Conversation with a Creative: Meet Creativity Expert & Facebook Product Designer Tanner Christensen

I'm a writer, yes, but I'm coming up short on words to communicate how utterly stoked I am to speak with today's Conversation with a Creative guest. Tanner Christensen is a product designer at Facebook, author of the Creative Challenge, founder of Creative Something, developer of some of the top creativity apps, blogger on Medium, contributing author for Inc., and a former writer for Adobe's 99u. 
Back when I was in grad school and began really diving into the study of creativity I found Tanner on Twitter and eventually discovered his incredible blog Creative Something. Tanner was creating inspiring, thought-provoking stuff centered on creativity. And he was doing it with a fresh perspective and approach that didn't feel stuffy or overly academic. He's done a lot in a short amount of time and he’s also a major dabbler--but we’ll get to that.   
I think you’ll find Tanner’s perspective on creativity, Facebook, and the digital landscape fascinating. Without further ado: meet Tanner Christensen. 

HS: What does creativity mean to you? 

TC: Creativity is the mental capacity to generate novel and useful ideas.

HS: What piqued your interest in creativity? How did you come to study it and research it?

Creativity is this really alluring thing just on its own, isn’t it? Even if you don’t understand what it means to be creative or how it works, the notion that anyone, anywhere, can generate unique ideas from seemingly nowhere is a real type of magic that you can see and touch and be a part of.

It first captured my attention when I was very young. My friend’s father at the time ran a successful graphic design business and whenever I visited that office, full of colorful prints and futuristic gizmos, I always felt some type of magic in the work they were doing there. That’s what inspired me to pursue a career in design.

For some years I worked as a freelance visual designer, eventually landing a job at a real design agency, and everyone there kept talking about creativity but could never explain what it was they were talking about. I found that strangely captivating.

I decided to start pursuing the answer for myself; what is creativity and exactly how does it work? What makes novel thinking so powerful? If we could learn more about it what possibilities might we unlock?

HS: So you’re a product designer/creative strategist. Can you tell me about what you do and how the two intersect? 

TC: My first job at that design agency wasn’t actually in design. I was hired to do online marketing — which I didn’t know how to do. I spent a lot of time having to teach myself about search engine optimization, computer science, and all that.

So while I was learning about these strategic, mostly analytical practices, I was also spending a lot of time on the side researching and writing about creativity.

After about three or four years I started to develop a really comprehensive understanding of creativity. What I learned was that what I — like many others — had been led to believe about creativity simply wasn’t true. It isn’t about art or design, writing or music, creativity is fundamentally about ideas and how we develop, understand, and communicate them. Not just in terms of the arts, but in every realm of thinking and work.

I was able to take this perspective and apply it to my work, to the point where I’ve done everything from leading creative teams of designers and engineers, to creating hit apps, and writing on this fairly renown blog called Creative Something.

Most recently I landed at Facebook where I work as a product designer and am able to do a lot of other fun things with my knowledge of creativity.

HS: We’re all on Facebook. But you work there. How is creativity woven into the Facebook culture?

TC: Some of the most remarkably talented and highly intelligent people I have ever met work at Facebook. When I first joined the company I was amazed to discover that one of the cognitive neuroscientists I had looked up to over the past decade, Paul King, worked there too.

It’s the kind of environment that makes you really appreciate the bridge between logical thinking and creativity.

The problems we solve at Facebook are really difficult, even at the smallest scale. What seems like a straight-forward challenge to outsiders — creating an experience that connects people all across the world — is actually highly complex. You have to figure things out like how a design pattern will scale for a hundred different screen sizes in a hundred different languages, some of which change direction or break the layout of a product.

What’s culturally acceptable and understood in one part of the world is abnormal or shunned in another. How do you create something as simple as a button when it’s not going to be looked at or understood the same way for any two people? Getting that right is really important when it comes to connecting the world.

At Facebook we rely not only on data and formal logic to solve problems or to empower people, we have to think creatively too. Because nobody else is designing at the scale we are. Nobody has ever really had to think about the things we’re creating at the scale we’re creating them.

The culture of the company is really about how to bring highly intelligent and overly creative people together — both groups highly ambitious — in order to achieve the same goals. I’ve written a little more about how Facebook achieves this here.

HS: Did anything surprise you about Facebook once you began working there that you didn’t anticipate prior to joining their team?

TC: Everything about working at Facebook has been a surprise. Even now, a few years into the job, I stumble on things that surprise me.

For one, the utter intellect and talents of those I work alongside is awe-inspiring. It’s really hard to put into words just how smart some people can be. I thought I had some idea of intellect but when you work alongside people who are programming machines to do things humans can barely do that’s really humbling.

Another thing is just how complex the work is being done at Facebook. It can sometimes be easy to look at the website or app and think that the goal of Facebook is something it’s not or that our priorities are misaligned, but the reality is so far from that. There are a lot of people doing a lot of really difficult work to help connect and empower people around the world, and it takes a lot to make it happen in such an effective way.

HS: You recently had a book published. Congrats! Can you tell us what “The Creativity Challenge” is about and what inspired you to write it?

One day in 2015 I got a call from Adams Media, my publisher, they had been reading my blog and were interested in seeing if I wanted to write a book.

Together we came up with the idea of The Creativity Challenge in an effort to create a small book that could empower anyone who flipped through the pages to think creatively.

The book is filled with 150 activities that I was able to piece together through my years of researching and writing on creativity. Some are fun and quirky while others are fairly straight-forward. The point of the book wasn’t to radically alter how people think about creativity, it was more of a way to provide an easy-to-reference guide for shaking up your routine and dusting off mental cobwebs.

HS: What are your creative habits? What do you do to sharpen your creativity?

TC: I dabble. If I wasn’t a designer I’d be a dabbler. The absolute best way to remain creative is to have many diverse hobbies, and so that’s what I’ve tried to do.

If you want to quickly energize your creativity, find something interesting in the world and learn how to do it yourself. Twitter, YouTube, and Quora are great ways to do this by the way.

For example, right now I am in the middle of: writing a second book, learning Arduino in order to make an tangible product, picking up tools for fine metal jewelry making, coding my seventh app, writing for, getting into videography, leading public design critiques for Facebook, painting, ceramics, cooking, world travel, and probably a dozen other things I’m failing to recall.

All of these things do wonders for helping me think about solving problems and working in different ways.

I actually recently wrote about this  and state:

"Taking a break to work on something else helps us avoid fixating on existing solutions or patterns of thinking."

It isn’t easy and it’s definitely time consuming, but any time I can do something new or different I try my best to do it. Though it’s worth mentioning I often encounter fear at the beginning of these things. I don’t think the fear of failing at a new endeavor, or getting hurt or lost while traveling, or embarrassing yourself, ever goes away. You just learn to push past it after some time.

HS: What is your advice to a multidisciplinary creative who might aspire to one day do the kind of work you do or achieve what you have achieved?

Two things I’d tell my past self:

1. Keep going. Whenever you feel like it’s all a waste of time, or like nobody’s listening, or like you haven’t gotten the things you’d hoped to get by now, just keep going. Grit is a tremendously powerful thing, and many people don’t have it, so learn what it takes for you, personally, to keep trading through. If you’re doing things you love or find stimulating, then at least you’re getting fulfillment from that.

2. Be loud. Write, make videos, do a podcast, lecture, do gallery shows, publish your work, do whatever it takes to make people hear you. Even if what you say is wrong, or even if your work isn’t the best, people will start seeing you for the things you put out into the world. People who keep their work and their thoughts to themselves aren’t perfectionists, they’re indifferent. Show people you care — about the work or process or whatever — by being loud with it. Even if people come out and chastise you for it, the world is a big place and there will always be someone out there cheering you along because they need what you can share with them.

3. And, of course, I'd say pick up a copy of The Creativity Challenge.

A huge "thank you" to Tanner for taking the time to talk all things creativity. Do you know someone who should be interviewed for Conversation with a Creative? Drop me a line
If you're ready to make more space in your life for creativity, download my free eBook, More in Less: 21 Productivity Hacks for Creatives.

The Entrepreneur Chronicles: What I Learned from Starting a Business in One Month


Yes, it was rash. But was it too soon? I argue that it wasn't.

Here's how it happened.

The Entrepreneur Chronicles: What I Learned from Starting a Business in One Month

Back before my days of social media strategist/writer/consultant, I mainly did just one thing: acting. And when I say "mainly" I don't mean like "most of the time." I mean that was what I viewed as my career even though I'd spend anywhere between three months and nine months out of the year not doing the thing I loved. 

During one such period of working survival jobs I got a quirky gig as a princess with a character performing company in Nashville. Yes, I literally dressed up in costumes, brought my own soundtrack and sang Disney songs to sweet little girls wearing plastic tiaras and lip gloss. They loved it. I loved it. Everyone was happy*. :-)

*(Except when I was tasked with portraying Hannah Montana. Couldn't escape the skeptical side eye I got at those parties.)

I moved away from Nashville at the end of 2009 and spent another year performing in dinner theatre (while lightly freelance writing on the side) before embarking on a new parallel path to performing: the business side of show business which led to social media for live experiences which led to grad school which led to launching my full-time freelance career as a writer/social media strategist. All along I was still performing professionally when a good opportunity came along. 

Cut to fall 2014. (5 years since I had retired my glass slippers). It was Halloween. I was the candy passer-outer at our abode. 

And my mind was blown.

*Ding dong.*

Aren't you a pretty Elsa!

*Ding dong.*

Oh! Queen Elsa!

*Ding dong.*

Oh look! Elsa.

I began to feel a bit like Bill Murray in that film about February 2. How many Elsas could come to one door on one night?

That's when ideas began to come together in my mind. Einstein called this "combinatory play"--when you begin to piece together ideas that didn't necessarily originate with you and you create a new idea out of them. 

I set about researching. Were there any princess-type companies in Lynchburg? How about Roanoke? Charlottesville? Was this actually legal to do? (Lucky me--I've got a lawyer sibling!) I had a slew of actress friends who would be perfect to hire. Would they be interested? Available? I could use independent contractors. Pay roll wouldn't be a worry. I had experience performing at princess parties before. I could train the performers. I knew how to create a website. Marketing is my sweet spot. 

So all I needed to know was how to conduct research, make a website, get some friends on board and buy costumes? 

I needed a name. I needed some friends to say it was a good idea. And I needed those costumes by December 7--the date of a big public event where we could make a splash. 

I crunched some numbers and figured out that if all went well I could make back my investment by early March. It was low risk. It was exciting. Why not give it a try? 

Perhaps it wasn't as easy as all that. Did I oversimplify it? Would it have all gone better if I had created a long-term business plan, got funding, launched a perfect product?

The answer is "no." I didn't oversimplify it. You know what would have happened if I hadn't just gone for it?

Nothing at all, dear friends. 

In short, I would've over-thought it. I would've talked myself out of it. But instead, in this instance, in this low-risk instance, I just gave it a shot. What's the worst that could happen? 

I'd be out a grand and I'd fail in front of my friends, family and community. 

Worth the risk.

So on December 7, 2014 Enchanting Entertainment was born. A cool five weeks after the idea popped into my head. 

You may be toying with an idea. You may have a dream passion project or have thought "somebody should really do that." What if it's you? What if you're that somebody?

It may be worth the risk. As one of my favorite authors, Gretchen Rubin says, "Choose the bigger life"--whatever that means to you. 

Go do it. And sprinkle some fairy dust while you're at it. 

The snow Queen and friends on december 7, 2014

The snow Queen and friends on december 7, 2014

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15 Strategic Questions to Answer to Determine your New Year's Goals (and then nail them.)

I am wildly excited about New Year's.

No, not New Year's Eve, but the new year. The fresh slate. The beginning. The opportunity to make changes and to do life better. 

This week, as things are likely still a bit slow at work, is the ideal time to carve out some you time to reflect on the year behind and strategize about the year ahead.

This year represents 1% or more of your life. It deserves some contemplation and strategy.

As you're thinking about who you want to be and what you want to have accomplished by this time next year, I challenge you to consider these 15 strategic questions. The answers to these questions will help you determine exactly what your goals should be and what you need to do to achieve them. 

So carve out some time on your calendar, grab a moleskin or virtually grab a notepad on your computer, put a pot of coffee on or heat up the kettle and answer these questions. 

15 Strategic Questions that Will Help You Achieve Your New Year's Goals

1. How do you want to be different one year from now? What do you want to have accomplished one year from today?

2. Why do you want to make this change? What is your deeper motivation? 

3. What do you need to do this year to get there? What are the practical steps you need to take?

4. If you could accomplish three specific things this year, what would they be? 

5. Two specific things?

6. One specific thing? 

7. What books do you need to read to help you reach these goals?

8. What podcasts do you need to listen to?

9. What habits are currently a part of your life that don't support your goals? What are some practical ways you can release yourself from those habits? 

10. What habits do you need to adopt?

11. What relationships do you need to cultivate? Who do you need to ask to lunch? 

12. What relationships do you need to step away from? Which friendships in your life are draining, discouraging or are adversarial? 

13. What are all the possible obstacles that may pose problems for achieving your goals? How can you prepare for them in advance? 

14. How can you break down your big year vision into smaller, more manageable goals? What are the practical small goals that add up to your bigger goals?

15. What can you do in the next three months to put yourself closer to your ultimate goal? What can you accomplish in the first quarter of the year to give yourself a winning start to the year?

Nailing your goals starts with determining where you want to be a year from now. Start with the end in mind and zoom out before you zoom in. To reach your goals, determine what you want to achieve, why you want to achieve it, and what strategies you need to put in place to ensure success.

If you liked this post you may like this one about how to kick the new year in the pants or this one about social media resolutions .

Conversation with a Creative: Meet John Carl

 I always get pretty excited to talk about creativity with anyone who wants to broach the subject. There's so much us creative-types can learn from one another: from strategies to battle the fear of rejection to the ways we get inspired. Today I'm starting a new regular feature in which I take these offline conversations online and share them with you.
First at bat: John Carl. 
John is a New York based videographer and filmmaker. We’ve been close friends since our college days and it’s been fascinating to witness John’s rise from computer lab assistant to director of photography for shoots with household names like Microsoft, Sharpie and Motorola. (Oh the places you'll go between 20 and 30!) John and I have had plenty of conversations about creativity, entrepreneurship, art and the lessons we’ve learned along the way. So today I wanted to kick off a new interview-style feature on the blog with this chat with John. 

HS: Can you share with us a little about your career trajectory? How did you arrive where you are now?

JC: Let’s see. Video by way of photography by way of graphic design by way of music by way of computers—a circuitous path. I never knew exactly where I was going but I wanted to keep my engine on. My cousin Davy says, “You cant steer a parked car.I just knew that if I kept doing what I loved that I would eventually find a way to turn it into a career. That’s the short answer.

The slightly longer answer is that I got a camera that could shoot video, a DSLR in 2009 and just started shooting video for fun. After posting a couple videos online, I got a call from Levis about a job and it was a bigger job so it seemed to be the right time to go freelance and start a company. I reached out to some friends and we started a company (DuckDuck Collective). The first year or two were very scrappy. We had to hustle a lot and accepted any work that came our way: weddings, senior portraits, events—not the most glamorous work in the grand scheme of the industry but we were paying our dues. Lynchburg was the perfect place to do that because it was so cheap to live here. Eventually clients wanted more video work and our numbers began to grow. Then on one of our bigger jobs in California we learned that the client had asked the agency why they were hiring “some kids from Virginia” as opposed to professionals from LA or New York. That was insightful and when I realized that even your zip code communicates something about your perceived level of skill. So we decided to move. I wanted to put off LA for as long as possible. It feels a little inevitable in this industry. So off to NYC we went and that’s where we are today. We have new office space, a new camera, lots of other new gear and some new services that aren’t announced yet but I’m very excited about. The business continues to grow.

HS: So why filmmaking? How did you find yourself there?

JC: Filmmaking is the only thing that incorporates all of my interests: cinematography, music, audio, people, technology and most importantly, story. And I get bored really, really quickly so I need something that keeps me moving between all those different disciplines. So I kind of feel like my whole life was leading up to filmmaking.

HS: What does creativity mean to you?

JC: Creativity is a way of turning ourselves inside out. [It’s] trying to share truth or create beauty to make something worthwhile that didn’t exist before. To rip off Dr. Prior, its our desire to imitate God. He creates so we want to create to be like Him. When were creating were most god-likein a sense. But I also view it as a struggle: there’s a real terror that comes from staring at the blank page. You have to push through the fear, make something, let it be substandard, then repeat and hope you improve in the process. And sometimes you do; sometimes you don’t. So there’s an anguish and joy that come from it.

HS: Tell me more about the joy.

JC: Well, my love language is words of affirmation so when someone praises something I’ve done I find a lot of joy in that. But the process is enjoyable too. There’s a joy in having done something well after working really hard on it. Sitting down to make a song, film, design, is super enjoyable. I mean, except the parts where you want to throw your keyboard out the window. But it’s mostly enjoyable. Plus I’m not good at anything else. (laughs) I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t create.

HS: How do you combat your tendency toward perfectionism?

JC: Poorly. (laughs) I have a dear friend who recommended this book to me called Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (And Rewards) of Artmaking. There’s a chapter on perfectionism and the author basically redefines perfectionism as fear. It’s essentially just overvaluing other peoples opinions and fearing their critique. So you wind up doing nothing. It’s not a good thing. So when I say I’m being a perfectionist about something what I’m actually saying is I’m fearful. Oof. Apparently I’m very fearful.

There’s a story in the book that was pretty transformational for me. It tells the story of a pottery professor who, on the first day, told everyone on the left side of the room that they would be graded based on the quantity of their work, and on the right, by the quality of their work. On the last day of class, he did find several perfect pots, but interestingly, they were all from the quantity side of the room. Those students didn’t concern themselves with being perfect, just with learning the process. So I’ve been trying to learn from that story by focusing on the process of creating to set myself free from the tyranny of perfection/fear.

All that said, there’s definitely a limit to discovering quality through quantity too. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. If you’re truly just focused on quantity that would be bad. You need time, occasionally, to focus on quality too, on making things without spiraling into perfectionism. Moderation and balance is the key. Give yourself permission to do both types of projects.

HS: Can you share a little about your creative process?

JC: Well. There’s what it has been and what it should be. What it has been is that it usually starts with feelings, when I’m feeling strongly about anything (happy/sad/angry/pensive, whatever). I havent been approaching it as a process; Ive approached it with a product view. What do I want to end up with? Doing it that way its easy to go off the rails. For example I’ve recorded tons of songs that are half to two-thirds done but I havent shared them out of a fear of not being good enough. So Im actually trying to learn to love the process or even develop one in the first place. Art & Fear talks about this. The author says your responsibility is not to make people love your art or gain approval. Your job as an artist is to love the process. Judge your value as an artist by how youve grown in the process. Give yourself permission to fail and youll get better. That’s hard. Im learning to sacrifice my ego, be humble. I dont know why I ever started believing I was the type of person that would only put out good work. That’s dumb. Focus on the process. Oh yeah, so back to the process. It generally starts with having an emotion or an idea, then theres a “dark night of the soul” full of self-loathing, then giving up or nearly giving up, then pushing through, then eventually I like what Ive wound up with (quasi). Its about learning to love obstructions.

"I dont know why I ever started believing I was the type of person that would only put out good work. That’s dumb. Focus on the process."

I saw a documentary by Lars von Trier, called the Five Obstructions. He asks a filmmaker to remake the same film with five different obstructions. And over the course of the film he learns to love the obstructions. It’s fascinating. When he “cheats” on one, Lars punishes him by assigning him to remake his film with no obstructions at all and the filmmaker hates it. The point is, we actually love and need obstructions. Even though it’s really fun to complain about them. Whatever the limitation is: money, time, right team, etc. The point is to not let any of it be an excuse to stop. Stopping is the enemy. Whatever the twist or obstruction is you have to embrace it and keep pushing.

HS: Do you ever feel creatively blocked? How do you power through that? Any strategies or techniques?

JC: Of course. All the time. The way I power through is just trying to get inspired by other people’s work, Pinterest, Vimeo, real life experience. For whatever reason my life is really dramatic so I have a lot of real world inspiration for creating things.

HS: What is your advice to a young creative who wants a career like yours?

JC: Do whatever it is that you want to do often and don’t wait for somebody else to come along and give you permission to do that thing. No one is coming. No one is coming to give you your big break. Big breaks are an illusion. Getting lucky is hard work. There’s an agency I do freelance at sometimes and on the wall when you walk in it says, “The harder I work the luckier I get.” I love that. I spent a long time being bitter about my college education. I was dissatisfied about all I was not getting taught about graphic design. But at the end of the day when you enter the “real world” no one is responsible for your success other than you. The greatest skill as a creative [can have] is to know how to teach yourself and acquire knowledge. Especially now, with the internet, there is no excuse for anyone to not know anything they want to know. Any information you want to learn, any creative skill set you want to acquire, you can find it online or in a book and often learn it faster and better than in an academic setting. Even if you’re going to an amazing school, the students who do well are the ones who are self-motivated and self-teaching. The ones who do poorly are the ones who are lazy and expect spoon feeding. I think one of the biggest predictors of success is how well you can teach yourself new things and how well you can motivate yourself to do that.

HS: Parting thoughts?

JC: I tried to have a full time job once and it was by far the most unhappy I’ve ever been. I was a tiny cog in a massive machine. I worked in a cubicle. We discussed things like “printer policies” and had to passive-aggressively label our lunches in the fridge. I hated my life. I took a risk though and quit. It has been, without a doubt, one of the best decisions I ever made. So to anyone thinking about going freelance: do it. DO IT

Read advice from John and other thriving creatives in my eBook “5 Minute Mentor for Creatives.” Grab your copy here.

John Carl is co-founder and president of Duck Duck Collective, a video production company based in Brooklyn, New York. Connect with him on Twitter @JohnCarl. Have something to add to this conversation? We'd love to hear from you. Just hit that "comment" button below. 



How To Get Stuff Done From a Home Office


So you have the option to work from home…but every time you go home to work you’re distracted by the mail, the dog, the messy kitchen, the laundry, the neighborhood drama, the tv, the dishes, the…you get the point.

How do you actually get stuff done from your home office? Is it possible to be at home and to not be focused on the things of home?

Yes I say!

I’ve been exclusively working out of a home office for about three years now and I believe that I get done in 1/3 to 1/2 a day what a lot of workers in offices get done in an 8-hour day. Of course the 20-second commute helps, but beyond that I've found some key aspects to make working from home work. 

Here are the elements of my work from home success:

1. Invoke a morning routine. I get up. I make the bed. I have breakfast. I go run. I shower. I’m at my desk. Same time every day. I don’t get distracted by morning television. I don’t decide each morning what I will do that day. I wake up. I invoke my routine. 

2. Ignore the doorbell. I can ignore texts, calls, emails, and other interruptions and a random sales person would never be able to interrupt my day at my desk on the 9th floor of a corporate office, so why should I let them interrupt my workflow in my home office? If I’m not expecting you at my front door, I will ignore you. 

3. Make a schedule and a to-do list the day before. In my work with Pursuant I make plans for the week ahead on Friday afternoons. I absolutely love this strategic planning. And each afternoon I take a look at the plans for the next day. That means I don’t waste precious brain power in the morning (when I’m thinking the most creatively and clear) figuring out how to order my day. 

4. Have a dedicated workspace. Whether it’s a corner of your bedroom or (better yet) an entire room that you can dedicate to your work, I encourage you to set aside a specific space that is just for work. When you enter that space your mind immediately clicks into “work mode.” And when you leave it, close the door, and enter other spaces in your home, you’ve mentally “left the office.”

5. Invest in a comfortable chair. You’re going to want to hop out of it non-stop throughout the day and head to other Rooms de Distraction if you don’t have a comfy spot to sit. So don’t go to Ikea and buy the cheapest thing. Trust me. Been there, did that. Learned my lesson. 

6. Make plans to get out of the house ahead of time. You’ll be most productive if you limit your offsite lunches to once a week or so. At the same time you need to connect socially, so prioritize getting friends and colleagues on the calendar. We all gotta eat, right? Determine ahead of time when you will go out to lunch and stick to that day of the week. It's easy to say "yes" to last minute offers that suck up our time when we don't have a plan in place.

7. Surround yourself with decor and office supplies that you enjoy. I have a framed print of Galatians 6:9 right above my desk. I love it. I also have Kate Spade office supplies for days and it makes me inexplicably happy. 

8. Listen to your body. You don’t always have to be rigid throughout the day with your breaks. For me, once I’m at my desk I don’t like to get up and take a break unless I’m leaving the house. So I don’t set a lunch time. I just go make lunch when I’m hungry and then I get back to my tasks. You’ll be more productive if you don’t ignore your need for mid-day sustenance.

9. Be intentional with social media. When you work from home you can keep literal tabs on social media all day. But that is a major distraction. If you need some support when it comes to ignoring Facebook I suggest the plugin Newsfeed Eradicator. I swear I got an hour back in my day when I installed it. 

10. Wear comfortable clothes but maybe not pajamas. Now this is controversial advice I give but I stand by it. For the past several months I have swapped my Pajamas And/Or Yoga Pants All Day uniform for comfy cotton sundresses. I swear I can attribute my energy and alertness in part to the fact that if a friend *did* drop by I wouldn’t be completely embarrassed to answer the door. Again, it’s a signal to yourself that you’re awake, you’re alert, and you’re at work. And don’t you just feel better when you’re a little bit put together? I know I do. 

These are my ten proven productive, successful work from home tips. I’m sure you’ve got your own tricks of the trade. Share em in the comments! 

How to Create an Editorial Calendar for Your Blog

We bloggers are busy people. Blogging is something we love but it's far from our only focus. (Though that's the dream for a lot of us, right?!) So how can you make sure that your blog posts are topically on point and regularly showing up in your reader's inbox despite your busy schedule? Simplify things for yourself by creating an editorial calendar. Here's seven easy steps to knock out your editorial calendar and make sure your blog posts are getting written and you're hitting your goals. 

7 Steps to Creating an Editorial Calendar

1. Determine how often you will post. You've got to start here. What's a feasible goal for you? What is the minimum effective dose? Does your audience need to hear from you daily? Weekly? 2 times a week? 3? Determine how often you will post and which day of the week. 

2. Narrow down topics. Bloggers are people so naturally we like as much variety as anyone else! But your blog needs to be predictable to your audience. Giving your audience a survey of the Platforms of the Current Republican Presidential Candidates one week and then your Top 5 Reasons Hanson is the Best Band Ever the next week may seem fun and exciting but your audience likely won't trust you as an expert on both topics. And beyond that, they probably won't care about both topics. Remember: keep your audience in mind first! What is useful to them? 

3. Add contributors. Are you authoring your blog solo? Do you have a team? Plug your writers and their areas of expertise into your editorial concept. Make sure to communicate expectations to them and give them at least a week of cushion between their deadline and when you actually need to move forward with the post. 

4. Batch tasks. I take a half day every quarter to brainstorm blog post ideas for the next three months. Likely I've been reading and mulling over ideas that I can plug in right away. And another thing you can batch and knock out at once? A month's worth of posts. I prefer to write one at a time (I'm just a little ADD that way) but if you can sit down and knock out 4-8 blog posts in a day, you've potentially created content for a month or more. Avoid interruptions and knock out tasks all at once.  

5. Brainstorm headlines. When you are clear on the kinds of posts you will write--my post categories are around social media, writing, marketing, productivity, creativity and goals--you can begin to flesh out post ideas that fit within each category. Don't overthink it. Just, stream of conscious, write down as many post ideas as you can. Then review them and refine them to put them into words that are the most intriguing and "clickable." 

6. Plug headlines into your calendar. Once you have a good solid list of post ideas, plug those headlines into your calendar on the days you're committed to publishing new content. Be sure to spread out the types of posts throughout the month so there's a nice variety. I really like the Excel calendar template but you can also use a desk calendar, a planner or even your Outlook or Gmail calendar. 

7. Schedule weekly time to write. Habits are wonderful because they eliminate troublesome decision making. If you know that you write every Wednesday morning from 7:30-9:30, you don't have to look at your calendar each week and ask yourself "when am I going to write?" When Wednesday rolls around you don't have to ask yourself if you should make time for it. The decision has been made. Plug in meetings with yourself on your calendar. It's an unfortunate truth but blogs don't write themselves!

If you've ever been stumped at your laptop or just stared at your screen because you couldn't figure out what to write about, an editorial calendar may be the perfect solution to help guide you on the path to consistent blogging.

Do you already employ some tricks to make sure you blog regularly? Share em in the comments! 

4 Non-negotiables of a Quarterly Zoom Out


I live for milestones. 

I’ve always loved New Years Day. I’ve been guilty of making “June Resolutions” and finally last year (the year building up to the big 3-0) I started making monthly and quarterly goals. 

I’m a classic ENFP who’s constantly probing within. “Am I doing all I can? Am I being intentional enough? Am I spending time on things that matter? Will I have a lasting impact? Am I living up to my potential?”

It can get a little intense.

One of the most effective ways I’ve come to deal with this non-stop interrogative energy within is to stop everything once every quarter. 

On this day I shut down social media. Grab the books that I’m close to finishing. Open Pages in my MacBook. Pull up my latest list of goals. And just think.

Think. Write. Read. Think some more. Walk around. 

And think.

On this day that comes but four times a year I go back to what my big crazy goals were for the entire year. These are the things that I really want to contribute and achieve but let’s be honest, these things are hard. It’s much easier to get busy with the things that other people are expecting of me: the boss’ deadline, getting dinner on the table, volunteer commitments. 

But these big crazy goals, these bigger dreams involve research, time, figuring out complex ideas that take me a while to mull over. They also involve the possibility of facing rejection. (Yikes.) 

But after I’ve come away from the Quarterly Zoom Out (QZO is a fun acronym) I have greater clarity and a greater vision for the future. I’ve probably even ticked off a few nagging items from my goal list. 

I’m not the only one who vibes with QZO. Greg McKeown author of the New York Times bestseller Essentialism said:

“Sometimes we spend more time planning our vacation than planning our careers. One cure to this is to schedule a quarterly offsite. We can take a few hours every few months to think about the bigger picture questions: ‘If I can only achieve three things over the next three months what should they be?’ and ‘Where do I want to be five years from now?’ When we don’t take time to ask these more strategic questions we become a function of other people’s agendas. We are left to react to the latest email and can become rudderless; blown about by every wind of corporate change.”

To further map out what a QZO includes, here are my top four non-negotiables: 

1. Solitude. I can’t be in a public place where I’m bound to run into people I like and want to catch up with. I need to be somewhere where I can’t be found. 

2. A blank page. Now whether it is literal or digital doesn’t so much matter but I have to have a way to get my thoughts out and work through them. 

3. Time. It takes me a little while to settle into the zone and reflect on what’s been happening, decide what I want to make happen and write what needs to be written. A QZO only works for me if it is more than a four-hour stretch.

4. A break from routine. For me this means that I never have a QZO in my home office. It helps trigger my brain to get creative and approach the day differently than other days. I like to try and never do two QZOs in the same place. Although, I do have a favorite QZO location. 

QZOs are a refreshing opportunity to put daily work on pause and check in with yourself. If you sometimes feel like the urgent gets all of your energy and the important gets very little, consider implementing a QZO. Here's your challenge: implement the “rule of three.” Every 3 months take 3 hours to identify 3 things you want to accomplish over the next 3 months. 

Do you do something like this? Once a month? Once a quarter? I want to hear about what you do to reflect and recenter. 

5 Lessons I Learned from Viewing 4000 Pieces of Picasso's Art

Me and "Picasso."
Me and "Picasso."

Well friends, JC and I returned to the states on Sunday after a little over a week in London and Barcelona. It was an incredible trip that was jam packed with tours, museums and imagining what life was like in the shoes of some pretty influential, awe-inspiring people. Our days in London and Barcelona had us pulling back the curtain on the lives of Winston Churchill, Paul McCartney (and the Beatles), Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, C.S. Lewis, Pablo Picasso and Antoni Gaudí.

Today I want to share with you some of the lessons that stood out to me as I toured the Museu Picasso de Barcelona. The museum has a permanent collection of over 4000 pieces created by Pablo Picasso. The pieces are organized chronologically so we saw how Picasso's style evolved over the years, step by step. The first section was a collection of paintings Picasso created when he was about 14. The first thing I noticed?

1. You don't become a world class artist without starting with an unusual amount of natural talent. 

"Man in Beret" by Picasso, age 14
"Man in Beret" by Picasso, age 14

2. Talent must be cultivated. Picasso started formal artistic training with his father at age 7. He was enrolled at Barcelona's School of Fine Arts at age 13. And he never really stopped learning. In 1900 he moved to Paris, the art capital of Europe. He was influenced by many other artists and continued to grow.

3. Picasso was prolific. Picasso clearly did not just paint when he "felt" like it. While I saw some 4000 of his works at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, the total number of art works he created in his lifetime has been estimated at 50,000: 1,885 paintings; 1,228 sculptures; 2,880 ceramics, roughly 12,000 drawings, many thousands of prints, and tons of tapestries and rugs.

4. Evolution is integral. Picasso's style greatly evolved from the time of classical realistic paintings in his teens to his blue period (in which he only painted in blue shades for three years) to finally arriving at the cubism he is famous for creating. Change can be scary but it's important to grow.

"Science and Charity" by Picasso, age 16
"Science and Charity" by Picasso, age 16
Mother and Child, by Picasso age 23
Mother and Child, by Picasso age 23

5."Bad artists copy, good artists steal." -Picasso One of my favorite portions of the collection at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona was a series of 58 paintings Picasso worked on for an entire year in 1957. Picasso went deep analyzing and riffing on the famous painting Las Meninas by Diego Velásquez. Picasso donated the entire collection to the museum--the only complete collection in one place today.

This is what Picasso said about it: "If someone want to copy Las Meninas, entirely in good faith, for example, upon reaching a certain point and if that one was me, I would say..what if you put them a little more to the right or left? I'll try to do it my way, forgetting about Velázquez. The test would surely bring me to modify or change the light because of having changed the position of a character. So, little by little, that would be a detestable Meninas for a traditional painter, but would be my Meninas." -Picasso, 1950

Las Meninas by Velasquez, 1656
Las Meninas by Velasquez, 1656
Las Meninas, by Picasso age 75
Las Meninas, by Picasso age 75

Creativity and contribution may not come from a completely original piece but rather a new take on something older. Maria Popova said it so well: “Creativity is combinatorial: Alive and awake to the world, we amass a collection of cross-disciplinary building blocks — knowledge, memories, bits of information, sparks of inspiration, and other existing ideas — that we then combine and recombine, mostly unconsciously, into something ‘new.’ From this vast and cross-disciplinary mental pool of resources beckons the infrastructure of what we call our ‘own’ ‘original’ ideas.”

I was awash with inspiration walking through the halls of these great museums seeing the work that has far outlasted the lifetimes of the people who brought these great creations to life. I've come back from vacation just a little more determined to leave something useful or inspiring behind one day. They certainly did life on purpose. I want to as well.

Have you ever encountered a performance, piece of art or history that made you want to take action yourself? I'd love to hear about it in the comments. 

30 Creative Pursuits of My 30th Year

30 Creative Pursuits
30 Creative Pursuits

So let's cut right to where my head's at:

This is the last week of my twenties.

And as such it is time to finally share with you about my 30 Creative Pursuits of My 30th Year.

Back when I turned 29 last year I had a real moment where I was overwhelmed at the thought of that decade winding down (yes, I still had a whole year to go). What had I done? What did I want to do? Was I being as intentional as I needed to be? I'm not one of those people freaking out because 30 is "old." It's just crazy to me that I so vividly remember turning 20 (what was going on, what I was thinking and feeling) and that was a decade ago. Life moves swiftly--especially as we get older. This pace is speeding up and I need to pay attention to all of it.

In 2013 my friend Megan did this uber interesting #30to30 challenge--thirty things she wanted to cross off her bucket list to usher in her 30th birthday. It was this awesome eclectic mix of like riding 500 miles on her bike and reading Dostoevsky and giving blood and other artsy things too. As I tried to totally copy her and make a list of my own I realized my short-term bucket list just didn't get me jazzed and I definitely couldn't come up with 30 eclectic items. Really what I wanted was more intentional creativity in my life. Thus, 30 Creative Pursuits of My 30th Year was born.

I made a list of 30 things I wanted to do around creative enrichment, experiences and output in the last year of my twenties. I've crossed many off my list: put 2 (better) musical theatre clips on Youtube, implement bimonthly HSL Creative Retreat Days for creativity and thinking, performer in a musical or play, start some sort of writing, creativity, thinkers or reading club (meet at least once), take at least one voice lesson, come up with ten book ideas, go to an industry conference. All of these intentional pursuits have been crazy fulfilling and/or inspiring and I wish I had been this intentional before I came toe-to-toe with 30.

Others on the list I've simply not completed yet or I've avoided them: read On Writing by Stephen King, see Gone with the Wind, write three songs, complete a book proposal, write one work of fiction. I'm not sure why these items got put off to the end. Update: I started the audiobook of On Writing and I just can't seem to get into it. Somehow Stephen King has made even a book about writing a little gory. Perhaps if I was a fan of his novels I would appreciate his style more. I still haven't seen Gone with the Wind but have high hopes to do so in the next week. I worked on some song lyrics last week but an actual song, they are not. The book proposal is simply a matter of blocking off time to flesh it out. The book is in my head.  I just haven't written the proposal because other things seem to be more urgent.

That's the interesting thing about this whole list. Easily none of it could have gotten done if I didn't prioritize it. These aren't things that were urgent or that one of my clients or bosses needed me to do. These weren't going to impress anyone or really greatly benefit my family or friends. They were kind of just for my own enrichment and enjoyment. So they were easily avoidable and easy to put on the back burner.

On the other hand, some of the greatest highlights of the last year came as a result of these items. I absolutely adored reading the Artist's Way with Erica and Whitney (and sometimes others who joined in). If it weren't for that, Enchanting Entertainment wouldn't be here and I wouldn't have led a workshop at Toolry. HSL Creative Retreat Days were a refreshing opportunity to put daily work on pause and check in with myself. Was I heading in the direction that felt most right? Was I pleased with the content I was writing? I stopped once every other month and instead of working from my home office like normal, I explored new locations and incorporated the outdoors into my experience for the day. (Click these links for photo proof.) I hiked Candler's Mountain and fell in love with Percival's Island. I found my perfect study place in Liberty's Library. I tried the Bean Tree Cafe for the first time. All experiences were enriching, pleasant and helped me recalibrate. I've done some of my best thinking and writing on HSL Creative Retreat Days.

As a result of 30 Creative Pursuits I pushed myself to attend the Internet Summit in Raleigh, NC. I attended a conference solo while most everyone else who was in attendance came on their employer's dime. I heard from some of the greatest minds in social media and content marketing. I wrote a million notes and began to imagine myself as a keynote speaker. Could I encapsulate what is cool about social media and dual careers and being a female solopreneur and being a millennial and inspire someone through a talk about those things? I began to imagine.

In voice lessons with David Hahn not only did I gain a friend and an advocate but I also found new layers in my voice and began to really grasp the "less is more" of singing. I loved working steadily on the craft of vocal performance. It was a big part of my life in college and I hadn't studied with a voice teacher consistently in about four years. Music does something for the soul unlike anything else.

29 has been a creative, intentional year of growth. It's pushed me to a place of embracing "no" to things that are good and saying "yes" to opportunities I didn't predict. I really hope that I find the inspiration to live so intentionally every year whether it's a milestone birthday or not. I know my life has been better this year for intentionally carving out time to be creative, both outwardly creative and inwardly.

I encourage you to embrace your creativity this year. Whether you're drawn to visual arts, poetry, cooking or rearranging your furniture, taking time out to create something, to reflect more deeply or just to consciously inject change into your daily life can catapult you into a place where you see things quite differently and you connect dots that you didn't see before. I'm so glad I made this weird list last year. I think I will make another for my 31st year. It's too good to stop now.

I'd love to know, will you take me up on my challenge? What is one creative thing you will make time for this year? 

Hilary is a writer, a performer, a social media nerd, and digital strategist.

The Secret Power of Nice

The Secret Power of Nice
The Secret Power of Nice

One of the most pleasant leaders I've ever interviewed is Ron Andrews, head of HR for Prudential Financial. Ron is one of those people who makes you feel like you have his full and undivided attention. Today I want to pull back the curtain on how Ron's "nice" personality led him to be the head of HR for a company that has more than $1.1 trillion in assets under management and approximately $3.5 trillion of gross life insurance in force worldwide.

Ron on consistency:

“I relate very effectively to the most senior people as well as people who take out the trash in my office. I can say things to leaders a lot of people can’t because I try to be very consistent. I don’t have a different persona or approach to different people. That adds to credibility."

How Ron stays connected: 

That accessibility has contributed to the horizontal sense of connectedness he focuses on implementing at Prudential. Andrews prioritizes staying connected with the HR leaders for all five major businesses within the company. Not only does he meet with them regularly, he also communicates with team members across the globe through a regularly updated blog and video messages. “It’s all designed to build a greater sense of connectedness,” he said.

The Secret Power of Nice

Andrews was not always sure that his personality would serve him in corporate America. Early in his career at Prudential, he encountered a group of cutthroat young professionals. “They were not nice. They had huge egos. And I wasn’t like that at all,” Andrews said. “I began to get concerned that I was out of place—that I would have to be like that if I was going to be successful. It worried me.”

The “cutthroat” colleagues made Andrews doubt his future at Prudential. Then he was charged with working with John Strangfeld, who now serves as Prudential’s Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President. Strangfeld was a breath of fresh air for Andrews.

“He was thoughtful, caring, low-key, and he was doing really well,” Andrews said. “That gave me hope that I could still be myself and be successful in this firm. I committed from that point on that I was not going to not be myself.”

Have you ever had doubts about your career because of your personality? I'd love to hear about how you overcame it or are working through it. Share in the comments! 

Enjoy the full-length version of this article here.

The Surprising Secret to Standing Out in the Hiring Process

The Secret to Standing Out in the Hiring ProcessLast year I got the chance to sit down with Demand Media's CFO at the time, Mel Tang. (Update: Mel is now the CFO at SpareFoot.) While Demand Media may not be a name you're familiar with, you've probably visited a few of their sites such as and, and you may know their digital artist marketplaces such as and, among many others. Demand Media sites have more than 70 million unique worldwide users—more than the populations of California and New York combined. Today I want to share a few of Tang's stellar ideas on what he looks for when hiring talent.

The Surprising Secret to Standing Out in the Hiring Process

“I tend to look for and hire people with the raw talent and who have a passion for overachieving—not necessarily in what they do specifically, but in being helpful in anything,” he noted. “To me, experience and specific skill sets are helpful, but not the primary driver of a hiring decision. This approach requires more upfront training and managerial oversight, but once up to speed, the amount of what you can do with a team like this is truly unlimited.”

“I joke that my objective is to train myself out of a job,” Tang said. “Ultimately, that’s how I think about running our team. You find the right people. You work with them early on, and then let them run on their own. I am there to provide guidance and support, but I try to stay out of the way unless I’m needed. That’s how I like to lead.”

Have you considered that being passionate about going above and beyond no matter the request may be what sets you apart from other candidates with a similar skillset? 

Enjoy the full-length version of this article in Forefront Magazine here.

5 Reasons Why You Should Start a Reading Group

Me reading the Artist's Way alone. (Read alone, then discuss together!)

I think it’s time to tell you…I have a milestone birthday coming up in exactly two months.

And like any true blue ENFP I have been thinking about the implications of it since my last birthday.

One of the ways I wanted to head into my 30th year was to add more creativity and intention to my life. So I embarked on a journey of 30 Creative Pursuits for My 30th Year.

The whole thing is well under way as I’ve only got two months left, but today I wanted to share with you what has been one of the most meaningful and impactful items on the list.

#27 Start some sort of writing, creativity, thinkers or reading club (meet at least once)

hey, don’t judge my ‘meet at least once’ goal—I was trying to make it attainable :-)

Last fall I started a book group and together we read through Julia Cameron’s book, the Artist’s WayNow this particular group happened to be centered on reading a book together, but I think groups that are meant to simply share what your current challenges are in your work or get feedback on your writing or to pursue various creative pursuits together are all highly valuable. I would like one of each please! 

For our group, the book choice was great because the chapters were short, it was very action-oriented and it was already organized into a 12-week study.

But more than the choice of book, the choice to pursue reading a book with some women who challenge me was even greater.

5 reasons I encourage you to make your own writing/creativity/thinkers/reading group

1. Connecting with like-minded people. Putting an intentional group together to discuss a book or another given topic is a refreshing experience. In the case of my book group, while I didn’t run into all the people in my group in my regular circles, I knew there was a kindredness of spirit there. It was really rewarding to spend time around a table discussing something we jointly cared about and were interested in.

2. Accountability. Knowing that I would be seeing my book group again in two weeks made me stay on schedule with my reading. When I’m reading a book on my own it feels pretty “optional” but knowing that my group would be gathering soon to discuss this week’s reading served as great accountability to get it done.

3. Your thinking is challenged. While my group was filled with like-minded people it was also filled with opinions, perspectives and backgrounds that differed greatly from my own. It was a wonderful reminder that two people can read the same text and feel completely differently about it. A meeting of the minds is challenging and gets you thinking more critically.

4. Intentional conversation. When meeting up with friends it’s so easy to let conversation focus on the latest headlines of our lives and not go to a deeper place. With the right book or subject matter to discuss, conversations go deeper and you actually might get to know your friends on a deeper level than you would have without it. 

5. Reading is richer when it’s a shared experience. My experience working my way through the Artist’s Way was so much better because I got to not only interact with the book by doing exercises and writing a ton, but also because I got to discuss it with my fellow readers. We talked about what resonated with us in the book and our reactions to the reading. It really created a bond and made me closer to the people in my group.

Maybe it’s because I work from home (alone) most of the day or maybe it’s because I’m an extrovert but this reading group really enhanced the quality of my life. I’m already mulling on my next book group.

Do you have a book/great minds/writing/thinkers group? I want to hear ALL about it.

The Secret to Success for Remote Teams

How to Succeed with a Remote TeamStarting this week I'm going to be sharing some of my favorite slices of my freelance writing work with you. I've gotten to interview over 30 executives in large national corporations and I'd love to pass on some of the nuggets of wisdom they've shared with me.  First up is Kirsten Mellor. Kirsten is VP and GC of CafePress, the Internet mecca for on-demand printing of products through user-generated and licensed content platforms. As of 2014, more than 700 million unique virtual products exist on CafePress, with an average of 100,000 new images added by users weekly. CafePress has 20 million-plus members worldwide and a staggering 11 million unique visitors each month.

Mellor works closely with a team of lawyers who are in her Bay Area offices as well as a team in Louisville. So, how does she keep things running smoothly?

“Over-communication,” Mellor said with a laugh. “The tools of the modern workplace—Skype, IM, email—make it easy to connect with each other.”

According to Mellor, face-to-face meetings also remain important. “I fly out [to Louisville] a couple times a year. The Kentucky people come here several times a year. The camaraderie of my team is very important to me. They need to meet and enjoy the folks they work with to produce at their highest level. We try to do some out-of-office team-building things whenever we get the opportunity.”

In my own work I've found project management tools like Basecamp, Todoist and Igloo incredibly helpful.

Do you work with a remote team? What are your tips for making a remote team wildly successful? 

You can enjoy the full-length original article in Forefront Magazine here.


The 20 Essentials: What Every Solopreneur Needs for Success

20 Essentials Every Solopreneur Needs for Success

20 Essentials Every Solopreneur Needs for Success

Over the years,  I've learned in my work as a solopreneur that success of course takes determination, creativity, guts, faith and talent, but there are also a bunch of other things that every solopreneur should be using or doing to achieve great things. Here's my list.

20 Essentials Every Solopreneur Needs to Succeed

1. Website. If you're a solopreneur, I hate to break it to you, but if you don't have a website, you don't exist. Services like Squarespace and Wix make it possible for you to easily create your own. 

2. Twitter presence. Every solopreneur needs to take advantage of this social media platform. It is an ideal platform for anyone who is seeking to leverage their expertise. 

3. A desk with a ton of space. I got this desk from World Market a few months back . It almost doubled my work space. It's been GREAT. Bonus: it was also easy to put together.

4. Google voice number. If you're a solopreneur this saves you from using your minutes on work-related calls. Get that free Google voice number and let them call your "office line." 

5. Buffer app.This let's you pre-schedule social posts with regularity. I'd skip it for Facebook but it's perfect for Twitter and Linkedin. 

6. Pocket. This digital bookmark lets you save pages you'd like to look at later. If you strive to be a content curator around your given area of expertise, this is a great way to save content that you can share later.

7.Tweetdeck(or Hootsuite if you're into that). Every solopreneur needs a way to manage multiple accounts at once. I like Tweetdeck best to glance at my Twitter feed, notifications, lists and sent posts all at once. 

8. An optimized Linkedin account. If someone is searching for someone like you, will you pop up in their search results? 

9. page. It's too easy not to use. Get one. 

10. Solid headshots (and other professional photos for your website and social media would be great too.) 

11.  Wordpress blog. For SEO purposes, for customization options, for credibility--you need a self-hosted Wordpress site. 

12. A lunch break. Get out of your office. Unplug. Go for a run, heck a walk will do. Get some sunshine. Then get back to work. Solopreneurs can easily never stop working. That's why you need to be intentional about time off.

13. A clear list of what only you can do and what can be outsourced. Are you terrible at bookkeeping? What about answering emails? Scheduling things? What about tending to your plants or housekeeping? Could you plausibly use independent contractors so you can focus on the strategic items on your list? Figure out what you can outsource and outsource it. 

14. A group to connect with on the regular—whether it is a remote team, a book club or a business professionals weekly gathering, you need to be in community. 

15. The 4-Hour WorkweekBuy this book. Read this book. Apply the principles.(See #16.) Your life will be better for it. Guaranteed. 

16. Batch similar tasks. Let's save the decision-making brain power for what really matters. In the meantime, how bout you do all your blog writing at the same time once a week--heck, once a month. How bout you do your grocery shopping only on Sundays? Shifting your focus throughout the day is tough on your brain. Shift less. Focus more.

17. Track your time. Afraid you might be wasting too much time on a given vice? Track your time. It doesn't have to be a complex process. Just jot down how you're spending your time throughout the day on a notebook next to your computer. Do you keep to your schedule or do you diverge? Worth investigating to see if you're maximizing your time.

18. Give yourself a cut off for how much time you will spend on social media (or video games or online shopping or TV or etc etc etc) each day. You know how you're prone to waste your precious time. Be a drill sergeant on yourself. You won't be mad at yourself for it. 

19. Do not disturb button on your iPhone. Find the button. Embrace it. Every text message and email doesn't have to be attended to at the moment that it is received. Be a good steward of your time, energy, attention and brain power. If you're easily distracted, employ the power of "do not disturb."

20. Designated time off. In addition to taking a lunch break or exercise break mid-day, I encourage you to make sure you have long periods of time off each week. A Sabbath was invented for a reason! Give your time to rejuvenate, refresh and recalibrate. You'll be more effective the following week as a result.

Well, there's my list of 20 things every solopreneur must have to be successful. It's not comprehensive though. What would YOU add to the list? 

Hilary is passionate about helping people create work and lives that are wildly fulfilling. To learn how she may be able to help you, contact her here.

Why I'm Killing the old HSL Creative and Starting Fresh

“In writing, you must kill your darlings.” --William Faulkner

Why I'm Killing the Old HSL Creative and Starting Fresh
Why I'm Killing the Old HSL Creative and Starting Fresh

 I love the promise that comes with the turning of the calendar year. It's an opportunity to change it up, to do it better than last year, to get it right.

For me the turning of this calendar year means that work life is changing.

I’m working with Pursuant, a Dallas-based fundraising agency, in a brand journalist capacity. There will be blog posts and press releases and articles and video interviews and podcasts.

Oh heck yes, podcasts.

So what does that mean for HSL Creative? It means I’m pairing down and getting crystal clear on what I can contribute. This is where 2015’s “less but better” mantra comes in. Rather than supporting clients by writing articles and posts and executing their social media strategy on a daily basis, I’m stepping back and thinking big(ger) picture. The services list on my website currently has three categories and 18 different services. (18!)

Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.

 I'm focusing on "less but better" this year. This means I want to do less overall but do it a heck of a lot better. This approach means my clients really win. I'm not spreading out my energy in a million directions. I'm focusing on a few things and I'm going to do them as well as humanly possible. What does this mean, practically? It means saying "no" more often (a challenging and uncomfortable thing for me.) It means fewer shows, fewer freelance articles, fewer commitments overall. But the things I say "yes" to will get double (sometimes triple or quadruple or whatever, [you math people,  this probably deserves some sort of equation]) the effort  and focus.

So here's what all of that means for HSL Creative.

what HSL Creative will deliver in 2015

Strategy Consulting: I'll work with clients on brand strategy, social media strategy and help you think outside the box with rut-busting brainstorming sessions. You can rent my brain to create a social media plan for your business, give you feedback and perspective on your branding, or just get help when you're not sure where to go next with your business or career.

Speaking & Teaching: Last week's super successful Blogging for Business workshop, made it crystal clear to me that teaching and coaching are ways I can really help add value for clients. There will be more workshops, opportunities to receive coaching on blogging, social media and business, and guest lecturing, media appearances and other talks.  You can also take my social media, journalism and mass communication courses at SNHU--but maybe, only do that if you're working toward a degree there? Actually, I take that back. Do whatever you want. :-) 

Content & Special Projects: Expect me to up my blogging game this year. That means more free articles that relate directly to you and your marketing needs as well as social media analysis, and posts that center on goal-setting, career and lifehacks.  I'll also be taking on select writing projects ranging from magazine articles to bios and other content created just for the web.

So I'm killing HSL Creative as we know it. Goodbye, old friend. I'm trading old HSL Creative for the new crystal clear HSL Creative. I can help you through consulting, teaching, and writing content that is helpful to you. That's my promise for 2015.

What is your mantra for 2015? Are you revamping your approach to business? I'd love to hear about it!

Hilary is Principal of HSL Creative. If you'd like to learn more about one of the aforementioned opportunities, fill out the form below.

10 Ways to Kick This Year in the Pants

Are you one of those mega motivated people who geek out on resolutions? Or maybe you're more of the skeptical, I-don't-want-to-disappoint-myself types who opts out—or maybe you like goals but aren’t into New Year’s resolutions because the date feels arbitrary. Either way, today I want to challenge you with ten ways you can start the year off with a BANG! If you could really do something about it, would you want this year to look different than last year? I have good news for you. YOU CAN!

You have 50 weeks left of this year. What will you do with them?

10 Ways to Kick Your Year in the Pants

1. Establish a Brain Trust. The truth is--you probably already have one. A Brain Trust is that go to personal board of directors who you seek out for advice when you're making big decisions, whose opinions you  weigh heavier than all the rest. Feel like your Brain Trust is a little too small? Seek out building relationships with people who you highly respect and value. You can also read all about the original Brain Trust in Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration.

2. Make a list of things you want to learn this year. You've always wanted to _________. What just popped in your mind? Why not go for it this year? What's stopping you? Ok, at least search for Youtube videos about it, ok?

3. Use this epic process by Christine Hassler to get clear on what you want to co-create this year. There are the goals that you may have already penned (after all we're a solid two weeks into 2015) but then there are deeper hopes and values that you have for this year that you may not have fully articulated yet. I encourage you to walk through Christine's process of what you want to leave in 2014 and what you want to manifest in 2015. This exercise can bring a ton of clarity.

4. Make a list of books you want to read this year. If you're like me your stack of books to read seems like a never-ending tower. This year, make a list--that you can review regularly--of the books that you will read. Plug it in to your calendar like any other activity you highly value. I was so sad when I realized how few books I read last year. I so value reading and have a bookshelf full of books to conquer this year. I know myself. The way to make that happen is to get specific on my to do list. It will happen if I plug this goal into my calendar.

5. Follow 5 inspiring people on Twitter that you aren't already following. Use these incredible tools called social networks to grow your experience. Not sure who to follow? How bout Billy Porter, Greg McKeown, Tanner Christensen, Maria Popova, or C.S. Lewis?

6. Make a vision board on Pinterest. Hat tip to Camryn for making this great suggestion! Take your 2015 goals and find visuals for them on Pinterest. I just did this (after spending Saturday going through #3 on this) and the visual representation of my plans and hopes for the year is pretty exhilarating.

7. Reach out to someone you've admired from afar (whether acquaintance, stranger or other) and ask them to grab coffee or lunch. Worst case scenario, they say no. Best case scenario, you've begun to establish a personal relationship with someone that you would like to know better.

8.Track your social media ROI. Every day take into account how your time on social media was spent, what the payoff was and what might have made you feel not so good. **Adjust accordingly.**

9. Get a pedometer of some kind and track your exercise. It's  so easy to *literally* hibernate in the winter. How bout you use this time where things are quiet and you're not pulled in a million directions to up your health and fitness game?

10. Commit to writing until you fill three pages each morning for 21 days. See how you feel about it afterward. I started doing this last fall when I journeyed through The Artist's Way. Guess what happened? I began to come up with idea after idea. One developed into a series of blogging workshops, and the other resulted in a side hustle that recouped its initial investment in three months. I'm not sure how to better convince you to write every morning.

What are you doing differently in 2015? What is your one big message for the world this year? What do you hope people remember about you?

Hilary is passionate about inspiring people to live their best lives. And if that happens through a performance on stage or through something she wrote, well then, she couldn't be happier.

5 Reasons Every Artist Should Have Two Careers

Five Reasons Every Artist Should Have Two Careers
Five Reasons Every Artist Should Have Two Careers

When people find out that I do multiple things (writing, social media, acting) they often sort of shake their heads in bewilderment. I want to take them by both shoulders and say, "you should do more than one thing too!" In lieu of that potentially awkward moment, I'm writing this blog post. Especially for my artist, musician, actor, dreamer friends, I want to encourage you to pursue your craft and consider pursuing something else alongside it. After spending four years as a professional actor, I knew to have the lifestyle I wanted to live and to be inspired and engaged with the work I was doing on a daily basis I would need to pursue a second career. Of course there are the exceptions, but by and large, getting a second skill is only going to improve your life.

Here's why you should have two jobs

1. You don't have to let your dream die. I'm not proposing that you give up the keys to your dream for a life in Office Space. If I'm the first person to tell you this, move in a little closer. Pursuing a second career doesn't mean you're selling out, it means you're opening up more doors for yourself. You don't have to give up the certainty that you'll be making a decent living because you want to be in a band or be an actor. Pursuing a second career gives you the opportunity to pursue your passion without resenting it for making you really, really broke. Pursue a second career so you won't get to that dark place of cursing your career when you can't make rent.

2. You become more marketable. Whether it's a second skill directly tied to your first love (learning how to sew so you can step into the costume, learning how to run sound so you can take over the board if a band needs a sound tech) or one completely different (ie me with journalism and acting), having more than one skill makes you more valuable in the overall marketplace. You never know what open door leads to the next, so simply becoming a more useful worker overall is a very, very good move.

3. It gives you options. You know what the problem is with acquiring only one skill in a tough market? If there's no use for that skill at the moment, then you're out of work--or out of the kind of work that you actually like doing. If the idea of waiting tables between gigs til you're north of 60 sounds kind of awful to you, I urge you to rethink your plan! If you are a passionate, talented person, there's no doubt that other industries would jump at the opportunity to use your talent, passion and heck, charm (cause we know you got it!) for their cause. What about real estate? What about social media? What about yoga? What about entrepreneurship? Draft up a list of things that people have told you you're good at, you feel personally are your strengths and things that you like (*besides* your first love career). Start there.

4. You can make an impact in the lives of more people. If you work across several fields you will be making a greater impact on more people. Not only will "show people" know you but so will marketing people or nonprofit people or real estate people or church people. You get the idea. If you want to do something significant with your life and leave a legacy, consider how you may have an even greater impact if you work in more than one field.

5. When someone says "no" it's not over for you. One of the biggest advantages of having more than one skill is that you're not putting all your eggs in one basket. If that gig that you're really hoping for doesn't pan out it doesn't mean you have to go back to the worst-job-ever. You get to go back to your "in-between-gigs" job that is fulfilling, purposeful and rewarding. Isn't that so much better than going back to your minimum wage job where you're really not using your strengths?

Bottom line: your passion/first love career is your main thing. It's your identifier. But don't let your passion for that career keep you from having a meaningful day to day existence in your work. Reinvention is always acceptable. Adding on a second skill or heck, business, is a good thing! So think about what else sparks your interest, the other things you're good at, and how could you use the skills that you've developed for your art in other marketable ways. Remember, the artists who are at the pinnacle of their careers aren't doing just one thing. Whether they create new companies, (hello Jessica Alba), or invest in startups, or go back and forth between acting and music, your role models aren't just focused on one career. So why should you?

If you found this post interesting or helpful would you do me a solid and share it? 

Announcing the First HSL Creative Blogging Workshop

HSL Creative Blogging Workshop at Toolry in Lynchburg, VA
HSL Creative Blogging Workshop at Toolry in Lynchburg, VA

I'm so thrilled to announce that I will be leading a workshop at Toolry (the massively inspirational co-working space in downtown Lynchburg) on January 17. This workshop is all about taking the headache out of blogging for your business. If you're a small-business owner, employee, artisan or even an Etsy shop owner, this workshop is for you.

Did you know that websites with a blog receive 55% more traffic than those that don't?

At this workshop you'll learn blogging best practices, how to create an editorial calendar, and you'll leave with a ton of great post ideas. Guaranteed.

This workshop would also make an incredible gift for the creative entrepreneur in your life.


Join me {in person} in Lynchburg on January 17! 

8 Podcasts You Should Be Listening To This Week

Apple iOS Podcast
Apple iOS Podcast

One of my favorite functions of my iPhone is the ability to listen to podcasts. Podcasts have come a long way--no longer is it just a couple of guys in a basement talking about Star Trek (not that there's anything wrong with that) but now there are podcasts that can help you grow your business, create better habits, and help you get into the minds of some of the world's best thinkers. These podcasts have truly helped me do life better. More often than not I glean GREAT content from each and every listen.

So the next time you're at the gym and you're looking to work out your body and your mind, listen to one of these. You won't regret it.

8 Podcasts You Should Be Listening To

The Tim Ferriss Show. You may know Tim from his book The 4-Hour Workweek. I read it last December. His book was transformative for my life. 2014 has looked wildly different because I've implemented many of Tim's strategies. His podcast is like spending an evening with him and one of his brilliant friends. He ceaselessly brings in the most interesting people ala: Maria Popova (Brain Pickings), Tony Robbins, and Ed Catmull.

TED Radio Hour Podcast. I love TED Talks because they are so information rich and concise. These radio hour podcasts splice together several talks around one theme. They are so thought-provoking and enriching. I particularly love the one on creativity, the one on originality and the one on millennials. Download one!

The Owner's Mind with Chris Brogan. Chris is huge on relationships. He has built an empire by showing his clients and audience that first and foremost he cares about them. Chris is also my go-to business mind when I'm looking for content on fitness. There's a huge correlation between discipline in fitness and discipline in work. Brogan has cracked it.

Fresh Air PodcastThis one is cheating a little bit because it is the podcast version of Terry Gross' radio show. It is well worth the listen because how often are you near a radio when a good show is on? Terry has interviewed the most fascinating people and she always asks the BEST questions. If you haven't listened, you're missing out.

EntreLeadership Podcast. This is a podcast specifically geared toward entrepreneurs and leaders. They've interviewed some really inspiring leaders (ie Seth Godin and Mark Cuban) and have introduced me to new concepts like keystone habits. You can fastforward through the first 10 minutes or so to get to the good stuff.

This is Your Life with Michael HyattThis podcast is frequently updated and a reliable source for any of us who are constantly trying to be better and do better. Michael's productivity hacks and approach to blogging have both really shaped my work. His multi-faceted work astounds me. I would love to be like him when I grow up. :-)

Daniel H. Pink Office HoursDan Pink is one of my favorite non-fiction writers who is incredible at distilling why we do what we do. His book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future had a huge influence on me and how I approach the world. In fact it even inspired my tagline: "Your story is begging to be told." In his podcast (which I'm afraid, does not get published nearly often enough) Daniel picks the brains of writers and genius types like Biz Stone (co-founder of Twitter), Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point), and Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project) Bonus: Daniel is brilliant but doesn't take himself too seriously.

HBR IdeaCast. Of all the podcasts on this list, HBR--brought to you by the Harvard Business Review, is maybe the one that takes the most concentration. The HBR podcast is ahead of the curve. They're not talking about today's trends; they're talking about tomorrow's.

Are you a podcast fan? Do you have any podcast suggestions? I'd love to hear em!

My Top 12 Posts in Honor of HSL Creative's First Birthday

My 2nd birthday.
My 2nd birthday.

I’ve had a stunning revelation: HSL Creative, in its most recent incarnation, is officially ONE year old!

Cue the streamers, candles, and of course cake (my favorite.) In honor of our first birthday I thought I would share a countdown of the 12 most popular blog posts from the last year. (Get it? 1 for each month?)

Over the past year I’ve shared observations on social media trends, productivity hacks, career advice, information about our services, and even personal reflections about not living in a major city or overextending myself. So I give you the top 12 posts of our first year as voted by your clicks. So take a look, check out the ones you may have missed. And thank you, thank you, thank you for coming on the journey.


Here’s to year 2. Cheers.

12. Finding Margin: Confessions of a Wayward Blogger Whether you're an entrepreneur, a stay-at-home parent, or an employee of a giant corporation, there are always priorities and choices to make. And sometimes we have to say "no" to good things in order to say "yes" to great things.

11. 7 Hacks for Shaking off the Blahs and Getting Out of ProcrastiNation I have a war within me: lazy person vs. driven person. That conflict can easily manifest itself in procrastination. Here's some ways I combat it.

10. How to Launch Dual Careers I'm a passionate advocate of kicking the status quo in the face. If you are a soon to be college graduate, an early career professional, or just know in your gut it's time for a change, this post gives you the first steps to making the move to dual careers.

9. 10 Secrets to Getting Started in Freelance Writing If you've wanted to get started freelance writing but you're not sure where to begin, this post gives you tips on how to get paid to write.

8. 6 Reasons Someone You know Did the #ALSIceBucketChallenge Why the heck did the Ice Bucket Challenge raise over $100 million? How did that happen? Here's some reasons it worked amazingly well.

7. 10 Social Media Resolutions to Adopt This Year Need a cheat sheet for social media etiquette and smart habits (like knowing your privacy settings)? Here ya go.

6. 10 Ways I've Made Life Easier for Other Businesses, And How I Can Help You Too Don't really know what all we do here? Here are some of the most practical ways that organizations and individuals have used HSL Creative services in recent months.

5. 9 Surprising Things I Learned When I Met a Client in Person Bottom line: in this incredible digital age where I (and many other people!) make a living by never seeing anyone in person--the face-to-face communication remains irreplaceable.

4. The #1 Reason I Feel Ok Even Though I Don't Live in a Major City My industries are media and the arts. Of COURSE, I have a desire to be in a major city where patrons and potential clients flock. But here's why I think this small city life has been GREAT for me and my career.

3. 6 Ways Grad School Launched Me into the Career of My Dreams Grad school gets a lot of flack in creative fields. "It's not worth the money," they say. "You're avoiding the real world," they say. Well, I say it was the exact right move for me. Here's why.

2. Will You Do Anything Social Media Free This Year? Do you ever feel like you've become a little too attached to your technology? Do you twitch when you accidentally leave your phone in your car? Have you never left your phone in your car because you always make certain it's on your person? This one's for you.

And drumroll please...the most popular post of the last year is....

1. 5 Lessons We Can Learn from the Most Retweeted Selfie of All Time Did you retweet it? Do you know exactly which one I'm talking about? What makes us take part in viral activity online? These are a few of my observations from both academically and professionally studying people and their social media habits.

There ya have it! My 12 most read posts of the 1st year of HSL Creative. Do me a huge favor and comment here or on Facebook or Twitter with some feedback on what kind of posts you'd like to see more of in the future. I'm listening!