Productivity hacks

I was out for a walk today when it occurred to me to write about how I’m getting some things done lately. I really have no idea what I was thinking about right before that idea.

Earlier this year I needed to add to my home office, a whole lot of stuff from the office of my part-time job. This is no doubt familiar to many of you. When I’m not making stuff out of yarn I’m a bookkeeper. So I moved equipment, paper files, hanging files cart, more paper and supplies into a corner of my fiber studio. I didn’t have the furniture to replicate my office and as I started getting into the rhythm of doing that work from home I realized that I relied an awful lot on visual prompts. The pile of invoices was a filing prompt. The pile of statements was a check printing prompt. And so on.

But I also didn’t want all that stuff out and in view, taking up space, when I wasn’t doing that job. I’ve figured out a system for stacking things in a small space that keeps them in order and still lets me see what work needs to be done.

Meanwhile, I’m managing production queues for hand knitting commissions, sock cranking, and weaving, along with a deep personal knitting queue.

When, you might wonder will she mention hacks? The key for me was realizing that I manage my work with visual cues. I’m a long time list-maker. If there’s a problem to solve or a situation to manage I will always say “we need a list”. I’ve tried the bullet journal. I want to love it, but it isn’t my best solution. What I do make liberal use of is:

  • Sticky notes
  • Reminders app
  • Colored pens, markers, & pencils (not productive, just because they’re fun)

Here’s some visuals

These are above my laptop, a quick reminder of things I need or want to do.

It’s pretty low-tech. But it works. That big sheet of paper is the back side of a wall calendar..

I used to worry that I wouldn’t remember to do the work if I couldn’t see it, but that was a lot of yarn that had to be out in the open. Now, new projects get a sticky note. I can easily rearrange them if I want to prioritize the queue

If there’s a hard deadline, especially if it’s a recurring task, I’ll set up a reminder. The. I don’t have to worry that if the thing isn’t right in my path on the day I’ll forget to do it.

If I have really big projects they might get sketched out in my journal, I do use it somewhat, but you can bet there will be a sticky note somewhere pointing me back at the journal page šŸ™‚

Taking stock

Towards the end of last year, as a very busy fall show and sales season was winding down, I casually mentioned to a few friends that I was tired and wanted to “take January off”, the subtext being, to relax and recharge. When pressed by these friends as to my intentions and specifics I started listing some of the things I would/wouldn’t do.

I wasn’t going to “work.” I wasn’t going to accept commissions, unless they were really interesting. I was going to tidy up my studio, sorting files that had become disorganized, and dealing with the scattered “to be filed” piles. As the conversations progressed, my friends gently pointed out that I didn’t really seem to be resting. Resetting my studio was still work (it’s where I work after all), and I was listing a pretty extensive set of things to do when I said I didn’t want to do much.

While a part of me was willing to admit that they were absolutely correct, I was also kind of irritated that they weren’t more supportive of my plan once I’d defined for them what I meant by the very vague “not working”.

A chance conversation with my cousin about her plans to start a business gave me a good deal to think about. As another solo-preneur she and I have similar business practices problems to solve and I offered myself as a resource. In the days following our chat one question came to mind that I’d forgotten to ask her, which was how much time was she planning to put into her business? Full-time? Or something less than that?

And then I had to laugh at myself. Because over the last few years as I’ve been building my business each of my friends has patiently listened to me talk about how it is going. These conversations were often a bit angst-ridden on my part as I would relate that I was tired, or not getting to the things that I needed to, feeling guilty about personal stuff that took time and meant I wasn’t working “enough” or wondering if I was “doing it right”, should I be doing X, Y or Z that other business people were doing?

Gently, but pointedly (they’re really good friends), each have asked me the same questions: How much time do you want to spend on your business? How many hours a week do you want to work? Invariably I’d squirm a bit and give one of these answers: “I still need to figure that out”, “That’s a really good question”, or “All of them?”

So, here it is mid-January. My vague “take the month off” plan has been refined somewhat. I’ve done a bit of studio infrastructure work; taking end of year inventory, restructuring my filing system. I’ve accepted a knitting commission, because I wanted to rather than from a compulsion to keep earning. But most of all I’m trying to give myself space. To think, to rest, to stop feeling guilty about taking time to think and rest.

I haven’t answered the How much time? question yet, but I’m starting to get a sense of it and that’s good for right now.

Space

My usual morning routine finds me in the studio with a cup of coffee and a knitting project. I love the early morning quiet, watching the sky lighten and the sun rise. And there is almost always some client project on the needles looking for my attention.

But this morning, I decided to spend some time reading first. I’ve pulled back to the top of my reading pile “Master Your Craft” by Tien Chiu. A book that I was very excited to purchase last summer and which has been falling ever deeper into the reading pile since. I had read a few pages when I first brought it home and was enjoying it, but production deadlines pushed it firmly into the “someday” pile.

I don’t know what prompted the shift in focus this morning, but as I read strategies for exploration, creativity and design I recalled that I have been wanting my studio time to be more than just production, more than just pushing out designs that I’ve already developed and refined. But I haven’t yet figured out how to do that. How to explore. It’s so … unstructured. There isn’t a plan to follow. And telling myself to “just play” hasn’t worked out so far.

Recently I was lunching with an artist friend, talking about this same idea and I mentioned that I’ve been wanting to try quilting and had even bought a small amount of fabric to play with. I committed, at that lunch weeks ago, to find the fabric and do something with it.

So after a few sections of the book I wandered into the studio to find the fabric. Finding it wasn’t really the issue, I knew exactly where it was, in a box marked “studio art” on a shelf in the closet. A box I packed up last summer before we moved into the new house. A box of art supplies, design prompts and fabric that I’d not made time for. As I found places for most of the box contents, I moved into a declutter and discard mindspace. I filled a bag with yarn donations from a bin that hasn’t been opened since the move. I found yarn that I thought I’d lost, and yarn that desperately needs a project to use it.

And as I was emptying and sorting and rediscovering, I realized that I wasn’t fretting at all about the production that wasn’t happening. I was allowing myself the space to be with my stuff and think about what it might want to be.

I was allowing myself space to be. To imagine. To not be manic about a deadline. It was an important first step on the way to experimenting/playing. To allowing myself to believe that there is more to my “work” than churning through production. That my growth as an artist requires having the space to try something new. And that the lifestyle I want to have is not that of a one-woman factory churning out the same thing over and over.

The fabric is on the sewing table. I didn’t get to it today, but it is out in the open waiting for me. And I thought, as I sorted, and then moved on to my current knitting project, about what my fabric might want to be.

So long 2017

As I write on the last day of the year, it is a bright and sunny, albeit cold, day here in Vermont. -2 right now with an expected high of maybe 3Ā°F. There is a wind chill advisory for tonight and I’m happy to be tucked up in our warm house with nowhere else to be right now.

Christmas tree with birds
Enjoying bird-o-vision

This isn’t going to be an exhaustive list of 2017 happenings. Nor is it a 2018 resolution list. I don’t really do either of those sorts of reckonings in a formal way. But as we come to the end of the holiday “break” and start back into the regular routine of life I find myself writing out a big to-do list and thinking a bit about what I might like to be different next year.

Many of the blogs I read are talking less about “resolutions” and more about self-care. As I went into the studio to grab my laptop I walked past the laundry room and noted that the hanging pieces were dry, so I folded them into the basket. Recalled that I wanted to wash all my hand-knit socks and started the tub filling while I got yesterday’s pair from the hamper. Tumbled the rest into the tub and started them soaking. Folded a few more things as I walked past the drying rack and 10 minutes later finally accomplished the original mission of fetching the laptop. A small illustration of the meandering, distracted paths that sometimes make up my day. And somewhere in all of this is the thought of being slightly more, I don’t know, mindful maybe? Focused on the task at hand? Organized isn’t really the right word. But I have noticed days where the meandering path, setting off a series of reminders of what isn’t done is more stressful than useful. I’d like a bit less stress in my life, wouldn’t you?

For amusement I’ve decided to try the dot journal thingie. I do live by lists and schedules and feel so much more in control when I’ve got those to-dos written down somewhere and not cluttering my brain. I bought a book (because that’s what I do) Dot Journaling — A Practical Guide by Rachel Wilkerson Miller, read it through and started building my journal. As much as I rely on my electronic calendar, I have never embraced electronic to-do lists. I prefer the piece of paper (or more than one) with a pen handy to jot down things as they occur to me. I don’t want to find the phone, launch the app and type on the tiny keyboard. Nor do I want to have it pinging at me every time it thinks I should be doing something. Really important infrequent stuff, sure. But not all 20-odd things I need to get done this week. [And no, thanks, not looking for suggestions for the app you know will work for me. Because I realized that it’s not just about how good the app is. It’s that I don’t want to spend that much time with my phone/iPad/electronic device.]

So, dot journal, bullet journal, paper & pen-based organizer. I’ve got a notebook and a pen and colored pencils (if I choose to get fancy) and the beginnings of a plan for the first week of 2018.

To sign off I leave you with this image. When I got up this morning this path had been made in our field. There’s a straight line and a half circle sketched above it. The sun rising over the horizon line? The image does face east. An unfinished “Kilroy was here”? Who were the mysterious visitors and what does it all mean?

snow path
half circle over horizon line

 

Summer camp with a detour

I sat down this morning to write about my new toy. I purchased a Schacht Zoom LoomĀ to play with.

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I’ve got tons of yarn leftover from socks and thought it would be fun to use it with this loom.

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Getting the hang of it

I’ve got a little corner in my new studio with a view of the pond and the trees that surround it. I’ve been spending a bit of time there the last few mornings, weaving squares and listening to the birds call. I feel a bit like a kid at summer camp. Doing crafts and making something that may or may not be useful when I get it home.

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A finished square ready to pop off the loom

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Fun with color in a 4″ squareĀ 

I have no expectations of these squares. No project in mind that they’ll become. I’m just playing. Spending a little quiet time in the morning before I get started with my day.


I took all my photos before sitting down to write, launched my photo browser and nothing was there! 30 or more minutes later I’d checked settings on phone and laptop, consulted tech support forums and stomped around the kitchen muttering under my breath. [Note to self, the latter doesn’t really fix any problems.] Still, no photos.

So on the advice of my expert technical consultant I restarted the computer. A few minutes later the new photos (and a whole lot more I didn’t realize were missing) started trickling in. My blog post is saved. My sanity is saved. I can stop being mad at my devices. I love technology, except when I don’t. It’s pretty amazing what we can do with these powerful computers we carry around in our back pockets. And when it doesn’t work right I just feel helpless and dependent.

Now it is time to put the computer aside and do some work. I’m weaving scarves. On a loom made of wood and metal. Moving parts that I understand how to use and to fix when they get cranky. No computer assist, no wires. Just feet on the treadles, hands on the beater and my imagination to dream up something to make.

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Tencel scarf in luxurious shades of rust, yellow and maroon

When I’m not stomping around the house muttering at technology I make lovely scarves and socks. I play with color and let my imagination run wild. Looking for something low-tech to brighten your day? Check out my Etsy shopĀ and see what speaks to you.

 

IntermissionĀ 

Our move date is nearly here and the house is filling up with boxes. Stacks of empty ones to be filled and stacks of packed ones ready to be transported across the yard to the new house. 

Studio packing in progress

There is much to do still. I’ve not been very organized about this so far so there is much disarray as you can see.

But for some reason the most pressing obligation this morning was some quiet time with my poor neglected spinning wheel. 

Spinning amidst the boxes

Today I was practicing plying. I’ve spun some fun blue and white merino and filled bobbins. I’m plying my singles into a two ply yarn. I finished the first skein a couple of weeks ago and just filled the second bobbin which is ready to wind into a skein.

I made yarn!

But now the packing calls. Quiet time is over and there is work to be done. My new studio awaits.

Rainy day bargain

It’s pouring down rain here in my bit of Vermont and rainy days make me want to sit on the couch with knitting and movies I’ve seen dozens of times.

But I’m behind on my weaving quota for the week so I’m at the loom for now.

Birds eye twill scarf. Variegated warp, solid weft, both Tencel.

The quota is, of course, self imposed as I am my own boss. So I bargained with myself. If I wove this morning I could knit this afternoon.  I don’t dislike the weaving process at all, I was just more inclined to something else today. I already feel great about the weaving progress and will likely finish this scarf and start the next before I call it quits at the loom today.

The eternal struggle

What I want to do today vs. what I should do today…

The luxury of being your own boss comes with a need for responsibility. Sure, I can take a day off whenever I want to. Or always prioritizeĀ the fun projects. But since I don’t have any employees, it only gets done if I do it. And my overarching business goal is not just to have fun.

I’ve just gone through a business assessmentĀ process with a fellow business owner. We reviewed our 2016 goals and set plans in place for 2017. We each have a good idea of what the first quarter looks like and we are creating the action item lists that will get us to our goals. For instance, it’s all very well to say I want to increase sales by 10% over last year. But I’m not going to get very far with that if I don’t work on my marketing consistently. Much as I like to pretend otherwise, serendipity is not my marketing tool.

Which brings me to today, and a little bit of self-back-patting, for putting aside the sweater I’m knitting for a client (the fun project) and setting up for a photo shoot (the responsible task.) The sun was out this morning and it was a perfect opportunity to take pictures without setting up all the supplementary lighting.

At the end of it, I’ve come away with fodder for this blog post, additional photos for an Etsy shop listing, some future instagram photos and most of my February newsletterĀ (subscribe here.)Ā And I’ve banked some time against my marketing goals, which in turn lessens my guilt when I next sit down to knit.

 

Quick hello

It’s been a little quiet here on the blog. It’s a chilly fall day here in Vermont. The wind is howling and there are some snow flurries blowing about. It’s a good day to be inside playing with wool. I’m weaving wool scarves as I get ready for Craft Vermont in just a few weeks.

Wool lace scarf on the loom

I’ve also been working on my monthly newsletter where I’m talking more about lace weaves. Subscribe now and see how this scarf is transformed when it comes off the loom.

Now back to the loom. I need to finish weaving so I can shoot the “after” pictures.

Scaling up

I’ve been accepted to a show in November, Craft Vermont, and I need to significantly increase my scarf inventory before then. One way to do that is to wind warps for multiple scarves in one run instead of one at a time. I’ve done this many times before when I weaveĀ dishtowels but up until now have preferred to do my scarves one at a time.

This has made sense when I have a limited supply of the warp yarn, or I’m going to useĀ a funky accent yarn. But when I am planning to use the same variegated yarn for the warp and vary the color of the weft yarn, it makes sense to add some efficiency to the process. On the up side, I only have to sley the reed and thread the heddles once. Likewise, tying on to the front and back rods. On the downside, I’m winding a longer warp (10 yards vs 3) for 3 scarves, and managing the length through the process of dressing the loom.

I also needed to know what length to weave. When I set up to weave a single scarf, I typically weave the full length of the warp (minus the waste) and whatever I’m allowing for fringe. I don’t have to measure as I go because I keep going until I can’t.Ā But with a 3-scarf warp I had some figuring to do. I knew how long the scarves were once I got them off the loom, but I hadn’t been measuring the weaving under tension and there’s always a loss of length (the take-up) between on loom and off.

I spent a few hours last weekend with my weaving notebook (notes on all the past projects) and my warp requirements planning spreadsheet and tried to figure it all out.Ā I’ll spare you all the gory details (email me if you really want to know more), but I finally had something I thought would work.

This week I wound a test warp, 10 yards, for three scarves.

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warp chain along with two of the three weft yarns

I can whip out a 1-scarf warp pretty quickly, so I hadn’t thought real hard about how much longer it was going to take to wind this one. Once it was finally ready for the loom the threading went as quickly as ever.

Then there was the winding on of the warp onto the warp beam. There were some issues. The first was a rookie mistake. I hadn’t used the loom since I unfolded it after the rug workshop so it wasn’t quite set up correctly. The rod that’s supposed to go up and over the back beam was instead snugged right up against the warp beam. As I was tying on I kept thinking that it didn’t look right, but I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. After tying on mostĀ of the warp bundles I realized the problem. I painstakingly untied about 9 double knots, moved the rod into place and started the knotting process over again. (If it had been the loom below, I could have removed the back beam, slid it under the threads and replaced it, but my Baby Wolf doesn’t have that capability.)

Here’s what it is supposed to look like (this is not a scarf!)

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Warp threads properly going over the back beam

Then it was time for the winding on. I warp from the front, so in this step I’m turning a crank and winding all of the warp threads through the reed and heddles from the front of the loom to the back and onto the beam that is covered with cardboard in the picture above. The cardboard (some use sticks or heavy paper) keeps the threads from sinking into the layers of threads that I’ve wound on and thus I maintain an even tension across the width of the warp.

As I wound on, I knew I needed to keep the tension even, but I was using a mishmash of cardboard rolls, some of which were more squished flatĀ than others, and it turns out I didn’t get it as tight as I should have. This was revealed to me only as I was weaving. I’d weave a couple of inches and go to advance the warp and there would be a lot more slack to take up than usual. Ā I’ve since cut a new 10-yard length of fresh corrugated to use and armed with that and this experience I’m hoping the next run will go much better.

I’m not doing anything here that I haven’t done many times before, but just making the one change, warp length, added some complexities to work out. I do think that in the long run it took less time overall to make the three scarves than if I had made them singly, and as with any process I expect to become even more efficient with practice.

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One warp, Painted Desert, three wefts: Greyed Teal, Taupe and Mineral Green

These haven’t been finished yet, they lack washing and pressing. If they look OK after that, they’ll go into inventory.


And finally, a reminder that the Vermont Sheep & Wool Festival is at the Tunbridge Fairgrounds on Saturday 10/1 and Sunday 10/2. Yarn, fiber, finished goods (I’m a vendor). Equipment, both for fiber processing and for animals. Sheep, alpacas, rabbits, and more. Loads of fun even if you aren’t a fiber person. Check out the website for a schedule of events including sheep herding demonstrations.

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