit of preparation saves you a lot of time in the long run and keeps you from spinning your wheels on all the ideas you have. Also, because it's written, you don't have to spend precious time remembering your ideas or worse, forget the fabulous idea and start working on the wrong priority.



Next Post - 8: Review - survey the time box of activities, what can you do differently next time?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

6: Focus

Previous Post - 5: Time Box - identify a length of time you want to accomplish things


“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” - Steve Jobs



Principle #6: Focus


One of the key principles in the Agile world is focusing on one thing at a time and finishing it. I read a term on someone's blog that really describes a piece of this method. She called it “Hyper-Focus.”





Hyper Focus

You have a Project Book and put one single sticky note on the front and work that until it’s done. Maybe you decide you can have more than one (as you might have to wait for something from someone else to move forward). The idea is, don’t put too much on your front page. Maybe even decided a maximum number of sticky notes you will allow on your front page (1, 2, maybe even 4), but by limiting and hyper-focusing, your time will be maximized.









Avoid Context Switching (Commonly Known as Multi-Tasking)

As any good administrative assistant, chef, or mom knows, multi-tasking is a critical survival skill. At it's simplest, multi-tasking involves setting a number of tasks in motion that require minimal attention. One task gets the focus. So, in it's most literal form, we only do one task at a time, while other tasks are set in motion behind the scenes. A virtuoso multi-tasker optimizes her workflow so she can seamlessly switch attention between tasks with minimal down time.

The switching attention from one task to another is the problem. The phrase "context switching" more accurately describes the real issues. In the multi-tasking scenario, it's usually switching between tasks that don't necessarily require full concentration. But there are many tasks we do today that require the majority of our concentration.

Knowledge work is something that is high in mental concentration. To be most efficient with your work, it's best to finish the task you are working on before moving on to something else. One way to manage that is to minimize the number of tasks you are focusing on (limit work in progress) before you start working on anything new.



Pomodoro Technique

Additional techniques like the Pomodoro technique can help you focus for short bursts of time (25 minutes with a 5 minute break)





Next Post - 7: Flex - acknowledge changes and adjust


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

5: Timebox

Previous Post - Summary of Principles 1-4


Principle #5: Time-box

What is a Time-Box? A length of time determined by you (or your team) of 1, 2, 3, or 4 weeks for getting a group of sticky notes done.

You may need to circle back to steps 1-4 to break your ideas down small enough to fit into a single week. The idea is breaking your work down into smaller, manageable, complete-able chunks of work. The only valuable idea is a finished one, and each step or chunk of work brings you closer to completion.


Bringing Work into the Time Box

Go through your list of priorities and pull into your Time Box the number of stickies you think you can get done. If necessary, you might need to break your stickies down into smaller chunks to fit in the Time Box. It's highly likely you will overestimate the amount of work you can get done. That's okay. As you start, you are learning how much you can do. Keep notes on your stickies as you work and move them to the Complete queue with notes. I find my teams never really get to super accurate estimating. I find I'm also not completely accurate in my personal estimating either. But that's part of a future Principle to Review and see what's working, what isn't and continuously tweak the process until it's a fine tuned machine. The goal is to get to consistent, somewhat predictable productivity over the long term based on past history.

The Progress Queue (Wall System)

You can customize the queue to what works best for you, but I usually have these four categories: Queue (list of work to be done in this Time Box), Pending (items that I started but are waiting on outside factors), In Progress, and Complete.



Progress Queue (Book System)

In the the portable book, I use the progress queue a little differently. I use the pink page as the queue of new work and pending items, the front page is the In Progress queue that I need to focus on immediately. At the back of the book is a Complete page where I collect the completed stickies with the notes on how long everything takes.






Optimal Time Box

I recommend one week as the optimal time box for checking progress and continuous adjustments of your overall process.

Ranges of time boxes: You can go up to two, three or four weeks if that cadence and rhythm just makes sense in your creative world. If you have an intense project and you need to see daily progress, you can even break your time boxes down into daily and measure your progress based on daily completion of tasks. Test out what cadence works best for you.



Regular Work Week 

If you're job is a regular 9-5 workweek, the reflexive action is to base your week on a Monday-Friday cadence. Go ahead and work within this framework if it makes sense. But consider some alternatives.



The Weekend Creative

If you doing your creative work as a side gig to your day job, it might make more sense to start your Time Box on a Friday or Monday. Personally, I've been starting mine on Mondays, allowing me a little work during the week and a big push on the weekend with a wrap-up of what I accomplished for the week on Sunday and prep for the next week on Sunday evening. However, I've been experimenting with starting my creative week on Fridays. Experiment each week with whatever day it makes sense for you to start your Time Box.




Mid-Week Start

Another alternative for when you start your creative week might be in the middle of the week. This is something we did on my corporate teams when we normally had one-two people out on Fridays and Mondays due to flex schedules, holidays, Personal Time Off, etc. If you have a more stable schedule where people aren't out of the office regularly on Friday or Monday, a Monday-Friday Time Box is fine. But, this might also fit your creative schedule.


Schedules

If you notice, there isn't a strict schedule and plan. It's actually a fairly loose weekly plan. In a creative sense, I find this framework is incredibly valuable. I arrange my work around the appointments and find the loose framework is so much more fun and valuable for the way I work in a creative sense.

If you must have a schedule, be careful not to over schedule yourself. Chaos has a tendency to feed creativity than than strict schedules. The beauty of this system is that it allows a lot of flexibility and freedom while still propelling you to completion on tasks. 

With that in mind, only schedule what you must schedule. For example:
  • Deadlines for contest submissions. You might have to "plan backward" and figure out pieces of work you must have done by each week. 
  • Appointments
  • Classes
  • Shows
  • Editorial schedule for social media - this item might even be a hybrid between scheduling blocks of regular time every week to make sure you get all of this done, while not being overly rigid.





Summary

  1. Determine your optimal time box for you (I recommend one week)
  2. From the priorities you have set, select a group of stickies you think can fit into your Time Box
  3. Break your work down to fit into the time box
  4. Start your time box on a day where you can maximize your work




Next Post - 6: Focus - hyper focus on one thing at a time, limit your work in progress and blockers