I’m Writing Daily Posts for Lifehacker!

If you enjoyed my daily financial blogging at The Billfold, add Lifehacker to your reading list or RSS feed — I’ll be writing two daily posts for them for the next several weeks as they look for a full-time personal finance writer. (Here’s how to apply, if you’re interested.)

I’ve written for Lifehacker before, of course, but today was my first day in the interior of the Lifehacker machine, as it were.

Expect another post later this week on how this new gig is reshaping my daily schedule. ❤️

Three Articles on the Creative Practice

Catapult: Watchword: A Writer Should Keep the Future in Mind

It is hard to be straightforward. It’s hard to be yourself. I don’t know why, but both statements are true. “The artist,” I believe, represents a mode of living best examined both from the outside, as an object, and from within, as a living, daily, and often frustrating practice—with the goal of becoming more straightforward, and being yourself.

I love everything about this Mensah Demary essay. Go read it twice.

Verabee: How the Sausage Gets Made

I thought it might be fun to show how I paint a page of my book from start to finish. I know I’m always curious about how artists work, maybe you are too.

Hat tip to Lucy Bellwood for sharing this link on Twitter, which is how I found it. (Also, I’m just now realizing that Verabee is Vera Brosgol, whom I met at a creative retreat in Juneau, Alaska a few years ago. Her book Leave Me Alone! is great, trust me.)

LitHub: On the Daily Rituals of Joan Didion, Patti Smith, and More

In 2005, Didion told an interviewer that she typically spends “most of the day working on a piece not actually putting anything on paper, just sitting there, trying to form a coherent idea and then maybe something will come to me about five in the afternoon and then I’ll work for a couple of hours and get three or four sentences, maybe a paragraph.” The slowness of the writing process stems, Didion has said, from the sheer difficulty of thinking clearly. “Writing,” she said in 2011, “forces you to think.”

I can’t be the only person who finds these kinds of interviews fascinating, if not inspiring. ❤️

Saturday Open Thread

It’s that time again — and today, my question is whether you like this particular time, or whether you’d rather have open threads on Fridays.

(Or, you know, Wednesday or something. But most of the time open threads are on Fridays or Saturdays, so I’m curious if you have a preference.)

Discuss! ❤️

How to Create the Systems/Structures in Which to Do Your Best Work: Part 3

Okay. To catch everyone up:

THE THESIS: Setting aside time in which to do your creative work will get you 90% of the way there — or 80%, if we want to make the Pareto Principle comparison. (Percentages are not meant to be, like, 100% accurate.) Creating a structure that helps you be ready to do your BEST WORK during your creative work timeslot is the other 10–20%.

THE PREVIOUS DISCUSSIONS: The importance of planning for the experience you want to have and the value of aligning your disparate goals so that they support each other.

In other words: if you want to bring your best self to your creative work timeslot so that you have the best chance of doing your BEST WORK, it helps if you figure out what needs to happen in the rest of your day to support that goal. Also, it is possible to align a few competing goals (do well at your job, spend time with family, complete a big creative project) within a structure that supports and balances all of them.

WHAT WE’RE DISCUSSING TODAY: How I do it.


I will begin by acknowledging that I stole this idea from Ben Franklin, who famously made a list of both the ways he wanted to behave and the emotions he wanted to feel and then tracked both his actions and his moods to see if he was living up to his goals.

I, in turn, created what I call my Daily Spreadsheet.

The Daily Spreadsheet lists what I want to have in my life on the day-to-day level. Some list items are binary; “reading,” for example, is either a yes or a no. (Technically, “reading” means “reading a book, not just the internet,” but that would take up too much space in the spreadsheet cell.)

Other list items are metric-based; for “sleep,” I include both the hours I slept and the percentage spent in deep sleep, according to my Fitbit.

Other list items are subjective, like “mood” and “energy,” and I use a lot of colorful and descriptive words to describe both. Interestingly, these are the items that are the most out of my control; as Ben Franklin must have discovered, you don’t actually get to choose what mood you wake up in or how energetic you feel.

I’m pretty sure he also discovered that working towards the rest of the items on his list helped increase the chance that he’d wake up in a good mood. (Or a contemplative mood, or a generative mood, or a joyful mood.

EDIT: I should note that the mood/action connection doesn’t always work, especially if there are other mental health or neurotransmitter issues present. If that’s you, go read about what Maggie Stiefvater did when her neurotransmitters got all bunged up and she realized that she couldn’t “do” her way to the work she wanted anymore. (Also yes, there is a Maggie Stiefvater blog post for just about every situation.)

I color-code my spreadsheet, every day; “reading” and “music” and “human connection” turns green if I did it and red if I didn’t. For metric-based stuff like “sleep,” I go green if I get more than 7-and-a-half hours, a pale red if I get between 7 and 7-and-a-half, and a darker red if I go below 7 hours.

Here’s the other important thing: there are no fully green days.

This isn’t completely true. Sunday, March 10 was my last fully green day. They do come up once or twice a month.

But most of the time, I have to make choices about what to prioritize, and that means one or two cells go red every day.

It’s when the same row starts showing a string of red that I know something in my life is out of balance — but usually I don’t let it get quite that far. However, I have made a few big changes in my life based on what I’ve learned from my Daily Spreadsheet, and so far those changes have all made my days better.

Will all of this help me create my BEST WORK? I’m not sure yet. My NEXT BOOK draft is only 21,404 words long, and some of those words are really rough.

But, four days out of five — there’s that Pareto again — I’m coming to my draft with good energy and a good mood and enough sleep, so I’m hoping that’ll count for something. ❤️

How to Create the Systems/Structure in Which to Do Your Best Work: Part 2

Yesterday, we looked at the idea that it takes effort to be in a Space Mountain mood on the day you get to ride Space Mountain — that is, if you want to enjoy the ride on a day when you’re not tired or hungover or feeling ill from too many park snacks or whatever, you need to start planning for the mood you want to have in advance.

This is easier said than done, I know. (Especially when you’re trying to create a structure that will increase the likelihood that a whole family will be in a Space Mountain mood on the day they ride Space Mountain. You can’t control other people’s feelings or desires or needs, but you can theoretically institute an early bedtime… in an unfamiliar hotel room where you all have to sleep in the same space and some people might be too excited to sleep and you all might be jetlagged and the air conditioner might be making noise and so on and so on. Best of luck.)

So let’s add on another layer — this time from an article by Kira M. Newman that first published at Greater Good and then ran on the Washington Post. The piece is titled Why You Never Seem to Have Enough Time, but since you can probably come up with a list of reasons why you never seem to have enough time on your own, I’m going to focus on the part of the article that looks at how to align disparate goals:

Why does passion seem to free up our time? The researchers who observed this phenomenon wanted to discover what was really going on.

They found a clue when they asked employees about how conflicted or aligned their goals were. Employees lacking in passion said that their goals were competing with each other, fighting for time and attention; for example, the drive to do well at work might make it hard to get home for dinner with the family. But passionate employees were different: They saw their goals as supporting each other. After all, healthy home cooking and family bonding might give them more energy and motivation tomorrow.

This is the type of example that’ll immediately devolve into a comment fight that goes something like “if I can’t get home in time for dinner then how am I supposed to do the healthy home cooking thing” followed by “I batch-cook and freeze meals on the weekend” and then by “I can’t (or don’t want) to spend my weekends cooking” and then by “there are websites that teach you how to make a month’s worth of meals in a day,” and then a reminder that some people live in food deserts which makes that kind of prepwork difficult, so now that I’ve had that argument, you all don’t have to.

Instead, focus in on the part where the “passionate” people (not a huge fan of that word but okay) are trying to be in a Space Mountain mood on the day they get to ride Space Mountain.

Once again, the typical comment: “yay I get to cook my own food so I have energy to give my labor to capitalism,” and yes, I totally get that, so let’s extend that last sentence a little. Healthy home cooking and family bonding might give these employees more energy and motivation both at work and with their families.

Or at work, with their families, and at their creative practice.

You know where I’m going with this, after all. 😉

Now that I’ve set up this idea of planning for the experiences you want to have and aligning disparate goals to support these experiences, I’m ready to tell you how I structure that planning and alignment in my own life.

I mean, I’ll tell you tomorrow.

Because I have to build the suspense just a little. ❤️

Where I Got Published Today: Bankrate, Haven Life

Bankrate: Your guide to Orbitz Rewards® Dining

If Orbitz is your go-to when it’s time to get out of town, you might want to enroll in Orbitz Rewards Dining. You’ll earn Orbucks® when you eat in or carry out at over 10,000 participating restaurants, bars and clubs, and you can redeem those Orbucks for stays at tens of thousands of hotels.

Haven Life: How 4 Couples Saved for Their Big Money Goals

It takes teamwork to achieve a big financial goal with your partner — and that means knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, avoiding micromanaging or criticism, and working together to get things done.

“Being a husband and wife team has many strengths and a few weaknesses,” Rebecca Davidson explained. “We were able to split roles in the business in a way that utilized each others’ strengths. I took on the front-of-house responsibilities and managed our staff, product, and day-to-day operations. Phil takes care of the back-of-house and does all of the coffee roasting. It has been amazing in our first year to have each other to help balance the workload and be understanding when the other has a lot going on in the business.”

Rebecca Davidson and her husband Phil own Dash Coffee Roasters in Cedar Rapids, btw. ❤️

How to Create the Systems/Structure in Which to Do Your Best Work: Part 1 (of Many)

Last week, I wrote a short post about how we know when we’re doing our best work.

Over the next week (or so), I want to write several posts about how to create the systems and/or structure in which we can do our best work — because although I absolutely agree with the whole “putting your butt in the seat is 90 percent of doing THE WORK” thing, it’s that other 10 percent that can transform THE WORK into your BEST WORK.

(Yes, I know that not all creative work involves a butt in a seat, don’t @ me.)

I’m going to kick this discussion off with something I heard on a recent episode of the Rope Drop Radio podcast, since I currently have Walt Disney World on the brain.

Also, it’s super-relevant.

In Episode 148, Bad Disney Advice, Derek Sasman and Doug McKnight explain why the whole “don’t get your FastPasses 60 days in advance because you don’t know what mood you’ll be in when you visit the parks” thing is terrible advice:

DOUG: I’ll tell you what mood you’re going to be in, in each park, 60 days out. You’re going to be in the Pandora mood, you’re going to be in the Slinky Dog mood, you’re going to be in the Space Mountain mood, what other mood am I missing? Test Track, Soarin’ mood? Come on, folks. Maybe a Frozen mood? I don’t even know you, and I know what mood you’re in when you’re going to walk around the park. But then you’re going to be miserable —

DEREK: Because you’re going to be waiting in line for two hours [without a FastPass].

DOUG: Have fun with that.

I agree with the gist of this — like, most people who visit WDW are going to want to ride one of the big headliner rides, and getting a FastPass in advance will help with that — but I want to look more closely at the word mood.

Because, as anyone who’s ever done a family vacation (or any kind of vacation) knows, you can spend six months thinking about how much fun it’ll be to ride Space Mountain and then, on the day of, you’ll be in the tired mood or the hungover mood or the my feet hurt mood or the if my dear loved one complains or whines one more time I’m going to scream mood.

So what you actually have to plan for, in addition to the FastPass, is how to be in a Space Mountain mood on the day you’re going to ride Space Mountain.*

I’d say “what does this have to do with creating your BEST WORK,” but I’m pretty sure you’ve already put it together. Planning to work on your project at a certain time, getting your butt in that seat, is only half of it.

The other half is doing your best to come to that seat in the right mood.

This is why you see many creative types say things like “I don’t check the news or social media until I’ve completed my work session, because I don’t want to see something that might turn my thoughts away from THE WORK.”

Why Tara K. Shepersky’s writing ritual included an early-morning walk before she sat down at her QWERTY.

Why I don’t do email until 10 a.m.

Those are just some of the systems and structures people put into place to help them do their BEST WORK — but, as this post title suggests, they aren’t the only ones.

We’ll discuss more tomorrow. ❤️

*Take this advice from someone who had Blue Bayou reservations and then ate this nasty Galactic Grill** meal that made her feel so gross that, two hours later, she wasn’t in a Blue Bayou mood. HUGE REGRETS. 

**Do not make the mistake of walking up to the Galactic Grill and thinking “yay, a place with no line!”

Where I Got Published Today: Vox

The best $5,929.10 I ever spent: moving back to the Midwest

As an author, I’m all too aware of the standard plot: Young person leaves town to seek their fortune, then — once they understand who they are and what they have to offer the world — they return home. Because it’s where the heart is, or something.

But the younger version of me hated that story, because she knew that the 2,500-person town in which she lived was not where her heart was meant to be.

Which is why, when I moved back, I chose Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

A two-hour drive away from my hometown.

Just in case you were curious as to how I ended up here. ❤️