Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How to Be More Productive By Focusing on What You've Already Done

Forget the To-Do list.

Productivity and happiness heavily influence each other.

I spend a lot of time thinking about productivity and happiness. Together or separate, one heavily influences the other. If you're not productive, your happiness may dwindle. And if you're not happy, you may not feel like being productive. In a lot of ways, happiness is derived from your perceived self-worth and sense of purpose, so if you're not producing anything meaningful, you will end up feeling schlumpy or bored.

As someone who works from home for my full-time gig and also is constantly working at other passion projects, whether it's helping clients, practicing lettering, slicing a blog template, or furthering my doodling ventures, I often feel like I'm not doing enough. Which when I think about it, is an insane thought. As a creative, there's a high chance you feel the same way.

The Short To-Do List Hack

Keeping a short handwritten to-do list will help you be focused.

I came across a to do list hack twice in the past couple of weeks. First, I read in Tim Ferriss's book The 4 Hour Workweek that having a short and handwritten to-do list at your desk every morning was going to help you be most productive. If you make this list at the end of each day, you can come to your desk the following morning and know exactly where you need to put your focus. By limiting yourself to two projects, there's a much higher chance you'll complete your list since there's less choice. We all know how more choice leads to more procrastination, fidgeting and angst.

So, I'm about a week into practicing this short to do list method and it's got me feeling kind of unfulfilled. My productivity is still high and I'm still working in time chunks to be able to hit different items on my passion project list every day. But I've still felt meh at the end of the day.

The short to-do list productivity hack came up again in listening to one of Sean McCabe's earlier podcasts about productivity and Guilt-Free Free Time. Sean is the type of person who is always working on something awesome and allows himself very little true down time, and I fully relate to that. (“True down time” meaning spending time on something that absolutely does not further you in your interests or as a person in any way.)

I was running this morning and listening to this podcast. Sean mentioned a very intriguing approach to to-do lists. I can't remember what he called it, but I'm going to call it The Done List.

The Done List is exactly what it sounds like: it's a running list of things that you've completed.

Boost your motivation by keeping a Done List.

By keeping a complete list of your accomplishments, you're giving yourself a pat on the back and are keeping a record of the really great things you've done that day. The 3pm-time-for-coffee-or-nap slump can easily be cured by taking a look at your Done List.

Sound familiar? That's because it's really important to recognize positive things in your life, daily.

How to Keep a Done List

The Done List: A way to celebrate your accomplishments and boost productivity

Grab a small notebook and a pen. Using actual pen and paper will feel much more cemented than typing a list. Then you can keep this notebook on the corner of your desk.

As you accomplish things throughout the day, write it down. Title each day something awesome, like:

  • Reasons why I kicked butt today:
  • I got all of this stuff done today:
  • I rock because today I:
  • Look at everything I did today:

You get the idea.

I certainly get a rush of adrenaline when I think about everything I've accomplished in a day or a week, rather than focusing on everything I want to accomplish.

Staying Balanced and Productive as a Creative and Ambitious Person

This also lends itself to the “Live in the moment” life philosophy. A list of goals is the future. Short actionable to-do lists are the present. And Done Lists are the past. While you do need all three to be a productive and ambitious person, the Done List can help you keep a healthy balance of all three by helping you recognize your accomplishments.

If you feel like you're too hard on yourself, give The Done List method a shot and let me know how it goes.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How to Set Up a Self Hosted WordPress Blog in 4 Easy Steps

When talking about choosing a blogging platform, I recommend Self Hosted WordPress as the way to go. Because of its flexibility and power, a self hosted WordPress blog help you achieve your blogging goals and can give you room for growth and change with a relatively small investment.

Recently I've talked a lot about how to choose a blogging platform (things like what a blogging platform is, what you need to think about before choosing a blogging platform, the ins and outs of Tumblr and Blogger, and WordPress.com vs WordPress.org).

This post is a quick start guide of how to get your Self Hosted WordPress blog up and running in a matter of minutes.

I'll walk you through the technical details step by step so you can follow along, get set up, and move on with more fun blogging endeavors.

While there are multiple ways to get your WordPress blog up and running, these are the steps that I use whenever I set up a blog for a client. I choose to use services like GoDaddy and HostGator because of their unparalleled customer service and helpful documentation.


Follow along with my video or with the step by step guide below. The tutorial below may look long but as evidenced by my 10 minute walkthrough video, getting set up with your own self hosted WordPress blog won't take long at all.

Register for a domain with GoDaddy

I choose to register for domains with GoDaddy because of their great customer service and simply because they're an industry standard.

  • GoDaddy.com .
  • Search for your desired domain name.
  • If it's available, add it to your cart.
  • I recommend signing up for Privacy Protection so your name, address and phone number will be protected.
  • Enter your billing information and sign up.

Sign Up for Web Hosting with HostGator

I use HostGator for all of my WordPress blogs and have been using them since 2010. I highly recommend HostGator to anyone signing up for web hosting for WordPress. **Update - I personally am using Blogger now to save money, but still build all client sites on WordPress**

  • Go to HostGator.
  • Click on the “View Web Hosting Plans” button.
  • Choose your plan. I recommend Hatchling if you're only going to have one domain name, and Baby if you plan on having multiple websites.
  • In the Order Wizard, choose “I already own this domain” since you registered for a domain with GoDaddy.
  • Enter in your domain name.
  • Choose your hosting package information and Billing Cycle.
  • Enter your preferred username and password.
  • Enter your billing information and credit card or Paypal info.
  • Uncheck the Hosting Addons if you choose.
  • Check Accept terms and conditions and then click Create Account.

Within a few minutes you'll get your welcome email from HostGator. This email contains a lot of important information, like your logins and passwords for HostGator billing and HostGator Control Panel (aka CPanel). This email also contains your Nameservers, which is pertinent for the next step.

Point Your Domain to HostGator by Changing Settings in GoDaddy

Now you just need to make a small change to your domain in GoDaddy so that your domain name points to your HostGator web hosting plan.

  • Log into GoDaddy.
  • Click on Visit Your Account and navigate to your domains. Next to the domain you wish to edit, click Launch.
  • Under the Settings tab, find Nameservers. Click on Manage.
  • Click on Custom nameservers, then click Enter Custom Nameservers.
  • Paste in the two nameservers from the HostGator welcome email in each row. They look like this: nsXXXX.hostgator.com
  • Click OK.

Install WordPress

This is the last step! You'll need to go back to your HostGator welcome email and click on the Control Panel link. Log in with the username and password provided in the HostGator welcome email.

Once you're logged into HostGator's Control Panel:

  • Locate and open QuickInstall (under Software/Services or by using the Find search bar.
  • In QuickInstall, click WordPress under Blog Software.
  • Click Continue.
  • Choose where you want your WordPress installation to occur. If you want it at the top level of your domain, leave the first field blank. If you want it under “blog”, enter blog after the domain.
  • Enter your admin email, blog title, admin username (choose something other than “admin” for security purposes), and your first and last name.
  • Click Install Now.

WordPress will install instantly. When it's finished, the QuickInstall page will refresh and you'll get your WordPress login URL (something like http://yourdomain.com/wp-admin) as well as your login username and password.

From here, I recommend that you bookmark your wp-admin login page, log into WordPress and immediately change your password under Users as shown in the video.

That's it! You've now installed your self hosted WordPress blog. Now get blogging!

I hope this tutorial was helpful - as always, please leave questions in the comments.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

WordPress for beginner bloggers: General Settings and Branding

When you're getting started with WordPress versus other blogging platforms, the settings available can feel overwhelming because of the sheer quantity of choice.

bunny thinking of starting a wordpress blog
Bunn dreams of starting a blog. -Sour Bunnies

Within the Settings menu, there are five major categories for settings that should be looked at first, before starting to blog. Some of these settings are important to get right the first time because they are harder to change further down the blogging road. Other settings can be forgotten; this post series will be a good reminder to comb through these settings again if your WordPress blog is already set up.


First up is Title, Tagline, and other General settings. This post is meant to be for absolute WordPress beginners or for anyone looking to improve their blog's first-glance branding.


Within the General Settings, there fields for the name and description of your blog, time and timezone, and your language.

Site Title

The Site Title blog is important. This doesn't affect the URL of your blog which displays in the browser's address bar, but it will show up in a lot of important places. For example:

  • The top of your blog design
  • In the title of the browser tab
  • In search results

So, be sure to use proper formatting when entering your Site Title. Proper spelling and capitalization are important here.

For reference, the official Site Title of my blog is Hello Brio Studio.


Your blog's Tagline is your blog's short description, and defaults to “Just Another WordPress Blog” when you're getting started. So make sure to change this right away!

On my blog, my current Tagline is “Design. Blogging. Creativity.” Your Tagline can encompass what your blog is about, what your mission statement is, and more. In the past, I've had Taglines like this:

  • A creative lifestyle blog
  • A creative lifestyle blog with posts about blogging and design.

Taglines sometimes display underneath the Site Title on your blog's design, but it really depends on your blog's theme.

The Title and Tagline partnership

Writing taglines is an art within itself. Between your blog's Site Title and Tagline, your site needs to be close to self-explanatory.

When new visitors come across your blog, it's important for them to be able to tell what your blog is about within seconds. If they come across a blog that is titled “Mary's Blog” where the tagline is “A place where I share the stuff I love”, there's a chance people will quickly skip over your site.

But say you're Mary, and you write a blog on really awesome and alternative knitting patterns. You may consider this pairing:

  • Title: Knitting Mary
  • Tagline: Kickass knitting pattern reviews for cool chicks

This pairing not only introduces the blog's main topic, but it also helps incorporate a bit of Mary's personality and niche within the knitting community.

Again, crafting the perfect Title and Tagline combo is a process. Revisit these items periodically while you're blogging, and make sure your blog is still well-represented in your Title and Tagline.

Now, some quick boring things before we move on:

Time, Timezone, and a quick note on some “mystery” WordPress settings

While some of these settings may seem pointless to choose now, they are important to choose now and keep in mind for later because the settings may take into effect when you switch your WordPress blog's theme (i.e. Timezone, Date Format, Time Format, Week Starts on, and Language).

When designers make themes, they can choose what is shown and what isn't. So for example: while a certain time format (as set in General Settings) may not be applicable for one theme, it can be for another.

On Timezone: because WordPress likes to use UTC timezones, it can be a bit confusing. Not sure what timezone you're in? Google it! I've googled Philadelphia time zone and Google spit back:

Eastern Time Zone (UTC-05:00)
Philadelphia, Time zone

General Settings complete!

That's all I've got for you here.

Just remember that your Title and Tagline is an important work in progress, and to keep it in the back of your mind for periodic improvements.

Questions about WordPress settings? Comment below.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Change scenery for a new perspective

There's something to be said for changing your scenery in order to help you get more done, feel more creative, and become inspired.

Living in center city Philadelphia, I can leave my apartment any time and park myself at a coffee shop so I can get more work done. If I'm really feeling bold, I can do the coffee-shop-hop and grab a large cup of house drip at each place I go until the day is done.

plenty rittenhouse coffee shop
Photo via Hello Brio Photo

There's no question in my mind that I thrive best in the city. The thrill of being able to walk anywhere at any given time is a freeing feeling. I feel like 90% of everything I need can be reached by walking.

However, any city person can start to get wrapped up in a bubble pretty quickly. Sometimes it's necessary to hop in a car and take a long drive in order to gain a new perspective on what you want and how you want to achieve it.

Choose your destination - Chevy Volt
Choose your destination.

Driving through the Hershey area this past weekend let me do just that. Escape the congestion and boxed-in feeling that comes along with living in the city by zooming between farms that stretch as far as you can see.

farm roads in hershey pa

No matter where you're from or where you live, seeing new sights and not getting stuck in your routine surroundings can help open your mind and help you gain clarity.

That's why travel is so popular for so many people. But an expensive vacation doesn't always have to be the answer: you can relax your mind enough sometimes just by taking a drive.

How do you change scenery to help gain clarity and creative inspiration?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What to do with your old awkward blog photos

If you've been blogging for a while, you may or may not be aware of your early posts.

You know them. The ones that would probably make you cringe if you re-read them or looked at how they were formatted within your fresh blog design. I mean yeah, I have quite a few myself.

Ignorance is bliss. Ignorance is bliss. But here is one AWKWARD photo:

Awkward! Sorry!
Awkward! Sorry!

I got a question from a fellow blogger recently. She runs a review blog and noticed that a few of her older images are ranking nicely within Google, but those photos are unfortunately pretty bad. Bad in terms of poor lighting, awkward poses, and probably lower resolution.

She knows that she can't be the only blogger with this problem, and she is right! She asks if she should replace the images or if that would make "Google angry" (which I love, by the way).

So here are my two cents. Please share your thoughts in the comments!

What to do with your old and bad blog photos

About the old low-quality photos - a couple of things.

First, any publicity is good publicity.

And the second thing: the best way to have better photos come up sooner is to continue to post new photographic content with better lighting and poses, making sure to include those search keywords within your image "alt" tags.

The image alt tags within your blog are going to help categorize your photos and will make them more Google-friendly. (Alt tags are actually designed to help blind people "read" your images and be able to tell what is going on in a webpage, but they also help with SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. All good things.)

The takeaway

Keep blogging, and work on improving your photography skills. The right lighting can make a huge difference, too.

Do you have embarrassing old blog photos floating around? What is your approach with them?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How to maximize your productivity as a creative

When you're a creative and a multipotentialite, there's a good chance you've got your fingers in too many pies.

Sorry, I hate that expression. Let's try that again.

When you've got a lot going on (creative, multipotentialite), you're probably working on at least 5 things in your brain right now. At least 5. If you do what I've done, and make a physical list of all of the things you're working on or would like to be working on, you may be surprised.

to-do list, productivity Photo via Hello Brio Photo[/caption]

Some things on my list, besides my full time job:

And that's really just half of my list. Let's not forget regular self upkeep like exercise, cleaning, endless laundry, etc.

Clearly there are only so many things you can get done in a day. But when your list is this long or when your projects are this big, there are some things that will inevitably fall off of your to-do list.

Or, some tasks may disappear from your to-do list but may end up taking up valuable mind power by churning in the background.

What to do about this?

First, don't get defeated at your killer to-do list

The important thing to realize is that as a creative person, you're going to have a lot going on. It's what keeps you going and helps you feel fulfilled.

Think of your to-do list as a passion project list. These are things that you would love to complete but need to remember that any progress towards completion is an inevitable part of the journey and is going to be rewarding at every moment.

When people ask you "What do you do?" or "What are you working on?" don't be afraid to tell them that you're writing a book and designing a line of handbags while you learn to play the drums.

Second, clear out unnecessary wasted time in your life

When you have this much going on, those hours of unproductive personal time that is supposed to be "relaxing" can actually be quite harmful to your momentum.

Try to avoid activities that will leave your brain feeling like mush. I'm pointing at you, TV.


Third, not all personal time is unproductive time

The adage of "getting away from your desk is most inspirational" is true. Get out there and experience life. Relax your mind by focusing on other areas of the brain by exercising. Or by painting instead of writing, reading instead of designing websites.

Soon you'll start to see that you can hit a lot of your points on your Passion Projects list simply by switching from one area to another. Which leads us to this:

Fourth, work on your priorities for a little each day

By organizing your "free" time into creative blocks, you'll be able to work on multiple projects at once.

Huge bonus? By switching from one Passion Project to the other, you'll help yourself stay motivated since you'll be taking inspiration from one project to another. Essentially, you'll be cross-pollinating your creativity.

Be sure to set time limits for yourself. I recommend at least 30 minutes per project area, and max of 90 minutes at a time so you don't burn out.

Try this method

  1. Grab a piece of paper and list all of your Passion Projects.
  2. Tape this to your wall or the front of your notebook.
  3. Each day, grab a new piece of paper.
  4. Choose about 5 priority Passion Projects and list them at the top.
  5. Make a list of your free time by half-hour chunks. Fill up your day!
  6. Leave at least one 30-minute block at the end of the day to tie up loose ends. Use this time to create your list for tomorrow, too.
  7. Turn off distractions for each time block!

Give my tried and true productivity method a shot. I'd love to hear how it goes for you.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

How to Choose a Blogging Platform: Quick Start Guide

Part 4: The Final Part. The part where I can hopefully sum this up in one short blog post.

how to choose a blogging platform quick start guide on hellobrio.com

I've gone and done it. I talked way too much. In the earlier posts in this series, I talked about:

Now I'd like to try to sum up each blogging platform in a few bullet points.

Here goes:


  • Great for image-based blogs or microblogs

  • Built in sharing, liking, and follow capabilities within Tumblr

  • Easy to set up

  • Easy to maintain

  • Limited design options

  • Difficult to grow or move

  • Free, or you can easily attach a domain


  • Great for beginner bloggers

  • Built in sharing, liking, commenting, and follow capabilities within Blogger and Google community

  • Easy to set up

  • Easy to maintain

  • Broader range of design options, lots of premade themes available for purchase

  • Easy to move or upgrade, but difficult to grow in terms of functionality

  • Free, or you can easily attach a domain


  • All the same bullet points as Blogger

  • In addition, these blogs are more visually streamlined than Blogger blogs


  • Highest level of functionality; limitless

  • Technical skills or hiring a designer/developer is needed for setup and ongoing maintenance

  • Unlimited design options and customization abilities

  • Expensive: You need to purchase a domain name and web hosting. You may also need to spend money on hiring a designer and/or developer.


I do recommend you go back and read the previous posts as listed above, especially if you're on the fence about which blogging platform to choose. I've been blogging for a long time, and I know how much angst it can induce to want to switch to another blogging platform after you've already chosen one.

You owe it to yourself to spend the time and do your research before diving in, rather than jumping to conclusions and then spending your time doing cleanup or trying to make something work in a blogging platform that doesn't have the correct abilities.

All in all, if you need more help in figuring out which blogging platform to choose, just comment below and we'll get the conversation started!