design business WFH

3 Tips for Quiet Quitting (when you work for yourself)

The latest buzz term in the post-pandemic workplace is “quiet quitting.” For too long, the American can-do culture has about done us in—expecting success to rise from pushing the limits of what it means to give it your all. Add to that the historical societal expectations for child rearing placed on women that kept us completely out of the higher tiers of corporate America, and many times, out of the building completely. To shove our way in, we had to do the same job but better, and do so without letting it be known that there were children who needed to be picked up from school, teacher conferences to be had, or doctors’ appointments to be booked. For mothers, the adage, “Never let them see you sweat,” quickly became, “Never let them see you parent.”

Since the nineties, accommodations like paid paternity/partner leave, flexible work schedules, and the recognition that, frankly, moms bring good sh*t to the table, has increased our position on the corporate totem pole, but the majority is still not at the top. When we are, we certainly are not getting paid the same as our male counterparts for it. Don’t even get me started about the limits that ethnicity, race, age, sexuality, marital/partner status, and physical ability add to this heavy load for many. We’re all trying to claw our way to the top, but those claws are getting worn down, and there’s nothing like the screeching halt of a pandemic to point that out.

Cue the Great Resignation and with that, people deciding that driving their own decisions about work and home balance is how it should be. Now, people are quietly shutting those laptops at 5 o’clock (in their own time zone) and, behold! corporate America is still standing. Perhaps it’s because people are returning to their desks the next morning with a sense of self-control, satisfaction, and balance. 

So, is this a choice we can sustain and stay a successful economy? And if so, how does the self-employed lot accomplish this without losing respect from their contractor, let alone their gig? 

I would argue, yes, we can afford to shut it down at a reasonable hour. I’m not alone, of course. Many studies have shown that workers were just as productive when they had to work from home, even when putting in less hours sitting at their desks. Dogs were walked, bread was made, and yes, even emails were answered. On the flip side, the home as office also blurred the lines of the work day and now we’re boomeranging fast to try and sharpen those lines back up. The hybrid work week (part home, part office) is a result. Quiet quitting is another.

So how does a fully-remote, self-employed contract worker (and mom) quietly quit when there’s competition for work and looser work schedules all around? Here’s how:

  1. Set up expectations from the get-go.
    If you start answering emails on Saturdays, it doesn’t take long for the needy client to learn (and exploit) that you’re always working for them, always. 
  2. Don’t lie when life happens.
    Got a soccer game to go to? A kid to pick up? Tell your client exactly why you can’t make that meeting. It normalizes life as part of the work day and helps remind employers that freelancers are people too.
  3. Do good work and trust it.
    If you prove yourself a reliable asset to your employer, they are bound to give you more flexibility because they want your quality. But, when you are “on the clock,” be there fully, and try not to mix your work and home life (Does “No one will see if I do a quick Instacart order while I do this Zoom call,” ring a bell?).

A combination of measured commitment, embracing one’s reality, and openness is all it takes to release yourself from guilt and restore balance when or if the line between your home and your office gets smudged.

self care WFH

WFH: The devil on your doorstep

At the risk of overemphasizing the obvious, working from home, like many of us do now due to Covid-19, blurs the physical and mental boundaries between work and home. While there are many benefits to this (as I have noted in past articles), there can also be some pitfalls.  

Additionally, this osmosis between spaces offers close proximity to our less socially acceptable vices we keep behind closed doors, like alcohol, overeating, or screen addiction. Now, add some kids to the mix perhaps, maybe a partner, income insecurity, lack of childcare, loss of social support. And, what if you add to that a culture where euphemisms like “mommy’s sippy cup” and other humorous observations about alcohol consumption among moms are increasingly common and, in fact, encouraged? Well, that devil is cozying right up next to you and handing you a drink—probably wine in an insulated cup emblazoned with “Rosé all day.”

First, a little about me: I’m white, cis-gendered female, upper-middle class, in a heterosexual marriage, and have two kids and many pets. For the last year or so, I have worked from home as a freelance graphic designer. I coincidentally left my full-time office gig when we moved for my husband’s job right as the pandemic was revving up. Though working alone at home can be at times lonesome, I personally love the flexibility my at-home setup affords. I get to be a mom when I need to be, make enough money to pay for our kids’ tuition, and chip away at some of the never-ending laundry. 

Back to my point. I remember seeing a video on Facebook a few months into the pandemic by the Holderness Family to the tune of “Do you want to build a Snowman?” from the Disney movie Frozen. It’s a quarantine parody song that poses a day-time question to his spouse, “Do you want to start drinking?” To be fair, I find a lot of their content funny and admire them for normalizing, in an accessible and humorous way, a lot of the hidden challenges of parenting and marriage. But, it made me think: what could videos like this and the normalization of ideas like “wine o’clock,” mean to families—and mothers—especially during a pandemic with all its stress-inducing glory? Are we simply giving license to unhealthy behaviors with “everybody’s doing it” messaging—and worse, could we be encouraging it (read: “everybody should be doing it”)?

What makes the idea of a glass of wine so appealing to so many at the end of the day? More so, why has it become increasingly normal for moms to be attaching themselves to a culture built around memes and posts about it? Well, Americans buy, and what we buy always implies something about our identity. The car you drive, where you shop, the clothes you wear, the food you eat, all say something about your value system and your socioeconomic status, among other things. Basically, in a capitalist society, where you choose to put your money says a lot about you as a person. Marketers obviously realize this and bank on it. 

Recently, women’s alcohol consumption is approaching that of men’s and the alcohol industry is developing product lines and messaging to encourage this demographic, driving home the message: “don’t forget, you are what you drink, too!” Look at widely available and affordable wines these days with cheeky titles like “Skinny Girl” or “Mommy’s Time Out” (subtle). “Barefoot” and “Yes way, Rosé” brand themselves as a quirky analgesic rather than a fine vintage. The culture around wine in America has shifted from the seventies as something you might get a glass of in an Italian restaurant from a raffia wrapped bottle to a reward for good behavior. We’re looking at you, you underappreciated, overworked mom. 

Work-from-home mom, meet stay-at-home mom. Oh, wait! Thanks to Covid-19, you are just looking in a mirror. Personally, I noticed that my clock-watching was getting much more focused around 4/4:30 every afternoon during the early months of the pandemic. Is it five yet? Is it almost five yet? Anything to break the day into a new chunk! I soon was disturbed by what I was feeling with this behavior. All of a sudden having a glass of wine or two at the end of the day didn’t seem like a choice. It was a routine. And, not one that particularly made me feel good. It was the norm that my husband and I would split a bottle of wine at night—that’s like 2 ½ glasses per day. (And, those glasses are bigger now than they used to be.) My husband and I relished this ritual. We started staring at each other’s glasses and second-guessing how big the other’s pour was compared to our own. I felt like my adolescent son when he split a can of soda between his sister and him. He all but whipped out a ruler to make sure they were equal. My husband was noticing this, too. So, he suggested we pull back. We did and stuck with it. We both feel a lot better about our choice. 

Here’s the thing. The marketing people want us to believe that we moms are supposed to be drinking wine at night to unwind, relax, and reward ourselves for if not a job well done, a job—well, done. That’s what got me. It wasn’t a reward. I didn’t feel better or happier because of it. In fact, I slept worse, I gained weight, and didn’t like where my patience level was headed. 

Plus, I didn’t like the message I was sending my teenage daughter: You NEED a thing to help you feel calm and relaxed when you’re stressed. I want her to find relief and solace in relationships and herself, not things. I want to be that for myself. Covid stripped away our in-person community of friends and family, made us full-time roommates with people we were used to seeing a couple of hours a day. (People who we love, but maybe not people who need to be around us 24-7.) I am not at all surprised that alcohol consumption rose during the pandemic—especially among women. We were all looking for rewards for good behavior, for not losing our ever-loving minds because of the demands heaped upon us. Life is messy, motherhood isn’t all well shorn, polite children, clean rooms and hot dinners. It’s OK to need help. The problem is that the market’s answer is: Here. Drink this. It’s classy and it’ll make you feel better. (Until it doesn’t.) 

I like wine. I like it more now that I only have it on weekends. I savor it. I drink less and appreciate each sip. I decided to replace that old routine with a healthier one: exercise. I figured if I wanted something to help me relieve stress, why not take a completely guilt-free and actually effective route? Through this, I show myself and my kids that there are ways that you can take care of yourself, ways that don’t involve something you buy, something you ingest, or something that can ultimately harm you. So I closed the door on that chapter.

Now, I roll my eyes when I see yet another coffee mug that says something like “This may be wine.” At first, the humor was cute. It pointed out that we moms don’t have to be perfect all the time and we sadly needed that permission, especially when even more was being added to our plates. But, the devil’s in the details, and when you take a closer look at who is driving this message and the long-term effects it has on the very women it’s trying to liberate from perfection, aren’t we doing more harm than good? For me, that devil’s still waiting outside the door, I know he’ll always be there. But for now, he’s drinking alone.

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creativity self care

Self care = good work

Even before the pandemic hit, there was a big movement in the American marketplace catering to the idea of self care. Products were created, experiences curated, and blogs written emphasizing the importance of one’s self being a top priority in order to achieve happiness and, frankly, sanity. However, in a capitalist society what value is given to the care of workers when the money engine runs on productivity? I have found that self care actually makes me a better worker bee by allowing me the mind space to harness and compartmentalize my focus when it matters most. Let me explain.

There’s nothing new in the argument that self care makes us feel better. It works. We’re nicer people when we’ve had time to decompress and sit with our own thoughts. Who has woken up from a restful nap angry or short-tempered? Who looks down at their pedicured toes and thinks, “Now that I feel pampered, who can I yell at?” But does taking time away from the blessed 8-hours that we’re supposed to be tapping away at a keyboard in order to spend more time doing the things that make us feel better actually help achieve a new level of productivity in less time? For me, yes.

I began working from home again during the pandemic. I had quit a full-time, in-office job and decided to go back to freelance design. I found a few great clients and went to work. However, before I decided to go back to work, I had established a routine for myself where I worked out in the mornings, took time to eat a healthy breakfast, make the beds, straighten out the chaos my children inflicted on my house the night before, shower and usually by 10:00 or 11:00 a.m., I was able to sit down and focus on some good-old fashioned contributions to society. When I hadn’t done my routine first, I would sit down at my computer, half awake, and those small things that I really wanted to do for myself, would sit in the background of my head and actually make me feel guilty that they didn’t get done. I would be distracted because, well, I missed me. I felt edgy and uninspired. On the other hand, there was the feeling that I had to be at my desk from 9-5 in order for it to “count” as a workday. I soon realized, I had to let that go and realized that I could get more done in less time if, and only if, I let myself have some time for me.

The results: I workout every morning. I may sit down at my desk, a sweaty mess, for a couple of minutes afterwards to answer any super emergent cries for design help, but then I go about my morning, eating a good breakfast (away from the computer or phone), cleaning up a bit (including my sweaty mess of a self), and then set to work. I also take a break mid-day to walk my dogs and eat lunch outside (weather permitting) for a quick recharge. Then I work a bit more before usually being summoned to my kids’ school by some sports commitment or carpool. I never feel like I don’t get what I need to do accomplished. I never feel guilty that I took that time for myself, because I realize this works.

I work better when I feel better. I work well when I feel like I am not a slave to my clients. I feel balanced and positive about my work instead of harried and beholden to it. If there is a unique project that requires a full eight hours that day, I may take care of it in the evening and order takeout for dinner or throw that hot potato to my spouse to deal with. I have also learned not to take on too much to begin with. You can read more about how to do that here.

In the meantime, namaste.

design business self care

Feast or Famine

Contract work can be feast or famine. My workload is usually a small snack peppered by a random all-you-can-eat buffet. As of 2020, I’m a mom first, but love graphic design and have a lot of experience doing it, so I enjoy the challenges that sporadically come my way. I like to work. But, I don’t like feeling overwhelmed or stretched too thin. I also hate letting people down. So, saying “no” has never been a strength of mine. All of this can lead to a lot of stress and hard choices (not to mention many grey hairs) if not managed well. Over the years, I have learned how best to evaluate which project mix is best, and what I need to kindly decline. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s not always the projects with the highest payday that make the A list. Here’s why:

1 A Thanksgiving turkey would be nothing without the sides.

What designer doesn’t want to design a big glossy magazine, multi-tear website, an entire branding system, or fun series of packaging? All at the same time? Not fun. I like to remember advice that my sister-in-law gave me when she was teaching me how to knit: Always have a couple of projects on the needles. That way, you won’t get bored. I also like to remember that design is only a part of my life. There are other demands on my time that are equally, if not more, important than whatever project comes my way.

So my advice: remember the sides. If you have a few projects to choose from, take a big juicy one, but throw some fries on that plate as well. Now, this could be a bigger project too, but maybe it has a looser timeline, so you won’t be working full throttle on both at the same time. Maybe, it’s updating a website you did a while back in addition to that 24-page catalogue. It could also mean working with a familiar client while working with a new one. You know what you can give and take from the known, but a new one may need a little more active attention.

2 Saying “no” doesn’t have to mean “goodbye.”

Trust me. Business people are used to hearing “no” a lot. If you handle it well, they’ll return to you with the hopes that the timing will be better next time. How do you do this? Flattery, and then, what I like to call, “explanation light.” Don’t overwhelm them with details about why you can’t help them out. Just thank them for thinking of you and tell them you’d really welcome the opportunity to work with them in the future, but your docket is already full. That’s all. Further explanation will just waste their time and doesn’t change the end result. They may even leave the conversation a little impressed that you are so in demand—they have good taste!

Additionally, give them a time when they can return to you and then reach out to them at that time instead of waiting for them to make the first move. This shows them that you really do want to work with them, and you were counting down the days as to when you could see their lovely address in your inbox again.

3 Play favorites (with projects, not people).

How you mix up your workload should depend on a longer-term way of thinking. If you start to get busier, take a breath and look at what’s on your plate. Are the projects helping to serve your portfolio or develop the skills you would like to see improve? Is the client pleasant and easy to work with, appreciative of your skill as a professional, respectful of your opinion? If you are successfully growing your business, you’ll have the luxury of being a little pickier. Think of your portfolio like a vision board. If the only things pinned on your wall are projects that just pay the bills or take forever to finish, then maybe you should rethink the mix. What do you want that wall to look like and then take the projects that help you reach that goal.

I realize none of this is rocket science, but it helps to have someone remind you that it’s OK to say “no”—especially for us people-pleasers. As long as the reason you’re turning work down (or taking work on) helps you to feel satisfied in where your business, time and energy are being directed.

collaboration creativity

WFH ≠ work alone

When I started my first job in design waaaaay back in the 90’s, it was as a part-time junior designer. The rest of the week I was home freelancing trying to make rent. Thinking back to those days, was I any more or less creative or lonely when I was working by myself versus working in a studio? No. Here’s why:

1. Technology is a game-changer.

If the pandemic has taught us anything it is that advanced technology is a goddess-send when it comes to the functionality and productivity of a workplace. White-collar businesses whose livelihoods centered around meetings and documents, were able to continue pretty much unscathed during the pandemic thanks to platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams and Zoom, to name a few. Don’t even get me started on “The Cloud.” (Who needs a hard drive any more let alone a desk?!) Creative folks like me have also benefitted greatly from these strides with Adobe Creative Suite far surpassing the desktop Quark Xpress to which we were slaves in the 90’s. When I entered the design space, professionals were only beginning to adopt the desktop mode of design. This generation of designers feared that the computer would take away all tactile exploration of forms and automated font formatting would destroy the nuanced kerning and paragraph rags that required a keen and trained eye. At times, they were correct. I cringe at some of the letter spacing I see these days. So, what does all of this have to do with working from home versus not? My point is: things change, but creativity adapts, and the technology available to creatives today not only allows for more exploration, but it also allows for all of this to happen in a remote environment where ideas can be exchanged almost instantly—when you are ready to do so, not when the conference room was scheduled. Which leads me to my next point:

2. Night owls, wallflowers, and moms welcome.

Though the argument used to be that in-person workplaces were a breeding ground for spontaneous collaboration and inspirational exchanges, the truth is very different. This post was in fact inspired by a recent New York Times article stating the opposite: “Requiring people to be in the office can drive out innovation, some researchers and executives said, because for many people, in-person office jobs were never a great fit. They include many women, racial minorities and people with caregiving responsibilities or disabilities. Also, people who are shy; who need to live far from the office; who are productive at odd hours; or who were excluded from golf games or happy hours.” In short: not everyone beat boxes to the same drum. Working from home can enrich creativity because it allows the individual to work in a way that best suits them (like, say, when the kids are in bed and you can finally FOCUS for the love of all that is holy!). Also, I run. Not marathons, but part of my weekly exercise routine includes at least three, three- to four-mile runs. I can’t emphasize what a gift this is for my brain, let alone my body. I’m able to truly zone out and focus in on ideas my mind has been too splintered to consider fully. Some of my best concepts have been accomplished by literally putting one foot in front of the other. That, and grocery lists.

3. Your Zoom or mine?

As sad and truly devastating the pandemic has been, it has been a giant “Reset” button for industries. Instead of routine, we were forced out of our comfort zones and plopped in front of a screen that more resembled the opening of a Brady Buch episode rather than a workplace. And while many of us suffered from this shift (thinking of the millions of kids who had to spend the school year in front of a laptop), some of us gained new perspective on what collaboration truly means. We learned out of desperation for human contact to move away from “let’s get down to business” and toward “before we begin, how’s everyone doing?” It slowed us down. Made room for empathy. And, I don’t think any creative person will argue that more time to breathe and think could harm the creative process.

So, how does all of this change the workplace in the long run? Will offices become more social outlets for companies rather than task-master meeting spaces? A lot of us have found a nice rhythm (after much struggle) in the WFH lifestyle and will be sad to let it go completely. Luckily, I don’t have to, but I hope that for my colleagues, a shift will take place and companies will recognize that balance brings happiness, and that appreciating people’s different work styles and demands outside of the office makes us human, not slackers. That room, that air, will only improve innovation by giving us all time to reflect, organize and respond with innovation.

collaboration creativity self care

Points of View

Three tips on how to keep your perspective part of the conversation and when to take a look at things from someone else’s.

Speaking from my experience, when I was starting out in the business world as a design intern, then a junior designer, then a full-time legit designer, and so on, my ability to contribute to discussions and listen to feedback evolved over the years in a meaningful way. If I could go back and have a chat with intern-me, I would give her this advice:

You’re not always right.

This one is the hardest to learn. You may feel with your heart and soul that there is no way on this planet, in any state of consciousness, that you could be wrong or misguided in a particular instance, but I’m here to tell you, it’s bound to happen. That’s part of design. It’s a subjective industry. So if someone is disagreeing with your choice of PMS color, your font size, or patterned background, listen to them. A lot of the times, they may have a point. It is worth taking a moment, a breath, and learning from the perspective being presented to you as that person’s experience is just as valid as yours.

Remember: experience doesn’t always equal expertise.

This one goes both ways. Sometimes you will receive feedback from a superior, someone with more experience. But that doesn’t mean they are the end-all-be-all in opinions. In a good working relationship, you should be able to push back without losing respect or stepping on someone’s toes. Be confident and reasoned in your choices, and when someone with more experience questions them, be prepared to fight the good fight. But always remember my first tip. It’s a tango of wills. If you’re a pushover every time someone leans on you, then they aren’t going to see who you really are, what you have to bring to the table. They may even start believing you are undertrained. On the other hand, if you are the one who is always holding on to your ideas with a death grip and with whom no one wants to speak for fear they may lose a finger, your potential as a team player will greatly diminish—which could hurt you more in the long run, no matter how good your ideas are. It’s corny, but there really is no “i” in “team.”

At the end of the day, what you do for your job is important but not that important.

I probably should whisper this one. It’s like I’m revealing the recipe to the secret sauce. There’s a fine line between being passionate about what you do, and letting that drive rule your life. I am not saying that you shouldn’t put your all into what you do, every time you do it. What I am saying is that when you are young, perhaps unattached, it is easy to invest your passion in your job, completely, without any of the negative consequences that come along as you get older. I have a friend who joined a gym close to her work—not for exercise—just so she would have a place to shower the next morning when she ended up sleeping at the office. Some people (especially women and minorities, who are sadly still having to justify their positions of power) will keep this level of commitment even after their lives are further complicated, nay, enriched, by partners and kids and hobbies as they get older. Awesome. Do it if you can and your family supports it, but also know that you are allowed to afford yourself a break. Candles don’t last long when burned from both ends.

If you are a go-getter who wants to put 1,000 percent into your job and live your dream, you will most likely be successful and rise up that corporate ladder. Just be prepared for all of the services you’ll most likely have to purchase in order to keep the rest of your life afloat. Doing so, in no means, connotes a personal failure. It’s the cost of doing business in a society that isn’t well set up for family-minded people who would like to present their project to the client, but also be out on time to catch their daughter’s little league game. At the end of the day, just ask yourself before you turn out the lights, “is the person I am today who I want to be?” And, be honest in your answer. If the answer is No, look at ways to introduce some balance, even if it means supporting your local food delivery drivers a little more often, or creating an online group of neighborhood working families to exchange ideas, frustrations, and carpools. Chances are, these days, that the client you are preparing that presentation for also has a little league game she needs to get to.

It may be a little hard to see how that last tip has anything to do with how to keep your perspective part of the conversation, but it whole heartedly does. If you don’t let the other parts of your life start to inform how you behave or contribute at work, you are setting up a dual personality that will be hard to sustain. If memory serves, Dr. Jekyl didn’t turn out so well. Realize and relish in the fact that our walls between work and home are blurring. At first, that was scary. We always wanted to keep work and home separate, but when, for many of us, working from home became a health requirement, the world began to realize that we’re not all that different. Even CEOs have cats who photobomb a Zoom call. Treating others the way you want to be treated, including giving others the break you would like afforded to you next time your child’s science experiment permanently alters your home’s floor plan will only help us all keep in mind the humanity behind the creativity we bring forward. The messy, flammable humanity.

creativity self care

What lies beneath

Seriously. What’s under there? You go first. The fear of starting a new project or putting pen to paper is fueled by the unknown and mistrust of one’s own abilities. Here’s how I conquer the beast.

Image is from the TurboTax monster-under-the-bed Super Bowl ad. Fitting, I think.

There are monsters everywhere in our psyches. The ones who tell us not to wear that, not to say that, and not to eat that. And, if we ignore them, they have all sorts of punishments: doubt, anxiety, shame, to name a few. These hindrances are at best an annoyance that we all fend off every day, but to a creative who has to silence these voices of self doubt each and every time they begin to work, these meddling menaces can be relentless and drive you right to Procrastination Town (not that putting things off is always a bad thing). Sometimes our deadlines and clients don’t sympathize with our inner struggles, so we have to put our big girl pants on and whip out that project. How does one do this over and over again without losing faith? Here’s how:

1: Remember: You’ve done this before.

You’ve had projects. You’ve delivered them. The client was happy. But how did you start them again exactly? Sometimes, just remembering the ways I’ve started other projects helps me to kick myself in the pants to begin another one. I always go to a sketchbook first, not the computer. Or, I do research on like businesses, just to see what’s out there. I might go for a run to clear my head and allow my thoughts to organize themselves while my body is otherwise engaged. Long story short: remember your bag of tricks.

2. It’s (not) the end of the world as we know it.

Yes, it matters that you do your best every day. And, no, you should not half-ass something because you’re just not feeling it that day. That said, not every project is going to be the award-winning, golden nugget you hoped for. Sometimes, your very best is simply going to get the job done. That may sound like a copout, but really what it is is realistic. Any designer who has presented options to a client, let’s say, for a logo, knows that the client is going to pick the one you like the least. It’s Murphy’s Law. What I mean is, some of what we do is subjective. You need to trust your work ethic, your experience, and your gut, and hope that the client will be grateful and ecstatic for what you present. Chances are, however, you are putting way more into this basket of eggs than they are. They’ve come to this meeting with a long to-do list of their own, their own monsters to contend with, and your little logo is just something to check off the list. A fun break in the middle of a day of emails. They’re most likely going to be grateful for the opportunity to flex their creative muscle and respond to your work. They may not love it the way you do. They may even ask you to go back and try something else. The point is: they see this as a conversation, not a firing squad.

3. Start with your worst idea.

Sometimes, just getting started is the hardest part. So give yourself a break and brainstorm your way out of it. Put that bad idea down on paper or on screen and get it out of the way (probably involves a swoosh of some sort). Who knows? Maybe what comes next is the best one! Maybe there are fifty other bad ideas before you get to the good one. Remember that creativity is a process, not an equation. That’s what you love about it. Which leads me to my final cue:

4. Remind yourself why you do this to yourself.

The best way to conquer the monster is to turn away from it and look at the parts of the process you love. You chose this profession. You are grateful you get to do something that is completely based in creativity and get paid for it! The people who hire you are hiring you because they “could never do what you do.” You’re special. It’s always a good idea to give yourself a pep talk. No one will tell on you if you sift through your old projects, the ones you’re really proud of, to remind yourself of the creations that await the world because of what you do.

I hope this helps you. Truth be told, I’m writing this because I have a big project I need to get started on and this post is basically a pep talk for myself. Now get to work.


creativity fresh design self care

Luck of the draw

(photo credit:

We all have had a lot of time to think these days—myself in particular. Both my kids are [THANK GOD] in schools that support safe, in-person learning, and my husband is an essential employee, so I am left to my devices each day to do my job: be creative. One would think that with all this time on my hands and no distractions I would be whipping out Mona Lisa quality creations by the dozens. But, sadly, that is not the case. Which begs the question: Why is creativity harder now when I finally have time to focus?

I’ve been struggling with this conundrum since March when the great WFH experiment began. Recently, I read this article by Martin Bihl, executive creative director at LevLane Advertising and editor of, which gives some insight as to why this isolated version of creativity feels so different and, frankly, harder than before we stopped physically commuting to an office.

What’s missing? According to Bihl: randomness. Much like procrastination can lead to inspiration, chance encounters with our world and those within it help stimulate creativity by eliciting unexpected reactions which then can trigger new ideas and “happy little accidents,” to quote Bob Ross. When we remove those random moments—taking the stairs because the elevator is being serviced, or choosing a new sandwich when our favorite salad is sold out, or noticing a coworker’s plant for the first time—we take away the interruption that fuels new thinking. We’re creatures of habit, argues Bihl, and without a jump start every now and again our creative batteries can peter out.

So what’s the solve? Find ways to reintroduce the random. I picked up a pencil and drew a portrait of my daughter with our dog from a photo I had taken a few weeks prior (see bel0w). I hadn’t done this for years. I made myself look up new recipes on the New York Times Cooking app rather than settle for the familiar after the first rush of quarantine cooking energy died out. I am listening to more podcasts than I should admit to and reading a lot. Verdict: It helps. These changes give my brain just the detour it needs to see in a different way, taste something new, listen to inspiration.

As much as routine is important to keep us sane and put up necessary boundaries for our time and energy, bringing in the random and pushing oneself to branch out and be a different you, as hard as it is sometimes, reminds our brains that there are a lot of roads we haven’t tried yet. Bihl suggests this for those of us with coworkers who are probably suffering the same loss:

“Maybe it’s scheduling those Zoom calls for longer, so you have time to talk about stuff that has nothing to do with what the call is about. Maybe it’s getting into the habit of just arbitrarily reaching out to team members to pick their brains on stuff, like you might if you were in the office together—not only for big, scheduled things.”

Martin Bihl

So, take what you will from this. We all have our ways of seeing our decline and finding a way to right our ship. Without the personal interactions with team members we had perhaps taken for granted (and sometimes avoided) and with each conversation today requiring an intentional effort, the work of creativity can be daunting and lonely. Take a chance, find your space where you can invite the unexpected and see what comes of it.


What box?

It’s easy to say to creatives to “think outside of the box,” or, look at things from a different perspective, but exactly how, as a creative, does one do that successfully and with a purpose?

Tobias Wacker, group Executive Creative Director at hasan & partners, recently was published discussing how corporate creativity is at a crisis point. He states “There is no value in being different just for the sake of being different, but unless you are leading the way with your brand, you need to come up with something better and different – otherwise the economy of scale will wipe you out before you are learning about the next big thing.” Let’s face it, creativity helps a brand stand out and express how it is unique by being, well, unique. But, there needs to be meaning behind that difference.

The greatest challenge for me, and I imagine many creatives, is that when it comes to the pressure of deadlines and bottom lines, the worker bee in me wants to get it done, check that task off that list and call up the next person in line. However, by not taking the time required to explore the “outside of the box,” and all of the boxes around it, we lose sight of the very thing we were hired to do: bring a creative solution to a unique problem.

Time is always the enemy. We want to be profitable and successful. We do not want to be inefficient. We do not want to ignore the five other projects awaiting our attention. This pressure sometimes means we get sucked into trends. If everyone else likes pastel pink and army green paired with bold, geometric shapes and a slab serif, maybe this auto mechanic would like that too! The sad thing is, you could probably get the client to agree with your choices because in your heart, you might convince yourself that having an on-trend look means you are successful at having your finger on the pulse of what’s “out there.” However, with this ease of hegemony, we end up just adding to the white noise of predictable advertising.

To keep this brief, my point is this: force yourself to take the time. Remind yourself of why you enjoy this field to begin with. Remember why your client hired you in the first place. Take a walk before sitting down to work. When you do sit down, don’t hop on the computer, hop on your nearest pencil and whip open that dusty sketch book. Watch an inspiring TED talk or a tutorial on a new feature of an updated design application. Give creativity the space it needs to breathe, because it takes a lot of energy and willpower to climb outside of that box.

Case study education marketing

Project Highlight: Viewbook

What can you say about a school in 16 pages plus cover? Here, I’ll take you through the three-step process that led to an award-winning view book for a private school in Virginia. Best of all, it was produced on a shoestring budget.

These days, when everything seems to be on the screen instead of on your coffee table, it’s hard to convince a client to invest in the permanence and increased cost of a printed piece. Such was the case with the Pre-k through grade 12 school with whom I worked in Southwest Virginia. As most small private schools, the institution was cash strapped in the marketing department. However, the need became apparent that there were students to woo, and convincing a family to part with a significant portion of their income as an investment for their child’s future when the alternative was “free,” needed more than a slick website. It needed a tactile, emotive connection with families. Enter the view book.

Fifteen years ago, all private schools worth their salt (and their tuition) had a view book. Then websites got fancy and easy to navigate. Families who were going to send their child to a private school did their research online before even picking up the phone to schedule a tour. The view book seemed to lose its place in the marketing lineup. This sidelining was a mistake for those institutions who were aiming to convince families who weren’t sold on paying for school. How can you make a meaningful connection with a family who isn’t even looking for you? Advertising? Sure. But that will only peak an interest and has limited space and audience attention.

And, what if you wanted to woo families across the globe, as this school did? Reaching those families via digital marketing is challenging at the very least. The school realized it needed to go on the road, or on the plane, as it were, but they needed something to hand people that would connect with them and stick. Three steps happened to make sure they had what they needed.

1 Harness the voice, but don’t babble.

At the time, I was lucky enough to be the marketing director at the school, but I also had substantial experience in designing and producing long-form brochures for schools—though, to be honest, I had never written one. The budget did not allow for a copywriter, so it was up to yours truly to figure out what a family wanted to hear and how they would want to hear it in order to believe this school was the option for their child. I took inspiration from our social media channels. I had created a voice that was serious in purpose, but playful in execution, reminding families that this school is a place that not only sparks imagination and learning, but happiness as well.

Using the “Wild Mind” quote mentioned in a graduation speech by the head of school set up the spread on arts, but also helped relay the personality of the school and its values.

So now, I had my voice. But, people hate to read these days, so I needed to keep the copy short and sweet. And, what about those people in far-off places whose first language is something other than English? I had to figure out a way to entice them as well. Enter step 2.

2 Take advantage of technology, even in print.

Not only did I make sure to employ big, beautiful photography of our students learning, creating, socializing and succeeding, but I used technology to fill in the gaps between picture and text. QR codes are becoming more widely used (especially during the pandemic when no one wants to touch a menu), and so I employed that tool to point to videos of our students doing what we say they do.

QR codes that point to online assets such as Facebook posts, YouTube videos or the school’s website, help illustrate in a way words and static images can not.

One in particular, took scanners to a Facebook post of a high school student performing a rap to a popular song using lyrics of her own creation to explore a historical figure’s biography. This quick link showed prospective parents and students that the classes were innovative, fun, and engaging. Now, how do you get parents and families to get the complete picture in a small brochure? Read on.

3 The dance is in the details.

So, I’ve already explained that people hate to read, but they do like to browse (thank you, Internet). The design brought in many elements from student quotes, to traditions (made appetizing through the use of a footer called “on the calendar”). The headers changed with each spread, some were filled with pictures, some were handwritten, but all had the same style for consistency. Some facts and figures were even generated from data collected by a student working in an independent study on marketing—again, showing that the students learn through real-world work not just concepts.

To get the texture behind the hand-traced “From me,” I crinkled a piece of notebook paper and scanned it. Instant texture that broke up what could have been a predictable design language.

When all was said and done, the book, produced through digital printing in a small run, achieved what it set out to do: Give the school a sense of legitimacy of message. Offer families something emotive and tactile that reminded them of its unique qualities without opening a browser window. Finally, it positioned them as a preparatory school who had a lot to say but kept in mind what mattered to families and focused its messaging there, no search engine required.