Routinize Yourself: Maybe Monday Is Mend Day?

In my last post, I wrote about routine, but a big part of the question is actually about commitment: What to commit to in my creative life, and what to let go.

In Wild Mind Natalie Goldberg says “It is good to try different things, but eventually we must settle on one thing and commit ourselves. Otherwise we are always drifting and there is no peace.”

That’s what attracts me to routine: peace. It’s decided–I do XYZ on these days and times, life’s purpose decided, done, check mark. But what also makes me hesitate is what if I want to do B instead of X? What if I don’t feel like Y?

My friend who loathes routine (see last post) said “it’s too close to knowing what you’ll be doing for the rest of your life. That’s a horrifying thought to me.”

I’ve always wanted to know what I’ll be doing the rest of my life. It feels like a relief knowing I am THIS PERSON who does THESE THINGS and that’s that. No more wondering, or wandering for that matter.

And yet, I hesitate to claim any title (artist, writer, homemaker), and daydream of twelve projects while slogging to get one completed.

“Basically, if you commit to nothing, you’ll be distracted by everything,” says James Clear the author of 100-Year-Old To-Do List at Fast Company about the deceptively simple Ivy Lee Method for getting things done. (The five steps are listed at the end of this post.)

While the Ivy Lee Method requires you to list six tasks, Clear suggests it could be fewer. What matters is imposing limits and creating constraint to get ourselves focused when we get overwhelmed by too many ideas.

The task list also gets us over the dread of starting each day because we know where to begin–with task #1 that we decided yesterday was a priority. Clear says: “As a writer, I can waste three or four hours debating what I should write about on a given day. If I decide the night before, however, I can wake up and start writing immediately.”

I don’t know. What do you think? Is this a good method for creative work?

In a Vanity Fair article, President Obama said The First Lady makes fun of “how routinized I’ve become.” He says, “You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” However, he also says this self-discipline makes it “much harder to be surprised. You don’t have those moments of serendipity. … the loss of surprise is an unnatural state. You adapt to it, but you don’t get used to it—at least I don’t.”

Serendipity and surprise seem important to creative work, but when just about any other task has more immediate and obvious value: meals made, dishes washed, clothes cleaned…something must make room for creative work.

Well, speaking of routine–my friend Amy of Vivid Element has stuck with my #365daysofpractice challenge. She’s creating one new dress design every month for a year. Look at the most recent:


Here’s how the Ivy Lee Method works:

  1. At the end of each workday, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
  2. Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
  3. When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
  4. Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
  5. Repeat this process every working day.  (From James Clear 100-Year-Old To-Do List at Fast Company.)

This fits the bullet journal fad right now, and I like that I don’t have to commit in Big Ways but in small specific tasks determined one day at a time.

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Is Monday Mend Day?

These hand-embroidered kitchen towels from ~1960 keep coming to mind as I try to organize myself, our household, and my creative work. The days often feel chaotic and unfocused: I’m not sure what to prioritize, and by the end of the day, I’m not sure what’s been accomplished.

Would I be more productive and efficient if I marked each week the same? Laundry on Monday, writing on Tuesday, groceries on Wednesday…

I haven’t tried this yet for two reasons. First, I fear I’ll create a routine that’s way too rigid or even grueling, and I’ll resent the routine and the tasks. Secondly, I don’t know how to create a routine that could adapt to the unexpected: kiddo gets a cold or spouse has a vacation day. Do I double up on that day’s routine tasks on a different day? Do I shimmy it all down the line so now laundry is on Tuesday and writing is on Wednesday?

My friend told me she hates routine. She said she “can’t stand doing the same thing at the same time day after day, it feels super claustrophobic. I don’t have the same energy level every day, can’t stand an alarm to wake up, can’t fit enough stuff in the day that way.”

I’d always thought the opposite—that those with strict routines accomplished more each day, and that they didn’t mourn the loss of doing something else. They’re so committed to their routine that they never stop to feel that they’d rather be doing something else at the moment.

Routine requires commitment to a set of tasks. Maybe I’m unsure of what to commit to, but also the tasks that come at me, that I have to do, are plentiful and sometimes demanding.

I’d like to think these towels were made by women for other women as a message: “You’ll be doing laundry on Monday, but so will I, so you’re not alone, and look—we can make art out of anything, even a kitchen towel commemorating the tasks that least define us. Get it done, dear friend, and get back to your books, your painting, your wistful gazes out the window.”


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A Super Hero Dress and Daily Practice

Daily drawing practice continues, nearly four months in. It’s been difficult, relaxing, surprising, challenging, and instructive. I’m not even half-way through, but it’s already definitely been worth the effort.

During one of the more difficult weeks when I skipped a few days and felt totally unmotivated, I found new inspiration from my friend Amy. Check this out:

Space Zinnia Dress

Amy read my original post about daily drawing and decided to design a new dress every month. The one with the circles on the side was inspired by the first flower to bloom in space, a zinnia. Her enthusiasm and playfulness (read more here) reignited my commitment to daily practice. (I’m also wanting that zig-zag dress — doesn’t it look like something a super hero would wear if her super power was creativity?)

Then, I found an image shared with Carrot Condo’s Instagram account that totally made my day! This is the activity page from my storybook “The Weirdest Things Happen at Our House,” where the reader gets to illustrate their own weird event. This is what Brenna drew:


First, playing games with M&Ms instead of marbles is pretty brilliant, right? Secondly, look at that drawing! It’s great, isn’t it? I don’t think she’s old enough to have studied perspective, but she’s got the table and chairs just right. I am so happy to see this!

Lastly, two whole hours without a single interruption found their way into my life last weekend unexpectedly. I didn’t let myself consider anything other than going straight to the drawing desk. I finished one Card You Can Color that I can’t wait to show you!!!  (But it will take me a while to get it printed.) And another is in its final stages. A third is just getting drafted. It has to do with the comforts of having a cup of coffee. I needed a reference, so I stacked these two cups from my parents’ cupboard–I’ve loved these enamel cups for as long as I can remember:


As hard as it feels some weeks, the daily effort has been incredibly good for me, even the days when I spend only 90 seconds sketching. Something is better than nothing, at least with creativity.

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Change of Plans

I had planned to participate in the A-to-Z Challenge again this year because I had such a great experience last year. However, other priorities have come up, so I’m going to be a spectator this year rather than a participant.

My plan had been to re-read:

I divided the book into 26 sections for each letter of the alphabet. For example, A was going to be “access” because Gilbert shows how creativity gives you access to a more fulfilling life experience, even if you never plan on becoming “An Artist.”

After drafting through “D,” I realized two things: I have limited time/energy, and my theme was starting to feel a bit dull, or like a re-do of last year.

Although I’m a bit sad not to take part, this is not all bad. One of the reasons I have limited time is because my creative efforts with Carrot Condo designs were re-ignited a few weeks ago and have been going strong ever since. The story of serendipity is here if you’d like to read it and see some illustrations by a cool Portland artist.

Thanks A-to-Z community! I will still follow along and daydream of next year. Good luck to everyone participating. It’s totally worth the effort!!

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The Twits

I was 8, or 9, or 10 when I read The Twits by Roald Dahl. I remember reading it aloud to my parents and laughing so hard we cried. My mom still remembers it, and we have an on-going reference to Mr. Twit tucking food into his beard to snack on later.

The Twits

My sense of humor has changed, apparently, so when I re-read it a couple of months ago, I didn’t find it as funny, rather mean, dark, and a little tedious.

But I still like the illustrations, and I can’t seem to stop pondering this message. In case it’s too blurry to read:

If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until it gets so ugly you can hardly bear to look at it.

A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.

True? Not true? I can think of people who radiate beauty because of their personality, kindness, joy, and humor. But I can also think of people I would describe as beautiful who are hounded by self-defeating, negative thoughts.

Still, I think it’s generally true that what people think/feel comes through in how they look. I still remember the face of a woman who simply passed by me on a sidewalk in a small town near Portland. All she did was smile as she passed, but her face! Her smile! Something about her wrinkles and eyes–piercing vivaciousness, even though all she was doing was walking by and smiling in plain, regular clothes, with plain, regular hair.

I thought: I want to be like her. She must live right. She must eat well and love her life. I want to live in a way that makes me look like that!

If I were a better (and more bold) photographer, I’d snap pictures of everyone I find beautiful and post them as an antidote to the same-old-same-old images.

Last example–a boy at the park the other day. I only caught a glimpse of him, and it was during a moment of glee. His caretaker (not sure if it was a mom or nanny or friend) held one hand as he jumped down a tall step and hurried off to something that interested him.

His feet turned inward, his head looked too large for his body, and he spoke in noises instead of words, but he bounced when he moved, his eyes sparkled through thick, round glasses, and his smile stretched wide. If I had to assign one word to him, it would be: bright.

It was as if he carried his own light around with him. That’s the kind of beauty I want to cultivate.



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Drawing And Writing Without Pants

Happy new year! I hope 2016 is humming along nicely for you so far. We had some fun family-and-friend time, but I also got really tired for about four weeks. I think I’m recovering, but man-oh-man I do not like feeling so fatigued.

Nevertheless, I’ve stuck with my commitment to draw daily for one full year. It’s been 46 days, and I’ve managed to draw for 40 of them. In the past, that would have felt like failure, and after the first or second missed day, I’d have called it quits. Now, however, as perfectionism slowly recedes from my life, I see this as a great success. I have 40 more sketches than I would have had, new ideas, and a few surprises like this forlorn fellow.

I’ve also started writing “morning pages” because Rebecca Rebouché, a painter  interviewed in Art, Inc. by Lisa Congdon, said the practice has become the “most important element” in her art and her life.  Oliver Burkeman sums up the process Julia Cameron describes in The Artist’s Way. I liked his slightly snarky approach to the practice that totally wins him over as it seems to do for everyone who tries it.

I don’t write daily but even three times a week has clarified details for Carrot Condo projects and set goals for 2016 in a much more concrete and achievable way than I’ve been able to do in the past.

I may also try meditating every weekday for 15 minutes for Lent, but I haven’t decided for sure yet. I think the current lesson here is: Hurrah for #365daysofpractice !! Daily practice is really effective for me, even on days when I begrudge it or spend barely 60 seconds drawing. Even that has yielded results and primed creative muscle.

Lastly, and surprisingly related, is the fact that I really need new pants. The few I have fit poorly, look bad, and are old. However, nothing fits. I mean, truly, nothing. I don’t know why, and I do not want to spend the time or the money shopping for pants. In dramatic, exasperated fashion, I sighed to my husband: “Well, I guess I’ll just wear skirts. Forget pants.”

Well, duh. Why not? I have skirts left over from my teaching days. It seems sort of overly fancy to wear a skirt while hanging out at home with my kiddo and going for walks around the neighborhood, but for the last two days, it’s worked, and it reminded me of what I learned in “Kk: Kitchen, Using What You’ve Got,” that limitation can inspire invention. If I can manage to stop resisting limitations and problems and see them as creative opportunities, my mind opens up.

I mean, it’s not genius to start wearing skirts, but it shifted my perspective–what else can I out-maneuver? What other path or method might I discover if I stop lamenting that I lack the one I wish to have? What else can I re-vision in my life?

So, here’s to a dynamic and fulfilling 2016 to all of you trying to make the world a kinder, more generous, more creative place, and to all your daily practices, whether you wear pants or not.


#365daysofpractice = use this to tag updates about your daily effort so we can find you in various social media platforms.


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How Much You Want This, Girlie? #365daysofpractice

I’ve spent the last two weeks pondering my last post, hemming and hawing about whether to do it or not. And then on Monday, December 7, it rained so hard here in Portland that it unsettled even life-long Oregonians like me.

The rain caused one problem after the other:

  • A large puddle flowed into our basement,
  • the downspout broke over my head and dowsed me with gallons of frigid water,
  • I fixed the downspout and the block that made the gutters overflow,
  • I poured our last bag of bark dust over the ponds gathering around the downspout,
  • I traded out towels every 15 minutes to soak up the swirling pool of water in the basement,
  • That evening, I washed the towels, but when I tried to dry them, the dryer broke,
  • tiny, ravenous ants invaded three rooms of our house by the hundreds (even crawling on our toothbrushes);
  • and of course all the other stuff that must happen in a typical day had to be done too: meals made, toddler tended, dishes washed, board books read, toys picked up (16 times), and so forth.

I forced a smile through all of it; I told myself I could handle; I started to shout “What the f—?!?” but instead changed it to, “Bring it! I can handle it!” And I did.

In the midst of all this is when I decided to commit to drawing every day for 365 days. I started my creative challenge on December 7 because life is never going to make way for art, at least not until the artist proves her desire and willingness to go to the mat for her ideas.

I mean, I can keep sitting around and daydreaming of new projects for Carrot Condo, or I can go draw.

And as Monday showed me, I never actually sit around. Life gives me all kinds of completely legitimate, important, useful, even challenging and satisfying tasks to fill more than seven days a week, none of which include drawing or writing.

Monday’s storm felt like a big, arrogant Greek god swooped down and wagged a finger at me all paternalistic, and said “How much you want this, girlie?” in a tone that sounded more like, “See? I told you. You’ve already got more on your plate than you can handle, so forget this whole creative thing.”

That made me mad.

So, it’s done. I’m committed. And, I’ve already missed a day. But so what? I’ve got 6 more sketches in my notebook than I would have had if I’d not sat down in the middle of the tempest to draw.

You want to join me? Here are my guidelines if you want to follow:

  • Draw (or whatever you choose to do) every, single day.
  • Doesn’t matter what I draw or how long or how well; I just have to do it.
  • If I miss a day, I get right back on track the very next day.
  • There is no working ahead; this isn’t for cute Instagram pictures but for forcing art into every day of daily life until it’s as much a part of my routine as the dishes and laundry.
  • I have to report on occasion to stay accountable. I’ll use this blog and my Carrot Condo Instagram account and the hashtag #365daysofpractice because it doesn’t look like anyone’s using this so we can find each other easily, and because practice in order to develop a healthy habit and further transform into the people we want to be is what this is all about.

You could do anything for 365 days that is realistic and adds fulfillment to your life:

  • meditate
  • draw
  • write
  • exercise
  • eat veggies
  • read a chapter/poem
  • do something helpful for someone else
  • memorize a word in a language you don’t know
  • listen to a new-to-you song, band, or album

You can start whenever you want. Will you let me know if you decide to do it? I’m deeply curious about what you’ll take on for 365 days, and we can encourage each other to keep going when it gets tough.

You can post a comment here, you can email me (trista AT carrot condo DOT com), or you can message me in Instagram (link is to your right if you’re on a laptop; at the very bottom if you’re on a iPad/iPhone).

The more of us engaging in something thoughtful every day, the less impact these “storms” will have. Right? Good luck!

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