Archive for the ‘Productivity/Inspiration’ Category

checkmarkAll of the planning and all of the lists in the world will not actually get the work done. Writing won’t make it so. To obtain the almighty checkmark, you have to DO the work. That sounds so easy, but what if your body and mind are rebels, refusing to keep your butt in the chair or wandering off in search of more interesting pursuits?

This may be the most important thought I can offer you on productivity, so pay close attention. You will be more productive if you are working on the kind of activity that your mind and body want to do.

  • If you are sitting at the computer and feeling really antsy, then look at your list and find something you need to do that will keep you physically moving.
  • If you’re washing fabric or cutting kits and you are really……really…..tired, stop. Go find something ON YOUR LIST that is less physically active and do that.

In both cases, you’ll accomplish something on your list, but you won’t struggle against what your body and mind actually want to do. (Unless you really just want to sit down with a book and eat cookies. In that case, give yourself a 15-minute break and then get back to work.)

Deadlines are the obvious exceptions to this approach to productivity. If you have a hard deadline, then you are obligated to do specific things to meet that deadline. Unless…you chose that deadline. If the deadline was arbitrary, designed to give yourself milestone accomplishments, then you have the power to change it.

PinkPaperPiecingThis quiltlet is a mostly-done sample for a new class I’m rolling out on paper foundation piecing at the Original Sewing & Quilt Expo in Cleveland. (Yes, I’m working in pink. Get over it. And don’t expect any more of it.)  It’s pieced, it’s sandwiched, and the ditchwork is done. I have planned most of the freemotion quilting designs I’ll do, but I know the quilting will be better if I wait until this afternoon, when I often want to work on the sewing machine. This morning, I’m all about the keyboard.

So, what do you feel like doing today? Can you afford to put off other tasks and do what you feel like doing? Is what you feel like doing on your list? Then stop reading my post and get to work! I wish you a productive day!

Read Full Post »


These are some of the tools I use to organize and prioritize my tasks.

Let me start by saying I’m a list girl. I have lists for personal and household stuff and I have lists for my professional life. In fact, I’ve broken down the professional tasks into separate lists by topic: shows, teaching, lectures, webwork, business development, development of new lectures and projects (my favorite), and more lists that would bore you silly. The number of things I am juggling can be daunting – in fact, the mass of stuff I have on my lists can be downright paralyzing.

To keep things in perspective and to stay focused (my word for the year), I do three things that keep me sane and help me prioritize:

  • I write down ALL tasks. Tiny and massive, commitments and wannado-projects, I write them all down on the appropriate list. Benefit: Once it’s on paper, I can use that brainspace for other things.
  • I date every task. I include the date for when I added it to the list and if there’s a hard deadline, I add that to the list AND to my calendar. Benefit: Once I see a task that’s been lurking on the list for a while without any action, I either delete it as not important enough to do or I make it a priority to get it done.
  • I create a daily list by pulling the top priority items. I try to create this list at the end of the day when my brain is full of what didn’t get done and what’s looming on the horizon. I sometimes do this in the morning, but it’s overwhelming and counter-productive to sift through the multiple lists early, when I need to set the tone for the day. I start with that didn’t get done the previous day and then take a look at the master lists to see what is next. Benefit: Throughout my work day, I’m looking at that day’s tasks. It’s a manageable list and I don’t lose track of what I must get done.

Once I started making these lists and using them on a daily basis, I realized that I had to learn to say no. There’s this huge pool of what I must do and precious little discretionary time for things that I want to do but haven’t made the list. Recently, I was invited to make a small quilt for a Quilts of Valor fundraising auction to be held at the America Quilts Expo in Des Moines, IA, in May 2016. Do I have time? No. Is it a priority in my business? No. But I’m doing it anyway. I want to do it and I feel it’s right to do it. Something else will have to wait or come off the list entirely. I will shuffle priorities. It’s important to be realistic, but reserve a few “yesses” so that you can do a few things that really feed your soul.

Next week: Productivity through Biorhythms

Read Full Post »

Some people think that productivity is all about planning. Yes…and no. Planning is vitally important, but it will only get you so far. Sooner or later, you’ll actually have to do the work. As we said in the middle school where I taught: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.


Red Fabric Ready to Sew into Bags

Planning can save time: I grouped these gift bag fabrics together to avoid changing thread color.

The Road Map
Planning can help you create a road map. Planning can help you determine where you need to go (long range goals) and how you will get there (interim tasks). Planning is safe. Planning is easy. For some of us, planning can scratch that organizational itch, putting all of our tasks and ideas in a nice list where they belong.


I use lists when I plan. I have master lists of goals and tasks. To keep from being overwhelmed, I break down big tasks into steps. Every morning, I start with a short list of things that really have to happen that day. In a perfect world, I end the day by assessing what I accomplished and creating the short list for the next day.


Not all planning results in a to-do list. This project color palette resulted from careful planning.

I know I need to work on planning when:

  • My work surface is covered with sticky notes and scrap paper covered with mini to-do lists.
  • I’m lost or running in circles. That’s my signal to sit down and plan my day/hour/next ten minutes.
  • I can feel the whoosh of deadlines passing me. Seriously. Being behind and missing deadlines is a signal that I need to plan more effectively. I’m still working on this lesson.

The dark side of planning is like quicksand. We can get so bogged down in planning that we lose track of what we actually have to do. The more we struggle in the planning phase, the harder it seems to get out. Getting stuck in the planning phase can lull us into complacency and render us ineffective.

I know I have to focus on work when:

  • Deadlines are looming.
  • I realize I logged onto Facebook/Pinterest/Instagram just to check in…an hour ago.
  • I want to do something fun or work on a personal project. I earn the time with check marks.

Once you have your plan in place, how do you decide what to do first? Next week: Prioritizing!


Read Full Post »

I think a lot about productivity. I’d like to be more productive. I plan to be more productive. Amazingly, some people actually think I’m productive. So, why don’t I feel productive?

The answers are so simple that I’ve decided to share them with you over the next four weeks. We’ll talk about perfection, planning, prioritizing, and productivity through biorhythms. Ready? Let’s get started!

Perfect vs. Done
When I was working in the corporate world, I had a very wise boss who seemed to have my number from day one. I am a perfectionist. There. I said it. But it’s important to know when you need perfection (math, taxes, brain surgery) and when good is good enough. My boss used to say, “Let not the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Translation: “Please give me your work product – I’m sure it’s fine.” In some cases, he was right.

Tree quilt for client

Perfection (or as close as I could get) was the goal for this client quilt.

If you, too, are a perfectionist, consider why you work beyond the demands of the task. My reasons generally fall into two categories: either I enjoy the process and I get lost in it, or I lose track of how exactly how well this task must be completed. It helps me if I can look — really look — at the task. Will it be published? Will others see it? Is this the first step in a longer process where long-term success depends on high quality work in the beginning? If not, then I can probably find a way to streamline a process and save some time.

If you could spend one hour doing two tasks well enough or one task perfectly, which would you choose? Well, you do get to choose. Now consider what you could do with that saved time if only you could stop working on a task as soon as it is done enough. You simply need to figure out which tasks require perfection (or near perfection) and which tasks just need to be done.

There will be times when your inner perfectionist demands to be heard. If you can afford the time and it will give you satisfaction, give in to that demand (but not every time). It will make you happy…and a happy quilter is a productive quilter.

Picture of my featherweight

Molly, my 1935 Singer Featherweight

My Story: I was recently given an amazing, unexpected gift by a long-time friend and I want to savor every minute of my time with it. (Thank you again, Linda Cooper!) I am now the proud owner of a 1935 Singer Featherweight 221, which I have named Molly. I want to learn all about it, clean and care for it, and take it on the road with me when I might have a little time to sew. I could have sent it out for service, but no. I sent out for the parts and (with my husband’s help) cleaned and serviced it myself. I am documenting Molly’s journey in a notebook. If you know me in real life, this is no surprise. My inner perfectionist wants to document Molly’s history and keep records for when she moves on to her next owner (since I know she will outlast me), and so I gave myself permission. I didn’t have to do it; I wanted to do it. This has made me a very happy quilter.

Next week: Planning — A Road Map or Quicksand?

Read Full Post »

In 29 days, I am sailing away to the balmy Bahamas on a quilt cruise with Quilt Retreats at Sea. While we are at sea, we’ll be sewing like madwomen. Between now and then, I need to cut 25 quilt kits plus some extras. Wouldn’t it be great to sit down at a retreat and have all of the fabrics completely ready to sew?

Fabric in a basket

I prewash and press all of my fabric before cutting.

As I’m preparing these kits and cutting yards and yards of fabric, I’m thinking about speed and accuracy.

Do not rush when you are rotary cutting. Rushing leads to careless mistakes, resulting in wasted fabric and stitches in your fingers. I have a dear friend who still sports the scar on her finger from such an incident. (You know who you are! And no, that finger is not more attractive just because it is more tapered!)

The secret to speedy fabric cutting is planning and common sense.

Fabric Stack

If you need to cut strips, I think it’s easier if you first sort the fabric by yardage.

  • Look at the entire task in front of you so that you can organize what you need to do.
  • Group similar tasks together to save set up time.
  • Make a list of what you need to cut, what fabrics to use, and how many pieces you need. Mark them off as you complete each task.

The secret to accurate fabric cutting is having the right tools and using them correctly.

Use the rotary cutter that works best for you. Try a few different models to see which one fits your hand best and which open-and-close mechanism is most convenient for you to use. I often switch off to a different model after I’ve been working for a while to give my hand a break.

Use a sharp blade. Use a sharp blade. Use a sharp blade. Your rotary cutter should cut cleanly through all of your layers in one smooth motion (always moving away from you). If it does not, you either need a fresh blade or fewer layers. I cut through no more than 10 layers of fabric at a time. If I miss a small section once, I’ll chalk it up to being tired and not applying enough downward pressure. If I miss cutting through all of the layers twice, I change blades. (Tip: I save the old blades for paper cutting. Use a Sharpie marker to label it and then put the used blade somewhere safe.)

Cutting on the kitchen island

For cutting, find a nice large horizontal space that’s a good height. I like using the island in my kitchen.

Rulers and mats vary in accuracy. Use good quality tools and check their markings for accuracy. My good friend Kathy Lincoln and I don’t often disagree, but we do on this point: I use the lines on the mat (yes, I’ve checked to confirm the markings are accurate) and Kathy uses only the lines on the ruler. Whatever you do, just confirm that your tools are accurate. I like to use the same tools for the entire cutting process to ensure consistency. I’ll change blades, but keep the mat and rulers.

So, how am I approaching this monumental task? Well, I’m taking over the house! I use the kitchen island for pressing fabric and for cutting. I use the table and chairs for organizing stacks of fabric, patterns, and notions. I use large square rulers to transport cut strips and squares from one place to another. Most importantly, I have fun. While I’m cutting, I may listen to a book from Audible or a marathon of one of my favorite TV shows, or I might listen to a custom cruise playlist I compiled just for this project. In less than a month, I’ll be sharing my pattern and fully cut kits with my Friendship Quilt Cruisers!

6,600 2" squares

6,600 2″ squares

Read Full Post »

I did not go willingly to Pinterest.

I resisted despite the advice and recommendations. Social media classes recommended it. Pat Sloan and Luana Rubin talked about how it could be useful for business and marketing. My friend Heidi Reagan wanted me to try it because she knows me well and knew I would love it. I didn’t care. I was sure Pinterest was a giant rabbit hole into which I would fall and never get out.

I don’t have time, I said. It won’t help my business, I said. I don’t see how it will help me in any way, I said. I was wrong on all counts. Click here to visit me on Pinterest.

My Pinterest Presence After One Week

My Pinterest Presence After One Week

So, why do I like Pinterest? Let me share my top five reasons.

1. Pinterest is free if you don’t count the cost of time and internet access.

2. Pinterest allows me to enjoy things I cannot own in three dimensions. Things that are too big or too expensive or just unavailable in real life can be pinned on my boards and enjoyed at any time.

3. Here in the real world, things don’t stay organized. Chaos always wins. On Pinterest, things stay where I put them.

4. Art is a visual medium. Pinterest is a visual medium. It feeds my need to see things that make me happy.

5. Pinterest is amazingly inspirational. A very small percentage of my pins are quilts. I find I’m inspired by non-quilt images that I hope will in some way inform the art I create later.

Thank you, Heidi Reagan, for giving me a tour of your Pinterest boards last week. About two screens in I knew I was hooked. For the record, you were absolutely right.

Read Full Post »

Picture of Austin Sunrise

Austin Sunrise from our Room — Do you see the reflection in the window?

For years, I have advocated filling the well. I don’t think it’s sustainable to put art and ideas out into the world without taking in some sort of artistic nourishment. And so, I’ve counseled my friends and students to visit museums, walk art shows, page through beautiful books, and look at engaging sights.

In December, on a trip to Austin, Texas, with my husband, I learned that I was only halfway there with my well-filling philosophy. It appears my recommendations were too limited.

Walking Path in Austin

We Walked Everywhere…

Austin is a vibrant and lively city, even in the dead of winter. We walked across bridges, through the city on endless sidewalks, and along a few roads that were not designed for pedestrians. We ate, we walked, we drank, we walked, we listened to music, and we walked some more. We enjoyed galleries, shopped in boutiques, and visited historic monuments and museums.

Here’s what I learned.

Gourdough Foodtruck

Gourdough Foodtruck – Home of Big.Fat.Donuts that you eat with a fork!

All sights and sounds are food for your spirit. You don’t need to limit yourself to “artful” activities. Our wanderings were just what I needed to renew the wellspring that sustains my creativity. The irony? Until I reached for my notebook to jot a quick sketch, I hadn’t even been aware that I had been running on empty. The sensation of choosing a pen and opening the cover seemed foreign. It had been too long.

My new well-filling philosophy?

There's a spoon on my nose!

Embarrassing my Husband

Keep your eyes open. Use all of your senses. Don’t wait until your well is so empty that it’s an effort to get out your supplies and play. Every day (okay, start small and think every week), look around in wonderment and really SEE something. Look at the structure, the colors, the scale, the signs of wear. THINK about your observations and let your brain play with what you see. How do you react to the frayed edges of that fabric or the patina on that sculpture? How do you respond to the snow on the path or the sand on the boardwalk? Do you SMELL the ocean or perhaps something blooming? Do you HEAR the wind rushing through the trees or the ocean rushing to shore? FEEL the sun on your face – or the rain or the snow.

Even if you cannot link these sensations to your art, you are still contributing to your art. Be aware. Be in the moment. Try it. I’ll try it, too.  And let me know how it works for you.

Read Full Post »

What is it about winter that makes us want to purge and organize? Is it just me?

Organized Drawer

Tip #3: Keep Like Things Together

When all the holiday decorations are put away and the house returns to normal, I always get a little antsy about my surroundings. I spend October through December feathering my nest: decorating for holidays, honoring traditions, remembering the provenance of the trinkets and treasures that make this time of year special. And in January? My thoughts turn to eradicating clutter, getting organized, and setting the stage for the pursuit of the holy grail: productivity.

Since this urge to get organized seems to be somewhat universal (and I base this on the deluge of marketing for containers, shelves, office supplies, and professional organizers), I’m sharing a few basic tips for getting your studio in order.

Tip #1: Organize For The Right Reasons

There are times when you need to assess your space, figure out if it’s working for you, and fix the things that are barriers to productivity. Why are you organizing your space and your stuff? Does it need do be done or are you putting off a different task? I admit that I sometimes use cleaning and organizing as avoidance tactics. If you are procrastinating, stop reading this and get back to work! No? Okay. Read on.

I use my studio for writing tasks, consulting tasks, teaching prep tasks, and (Notice what’s listed last?) making art. Try this: make a list of the things you do in your studio. Now reorder them by priority, making the first item the task you spend the most time on. How well organized are you for that first task? Do you have to move other things out of the way to make room for that activity? Now work your way down the list and see if your studio is a productivity tool or a roadblock.

 Tip #2: Start Small

Organizing can be really intimidating. Scary, even. I believe getting started is the hardest part. So, start small. Is there one drawer, one shelf, one section of a table that makes you crazy? Seriously, choose just one. For me, it was a drawer that had so much stuff in it that I couldn’t find anything.

Start with one small task that you can complete. One drawer. One shelf. Empty it, throw away things that are beyond usefulness, fill a bin or bag with things you want to donate, and then refill the drawer or shelf with what’s left. You could stress yourself out trying to decide where these things are going to live permanently, but will that move you forward or will that paralyze you and stop your progress? Tell yourself you can truly reorganize later if you still want to and then celebrate your freshly organized area. Do a little dance. Go ahead; I’ll wait.

Tip #3: Keep Like Things Together

Why would you want to look for pins in three different places? Rotary cutters? Books on HTML and CSS? Keep ’em together. While you’re thinking about it, where do you use these items? Could you keep them closer to the area where you use them? My geeky books are on a shelf next to where I write and do client websites; the pins are all together in a drawer. (How did I get so many pins, anyway?!)

Tip #4: Use Containers

Project in two red fabric boxes

Tip #4: Use Containers

If you have more than one of something, put it/them into a container. I don’t like to use bags for this because you cannot stack them and they often flop over. Think boxes, trays, bins. I like to keep projects in containers. I dump sketches, fabric, thread, anything related to the project into the container. I usually start with a tray and then I upgrade to a bigger box (or boxes) as the project grows.

By the way, I’m a big fan of drawer containers and dividers. You can lift them out and take them with you.

Tip #5: Picture The Room/Area/Drawer Empty

If you are lucky enough to have the time and resources to reorg your entire studio, do yourself a favor: picture it empty. Now, only put back the things you really want or use. If you need to draw on graph paper and move the furniture around, do it. If you need to physically move things around to see if they work, get strong help and go into it with a game plan. If your reorg plans are more modest, then picture the drawer, shelf, or table top empty. What tasks do you complete nearby? What tools could be conveniently stored there?

I had a drawer that I hardly ever opened — translation: the stuff in it was forgotten or was not very important. I emptied the drawer, disposed of the stuff (moved, donated, trashed), and filled the now empty space with electronics that had been living in a basket out in the middle of the studio. The electronics are more convenient and the clutter of the basket is gone.

Tip #6: Identify & Make the Best Use of Prime Real Estate

I consider prime real estate to be the space immediately around the command center of your studio. Do you use the things that you can easily reach from your chair? Are those nearby drawers and shelves accessed on a regular basis or is that stuff just taking up valuable space?I sit at a worktable in the middle of the studio for all of my computer work. To print, I had to get up and take my laptop to the printer across the room. The prime real estate next to my work table was filled with stuff I didn’t need to have at my elbow. My printer now lives on a bookshelf next to my worktable. Everything is connected to a universal docking station (Thanks, Hubby!), and I can print with a few quick keystrokes. Proximity saves time and aggravation. It really is location, location, location.

Tip #7: Set Up For Work

Is your space conducive to work? Do you have a task that you’re putting off because you need to set up or rearrange or get organized before you can actually do the work? Go back to that list of tasks organized by priority and think about how you might set up an area for each activity.

Ironing Board flat on a counter

Tip #7: Set Up For Work

For the longest time, I kept my big board (for ironing) upright, leaning against a cabinet. To use it, I had to clear a horizontal space, move the big board, move the iron, you get the idea. I put off any projects where ironing was involved…which is pretty much all sewing. Yesterday I had an “aha moment.” I cleared a counter and put the big board on it, along with the iron. Yes, I still need to find homes for what used to be on the counter, but being ready to work is more important than storing more stuff out in the open.

Tip #8: Pitch What Does Not Work

Eventually, most things outlive their usefulness. Thread gets old and weak, fabric goes hopelessly out of style (and your tastes have moved on), books have been replaced by more updated resources, pins become bent, and rotary blades become old and dull. Don’t feel guilty. If something does not work for you, then there’s no room for it in your studio or storage area. Find a home for the things that have to go. Consider donating useful items to a school, senior citizen organization, quilt guild auction, Freecycle, or a younger quilter who is still in the acquisition phase. If something is no longer useful, then trash it. Really. You have my permission.

When my rotary blades get too dull for fabric, I like to save them for paper. Makes, sense, right? Maybe, but how many paper blades do I need? One? Five? Twenty? Discard or donate extras.

Tip #9: Get Help

Many hands make light work. If you’re moving big stuff around, get some muscle to help you. If you need motivation or if you just need some positive reinforcement, call a friend. Don’t try to do this in isolation unless that’s how you work best. If you absolutely cannot do the work on your own, hire a teen who needs some pocket money. If the job seems overwhelming, call a professional organizer. I think it’s worth the money.

Tip #10: Beware Visual Clutter

I know some quilters and artists who say they need to see everything, that it stimulates them. I used to be one of those people, but I’ve refined my position. I need to see the things that are related in some way to the projects I’m working on. I like having some images on my vision board. I like color and texture and tiny bits of art, but too much is distracting to me. Figure out what your personal limits are and then respect them.

Inchies in a bowlBonus Tip: Honor Your Personality

Your studio should reflect your tastes and your personality. You should look forward to being there and enjoy the time you spend there. Hang some art, recover your ironing board with some fun (non-bleeding) fabric, put out a cool rug. Make it yours. And then make some stuff. Enjoy!

Read Full Post »

With my apologies to the Muppets (Muppet Fans, sing along, using the tune from the show’s opening song):

It’s time to get out fabric!Red Fabric Ready to Sew into Bags
It’s time to cut and sew!
It’s time to make some gift bags
For my presents —  Ho ho ho!

I look forward to this time of year. Yes, part of me dreads it, too, since there’s not enough time to do the things I want to do. And what is that, you ask? I want to make presents for all of the people I love. Do I have time to do that? More to the point, do you?

Okay, lean in. I’m going to tell you a secret. This is just for you, so don’t tell anyone else. I’m going to tell you the secret of how I find time to make gifts for everyone.

Ready? Here it is.

I buy gifts and then present them in handmade gift bags. Yup. It’s that simple. The bags are quick to make, can be made assembly-line style if you group the fabrics according to thread color, and you can use any fabric that suits you. And while I still think the gift is important, I find my family and friends are sometimes more excited about the gift bag. In fact, several family members hoard them in the fear that I will stop making them. I give them a gift bag filled with other gift bags so that they will actually use them. Plus a personal gift in, yes, a gift bag.

Why do I make my own gift bags?

  • I have a lot of fabric.
  • People love them.
  • I don’t have time to make personalized gifts for everyone I care about, but I can give each person a little homemade love in a bag.
  • I have a lot of fabric.
  • It’s faster to wrap a gift in a bag than it is to use paper, tape, and a bow or ribbon.
  • It’s a green alternative. No need to throw out piles of paper after the gift opening frenzy.
  • I have a lot of fabric.
  • The gift bags can (should!) be given away by the recipient to keep the love moving around.
  • Or the gift bags can be kept and used in other ways.
  • I have a lot of fabric.

Gift Bag CollectionAnd so I’ll steal time between writing projects and teaching and family stuff to play with my fabric and sew, sew, sew…guilt-free!

If you want to join my handmade gift bag movement, march yourself into your studio and start pulling fabric! Want more structure than that? You can order my gift bag pattern by clicking here or you can buy my pattern at Artistic Artifacts in Alexandria, Virginia, on Saturday, December 3, 10am-5pm (I’ll be there until 4pm) during their annual Holiday Open House. I’ll be there, demonstrating Paintstik techniques and chatting about upcoming classes.

For pictures and more information about my gift bags, visit this previous blog post.

Read Full Post »

Empty Nest

Not long ago, I noticed a bird flying away from the red-berry wreath on our front porch. I was afraid she was trying to eat the berries, which are really styrofoam coated with red stuff, so my husband took down the wreath. That’s when we noticed the nest, filled with beautiful, fragile, light-blue eggs. We replaced the wreath with a sense of wonder.

Since we first noticed the nest, we’ve been watching the Mama Bird. She’s been sitting, waiting, watching, incubating.

This morning, I noticed that Mama Bird is gone. Camera in hand, I climbed onto the bench to check on the eggs. Gone. They’re all gone…but one.

This seems profound to me. There must be lessons here.

If our ideas — our creative offspring — are our eggs, then consider this.

  1. Our ideas come from within. Our environment can add experiences, teach us skills, shift our perspective, but we ultimately produce our own ideas.
  2. Once we have ideas, we must nurture them — put them in a safe place and attend to their needs. What do ideas need?
  3. Not every idea will see the light of day. Some will be lost. And that’s okay. Sad, sure, but okay. We must spend our time and energy on the ideas that will make it out of the nest. Feed them and watch what they become.

I’m off to nurture some ideas of my own. Thanks, Mama Bird, for the inspiration.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »