Overwhelmed

Four.

Four.

As Advent comes to a close, I’m still working on my Advent Resolution of preparing for 2016. In fact, last Friday, in the post-Star Wars euphoria, I took a day off and sat down to put in writing all the ideas and plans that I’d been working on. 

I quickly became completely overwhelmed.

I started by grouping my goals into four categories… fitness, family, professional and household. And then started trying to figure out how to make all these things happen. But the list of things I want to change are long and two things happened:

  1. I got discouraged: How am I ever going to do all these things next year?
  2. I got depressed: I have to change all these things to feel like I’ve accomplished anything.

And planning and preparation came to an abrupt halt. Friday night though, I came to a conclusion: I really love my life and I don’t have to change anything. But I want to be healthier, more organized and more connected to my family. I can’t make all these things happen at one time. They have to happen gradually as part of a lifestyle change.

I tackled my list with renewed energy. I tried to prioritize items as I grouped and I noticed a pattern: Every category had a foundation. 

For the fitness and health, the foundation goal is walking at lunch. When I walk at lunch, I eat better and feel better, and I’m more likely to work out more and log my food in Lose It. All my other goals start to fall in line if I make time to walk around downtown Columbia at lunch. 

For my family, it’s eating dinner at home as a family around the dinner table. With our busy schedules, it’s too easy to eat out. Things just run better when we eat at home and get all five of us around the dinner table.

For professional improvement, it’s the blog. When I’m posting regularly, I’m more creative and energetic. Writing about design and creativity typically sparks ideas and projects. 

And for household, it’s sitting down with my wife to plan the week, figuring out meals and schedules for the week ahead. Life’s a lot easier when we are on the same page.

As I started to structure my goals, it became clear that if I do those four things, lots of good things tend to follow. I’m going to add a few more things like using my phone less and some specific long term fitness goals. But I’m starting with my four foundation goals.

And I’ll build from there.

Speeding along

Three candles.

Three candles.

Advent is speeding by and my preparations for the new year are moving forward. But I feel like I'm running out of time to prepare for 2016.

I tried this week to limit my phone use and honestly really struggled. I made a couple of simple changes that I hope will help. I turned off virtually all notifications to limit the “pull” of the phone. And I reordered my apps so that only the necessary apps — like banking, calendar and to-do list — are on the home page. Social media apps like Twitter and Facebook are now on page two so hopefully I won’t get sucked into other apps on my phone when I just need to check and appointment time.

This week, I’m going to think about health and fitness. My biggest challenge is our crazy family schedule. We eat out too much and don’t always make time to work out. I’ve got some ideas for how to plan a little better and work out more consistently. I’m hoping to hammer out details this week.

I bought a Fitbit Charge recently and I’m tracking my activity. I’m going to start using Lose It for food tracking again. Personally, I find that having those data points help me be healthier. 

U2 in Paris and on HBO

HBO had been teasing for months that they were going to air a U2 concert from Paris. That concert was postponed because of the terrorist attacks in Paris, but was rescheduled for December 7. HBO’s showing the concert now and it’s incredible. If you are a U2 fan (and you happen to have HBO) you should check it out. In many ways, the performance reminds me of U2’s Super Bowl halftime show after 9/11. Hopeful and inspiring.

You can see the playlist at U2gigs.com. And if you’ve ever been to a U2 concert, it’s fun to find the concert you attended and check out the playlist.* For example, I was in the seventh row for their concert in Williams Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina


* How amazing is the internet that there is an online record of all of this…

Stars on the beach: A moment of focus

Two candles.

Two candles.

My wife and I took a trip to Hilton Head a few weeks ago. We got to the resort late, but decided to take a stroll around and check it out anyway. We walked out to the beach. 

It was pitch black. 

A clear and moonless night. We could barely find our way down the path. (Hilton Head significantly restricts night lighting to protect sea turtles.) We stumbled down the path with our pitifully inadequate iPhone "flashlights."

We reached the beach and turned our flashlights off. Looking out over the Atlantic Ocean, the stars were brighter than I've ever seen in my life. Stunningly beautiful. It was remarkable how much more vibrant the stars were without the distraction of the light from the ground or moonlight.

But as beautiful as the stars were, you couldn’t do anything else but enjoy the night sky. You could hear the waves, but couldn’t see the water. It would have been very challenging to find our way back to the resort without our iPhone flashlights. We almost fell a couple of times looking for the path back.

Focus.

As I reflect on my Advent Resolution, “focus” keeps coming up. How do I focus on the important things and cut back on the distractions? But it’s not as easy as that.

Just like on the beach. When you hit that moment of maximum focus… When you are completely locked in on the stars in front of you… You can’t easily do the other things in life that you need to do. 

So while I have goals and objectives for 2016, I’ve got to figure out how to focus without losing sight of the other important things in my life.

I need to figure out how to focus, while still maintaining balance. I think one of the easiest ways to find focus is to minimize the main cause of distraction in my life: My iPhone.

I’m going to experiment with a couple of different things this week:

  1. Changing how and when I use my phone. I’m going to try to minimize my phone use during the day in attempt to focus on the task at hand. That means that I’ll be on social media a lot less, which I also think is a good thing.
  2. Set time to handle emails and administrative tasks. I’m going to try and block some time in the morning, after lunch and at the end of the day for email. And ignore it for the rest of the day. My hope is that I’ll be more focused and effective at the task at hand. We’ll see how it goes. All notifications are off.
  3. No phone use when the kids are around. I want to have time to focus on spending time with them. No Twitter, no Facebook, no random games, no surfing. The only exceptions I’ll make is for things like entering food items into Lose It, taking a picture or adding something to the shopping list. I tried this the other night and it worked well, but I can’t tell you how many times I reached for the phone.

My hope is that these things will allow me to focus on the task in front of me and enjoy the moment of focus. I’ll try it this week and see if it's something I want to adopt for 2016.

I'm writing about my Advent Resolution. Read the background here.

Earlier this week, I failed.

At the very end of October, I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, an “event” where you commit to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. I started an account. I joined the local Facebook group. I was excited. I had an idea. I was ready to write.

In fact, I was going to write here about the experience of writing a novel.

As I started to read the advice from others, I realized that they had been planning for months. Working on outlines. Character concepts. They had a plan. I only had an idea. I was not ready to write.

No worries, I thought. I’ll rough together an outline quickly. Make some decisions about characters and I’ll catch up.

I never did.

This week marks the end of NaNoWriMo and I have virtually nothing written. My first attempt at NaNoWriMo* was a complete and total failure, although I have a sweet outline and a couple of (very bad) chapters. 

But this failure was one of the driving concepts behind The Advent Resolution. If you aren’t prepared to tackle big goals, they won’t happen. And if you never set aside time to prepare, you’ll never be comfortable setting those ambitious goals.

I’ve got a lot of goals and ideas for the next year. I'm too often guilty of trying to tackle them all at the same time. Right now, I’m trying to work out which projects I will tackle and which ones will stay on the shelf. 

So I’m committing this first week of Advent to thinking about focus. Wondering how to tackle these goals while still being a great dad and a husband. I’m reflecting on the influences in my life that strengthen and sustain me. I'm trying to remember how to focus in a multitasking world.

We’ll see where it leads me.

The Advent Resolution is simple: Prayerfully prepare for the coming year.


* I plan to try again. Next time, though, I'll actually be prepared.

The Advent Resolution

One candle

One candle

I’m a big fan of the season of Advent — the time in the church year where we wait and prepare for Christ to come. I remember opening Advent calendars when I was young, counting down the days to Christmas. Advent is also the beginning of the church year – the liturgical New Year’s Day.

Last year, I got this idea to make my New Year’s resolutions at the beginning of Advent.* It’s the beginning of the church year so I figured I’d make some appropriate resolutions for the “new” year and get a jump on 2015. But my “Advent Resolution” didn’t seem right. Advent’s about preparing and waiting. Starting my “New Year’s Resolutions” on the first Sunday in Advent was just taking action a month earlier. I never got around to making any “Advent Resolutions” last year.

This year, Advent starts on November 29. And I’ve got a plan. I’m going to use the start of the church new year to prepare for the calendar new year. 

The Advent Resolution is simply this: Prayerfully prepare for the coming year.

I resolve to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider how to change the things I want to change in 2016. Then, take action on New Year’s Day.**

I’m not limiting this time of reflection to spiritual or religious changes. Everything is on the table. Diet, exercise, personal growth… pretty much anything. I’ll research and pray and think and write and plan. And when 2016 rolls around, I’ll be ready to act.

I’m excited to start my Advent journey. I’ll be writing about it and will post thoughts and reflections here. If you join me in making the Advent Resolution, let me know on Twitter at @sketchbookb.


* A quick Google search indicates that using Advent as “New Year” for religious resolutions has been done before…

** Advent ends on Christmas Day. So I suppose that I should start my New Year’s Resolutions on December 25. For various reasons, that would be difficult, so I’m starting January 1.

Tiny house cabins

I'm fascinated by the tiny house movement and love sites like Tiny House Talk. The designer in me loves the efficiency, even though with three kids, I'll never be able to live in a tiny house.

But a tiny cabin up in the mountains somewhere... for weekend retreats... maybe I could swing that someday. I stumbled across these cabins by Wheelhaus on Tiny House Talk. I love modern designs and so these are right up my alley. Wheelhaus has a number of designs and sizes.

There is also a resort with Wheelhaus cabins in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Jackson Hole is beautiful, especially Grand Tetons National Park. Maybe next time we head that way, we can stay in one of these awesome cabins.

Wanted in Columbia: Not more rain...

Wanted in Columbia talks about retail happenings in Columbia and the surrounding area, but right now, it seems silly to talk about a new store or restaurant.

Much of Columbia is underwater. Bridges are washed out. Homes are destroyed. The Forest Acres area – one of my favorite parts of town – is devastated. And this comes after Forest Acres lost a police officer in a shooting earlier this week.

(I’m in Columbia, so my mind is here. But much of our state is devastated, especially the coastal areas like Charleston.)

The Columbia area is hurting. So we need prayers and support. Be safe. Help your neighbors. Thank your first responders. Look out for each other. It’s a long road ahead for recovery and our strength is in our unity.

Paths to Success

I'm more of a college basketball fan, but lately, I've been watching some NBA playoff games. And now that the finals are upon us, we get to see the world's best basketball player in LeBron James against the world's best shooter in Steph Curry. 

There's a really interesting contrast here. LeBron James was anointed as the next Michael Jordan in high school and some of his games were televised. He was 18 years old when the Clevland Cavaliers drafted him first overall. He was an MVP in Cleveland. Took his talents to Miami and won two championships. This year, he returned home to Cleveland to try and win a title for his hometown. And now he's led Cleveland to the finals to compete for the organizations's first NBA championship.

Despite the fact that he was the son of a former NBA player, Steph Curry didn't have a single major college scholarship offer. He was considered undersized by most programs. He played his college ball at Davidson near Charlotte, NC and made a name for himself in the NCAA tournament. He worked his way through the ranks, proving himself at every step along the way. And he's now led his Golden State Warriors to the NBA Finals. 

One player took a direct route to success. Another took a more circuitous path. And while it makes a great story, it doesn't really matter. These two world class athletes took different paths. But now, they are in the same place. We tend to focus on the path someone has taken to succeed. But there is rarely a single path to success and that's a great thing.

Some people are obsessed with corporate paths to success. They downplay the victories for companies they don't like or understand.

Look at consumer's perceptions of Apple and Google. Apple fans hate Google's tendency to give products away and make money via advertising. And Google fans lament the perceived high cost of Apple products and their limited customization. Apple's been around since the 1980s, grew fast, crashed and then grew into the most valuable company in the world. Google was founded in the 90's, started fast and continues to expand into new markets. They have taken different paths to success, but they are both successful. Yet, commentators discount their successes because they don't like or understand the path they have taken.

Other people are obsessed with paths to individual success. Getting into the best colleges. Belonging to the right organizations. Having the right things on their resume. This pressure starts very young. My kids have educational opportunities that didn't exist for me.  Inquiry-style preschools. Magnet elementary schools. Enrichment programs. But the result of this is that everyone is focusing on the "right" path earlier and earlier. 

In the design world, I hear these all the time. You've got to go to a big market to be successful. You can never grow in an inhouse environment. You've got to work at an agency or large design firm before you strike out on your own. Someone actually once told me that I'd never get any where if I didn't learn Flash. And while some of these bits of advice might be the most direct way to achieve success, it is by no means the only way to become successful.

You can't completely disregard the path someone takes. It helps shape them and make them the person they've become. But we can learn something from Curry and James. Your path doesn't really matter if you are focused on your goals.

Just because you don't follow the accepted path doesn't limit what you can accomplish. And if you do follow the direct path, it doesn't minimize your accomplishments. Two amazing basketball players -- Lebron James and Steph Curry -- that have led their teams to the exact same place via two very different paths. But this week, they are both competing for an NBA championship.

RIP Radio Shack

It looks like Radio Shack is finally done. 

I have fond memories of TRS-80 computers in elementary school. But really, for me, Radio Shack was the place I went to get the random wires, cables, batteries, adapters and assorted junk that I needed to connect the random pieces of tech I had collected. And back when I had Commodore computers, component stereo systems and more, Radio Shack was the key to connecting everything.

The last time I walked in a Radio Shack was four years ago. I needed a cable – an odd cable – and so I stopped by the Radio Shack near my work. I walked in and worked my way through all the cell phones to the back corner where they had a limited selection of cables. When I couldn't find the cable I needed, one of their associates recommended that I try Best Buy or Amazon.

You might think this tale shows they lost focus. That they somehow lost their way. But in reality, the market they created doesn't exist anymore. They knew that. 

At some point – obviously too late – Radio Shack realized they weren't going to survive selling cables and accessories and so they branched out. Consumer electronics systems have gotten simpler and the places that sell them – like Best Buy and Target – sell all the cables and adapters you need. The specialty stuff, you can order from Amazon.

No one needs to make a special trip to a second store to buy cables. So basically, they tried to reinvent themselves to be a cross between a cell phone sales center and a mini Best Buy. Give them credit... they tried to change. But Best Buy has a hard enough time making money even at its scale. Radio Shack never really had a chance.

Linked: When did girls start wearing pink?

An interesting article from Smithsonian about gender specific clothing. I was pretty surprised to learn this was a relatively recent trend. Having two older girls and a young son, I can completely confirm that today, it's very difficult to find clothing that doesn't scream boy or girl. And the gender divide is especially pronounced for infants and toddlers.

Linked: The Oatmeal and a Google Self-Driving Car

A great read over at the Oatmeal about Google's self-driving car. An entertaining look at the technology and some really great thoughts about the potential of the self-driving car. 

I'm not sure how I feel about the self-driving car. I'm intrigued. The other day, I witnessed an 18-wheeler slam into a concrete barricade and bounce back onto a busy interstate. How could a self-driving car handle a scenario like this? And count me among the people who aren't 100% sure of Google's motivations in creating this technology.

But the upside is amazing. We'll see if it ever matures into mass-market technology.

Roughly 200 posts

I've had Sketchbook B since February 2008. Over the last 6 years, I've posted over 200 blog posts, most of them related to design and typography. Since Sketchbook B is a project for me to explore and express ideas, I'm not overly concerned with web traffic analytics. But I do love looking through my traffic logs and seeing what completely random articles people are finding via Google.

My most recent findings:

By far, my most read article is a post from 2009 on how to create a vignette effect in InDesign. Which is funny because it's outdated. I posted an update, but it doesn't get nearly as much traffic as the original does. People also seem to land on my article about Star Trek view screens. Or they stumble across my mother's advice on criticism. People look for free fonts and want presets for Flare.

I guess what I find most amazing is how random it all seems. Why is one post discovered more often than another? If my livelihood depended on ad income from web site traffic – which thankfully it does not – I think the lack of an easily discernible pattern would completely drive me crazy.

Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.

I had one of those geek out moments with a client this week. I mentioned that I typically drink a cup of Earl Grey tea each morning. To which he responded: "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot." After we stopped laughing, we had to explain Captain Picard's obsession with Earl Grey tea to some confused coworkers.

Afterwards, I had to come to the realization that a TV show that aired in 1987 effects my behavior today.

I was in middle school when the fictional Star Trek captain first ordered his beverage of choice from the replicator. At the time, we had hot tea in the house, but it was Mint or Lemon-flavored. I mostly would drink it when I was sick. But there was no Earl Grey that I remember.

Star Trek: The Next Generation ran for a long time and still runs in syndication today. I'm not sure when I started to drink Earl Grey, but it was sometime during or just after college. I'm sure I decided to buy some tea and when faced with too many options, I simply went with the option I "knew."

It makes me wonder just how many other choices I've made are directly or indirectly traced back to television and media. I know I have a slight Nike bias because I grew up in Chicago during the Michael Jordan years. But other than Earl Grey and an affinity for Nike, I can't think of any other long lasting influence that a show or movie has made on me. I'm sure there are many more but I can't piece them together right now.

That said, I really like my Earl Grey tea. And I'll happily have a cup every morning. But I'll probably never think of it the same way again.

Barriers

We have a kitten and a toddler.

For as long as we've had Ruby, our kitten, we've had a baby gate at the bottom of the stairs. The stairs have a handrail with spindles. 

Our cats have two choices to go upstairs. Jump over the baby gate or go through the side where the spindles are. I guess when Ruby was really little, jumping the gate was difficult. So she's always gone through the spindles.

As our toddler has gotten older, the gate has become less of a necessity. So it's not up as much as it used to be. I was watching Ruby go up the stairs this morning and even though the gate was down, she went around and through the spindles. There was no barricade to stop her, but she took the long way around anyway.

Which got me thinking.

We can be like that. I can be like that. Our situation changes and we continue to follow our old familiar paths, not realizing that there is a better option. Or even a different option.

Think about the times in life that barriers have been removed and you haven't noticed. Changes at work. In relationships. In organizations. The scenario has changed and a different path is available to you. Do you take it? Or do you continue to follow the same comfortable path?