Photo by Hack Capital on Unsplash

“Washington Mutual, how may I help you?”

That was me. I was sitting in the middle of a call center in the San Fernando Valley, with a headset on and my fingers poised at a keyboard. It was a late and chilly Thursday night as I worked the night shift as a CSR for Washington Mutual Bank. I was one of those faceless people on the other end of the phone who help you figure out why the ATM ate your debit card. I got screamed at by angry people when their cards were declined and told how amazing I was when their account balance was higher than they had recorded. Not that I had anything to do with either. If it had been up to me, I would have just given everyone a little financial boost, sort of like Matthew Broderick in WarGames. Sadly, that was not in my power. I was just a telephone bank clerk.

It wasn’t horrible, but it was definitely not where I saw myself at 30. We lived in a tiny apartment next to an industrial park. Our two kids shared a bedroom. Jenni had a coupon book that magically provided groceries we couldn’t otherwise afford. Our little car had no AC and a clutch that worked when it wanted to.

Just the year before, we were living in New York City and I was head of the storyboard department for the globally phenomenal TV show, Blue’s Clues. It was a glamorous, high-paying job and it was so amazing that I… gave it up. I know, right? After only a short while in television I got this bee in my bonnet that we could move to Los Angeles and I could work in animation there.

That didn’t happen as quickly as I imagined. The few things that I had lined up before we left NYC fell through and I was suddenly very much unemployed. I continued to freelance for a couple of directors on Blue’s Clues, but it wasn’t quite enough to keep our heads above water. Credit cards suddenly made possible what my low income could not (hot tip: don’t do that).

When the credit card delinquency calls started, we knew that we couldn’t go on much longer like that. I did the only thing that made sense, which was to get any kind of job I could find, and fast. 

Hello, headset.

It was on that chilly Thursday night that my friend and animation director called me from NYC and asked how things were going. When I told him, he offered me a job doing animation on Blue’s Clues again, on a freelance contract. My heart took a leap and almost knocked me out of my swivel chair. Small wrinkle: I had to actually be in NYC. Still, it was more money than the call center and I could bandage my wounded pride, so ultimately I said yes. Two friends graciously offered their floors to sleep on, and back across the country I went. Jenni and the kids stayed behind in our tiny Valley apartment on stilts. It wasn’t ideal, but it was a solution that paid the bills, even if temporarily.

I was back in animation. I turned in my headset and felt a renewed sense of pride that I lost when I took the job at the bank.

Not long ago, there was a big ol’ hubbub about Geoffrey Owens, an actor known for The Cosby Show, when someone found him working at a Trader Joe’s in New Jersey. He hadn’t had any steady acting gigs in several years, His residuals also dried up when networks pulled the reruns because of Bill Cosby’s lesser-known work of abusing women was finally brought to light. So he did what he had to do. He got a job to pay the bills. And of course, as soon as he was “discovered,” the internet shamed him for falling off Mount Olympus and ringing up groceries for mortals.

With all the media attention, he was soon offered a job on several series and films. Later he said, “I found myself in the dark wood of unemployment and debt, but instead of switching careers like a sane person, I took a job at a local Trader Joe’s to see if I could hang in there with my career and it’s actually worked out pretty well,” he said. “I’m Geoffrey Owens and I’m an actor!”

In a separate interview, Owens also summed up the way we need to think about work in general:

“…[O]ne type of work is not better or superior than another type of work, so we reevaluate that whole idea and start honoring the dignity of work and the dignity of the working person.”

I’ve often asked myself what I would have done if I hadn’t been invited back to freelance on Blue’s Clues. Between the two gigs, I definitely had a preference and it wasn’t staring at a screen all day… except that ironically, I did end up staring at a screen all day, just a very different screen. TV paid more and was certainly more interesting than reciting bank lobby hours over the phone.

I’m still not ashamed that I took that bank job. Ten out of ten debt collectors and kids agree (there have been several joint polls, I’m not going to find them for you), paying bills and eating dinner are overwhelmingly preferred.

Much of getting what we want in life comes down to persistence. If you really want something, you have to ask yourself if you want it enough to keep doing it even when the chips are down, your back is against the wall and Kylo Ren won’t stop chasing you (a limited demographic, I admit).

If you want it, you’ll do what you have to do. The only shame is in giving up when it gets too hard.

For more inspirational quotes such as, “Don’t give up, just go on!” and a song by a skating snail, check out Blue’s Big Musical Movie*. Look me up in the credits and say hi.

*Affiliate link

I have a long and weird history with analog organizational products. Starting around age seven, I developed a mild folder fetish, spurred along by gloriously shiny document holders with The Muppets on them. Then there was that year I asked for a Trapper Keeper for Christmas. My mother simply blamed it on my Virgoness and indulged me. Throughout my working life, I’ve kept and discarded too many systems to count. Just hearing the name Franklin Covey still makes my upper lip sweat in anticipation.

A few years ago, I designed a planner myself. It never really took off, but going through that process led me down the rabbit hole of the latest in planner tech, culminating in my purchase of not one, but three Passion Planners. I was sucked in by the idea of planning my life and the gorgeously embossed covers cinched the deal.

After using them for a while, I started to notice that while I had every moment scheduled and all passions planned, I still felt a little chaotic. Something was missing. I was still writing notes and making sketches in other books or on printer paper. There wasn’t room in the little pre-designed boxes for my random shower thoughts and weird doodle ideas. I felt a little hemmed in by all those little boxes. I needed a new system.

Then I found out about Bullett Journaling. Jenni was doing it and sent me to the website. I admit that at first I wasn’t sure if it would work for me. I was still in Planner Denial. I decided to try it for a while and see what happened.

Wait. What is a Bullet Journal?

If you don’t already know, a Bullet Journal is a totally individualized system of tracking thoughts, notes, drawings, and yes, your schedule if you want.

A human named Ryder Carroll created the system.

Diagnosed with learning disabilities early in life, he was forced to figure out alternate ways to be focused and productive. Through years of trial and error, he developed a methodology that went far beyond simple organization. – BuJo website

A Bullet Journal (BuJo if you’re nasty), is more than just another glorified to-do list or boring scheduling planner. Yes, it can be that, but what I love about it is how individualized it can be. If you want to catalogue your DVD library or create a meal plan, you can do it here. There’s no end of ways you can use your Bullet Journal. You can track workout progress, keep a list of places you want to visit before you die, or just use pages for a brain dump (my favorite). I love the analog aspect of taking pen to paper, taking time to get all the things out of my head and stored somewhere I can easily find them. Sure, I can do this on my iPhone a lot faster, but it doesn’t have the same effect on my mental state.

Plus, it’s called a journal because it is one. What I also love about Bullet Journaling is the ability to look back and see what I’ve been doing over the past months or years, and see if I’m growing or still stuck in the same place.

Ryder sells a premade BuJo on his website, but you can pick up any dotted notebook at your favorite stationary store. I got mine at Michaels for under $10. I also picked up some colored pens because I’m a geek about writing instruments.

How do you use it?

There are tons of videos about how people do their BuJo. Seriously, there are endless ideas about cataloguing, listing and brain dumping. On the website, there’s a quick tutorial about getting set up and after that, it’s totally up to you to make it fit your life and your brain.

How Bullet Journaling saved my brain

I feel like I’ve finally found my system. I start every day (before email) by sitting down quietly with my Bullet Journal and planning my day. I’ll create tasks, but I also look back at my year and month to make sure that the things I might do that day are taking me in the right direction.

Throughout the day, I’ll come back to my journal, take some of the buzzing bees in my head and stick them where they belong, on paper. Getting that stuff out of my head frees me up to think other thoughts or just focus on what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s magical.

Do you use a Bullet Journal? If you do, please comment below! I would love to hear about how you use it and what it’s done for you.

Those USB charging stations at airports and other public spaces are super convenient. For a lot of travelers like me who used to spend precious airport time scouring gates for outlets, they were a godsend.

Unfortunately, as convenient as they are, we need to stop using them. Apparently, they are not secure and pose a huge risk for your smartphone data.

According to this report published by The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, “Travelers should avoid using public USB powercharging stations in airports, hotels and other locations because they may contain dangerous malware.”

Wow. That’s enough for me to stay away.

Thankfully, there are other options besides going back to crawling around on floors looking for an unused outlet. Lately I’ve been carrying around this charger from heyday. It’s small, light and lasts a really long time. Mostly I’ve been using it for long days at festivals and day trips, but it’s perfect for getting you through air travel.

Hopefully some tech genius will create a way to protect people who use those public USB charging stations. In the meantime, don’t risk getting hacked.

There’s a newish platitude making its merry way around the internet, maybe you’ve heard it. It’s about getting up before 5 a.m. to achieve Massive, Ultimate, and Total Global Domination. It’s mostly in passive income and entrepreneurial type memes and usually attributed to Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett and somewhat mysteriously, Einstein. Apparently, they were all known for waking up before the birds and that’s why they are (were) massively successful and you are, well, just plain old, massively failing you.

I’ve found myself caught up in this one at times. It’s hard to look at those guys and not compare your own routines, wondering if maybe imitating Warren Buffett would also make you a billionaire. Then I realize that you could really take this too far and wind up drinking milkshakes in an Omaha diner every day. Shudder.

The thing is, none of the memes and articles ever get too deep about why we’re all supposed to wake up early and drink milkshakes. There are also no dots connected between parking in the handicapped spot and success. I think we can all stop pondering if that’s a good idea.

Over time I’ve learned that more important than simply copying what other successful people do or did in their daily lives, is the realization that what made them successful is that they created their own routines. If Steve Jobs got up at 4 a.m. every morning, it’s because it fit his lifestyle and made sense for the things he wanted to accomplish. He very likely didn’t know or care about Warren Buffett, Mark Cuban or Ariana Huffington’s daily routines. That’s what made them successful, the fact that they knew themselves and knew what worked for them.

Have a Routine. But Make it Yours.

I have a morning routine. It goes kind of like this:

  1. Wake up around 7:15 or so (I don’t use an alarm)
  2. Go to my movement space and do some yoga, stretching and/or meditation
  3. Make coffee and breakfast for our family
  4. Sit down and plan my day using my bullet journal

I try to stick to that routine as much as possible. There are, of course, days where I wake up tired, skip the yoga and go straight to coffee (coffee!). A couple days I might walk after breakfast instead of stretching before.

This works for me, but it may not work for you. You might even be thinking that I’m either lazy for getting up so late or insane for rising before 8:00 a.m.. And that is exactly the point. We are all unique. Every one of us has our own body clock and circumstances that change the way we structure our days.

Learn about yourself. Find what works for you and build your own morning routine around that. Otherwise, you might find yourself still not a billionaire and asking a Nebraska waitress if this is really how Warren takes his coffee.

For those of us who work at home, carving out our own special working space is a priority. Depending on your living situation, you might be lucky enough to have an entire room that’s designated as your permanent office. Or, you may feel fortunate if you can even hack together a tiny part of the bedroom that isn’t taken up by dirty laundry. Whatever you can manage, it’s crucial to have some kind of designated space (even temporary) where you can conduct your business.

Have you ever considered how amazing it can be to also carve out your own movement space? Maybe you have one and you’re loving it and it saves your life every day and you want to send me photos (please do). Or, maybe you’re wondering what the hell is a movement space?

A movement space is exactly what the name implies. Like your office, it’s a designated place for you to move your body that’s different from other designated spaces in your home, like the kitchen or the bathroom. Obviously, we move in those spaces. We move in all spaces. So how is this different?

What is a Movement Space?

It sounds fancy, but it’s really just a space designated for you to move your body without interruption, sort of like a space for meditation or spiritual practice. Like having a designated space for sleeping and for working, it’s a place just for you to move.

I’m sure you’ve read about the importance of getting up and moving regularly to avoid stiffness, (and possibly even death caused by deep-vein thrombosis. That’s fun to think about. Thanks, WebMD). It’s important for humans who sit a lot to get up and move frequently.

Creating a special space to practice a little bit of movement is just as helpful as having a designated place to work. If you claim a place for it, it’s more likely you’ll do it consistently.

What do you do there?

Unlike suiting up and going to a gym to lift weights or ride the elliptical, a movement space is more for things like easy stretching or yoga. That’s what I do in my space. You could do headstands, push ups, or even walk in place. The magic is in the fact that it’s totally your call. You decide how you’ll move there, and nobody is judging your movements or telling you to “AMP IT UP, NERDS!” like in your spin class.

You don’t need to build an addition for this

Your movement space doesn’t have to be a Silver Linings Playbook-style studio behind your house. In fact, it can just be a little bit of space on the floor. The important thing is that you designate that space as yours and it’s private, even if only while you’re using it.

I would suggest that you make it someplace other than the place where you work, if possible. The reason is that part of the joy and effectiveness of having that space is that it’s separate from your working space.

Here’s mine:

The rug is from IKEA, the glare is from the Sun.

This is actually a spot on the floor in my wife’s office. It’s got a big fluffy rug and just enough room for me to stretch out or do some yoga. I love this photo because it demonstrates that your space doesn’t have to be ready for a Dwell Magazine shoot. It’s not IKEA-catalog sterile and perfect and that’s okay for me. I mostly use it in the morning and of course, with her permission because it’s her work space. And yes, that’s an air mattress. We’re testing it because our son is coming home for the holidays.

I’ve actually designated even smaller spaces when traveling, like a little corner of my hotel room or once in the middle of a downtown law firm’s library (hardly used, very quiet, new carpeting).

The important thing is that your space is ready for you when you are. If you have to move the laundry or clean up the kids’ toys every time, chances are you’ll just say “forget it” and go back to work stiff and cranky. So designate your spot and keep it ready, always.

Share your space!

Do you have a movement space? Are you going to set one up? I’d love to hear about it. Photos optional, but always encouraged. Leave a comment below.