My Creative Energy Skyrocketed When I Slashed My Mindful Morning Routine

Katie Lemon is a nomadic writer currently based in Oaxaca, Mexico. A self-proclaimed “conscious copywriter,” she works exclusively with brands making a positive impact on the world — from sustainable businesses to non-profits and feminist organizations. She also writes personal essays about travel, sustainability, personal development, and more.

Wake up with the sun. Move through a lengthy yoga sequence before meditating for a half hour. Scribble out morning pages by hand: three laborious pages of stream-of-consciousness gibberish. Bundle up for a brisk morning walk. Come home, peel off all my layers, and craft a balanced breakfast and homemade latte.

Finally, finally, sit down at my computer to work. Wait — no, I still have to set my intentions for the day. Close laptop. Check the time. 10:30 a.m. Bang head on desk repeatedly.


I’ve always believed in the power of a solid routine. By following the same daily structure, I’ve been able to work away at even the most insurmountable tasks and see real progress take shape in both my personal and professional life. 

Plus, having lived in five cities and three countries over the last couple of years, my routines have felt nothing short of essential. Without them, I feel untethered. So when I dove headfirst into full time freelance work over a year ago, I knew I wanted to establish the sort of morning routine that would keep my creativity stoked and my passion for my work alive. 

Enter the morning routine to end all morning routines: a laundry list of healthy habits and introspective practices that would surely make my freelance life blossom with creative insight and productivity.

When I first decided to do yoga, meditate, write morning pages, walk, cook a hot breakfast, and set daily intentions before launching into the tasks that actually made up my job, I figured I may have discovered the secret to an ideal work-life balance — a sort of enlightenment I couldn’t wait to achieve.

I could see it so clearly: I’d feel more grounded than ever. I’d float from task to task after my luxurious morning routine, feeling so deeply connected to my inner well of creativity that ideas would pour forth from me with ease. My skin would begin to glow. Tiny cherubs would float around me as I lay down to sleep at the end of a satisfying work day. And then I’d wake up to do it all again, my energy never wavering.

The night before I set out to accomplish this lengthy list of to-do’s for the first time, I gleefully set an alarm for 7 a.m. I envisioned myself waking up with birdsong and the sun, stretching my arms overhead, eyes clear and bright.

Instead, when my phone blared at me the next morning, I awoke with a start. Squinting at my screen to turn off the alarm, all I wanted to do was roll over and go back to sleep. But I couldn’t hit snooze, at least not on the first day of what was going to be my Dream Morning Routine.

I begrudgingly sank down onto my yoga mat to crank out a few sun salutations. My creaky morning joints cracked and popped in protest. I dreamt of leaping back into bed, or at least making some coffee. As I moved from one pose to the next, ideas for my work kept running through my mind. But I forced them out, feeling guilty for not staying present in the morning routine that was meant to leave me inspired and refreshed.

The rest of the morning proceeded like that. And so did the rest of the week, and the week after that. Each day, I noticed myself sitting down to work later and later. My breakfasts got more complicated. I decided to add some resistance training before my daily walk. I started hitting snooze, because as soon as I woke up I dreaded the thought of sitting for a half hour with my legs crossed followed by writing three pages of my most asinine morning thoughts. 

No thank you. I’ll just stay here in bed. Morning pages can wait another fifteen minutes, right?

This went on for three months. I spent more time, energy, and focus on my morning routine than any other part of my day. By the time I finally sat down to write for work, I was already sapped of creative energy. I had been up since dawn, and what did I have to show for it? Some chicken scratch filling an old notebook and sore sit bones. But I pushed through, thinking that soon enough, I would feel the benefits of all this inner work that I set aside hours for each day.


At the end of the third month, I landed a big project. It was a rush job for a new client — I would need to pump out a lot of work in a very short amount of time. I was excited to do the job, but nervous, too. So on the first day, I got to work immediately: I woke up, stretched for a few minutes, made some coffee, and jumped straight in. 

After chipping away at the project for a few hours, I had made some major headway. The words had flowed easily. I felt energized and inspired. I stopped to check the time. 10:45 a.m. I did a double take. I had already finished a third of the project by the time I would normally be sitting down to start work. 

That’s when the irony of the situation hit me, and I wasn’t sure if I felt closer to crying or laughing. Forcing myself to check off a 3-4 hour to-do list every day before I could even think about my work had robbed me of the time, energy, and mental space I needed in order to do my best creative work. 

From there, I completely slashed my morning routine for a few weeks. I simply got up when my alarm went off, stretched a bit, and made a quick breakfast before sitting down in front of my computer with a cup of coffee.

I watched my creativity and my productivity skyrocket. Ideas came to me quickly and easily. I had more time to pitch the kind of work I really wanted to be doing, and the energy to turn out my very best work for clients.

I was no longer funneling all my brain power into a bunch of activities that were meant to prepare me for the day, and instead just getting straight to what I needed (and wanted) to be doing: writing.


It’s been over a year now since I realized how detrimental my morning routine was for my creative process. After a few weeks of the most minimal morning routine I’d ever had, I did start to feel a bit ungrounded — like my life revolved around pumping out client work and checking off essential tasks. 

These days, I’ve found a harmonious balance between the “dream” morning routine that left me drained and the minimalist routine that made me feel burnt out. 

I’ve brought back the morning pages because I do love the catharsis that comes from dumping all my thoughts somewhere. But I no longer write them by hand, and I no longer force myself to write three pages — I just open a blank document on my computer and let the words pour out until I feel like I’m finished. I usually do a little yoga before I sit down at my desk chair, but I keep it short, slipping in a 2-3 minute meditation at the end. I make a quick breakfast, but I always cook something hearty enough to stay fueled.

And most mornings, I’m poised at my laptop, digging into my work for the day between 8:30 and 9 a.m. 


I had to listen to my gut rather than a long list of self-imposed “shoulds” to figure out what to keep and what to get rid of. I kept the non-negotiables: the things that truly made me feel grounded and connected to myself. But I shortened them all greatly. 

I thought my dream morning routine was the key to being a creative person and successful writer. I thought that because I could now construct my days however I wanted, there was no reason I shouldn’t indulge in all the habits that normally connect me to my creativity first thing in the morning. 

In reality, all it did was make me feel constantly behind. Like every day was getting away from me. Like I had to complete this list of to-do’s before anything else, even while I tried to hold myself back from drafting the first lines of an article in my head during meditation, or scratch down a reminder to myself to email that one client before I took my morning walk. 

With the balanced morning routine I have now, I still feel like I get to connect to that intentional part of myself that loves to start each day slowly and purposefully. And even moreso, I’m not rigid about it. If I’m feeling inspired and want to jump right into work without doing my morning pages, I do. If I’m feeling antsy and can’t bear the idea of slowly moving through a yoga sequence, I dance around my kitchen while I make breakfast instead. 

I no longer feel beholden to a daily checklist that only gets in the way of my creativity and productivity. Instead, I listen to what my body and brain need each day, and I honor that instead of some arbitrary routine I’ve forced upon myself. 

It’s not perfect, but I have to admit: I feel much closer to being surrounded by cherubs and birdsong every day — and much more connected to my creativity. 

Magic Is the Manipulation of Elements

A short digression, because of the snow — and because L and I have gotten ourselves onto the subject of magic, and I want to work through what I’m thinking about it.

This isn’t the first time I’ve tried to come up with some definition of magic, btw. You might remember what I wrote about magic when I went to Disneyland in 2017:

I don’t believe in magic but I do believe that people can create magic, which is to say they can imbue items or people or experiences with meaning.

In 2018, I reviewed magician Nate Staniforth’s book Here Is Real Magic:

Here Is Real Magic, as the subtitle suggests, isn’t really about magic. It’s about wonder. Staniforth writes about two different kinds of wonder: the kind that can take hold of an audience, which falls in line with my definition of creating magic, and the kind that can take hold of the self.

In 2019, I started reading books about magic and magick and witchcraft:

Enchantments framed magic as the rituals you use to set your intention. The lit candle is not what’s magic, the part that’s magic is the part where you carve your intention into the candle and by doing so focus yourself on what you want or what you are looking for or what you are going to do.

And at the very end of 2019, in the last little bit of the before, I wrote about the way Maggie Stiefvater defined magic in her novel Call Down the Hawk (the quote below is hers, not mine):

If you’ve ever looked into a fire and been unable to look away, it’s that. If you’ve ever looked at the mountains and found you’re not breathing, it’s that. If you’ve ever looked at the moon and felt tears in your eyes, it’s that. It’s the stuff between stars, the space between roots, the thing that makes electricity get up in the morning.

[…]

The opposite of magical is not ordinary. The opposite of magical is mankind.

If you were to read all of those excerpts — as I am assuming you just did — you might come away with the idea that magic is an emotional response. Magic is something you feel when something magical happens.

But that’s not quite correct.

Magic, as we all know, is an act.

Which means that magic could also be an action.


L and I got onto this topic by asking ourselves whether more adults would work towards a so-called Piano Achievement if there were such an achievement to be achieved.

Basically, I was arguing that one of the reasons people aren’t interested in doing the difficult work of learning the piano is because there aren’t enough professional opportunities available for everyone with the requisite skills. There aren’t enough paying gigs, to be sure — but there also isn’t quite enough space for every talented musician to find an audience, even doing free recitals or posting videos to YouTube.

Plus, some people don’t want an audience. They just want mastery — and although that kind of mastery is its own reward, more people might pursue the path towards mastery if they started out thinking there would be a reward at the end.

“We need some kind of achievement badge,” I said. “Like what they give out on Steam, when you do something very difficult in a video game. You could send in your video to a qualified group of people, and if they agreed that you had successfully demonstrated excellence at the piano, you’d get your badge.”

We talked about whether it would be like the belt system in karate (“I have a black belt in piano”) or whether it would be like the test required to join Mensa. Whether such a system would reveal that there were more top-level musicians mastering their various instruments in the privacy of their own home than any of us realized, and how that might affect the music industry as a whole.

(Except we kinda figured that out that last bit with YouTube and Bandcamp, and it didn’t change as much as we thought it might.)

And then we started talking about The Magic Castle. The idea that what people really want after developing mastery in a particular skill isn’t a badge, but to be recognized by other masters. To be invited into the club, as it were.

And then we just started talking about magic — what it was, whether it was something that could in fact be created, and whether the two of us were in fact in the process of becoming magicians.


You already know that I don’t mean magician in the traditional sense. Nor in the fantastical sense. I mean it just a tiny bit in the Arthur C. Clarke sense, in that any sufficiently advanced level of mastery, at any discipline worth mastering, could be indistinguishable from magic.

But I also mean it in the Maggie Stiefvater sense, and I’ll go ahead and quote what she wrote about the Magician tarot card in The Raven’s Prophecy:

Regardless of who or what you believe in, the Magician is an extraordinary master of all trades, and he is resilient because no matter what the world throws at him, no matter how much he loses, he will always have the most powerful tool at his command: himself.

And I might mean it in the Lev Grossman sense, because much of the way he had his students study magic in The Magicians was identical to the way musicians approach their instruments. (He even gave them “Popper exercises” to practice.)

Not that this is solely about the magician-musician connection, even though those words are oh-so-very-similar. It’s about — well, you already know how I’m going to define it, you already read the title of this blog post, you already know what I told L over coffee and tea this morning:

Magic is the manipulation of elements.

Magic is the specific choice. (This might mean that magic is also the disciplined choice.)

Magic is the all-green week. Magic is choosing to solve problems and changing behaviors that are no longer working.

Magic is transforming what is in front of you because you have decided to transform it — and the point at which you become a magician is the point at which you know how to do the transformation.

The emotions associated with magic — the wonder and whatnot — are the results you get from this specific, deliberate, disciplined application of knowledge.

(Even — and especially — when you experience the wonder yourself.)

And while being recognized by other magicians might be a desire that is hard to ignore, the truth is that once you have attained that level of mastery in your own life, you won’t need outside recognition because you already know what you already have.

More on this later this week. ❤️

Thoughts From My Office

I am very very excited about the slate of guest posts I have coming your way over the next month — I told you a while ago that I wanted to run one guest post per week, and someone must have spread the word on Twitter, because I got a pile of pitches.

It’ll be good to have a few other perspectives on this-here blog, right? Especially since I tend to have a particular sort of perspective…

AND ON THAT TOPIC

I JUST GOT MY VERY OWN CAL NEWPORT’S TIME BLOCK PLANNER

I want to review it soooon soooon soooon, but I haven’t even had time to open it yet, and today is going to be a little too busy to steal a few extra minutes for workday reading.

(must time-block when to read time-block planner)

(wow that’s meta)

(I originally typed that as “wow that’s meat”)

Before we move on to WHERE I GOT PUBLISHED THIS WEEK, I want to share a song with you. Listen all the way to the end, because Fred Rogers identifies the very problem I was discussing yesterday: there are times when we really do have to hurry up, and learning how to handle those deadline-centered moments is just as important as learning how to take our time with the rest of them.

Here comes a very very very lot of articles that got published last week….

Bankrate

Everything you need to know about balance transfer checks

This check allows you to borrow cash or credit from your credit line — but is it worth it?

Manage debt with a balance transfer card

A 0% balance transfer card can help you avoid high APR from an existing credit card balance.

How to maximize cash back with rotating bonus categories

Earn as much cash back as possible from your rotating bonus category credit cards.

Your guide to Visa Infinite Benefits

Learn more about Visa’s most exclusive consumer credit card benefits tier.

How does credit card interest work?

Here’s what you need to know about credit card interest.

Guide to credit card minimum payments

Learn why it’s a good idea to pay more than the minimum every month, if you can.

Can you use PayPal on Amazon?

Amazon may not accept PayPal, but there are still creative ways to pay.

Credit Cards Dot Com

Is the American Express Blue Business Cash Card the best business cash back card?

It has a solid rate of cash back, but it depends on where your business spends the most.

Make a Living Writing

Earn Money Writing: 4 Big Lessons from a $126K+ Freelancer

In 2020, I had my second six-figure year as a freelance writer, grossing $126,683 before business expenses and taxes.

You Don’t Have to Settle if You Are Willing to Take the Time

Let’s start with another bit of work-showing. Here’s the first half of the second movement of the Mozart:

As you can see — especially if you’ve been watching my previous videos — this performance is phenomenally more specific.

First of all, it’s actually adagio. (Not “slightly-faster-than adagio.”)

Second of all, every grace note gets its moment of grace. Nothing is blurred, nothing is slurred (that doesn’t have a slur marking). I have made deliberate, replicable decisions about every single note in the first half of this piece.

I’m not sure all of the decisions are correct yet, btw. I don’t like the way I’m articulating the three notes at the end of measure 4 (30 seconds in, if you’re watching), even though Mozart put those notes into their own little phrase and I wanted to see what it was like to play them as a separate thought.

I also I think the staccato before the trill in measure 18 (2 minutes, 14 seconds in) is a little too emphatic.

And I’m not sure those descending thirds in the right hand (1 minute, 10 seconds in) are as clean as I’d like them to be.

By which I mean “I could settle for the way I’m performing those descending thirds, but I’d rather take the time to fix them.”


On very, very good days, I greet L (after our respective workdays are done) with a kiss and the announcement that I have found another “secret to life.”

I’m not sure if I phrased this discovery as “discovering a secret,” but I’m sure I shared it with the same amount of delight:

You don’t have to settle if you are willing to take the time.

If you want to work and isolate and study and perfect a series of descending thirds that nobody will ever hear but you and your partner and a handful of people on the internet, you can.

If you want to write a short story with absolutely zero clichés in it, or a choral composition with absolutely zero derivative bits in it, or an art song where the entire thing is as good as the four measures you (and everyone else who has heard the piece so far) absolutely love, you can.

(I mean, first you have to figure out what makes those four measures different from the rest of the piece, and you haven’t figured out how to figure that out yet. But it’s on your list, because you really really really want to solve that problem.)

You don’t have to create work that you secretly wish was a little better. You can, if you want to, keep working.

The perfect may be the enemy of the good, as is often said — but the good is just as much the enemy of the perfect.


I always make the joke that I can tell what you’re thinking, and in this case it’s also what I’m thinking:

But what if you don’t have the time?

I don’t mean “during the day.” If you’re able to get to whatever it is you’re practicing/studying/creating — writing, music, chess, math — at least a few times a week, you can apply the unlimited time principle that I wrote about yesterday. (“I may only have 30 minutes to work on this project today, but the total number of work sessions that I can apply to this project are unlimited.”)

I mean “before the deadline.” What if you don’t have enough time before the recital, before the next draft is due, before your next group meeting, etc. etc. etc.?

What if you have to settle simply because you have to ship?

One option is to divide your work into “time-bound projects” and “unlimited time projects.” If you know that you’re working on something time-bound, you can make strategic choices about where to settle for good-enough and where to push for a little bit more. If you’re working on an unlimited time project, you can refuse to settle and keep working (no matter how long it takes).

The second option is to figure out how to get better at the stuff you’re currently settling on. If you’ve accepted that the ends of your trills are always going to be a little blurry, then… un-accept that? Solve that problem, and just that problem, and be satisfied that you’ve moved everything forward by one specific solution?

The third option is to figure out how to get faster (or “more efficient”) at the stuff you’re already doing well, so you have more time to work on the problems that are still problems.

This is where I admit that I’m still thinking about this. That I’m trying all of these options in their turn, and simultaneously, and hoping to figure out how to put them into play (pun intended).

But if I already had all the answers, there would be no reason to spend part of every day asking myself how to get better at solving problems. ❤️

Why I Went Back to Time-Blocking

Yesterday I wrote about having to “figure out which part of my day to take time from,” and if you’ve been reading Nicole Dieker Dot Com for the past six months or so you might be thinking wait, didn’t you try this experiment where you let the days unfold without trying to plan them in advance?

Yep, I for-sure did.

(If you don’t know what I’m referring to, you might want to read Thoughts on a 39th Birthday and On the Paradoxical Nature of Unlimited Time.)

Part of the experiment stuck, in that I no longer go to bed at 9 p.m. and wake up at 5:30.

But as soon as the new year rolled back around, I started asking myself questions like “What is the biggest positive change I can make in my life?” and “What is preventing me from working on the problems and projects I most want to prioritize?”

(Wow, that’s a lot of Ps.)

The answer turned out to be you need to go back to time-blocking.


WHAT IS TIME-BLOCKING?

(You might ask.)

Time-blocking is the practice of setting aside certain parts of the day for certain activities. Many of us automatically time-block without thinking about it — we know that the first hour of our day is set aside for ablutions and breakfast, for example, or we always start our workday by spending 30 minutes on email.

But time-blocking gets way, way better when you think about it.

In my case, I started by making a list of everything that was important to me. Everything I wanted to prioritize, and everything I wanted to be part of a typical, ordinary day.

Then I started asking myself how all of these priorities could fit into an ordinary day. What would I need to de-prioritize, for example, in order to spend an hour every weekday writing this blog post? Where does chess study fit in? How can I do all of this and be done in time to have unstructured, intuitive, let’s-let-this-unfold evenings with L?

I essentially told myself “You have unlimited time to learn this Mozart sonata — but you only have 90 minutes of practice time per day. You have unlimited time to make your current musical composition as good as you hope it can be — but you only have 30 minutes of composing time per day, Monday through Friday. You get 15 minutes per day for chess study, so make sure you’re using your time in a way that will actually help you get better at chess.

This is where I have to acknowledge both the privilege and the freedom of being able to structure my days around my freelance work. If I weren’t able to use the hours between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. exactly as I chose, I’d have to de-prioritize some of my longer-term goals.

(Also, I wake up at 7 now — not 5:30, thank goodness, but not 8:30 either — so I can get my piano practice done before I start freelancing.)


Why I am I telling you all of this?

Because it ties back into what I was writing about yesterday — that you have to set aside time for the things you want to do, and that I hadn’t set aside time to take this online course that I had wanted to take when I signed up for it in January.

That was a thoughtless choice, in the literal sense of the word.

I’ve turned next week’s overflow timeslot (because every week needs at least one overflow timeslot) into “course catchup,” but if something more important overflows (like a freelance writing project, because freelancing is the only thing I currently allow to overflow its scheduled time blocks), I’ll have to catch up on the course later.

But at least I have a block set aside for this work.

Which really means at least I have a plan.

Which really means at least I’ve put some thought into this.


There’s one more thing I want to tell you, and it’s that I really-really-really want to buy Cal Newport’s new Time Block Planner as a professional development expense and review it on this-here blog.

I don’t need a time block planner (I have my own system, and if you guessed “it’s a spreadsheet” you guessed correctly), but this Time Block Planner is supposed to help everyone put a little more thought into their workdays, whether they’re freelancers or have traditional jobs — and it’s even supposed to work if your days are highly unpredictable and most of what you do is reactive.

Which means I want to know how Cal is approaching time-blocking, whether it’s different from the way I approach time-blocking, and how I can steal the best parts of it for my own life.

I’d keep writing about how excited I am to learn more about this planner, but — you saw this coming, didn’t you — I’ve used up the time I blocked to write this blog post, and it’s time to move on to the next thing.

Which is, in this case, lunch.

See you tomorrow. ❤️

You Have To Set Aside Time for the Things You Want To Do

Let’s see if this sounds familiar:

  1. You sign up for something that takes place in the future, like an online class or a book club or a community choir. It’s something that you’re really excited about, not something that feels like an obligation. (Too many other things in your life already feel like obligations, after all.)
  2. The future arrives, and the class/club/commitment begins. It might feel like a bit of a surprise, even if you dutifully put it on the calendar. (How is it already time for the first book club meeting?)
  3. You realize that you are unprepared to participate in this thing that you really wanted to do. Your week is too full to read the book, study the course materials, learn the music for the choral rehearsal. (You might even wish you had never signed up for the thing in the first place, or secretly hope it gets canceled.)

We’ve all done this, right? I mean, I’ve been writing about time management for years and I just did this very thing myself — I signed up for an online class in January, the class started last week, and I realized that I hadn’t set aside any time in my schedule to take it.

Which means this thing that I really wanted to do, that could benefit my career and connect me to other writers and help me solidify what I might want to prioritize over the next year, is not getting done.

Because if you don’t set aside time for the things you want (or need) to do, you won’t do them.


I’m pretty sure I know what at least half of you are thinking right now:

Um… I just do the things I want to do when I want to do them? Without making a big deal out of it? Like, I don’t worry about scheduling time to read a book, I just read when I feel like reading?

There’s honestly not much I can say against that, if it’s working for you. But it feels like you might be answering a different question (“am I able to spend part of every day doing something I enjoy?”) than the one I’m actually asking (“when I add a new commitment to my life, do I also set aside the time the commitment requires?).

My argument is that you can’t decide to do a thing without thinking about when and how you’re going to do it — and I’m making this argument because I just decided to do a thing without thinking about when and how I was going to do it.


What’s this really about? Why am I spending this week focusing on the way time interacts with problem-solving?

Because I suddenly found myself with a time-related (and time-sensitive) problem to solve.

Basically, I signed up for Beth Jusino’s Market While You Write: Building an Audience Before You Publish Your Book on January 8, the class started on February 4, and I looked at my planner and thought to myself “You don’t have any extra time this week to take this class.”

Unless, of course, I sacrificed something that I was already prioritizing — like going for a walk, or playing chess with L, or writing music.

(I am getting so much closer to being able to beat L at chess. We are keeping track of the games by how long it takes for one of us to gain a significant advantage over the other, and my daily chess study is proving advantageous.)

Luckily, the course is asynchronous and will run through the end of February, which gives me plenty of time to catch up — but if the course is supposed to take an hour per week and you don’t set aside an extra hour in Week 1, you have to set aside two extra hours in Week 2.

This is the flip side, by the way, of things take the time they take — which, if you don’t want to click that link, has to do with my decision to take as much time as I needed to solve every problem in a particular Mozart piano sonata, even if it takes the rest of my life.

Because I don’t have the rest of my life to take this course, and you don’t have the rest of your life to participate in that book club.

Which means that I have to let these things take the time they take, too — and figure out what part of my day they’re taking time from.

More tomorrow. ❤️

In Which I Discuss Six-Figure Freelancing on Make a Living Writing

I haven’t written much about my freelance income in a while — so if you’re curious about how my year has been, writing-and-money-wise, you should check out the piece I just wrote for Carol Tice’s Make a Living Writing:

Earn Money Writing: 4 Big Lessons from a $126K+ Freelancer

2020 was actually my second six-figure year as a freelancer. The post I wrote for Carol includes at least four of the techniques I used to build my career and hit my income goals, so check it out — and if you have questions about freelancing, earning money, building clients, and so on, ask ’em in the comments.

Tomorrow I’ll get back into the Problem-Solving Series, with a few posts about the ways in which problem-solving interacts with time (and the ways in which time is also a problem to be solved). ❤️

Thoughts From My Office

I love the new blog layout. I had never been completely happy with the way the blog looked in the old layout — the quotes were too big, the font wasn’t the best, etc. etc. etc. — and I also wanted to switch to a theme that put the blog front-and-center instead of below-the-fold.

The current theme is Scrawl, if you’re curious. It was created by Automattic, which means it is going to integrate really, really well with WordPress. (Some of those third-party themes don’t, always.)

Of course, as soon as I got Scrawl set up, I got the big promo note from WordPress that they’d just launched Twenty Twenty-One, the new theme that is supposed to do EVERYTHING YOU’VE EVER WANTED A WEBSITE TO DO, though really I just want a website to be a blog that I can write in (and that guest writers can also write in, pitch me) and a portfolio that I can share with others.

The big thing for me, in-regards-to website design, is to eliminate the number of choices that the reader has to make. This is one of the reasons why I pulled Disqus comments and went back to the standard WordPress comments. The Disqus interface came with too many choices — should you leave a comment? Should you like someone else’s comment? Should you click on one of the articles Disqus is recommending?

Right now, the comment section gives you one choice: COMMENT, or DON’T COMMENT.

I even like the fact that all of the important stuff about me (my email address, the classes I’m teaching, my freelance portfolio) is hidden in a sidebar that you have to ACTIVELY MAKE THE CHOICE TO FIND.

If people want to know more about me, they’re going to figure out — I mean, I should ask you whether you can figure it out, just to make sure that the usability aspect is in fact as usable as I think it is. If you wanted my email address, would you know where to look for it?

And the people who don’t want those things, or who don’t yet know that they want those things, have only one choice to make when they visit Nicole Dieker Dot Com: READ, or DON’T READ.

(crossing my fingers that everybody picks READ)

On the subject of reading, here’s where I got published this week. I really like the Valentine’s Day article, btw — lots of good insights about love and love languages and whether it’s worth it to put on fancy clothes and have a date in your dining room. ❤️

Credit Cards Dot Com

Best startup business credit cards

Whether you’re looking for a travel card to help make business trips a little more comfortable or a corporate card to issue to your new employees, we have a list of best cards to help you get your startup off the ground.

Haven Life

How to make Valentine’s Day work during COVID

Love in the time of coronavirus isn’t easy. Here’s how to keep the romance alive this year.

You Know, When You Start, Whether You’re Actually Trying to Solve the Problem

I was going to make this more of a theoretical post, expanding on the idea that you know, when you start the trill or the drill or the conversation, whether you’re going to try to solve the problem or whether you’re just going to run through the old stuff from beginning to end — and then I ended up creating a for-real example of this very scenario.

On video.

Here we go.

I wanted to show you how much this piece had improved since the last time I played it for you — and it really has, in every aspect. I’ve put a lot of disciplined, dedicated work into solving the problems required to play each individual ornament, to the point that when I begin the chromatic scale in the recapitulation, I immediately start it over because I recognize that I didn’t set myself up to play it accurately.

And then I decide to record a fresh video.

Because why would I want to share a video that is nearly exactly what I want it to be, except for the part where I start the chromatic scale over?

Well.

Here’s what happened next.

In this case, I play the chromatic run beautifully on the first go — and then I immediately have a memory lapse, probably because I was thinking “wow, I played that beautifully on the first go” instead of thinking about what was coming next.

(This, by the way, isn’t actually what leads to memory lapses. It’s when your brain jumps back into the piece again — catches up to your hands, as it were — and suddenly thinks “wait, where are we?”)

Anyway. I distract myself by my own success, I stumble over a few notes, and then I finish the piece WITHOUT TRYING TO SOLVE ANY OF THE PROBLEMS IN IT.

I just play through to the end.

I mean, the whole thing’s ruined, so why bother?

You can hear it, in the recording. I stop caring about what the end of the piece is going to sound like — because I am obviously never going to share this video with anyone EVER — and everything gets just a little bit sloppy and rushed and blurred.


It’s the same thing that happens with my Daily Spreadsheet. One red cell leads to more red cells, even though I could have focused on making the last fourteen measures of that particular performance the best they’d ever been.

Why didn’t I?

Because I decided, in that moment, that discipline didn’t count.

That specificity didn’t count.

That trying to make something better, learn something new, eke out the tiniest bit of improvement didn’t count.

I gave up all of the discoveries I could have made during the last fourteen measures of that piece, simply because I’d made one mistake.

And I knew, when I picked up after my memory lapse and started playing again, that this was the choice I was making.

Because we always know.

And I wish I’d made a different one. ❤️