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Creating New Habits

Heidi Shenk "business" daily life

creating new habits

Two weeks ago, when I shared my goals for this year, I mentioned self-sabotage. Sabotage may seem like a harsh term, but when small things that I have the ability to control change the course of each day, the word sabotage seems appropriate.

For me, it was the little things. I'd check my email first thing in the morning, leading me into a rabbit hole of unproductive habits. I'd hit the snooze button eight times before finally getting up, leaving me feeling groggy and losing a couple hours of my day. I'd put off tasks that were tedious until the last minute, leaving me feeling stressed and even more annoyed about having to complete them.

I had already identified that I was doing these things, but I needed to make a conscious effort if I wanted to toss these bad habits to the curb. So far, almost two weeks into the new year, I've stayed on track with my efforts. I decided that in order to create new habits, I needed a better routine. I'd mentioned before that I had a list of strategies that I was going to try to put into place. Here's a look at a few of these strategies I have used in order to try and create new habits that lead to better productivity.

1 // I make a schedule and to do list for my day the night before. Every evening after dinner, I've sat down with my planner to schedule in both daily to dos and important tasks for the next day. This gives me a chance to reflect on my day and identify what went as planned and what could have been better. It also allows me to clear my head of pressing tasks so I'm not thinking about them while trying to sleep. In the morning, it gives me a running start since I don't need to spend that time in the morning trying to organize my thoughts and my day.

2 // I moved my alarm to my dresser across the room instead of on the nightstand beside the bed. This may seem like a small thing, but it's perhaps the best change I've made so far in my attempt to change bad habits. When my alarm goes off, I have to get up to turn it off. I set one alarm for 7am, 6 minutes earlier than I used to get up when I was still teaching. Usually, Andrew is out of the house at this time, taking Lilah for her morning walk. This means, I have two options-- stay in bed and listen to the horrid sound of the alarm, or get out of bed to turn it off. No one else is going to do it for me. And it has worked. Once I'm out of bed, I'm cold, so I head to the shower to warm up.

3 // I take a shower before breakfast. As mentioned in the last point, because I must get out of bed to turn off the alarm, it leads me to take a shower before I do anything else. This is a game changer. Before, I had the goal to be showered and dressed before 9. Sometimes that happened and sometimes it didn't depending on how comfortable my yoga pants were and how much coffee and reading I wanted to enjoy in the morning. Because I take a shower before anything else, I feel as though I've gained an entire extra hour in my day.

4 // I schedule time to read and respond to email and close Gmail at all other times. Big game changer. If Gmail isn't open, I don't know if new emails arrived in my inbox. If I know I'm setting aside time to respond to emails, I don't feel as though I must check my email first thing in the day. One day, I went until 3 in the afternoon until I remembered that I probably should check in to see if a customer needed a response. I'm hoping to stick with this.

5 // I schedule and take breaks. This has definitely amped up my productivity. In the morning, I take a 30-45 minute break at 10am, to do yoga. It gives me something to look forward to while I spend the previous two hours working. Additionally, I've noticed some major benefits of this practice in only a few weeks (I'll save that for another post). I schedule another break at noon for lunch and reading time, and yet another break around 3 to run to the post office and grab a snack. Each time my break is over, I feel refreshed and ready to go, and my productivity before the scheduled break time peaks as I work to get my task done in the allotted amount of time.

I've stuck with my plan and I've accomplished a lot in the seven work days that I've implemented these strategies. I've been checking things off of my to do list and goals sheets left and right, which becomes a bit addictive and rewarding at the same time. I've often read that it takes 21 days to form a habit, one that you do without having to consciously think about. If that holds true, I'm a third of the way there in creating new habits. Maybe I'll check back in with you on day 14.

Have you formed any new habits lately? What strategies have you used to try to form new habits? Am I late on this alarm clock thing? Because seriously, that was the biggest game changer for me.




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Taking Risks and Making Changes

Heidi Shenk "business" "cards" "design" Valentine's Day

A couple of years ago, I wrote about learning to take risks. While it is true that I've pushed myself over the years in new ways, there has been one thing that has felt too scary to take on. In the past three years, I feel as though I've found my place and voice in what I do. A lot has changed in the five years that I've owned my business, and I feel as though I didn't get to focus as much on the design aspects of my cards until I got to spend a lot more time with them.

While teaching, I was constantly a ball of stress. I worked long days and the time I had after school to work on my business was extremely limited. Once I began spending my full work week on my business, I feel as though my business was able to grow in new ways that were a better reflection of myself as well as the art that I've been creating my entire life. In the process, old cards from my first years in business, no longer fit the aesthetic of my work-- something that has bothered me for quite some time.

For the past two years, I struggled with feeling happy with the old designs. In fact, I truly hated some of them. Some of these cards just happened to also be some of my most popular. For me, it was scary thinking about changing something so popular because of an undying fear that it would make my business collapse or go up in flames the instant I made any change. I waffled over the idea of redesigning them in subtle ways to better reflect my current process and products. For two years, I waffled. Two years. I asked friends and family their opinions, and then did nothing. And I still felt agitated by it all.

This week, I finally decided to do something.

And you know what? The world didn't come crashing down around me. My business is still here. I am not being engulfed by flames. And most importantly, I feel better.

For those of you who are lost, and don't recognize the card above, this is my most popular card. I have sold thousands of these since the design was launched three years ago. This is the card that made it possible for me to quit teaching. This is the card that started it all.

Taking the risk to redesign this card was beyond scary, but for me, having a cohesive line of cards that reflect who I am is more important to me than succumbing to that fear. Now that I've made the leap, you'll begin seeing a few other subtle changes in my shop as I transition a few other designs in the same way.

And guys, what do you think of the new design? Have you been stepping out of your comfort zone lately? Have you been faced with tough business decisions like this before?

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Cleaning Up Shop: Before & After

Heidi Shenk "business"

Before I jump into today's post, I would like to send out a big thank you to my handmade community in response to Friday's post about turning down a big opportunity. I received many encouraging words through all sorts of outlets on Friday, and I'm thankful for that!

And here we are, Monday morning, and I'm attempting something completely new-- getting up early. The first day was a success, but I'll have to work extra hard at this because if you know me, you know I am simply not a morning person. And while we're on the topic of new routines, I decided to share a quick before and after of something I've been working on recently-- updating product photos.

Some of these photos have been floating around in my Etsy shop for much too long. And by much too long, I mean a couple of years. And while the photos were good enough to still allow me to sell the product, I can honestly say that after I updated several of the photos, I sold that product within minutes. That was a big enough sign that I was doing something right, so even though it's a bit of an arduous task, I decided that it was a must for me to slowly take it on. In addition, I've been playing a bit with product styling. Here's a look at some before and afters.

stud1.jpg Stud Muffin 2.jpg Chevron Stationery Chevron Stationery Best Dad Ever Card Best Dad Ever Card Cute Butt Valentines Day Card Cute Butt Valentines Day Card

While the task of reshooting product photos does take time, I think the payoff is a good one. I love that my photos look more professional, crisp, and bright. It's a task that I've put on my list of things to do when I have a few spare minutes. If I'm waiting on a batch of cards to print or have a few minutes to spare while my pencil press warms up, I've been snapping a few photos instead of taking a break.

Have you been doing any fine tuning in your shop lately? What tasks could you take on to make your shop more appealing?

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Hello 2015

Heidi Shenk "business" daily life goals

Hello 2015

While I realize that I'm getting around to this somewhat obligatory post quite a bit later than most of you, I still needed to write it. You see, it's been quite an interesting start to 2015 already in my world, and that's led to a whole lot of that "holy shit I'm getting old and need to get it together" type of thinking. So for me, even though I may be late to the game, I still find value in writing about a new start for the year. And for what it's worth, in my book, it's never too late to start something, so it's quite alright by me if I'm straggling behind in writing down my yearly hopes and goals.

After visiting a whole lot of family both in Cleveland and in Indiana over the holidays, I felt a tad bit overwhelmed by some things that occurred. Two situations arose both three days before I arrived and three days after I left Indiana in which family members essentially escaped death. In addition, nothing was how I remembered it to be from my previous visits. As I told my mom on the phone shortly after our visit, "I spent an afternoon with my 90 year old grandmother, another afternoon with my 83 year old grandparents, one who is dealing with dementia. My 13 year old childhood cat is so old that he's like a boney curmudgeon, yet he refused to leave my lap, and my other cat died a month before I got to see her one last time. And the town is NOTHING like it used to be, and feels like a foreign place. It's as if EVERYTHING is dying!"

While my "everything is dying" freak out moment is probably not the most optimistic way of starting the year, I can say that it left me thinking about what is important to me and how I want to continue building my life. Some things are new items of my list, and others are things that I want to continue working toward. All of them sort of revolve around the idea of being more intentional about how I do things and how my time is being spent throughout the day.

1 // Continue learning new things. Over the past two years, I've taught myself two new printing techniques-- both with my foil press and starting to print at the letterpress studio. I've learned new information, new recipes, new techniques for doing things, new things about my city. Lifelong learning is so important to me, and I want to continue that learning this year. I'm starting to brush up and practice my French, and I hope to be back to a conversational level. I'm learning to play the piano, very slowly, but surely. I put new strings on my guitars and hope to play regularly again. I want to learn something new as part of my paper business as well-- maybe try screenprinting. Most of these things also have to do with turning the tv off, disconnecting, and focusing on something a lot more fulfilling.

2 // Get out of the house a least once a week. Andrew and I have a plan for this. We're getting back to a weekly habit we'd developed after returning from Australia over a year ago. Wednesday night will be our night out. It's nothing fancy. The plan consists of us trying a new bar or restaurant for one drink, and nothing more. We get out of the house for an hour or so, expose ourselves to a new place we've never been, and enjoy doing nothing but having conversation during that time, and all at a reasonable cost that doesn't break the bank. Week one was already a success.

3 // Make more local art connections. In Baltimore, there is a fantastic arts and handmade community. The only problem is that if you're not already part of that community, it's hard to be accepted by it. I've struggled with this for several years now and it really started to bring me down. Being denied by that existing community made me feel as though what I create wasn't good enough. I'm done feeling that way, and I'd rather seek out my own art community instead. I'm already part of the way there. I have a small group of other artists that I'll soon hopefully be meeting with on a monthly basis. And I'm hoping to also connect with another printer to do a local event this summer. Baby steps, but I'll get there.

4 // Find community within my personal life. Along the same lines, we tend to feel a bit out of the loop in most situations. We've lived in Baltimore for eight years, but we don't have a lot of friends. We aren't religious, so we don't go to a church thus there are no instant connections with other people in that regard. We're not always into the events that are put on in our neighborhood as a lot of them revolve around large parties and drinking. Let's face it, we're not trying to act like we're in college anymore or party our faces off. We'd rather have meaningful conversation and community. It was finally decided that if we can't find the kinds of community events we'd like to be a part of, then we can create our own, and if people come, they come. And if they don't come, then they don't, and neither is a bad thing. We're having a successful start with this as well.

5 // Be more organized and follow through. This is a continuation from last year. I'm making small progress here and there. I purchased what I would call the most intense planner I've ever seen in my life. I've continued planning out my days the night before, so that I'm able to unwind from work, and focus on new tasks ahead. We got rid of quite a lot of stuff in our house, and the idea is to continue on that trend. I still need to work on following through on things that I set my mind to, but I'm getting better with that as well, which is why I've already made progress on some of the above goals.

6 // Find affordable studio space of my own. This is more of a hope than a goal, but at the same time I feel very driven to get to this point. While I'm really enjoying sharing a small production studio at the moment, I ultimately would love to have my own space in which I can do all aspects of my work-- the designing, production, and shipping. My home studio is simply too small. It's a daily struggle. I cut card stock while sitting on the floor because it's the only space I have available to do that task. It's extremely cramped quarters and just not practical. It's the kind of space that is so small that as soon as you clean it, you begin a new task and it's instantly cluttered again. When I receive my card stock and envelope orders from my suppliers, my studio becomes nothing but boxes stacked on boxes. So yes, this is a huge hope for me this year.

7 // Send more snail mail. I started doing this last year when I got my my PO box, and I'd like to do even more letter writing this year. It gives me a chance to stop for a few minutes and think about what's happening in my daily life and how I relate to others in this world. I didn't take time out of my busy holiday schedule to write my own Christmas cards, and that really bothered me. If you have a similar goal, or would like to try getting back to letter writing, I'd be happy for another snail mail friend. You can write to:

Heidi Shenk
PO Box 12396
Baltimore, MD 21281

While these goals are big ticket items, I feel good about them this year. They leave room for growth on both a personal and business level, and make me hopeful of new experiences and creative energy.

Did you make goals for the new year? I'd love to hear about your hopes and dreams so that we can encourage each other throughout the year!


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Holy Shit Balls! Row House 14 is Expanding! (Sort of...)

Heidi Shenk "business" "cards" "shop"

Holy Shit Balls Letterpress Card

There has been something super exciting in the works for about a month now for Row House 14. Some of you have either figured it out or may already know, but for those of you that aren't in the know-- I'm expanding Row House 14 to include letterpress greeting cards and stationery goods!

Learning how to do letterpress printing has been a dream of mine for quite some time. I've always had a love for paper and stationery, but the opportunity was never there. Letterpress printing presses are hard to come by and cost thousands of dollars. I had looked into renting press time from local printers or even attending classes so that I could learn, but that was also out of budget. In lieu of going the letterpress route, I decided to invest in my Kingsley gold foil press-- something that I could use for both paper and pencils, and it would also be compact enough to fit into my tiny 130 square foot studio space.

Meanwhile, I scoured Craigslist and real estate listings like mad, looking for an studio space that would be large enough to some day house a press. No such luck. Until, one day, while looking through listings, I happened upon a studio share opportunity with another woman who just so happened to own the exact printing press that I some day wish to own. And, she wanted to share the press and teach whomever shared her studio how to use the press. After a few back and forth emails and a studio visit, it was clear that the stars had somehow aligned perfectly and the situation was incredibly ideal for both of us.

Last week, I learned how to use the press using vintage wood type, hence the fun remake of my Holy Shit Balls card. I felt that the level of excitement surrounding this event made this card an appropriate enough candidate for my first go at printing. As I prepare for the upcoming holiday, however, I hope to include both a letterpress calendar and some greeting cards.

Holy Shit Balls Letterpress Card

For now though, I want to have some fun and celebrate. My first letterpress card that you see pictured will be included for free along with any order in my shop or on Etsy. All you have to do is write Holy Shit Balls! in the message box when you check out so I know you'd like a free card, and I'll send one of these bad boys on its way! I'll keep the offer open for as long as I have cards available. In the meantime, stay tuned for some other super sweet letterpress goods coming your way in the future!

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