asimpleframe

Transition

Big transitions in life don’t happen every day: graduating, starting a new job, getting married, having a child, moving, etc. Instead, most days are comprised of ordinary moments: repeating the same routines, habits, and tasks over and over. The repetition makes every day feel like every day. All the mundane details fade from memory.

Transition points are not normal days. When life is disrupted, ordinary details become new again. Traveling the same route to work each day, we stop noticing the scenery. On a new route to work, however, the scenery becomes alive and interesting once again. This is the special, unusual effect of transition points: the power to notice, reexamine, and reevaluate the details of life.

As reported two years ago, Target (and other retailers) do their best to take advantage of the unique nature of transition points:

There are, however, some brief periods in a person’s life when old routines fall apart and buying habits are suddenly in flux. One of those moments — the moment, really — is right around the birth of a child, when parents are exhausted and overwhelmed and their shopping patterns and brand loyalties are up for grabs.

Routinized shopping patterns and brand loyalties are only the tip of the iceberg. Amidst the disruption of day-to-day routines, decisions that were once on auto-pilot are overridden by thoughtful control. Choices are reevaluated. Routines are changed.

Today marks one such transition for me personally. My role as a Visual Designer for HGTV has come to an end. Monday marks the beginning of a new adventure (details soon).

It is an exciting time – a transition point. Though all is seemingly in flux, reinvention and renewal awaits. Taking notice anew of everyday details makes each day longer and more vibrant.

Ultimately, transition is adventure – bidding farewell to the familiar and welcoming the unknown. Though difficult, it is rewarding. The lows can sink lower, but the highs soar higher.

Focus on each new day, don’t worry about tomorrow, soak in the details, and move forward one step at a time. Onward.

Plans

Consider the following quotation from the Psalms:

As for man, his days are like grass;
    he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
    and its place knows it no more.

And the following teaching from Jesus:

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Meditate on how these two ideas come together:

To you who boast tomorrow’s gain
Tell me what is your life
A mist that vanishes at dawn
All glory be to Christ!

Plans – we make them for a future we can’t control. Plans are necessary and good, but they often become a source of false security. We feel secure when we have a plan. But a plan is not a promise of what tomorrow will bring.

It’s tempting to boast in “tomorrow’s gain.” Yet the fallacy of doing so becomes clear when circumstances are in flux. The true nature of a plan is revealed: uncertainty. A plan is an educated guess, not a guarantee.

To look to the future with certainty is, in a word, foolish. To accept this truth is to be humbled, acknowledging the limits of human knowledge. We desire to know the future but are forced to look outside of ourselves to seek it.

What plans have you made recently?

Edit Ruthlessly

A year ago, I wrote the words “Edit Ruthlessly” on the chalkboard wall in our house. These two words have become an informal family motto, challenging us to live more simply.

The idea came after watching Grant Hill’s 5-minute TED talk: Less stuff, more happiness. Hill makes a compelling case for the freedom afforded by having less (admittedly, a first-world problem). His first point of advice? Edit ruthlessly:

We’ve got to cut the extraneous out of our lives and stem the inflow.

This process is slow and unending. Like any other discipline, simplicity gradually takes root as new habits are formed. Over time, store shelves and “buy now” buttons become less and less alluring. Purchases are made with more and more discernment.

Two other sources of inspiration have been helpful. The first, The Minimalist Mom, challenges the cultural norms of stuff in the context of family and children. The other, Moving Upstairs, is an essay by Jack Cheng that outlines a helpful framework for evaluating what stuff is truly useful.

Living with words has power. Passing the chalkboard wall everyday, both consciously and unconsciously, gave resolution to our goals. They are words that have yet to be erased.

Good Service

A lot of companies and brands talk about good service (putting the customer first, adding delight, etc). Unfortunately, real-life experiences often fall far short of marketed promises. The truth is: if your service is great, you won’t need to talk about it. Your customers will.

I recently experienced truly great service. I stepped into an unfamiliar coffee shop, failed to notice the ordering instructions, and stood in the wrong line. I should have felt foolish and embarrassed, but the first employee I spoke with didn’t let me. He rearranged the ordering process to accommodate my mistake, as if I was correct all along. A second employee who finished my order acted the same. They didn’t just make me coffee. They helped me have a good day.

Such experiences of good service are powerful. They linger in your memory. You share them with your friends and anyone who will listen. After all, I’m still thinking, and now writing, about my experience. That’s the best advertising (branding, etc) money can’t buy.

12 Projects in 12 Months

More than three years have passed since I first acquired the itch to learn how to screen print. In that time, I’ve purchased books on screen printing, read about screen printing, and planned the layout of a screen printing studio in my garage. I even purchased a small refrigerator to store photo emulsion. Despite all this activity, there is one thing I haven’t done yet: screen print.

As embarrassing as it is to tell this story, it hints at a broader truth. Namely, in order to say yes to something, you must first learn to say no. Over the past three years, I’ve said yes to several side projects that left no time or space for screen printing. These side projects have been for worthy causes, and I’m glad to have completed them. However, they were ultimately draining.

In my current stage of life, I’m learning that it’s okay to say no to worthwhile projects for the sake of joy and creativity. There needs to be space in life to work on energizing projects of a more personal nature. It’s not self-absorption. It’s creative rejuvenation – simply taking joy in the act of creating.

To this end, I would like to make an announcement. Over the course of the year, I will complete one personal project each month: 12 Projects in 12 Months. The reasoning for this structure is straightforward. Twelve is a number large enough to significantly dent my growing backlog of project ideas. One month’s time will force me to limit the scope of each project to something realistically achievable.

I will document the end result of each project on the 12 Projects in 12 Months section of this site (simply a placeholder at the time of this writing). Additionally, follow me on Instagram for updates and process photos throughout the year.

This marks the jumping off point. I don’t have the whole year’s projects planned out perfectly yet. Some projects will be more successful than others. Some might fail. But each project will be an energizing adventure into the unknown. When the year is done, I likely still won’t have my own screen printing studio. But at the very least, I will have screen printed something.

Attention

Attention is extremely valuable. The valuations of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat prove it. Consider Facebook’s offer to buy Snapchat:

$3 billion in cash, according to people familiar with the offer, for a two-year-old app with no revenue and no timetable for revenue (emphasis added)

Attention (with a median age of 18 in the case of Snapchat) is valued far more highly than revenue.

Think about advertising. Advertisers spend tens of billions of dollars to buy attention. Your attention. It’s that valuable.

How do you value your attention? Who or what has your attention? How do you allocate this most valuable resource?

Three takeaways…

  1. Value your attention highly. You likely undervalue it.
  2. Be discriminating when you give your attention away. Your attention is too valuable to watch a TV show you don’t care about, not to mention the commercials.
  3. Give more of your attention to people and meaningful work than to consumptive screens. Keeping your phone in your pocket while talking to someone is perhaps the ultimate way to affirm a person’s worth in our culture.

If I have your attention, thank you. I’ll do my best not to waste it.

Saying No in The New Year

The dawn of the New Year marks a time to look ahead and dream about the future. Often involved are making resolutions and setting goals. I once encountered some advice on this topic that has stayed with me through the years. Initially, I didn’t fully grasp it, but its meaning has deepened over time. The advice? It is more important to think about what you’ll stop doing rather than what you’ll start.

Ultimately, setting goals is an attempt to budget our most valuable resource: time. What we spend our time on, and thus our attention, determines how we live our lives. When we say yes to one thing, we also say no to hundreds of other things at the same time. And there is only room for so many yeses.

Resolutions and goals are often only about saying yes. What are the things we want to start doing in the New Year that we aren’t doing already? Missing from the equation are the things we will say no to in order to make room for the new yeses.

Consider Dieter Rams’ famous dictum: less but better. Saying no to the unessential frees us to focus our time and attention on what is most important. Thus, we do what is most important better, because there is less to distract us from it.

This concept lies at the heart of A Simple Frame – a name inspired by Jim Collins’ excellent article Best New Year’s Resolution? A ‘Stop Doing’ List:

Looking back, I now see Rochelle Myers as one of the few people I’ve known to lead a great life, while doing truly great work. This stemmed largely from her remarkable simplicity. A simple home. A simple schedule. A simple frame for her work.

Collins’ article is the best articulation of the idea of saying no in the New Year. Do yourself a favor – read it.

Ask yourself these questions: What does simplicity look like in your life? What is unessential that can be cut away? What is the best use of your time and attention?

This New Year, what will you stop doing in order to reach your goals?