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Ep. 60 – Becki Cross – Paper, Productivity & Creativity

Mich Bondesio chats to Becki Cross about the power of paper and creativity to support our health, learning, productivity and business.

Links & Resources Shared in this episode.

Planner Fest

JournalFest

StationeryFest

Resources

Creating Cadence Podcast Transcript – Episode 60

Published 8th April 2024

Mich Bondesio:

[00:00:00] Hi, and welcome to Creating Cadence, a podcast for life and work in motion. I’m your host, Mich Bondesio, a writer, speaker, coach, and solo entrepreneur. I’m also the author of The Cadence Effect. My aim is to provoke thought, change, and learning, to guide high achievers stuck on the toxic treadmill of overwork to transform your approach to life, work, relationships and business. So we can all activate more of our potential and find joy in every part of our life. At a cadence that’s more suitable to us. Despite this fast-paced world we live in.

This is episode 60, the sixth and final episode of season nine. In this episode, I chat with Becki Cross, a lecturer and course leader at the University of Central Lancashire, also known as UCLan.

In her spare time, Becki also runs a successful yearly event for lovers of planning, journaling and stationery, which you’ll get to hear more about in this episode.

But first, a quick update about the Cadence Coaching Programme, which is my new wellbeing and productivity focused leadership and accountability offering. It’s based on elements of my book, The Cadence Effect, and the focus of it is to help you transform your life with intentionally productive habits. To help you build momentum, work with purpose and craft a more meaningful life.

So time’s running out to book your place as the doors close this coming Friday, which is the 12th of April, 2024.

The programme itself starts the week after, which is the week commencing 15th of April. And there are two options to choose from.

  • The Together option is the full package. It’s a 10 week programme that offers private accountability, live masterclasses, as well as group feedback and one-on-one sessions with me. Spaces are limited though, for this full programme.
  • The Independent option is for self-paced study and you get access to recordings of the Masterclasses as well as worksheets and a few bonuses. This is a great way to engage with the learning opportunities provided by the programme for those who prefer to go it alone or are maybe on more of a tight budget.

Interestingly, so far, this Independent Masterclass Package is proving to be a very popular option. So just a reminder you have until Friday the 12th of April 2024 to book your place, but as indicated spaces for the Together option are limited. So check out the Coaching tab on the Services page of creatingcadence.co for the full details. And I’ll share the link to that in the show notes.

And if those dates don’t work for you, but you are keen to hop on the waiting list for the next cohort, that kicks off in September, 2024. And you can drop me a line at  hello @ creatingcadence dot co to get your name on that waiting list.

So now let’s get onto the interview section of this episode.

Becki Cross has 24 years of event management experience, primarily working on business conferences and exhibitions.

Becki, also known as Bex, is now a university lecturer by day. And dedicates her evenings and weekends to running events for planner, journal, and stationary lovers.

PlannerFest was established in 2019. And in 2023, Bex’s also launched two coinciding events. JournalFest, which is the largest gathering of journal lover in Europe. And StationeryFest the largest B2C event for stationery lovers.

Becki believes in the power of paper for productivity, organisation, creativity and growth. And this is very evident in the conversation. We talk about the power of creativity to help us avoid burnout and how paper-based productivity tools such as journaling can also help us in business, plus many more interesting topics.

I also wrap up the episode with a few thoughts of my own sparked by the conversation. So don’t forget to stick around for those.

Now if you’re ready, let’s dive in.

So welcome, Becki. We first spoke about doing this last year. So it’s lovely to finally have you on the show.

Becki Cross:

[00:03:50] Thank you soo much for having me, Mich. I’m really glad to be here.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:03:53] So some background for my audience. We first met early last year at the University of Central Lancashire. As part of my role as an entrepreneur in residence at the Lancashire School of Business and Enterprise, I was invited to judge a Dragon’s Den-style business pitch by some of the Tourism and Hospitality students.

And you were a fellow judge, and you were also affiliated with that department at the time. I’m aware things have changed and we will get into that, but during that conversation and during that session, we discovered that we had a shared love of stationery, planning, and bullet journaling.

And then you kindly invited me to speak at your fantastic PlannerFest JournalFest event later that year, where I did talk on the health and productivity benefits of paper based tools, and we used the bullet journal method as the focus for that talk.

You have a background in events and you’re doing really interesting things in this space, but like many of us, you are also juggling a few different types of work roles simultaneously. So let’s dive into your current work and life context. Tell us where you’re based, what you do for work and for play and for fun and financial freedom.

Becki Cross:

[00:04:57] Thank you. Yes,. So I live in Preston in Lancashire and work there. And basically I have kind of two jobs in essence.

My day job, which I absolutely love, is as a lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire. I’m a lecturer in Business and Enterprise and also the Course Leader for business and marketing. This is something that during the pandemic it came about a lot of us reevaluated.

So, I’ve run my business since 2004. It’s still going strong, but it looks very different now. Obviously with the changes in my kind of life that I made after I kind of reflected during the pandemic, really.

So, now I don’t have a team of staff in my business. I don’t take on client facing projects.

Instead, I focus on my own passion projects, which as you’ve mentioned are very stationery focused. And so that’s how I spend my evenings and my weekends, quite often working on that. And obviously I have a very busy day job, which I love at the university as well. And I also have three children under 11 as well.

So life is, is very busy. But yeah, I feel very, you know, lucky that I’m doing things that I love and that really kind of fire me up and drive me every day, really.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:06:26] That’s fantastic. So, where you’re at in your life and work at the moment, obviously it sounds like you love everything that you do, but having so many things to juggle, I’m sure that it can be challenging as well. So what are the upsides as well as the learning moments that you’re experiencing at the moment?

Becki Cross:

[00:06:42] Definitely. Yeah, it is. you know, challenging. I think organisation is the key and having structure where you can. But obviously, bearing in mind that in my day job, I’m no longer my own boss. And obviously, it is driven by the needs of the students that I teach and the people that I work for as well. So I think organisation is the kind of crux of it that kind of keeps me feeling in control and feeling that I can deal with whatever is thrown at me into my path, really.

So yeah, obviously as we mentioned, we’re both big fans of that paper productivity, and for me throughout my kind of career, I’ve often used or tried to use many kinds of digital planning projects, but for me, I find I always come back to, you know, paper and pen and mapping things out and visualising it. And so I am very, very focused on, you know, when I’m in my day job, I don’t want to be thinking about my side hustle or, you know, my business.

And vice versa. So how I kind of manage it is I have. Multiple planners. So I have a planner for my day job. I have a planner for my business. I have a planner for my personal life and family life. And so I know for many people that would sound unmanageable having three different planners, but that really works for me that I can focus on what I need to you know, for that day, for that week, for that month and then swap my hats at the relevant time.

And you know, you need to have that, I suppose that flow between, you know, these different hats and of course, you know, it, things often don’t go to plan, but hopefully you have the tools then to kind of cope with what gets thrown at you really.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:08:27] I think that’s a lovely example of how you compartmentalise things to help you stay in control of the different elements of your life, irrespective of how changeable things can be. There is one “go to” place, for each of those important parts of your life, that help you to manage, and I think that’s an excellent example.

So let’s talk a little bit more about other daily habits and routines that you might be using to support yourself. You know, what do you do on a regular basis, so that you can show up as your best self for your work and for the important people in your life? Do you have any particular regular activities that you engage in to support your well being, creativity and productivity?

Becki Cross:

[00:09:03] I definitely do, yeah. I think the biggest thing is keeping a journal.

And you know, I really feel the impact of that if I haven’t kind of written stuff down. Or maybe got a little bit creative, or you know done something for a few days. I can feel that I’m not my best self and that I crave that and I need that.

So, even five minutes can just kind of reset myself, and I think, I can be my own worst enemy. Obviously, reading your book, Mich, it was a big kind of wake up call, hearing your story, and you know, you need to have those good habits, don’t you. And you need to be able to refill your cup so you can give your best self, really. And, I always wonder, have I always been a bit of a workaholic or did that come about maybe because I have been a small business owner for so long? Or, is it a bit of both? I’m, not really sure, but certainly I think as you get older you realise you can’t run, you know, on empty. You need to look after yourself. You need to take that time out and take those opportunities.

So, when it was quiet in the summer after the event, I was on leave from my day job. Then I was doing loads of creative workshops, things like jelly printing and all sorts of creative stuff. And, I really needed that. And, at the minute, I’m really loving creating tiny collages so kind of ripping up paper and, you know, it’s really no skill is required.

It’s just something different, isn’t it, but the thing that I always come back to is that needing to write stuff down. And, whether it’s writing stuff in my planner, so that it’s out of my head. Or ,whether it’s like, reflecting or writing things in my journal, that’s something now that I can’t see me ever stopping. I really, really need that. And I really, really recognise the importance of that. Definitely.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:10:58] That’s fantastic. And again, you’ve provided some brilliant examples of the link between good mental health and using our hands and writing. Actually writing is a really powerful tool compared to typing. We use a different part of our brain when we’re writing. It does help to get the things out of our head, but it does also actually sync our brain waves with the movement of our pen stroke and it calms the brain and it allows the brain space to synthesise and process.

So it’s a fantastic mental health tool, but it’s also, as you say, a tool for creativity and whether you are tearing up paper, or writing something down, that again, there is a really strong link between creativity and making and crafting and mental health.

Really great examples that you’ve given there. Thank you.

So the show’s all about ways to create more cadence in our days and build more momentum in our life. But what does that concept of creating cadence mean for you personally?

Becki Cross:

[00:11:53] I think for me, obviously, if you are running an event, you have a very definite deadline, don’t you? And, you know, a crescendo of however organised you are, however, well you plan things, a lot of things will happen still at the end of that process. If you are, you know, working. at a university, you will have, you know, peaks in your workload where you have to obviously mark lots of student assignments and you have things going on as well.

So for me, it’s how you kind of manage that ebb and flow of your workload so that you can give more at the times when you need to. But, then you can, you know, maybe refill, refuel, at the times when it is a little bit calmer and and quieter and that you can use those times maybe for being creative and thinking of new projects or new ways of working.

And so yeah, I think it’s coping in an intelligent way and a healthy way with the challenges of life, working life and, you know, even personal life as well. They’re all intertwined, aren’t they?

Mich Bondesio:

[00:12:59] That’s great. And again, it makes me think back to the example you gave where you said you did a whole lot of creative activities over the summertime. You were filling your creative cup when you had the space to do that and that helps to stand you in good stead for the more pressured times when you have less opportunity to focus on those things.

So being aware of what it is you, your body, your mind needs to fill you up is one thing. And then also knowing that there will be times, as you say, when things are busier or things are quieter and learning how to adapt and adjust your routines to help you cope through those periods. So that’s great.

Now, how do you think that concept of cadence applies in the work that you do to support and help both the students that you work with and the customers that you support, those who attend your events, for example. How does what you do help them to maintain momentum in their studies or their life or their business?

Becki Cross:

[00:13:50] Definitely. I think as a big advocate of paper based productivity, paper based reflective writing, I am a big champion for doing these things and for telling people about it. I find a lot of people are very interested in these things, but maybe haven’t tried them for themselves.

So I do like telling my students about it when it’s appropriate. And obviously in the events that I run, I like bringing those people together. So people that already get it and already are benefiting from these things. and have an interest in them, or even those that are maybe just dipping their toes in the water and thinking, could this help me?

Is this what I’m looking for? So that is really, really important to me. And I’m absolutely fascinated by all of the research, all of the academic research that is out there about the benefits that journaling offers. So obviously you’ve touched on, some of it, that writing process, that tactile process, I think everyone should have that tactile hobby, like you said. I love fountain pens. I love, you know, nice Japanese paper and planners and you know, bringing all of these things together, brings a lot of joy to me and, you know, has benefits in all areas of my life, really.

And I think that going forward, I feel really lucky that I’m in an environment now, obviously a research driven environment, and I would like to do research around the power of journaling , particularly though for entrepreneurs and business owners and how that could lead to personal success or coping mechanisms, but also maybe the growth of their businesses as well.

So that is a kind of topic that hopefully I will study at doctorate level in the not too distant future as well.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:15:39] Well, that’s very exciting for you and I’m very excited by the topic that you’ve picked, because, yes, I totally see the benefits of that. How fantastic. So just a little bit of a sidestep before we carry on. Tell us a little bit more about this event that you organise.

PlannerFest, JournalFest, StationeryFest. It sounds like a mouthful, but it’s amazing. For anybody who loves all of those things, it is a must do. And you have the next event coming up in Manchester later this year. So tell us a little bit more about what it entails, where it’s happening and what made you decide to do it?

Becki Cross:

[00:16:13] Thank you so much. Yeah, I think after so many years of, you know, running a business, but running events for other people, I always constantly I was coming up with ideas. But obviously I never had the time to explore them, even when I was working on my business full time. So as I say with this re-evaluation process I went through, you know, this was really important to me to kind of see if other people would share this vision to bring together paper lovers whether they are part of the planning community, whether they love journaling, and whatever form that might take, or whether they just have a love for stationery.

So, the event this year takes place on the 29th of June in Manchester, and last year we had nearly 800 people that came along, and there is fantastic shopping area, so many fantastic brands. We have over 90 brands signed up for this year and they are selling a variety of stationery products, planners, journals, pens, inks, you name it, they are there.

And there’s a lot of independent businesses, which is very important to me as well, supporting those small, really creative businesses that you won’t find on the high street. So it brings all of those together, fantastic shopping. But obviously on the VIP side, PlannerFest and JournalFest, that’s like a conference set up, a convention set up, as you know, Mich, as one of our keynote speakers for 2023.

So we bring together fantastic speakers talking about really interesting topics. There is that creativity element. There’s workshops. There’s lots of creativity going on and obviously the VIPs get lots of perks, like goodie bags, and food and refreshments, and raffle, and all sorts of stuff going on.

So yeah, it’s just a really joyous day I think when I’m telling people about it, you know, they’re stationary lovers and they really get it and they’re really excited about it. Or, obviously I suppose sometimes there’s those people that are like “Wow! There’s actually an event stationery!”

But there seems to be two clear camps of people. And luckily so many people are excited by it and I’m really excited to keep growing it really for the future. And we’ve got people coming from… we’ve got brands coming from Europe. And we’ve got attendees again coming from far afield you know, flying in from across Europe as well.

So it’s really exciting.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:18:31] Oh, that is wonderful. I had such a fun time last year. It was amazing and the goodie bags were incredible. There was so much value in that. And so many different things to see and lots to learn. And it was such a wonderful day. So we’ll definitely share a link to that in the show notes for people who might be interested in that.

So last question before we end off. Do you have any words of wisdom or key learnings that you want to share based on your experience and your journey through life so far?

Becki Cross:

[00:18:58] It’s hard, isn’t it? Cause I’m still learning and I’m learning every day and changing my systems and figuring out that’s not working for me. I need to do better at that. I need to change that. So maybe that is my words of wisdom really, to keep you know, changing things, experimenting finding a system that works for you.

I think it is very easy to kind of get stuck in a mindset and think that you can’t change things, particularly big things, but actually as you tell people and as it advises people in the book, Mich, you know, you can change things, you can build the life that you want.

And certainly I think, I feel really lucky in a way that the pandemic came along. So it gave me that chance to kind of re-evaluate and think actually I want to go back to study. I want to have a second career in academia, which I absolutely love, but I can still do my kind of passion projects on the side as well.

So yeah, don’t ever be stuck. There is always a way to change things and just, yeah, keep learning, really. And keep being inspired by things. I could never ever do a job that I wasn’t inspired by and didn’t have that passion for, because I think that just sparks so many ideas and you know drives you to be the best that you can be in that role.

So that’s really important to me.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:20:20] Oh, those are fantastic insights. Thank you for sharing. And I agree wholeheartedly, learning is a key driver for me. We are always changing. And, humans are problem solvers by nature, and that requires being creative in the way that we think. And you do that through being curious and experimenting, you know, so as you say, being willing to change.

So tell us where people can find you online.

Becki Cross:

[00:20:42] So, we have obviously websites, stationeryfest.co.uk, plannerfest.co.uk, journalfest.co.uk. We have a basic website for each of the events and we’re most active on Instagram as well. So, @plannerfest, @stationaryfest, @journalfestuk on Instagram. And, if anyone is interested in studying at UCLan as well, particularly business and marketing, then obviously you can find me in the School of Business and uclan.ac.uk

Mich Bondesio:

[00:21:13] That’s awesome. And we’ll share those links in the show notes. Thanks so much, Becki. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation.

Becki Cross:

[00:21:18] Thank you so much Mich, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:21:22] So big, thanks to Becki for her thoughts and insights on the power of paper and creativity.

Three things that stood out here for me that I want to consider relate to personal practice, the hand/brain link, and the power of learning to help us craft more meaningful lives.

First up is personal practice from both a productivity and a creative perspective.

Personally, I use a single bullet journal to plan out and manage the different aspects of my work and life. And Becki mentioned that she uses multiple planners to compartmentalise the different parts of her life using her own system. How we engage with paper-based productivity tools is very much a personal preference. And a personal experience.

There is no one right way to do this, but when we find the right fit, it streamlines our process, makes us more productive, and reduces the friction that can cause stress. As I mention in my book, The Cadence Effect, creating cadence is about experimenting with using a variety of tools, habits, behaviours, and materials to find the ones that work best for you.

And from a paper-based productivity perspective, this isn’t about spending lots of money on expensive stationery and pens to have the best tools. It’s about finding the tools that reduce friction to help you get things done more easily. And those are the best tools and they don’t have to cost much.

So, if you’re interested in exploring paper-based productivity further, think about what causes friction or improves flow for you? From the texture and thickness of the paper you write on, whether it’s lined, plain or dotted. Whether your planner is A5 or A4, hardback, soft back, or ring bound. Or a simple exercise book.

This can influence your writing, planning and note taking experience. Personally, I like a B5 notebook with thin lined paper and a soft cover. Kind of like what you’d get in a Moleskin. This suits the size of my hand and my planning needs, whilst also easily fitting in my bag.

This experience also applies to the type of writing implements you choose to use.

For example, I’m left-handed and I can not use typical ballpoint pens. The way I hold my pens, they just smudge. Similarly, I cannot use pencils because I press hard and I break the nibs. So I use a very particular type of ink pen, and I also work with different coloured pens because I’m quite a visual person and colour helps me to learn and remember. Other people use pencils, coloured pencils, or Koki pens, or Sharpies, or highlighters. You name it, there are so many different ways that you can do this.

But this isn’t about getting distracted by all the shiny things. This is about finding and using the essential tools that help you work better. There is no point having a journal if you’re too afraid to put anything in it, because it’s so beautiful that you don’t want to ruin it.

And in the same way, those of us who engage in creative activities to fill our spiritual cup and our energetic cup, we choose different types of activities that are personal to our interests. And these can range from art classes to music, making or dancing, to knitting, creative writing, spoon, carving, learning to bake bread, et cetera.

There’s so many other opportunities out there to be creative, especially with your hands.

Which brings me to the second point I want to talk about, which is the link between creative activities, and more especially writing, and its link to brain function and brain health.

Writing by hand is a mindfulness technique because studies have found that it is calming to the brain. And using our hands for a variety of creative activities, including writing, also have other cognitive and emotional benefits for us too.

This includes improving memory and attention and reducing anxiety and depression. Working with our hands on creative projects also helps us to feel a stronger sense of accomplishment when we complete something, because of the effort involved.

It turns out these complex hand activities actually light up large areas of our brain.

So they are a good exercise for our brain compared to the simpler movements that we do when typing on a keyboard or using a game controller.

Some researchers are concerned that as we move further into the digital sphere and away from using our hands, that we will be exercising less of our brains. And there could be mental health implications for this. I’ll share a link to a recent New York times article on the topic that I found interesting.

So that’s some food for thought on why things like writing and doing creative activities are really important for our brain health.

Connected to this, the third point I want to touch on is learning.

Becki’s advice was to always be learning. And learning is also a key driver for me too. The great thing about learning is that it’s something we can do our entire lives.

It’s not just something we do when we’re studying at university or doing a course. I’ve spoken before on the podcast about the importance of knowing how to deal with change. And in my book, I talk about how resilience is impacted by our ability to adapt, to change. How we adapt is through learning.

The research indicates that we don’t stop making new neural connections in our brain throughout our life, which means that we have the propensity and capacity to keep learning right up until we die. And when we enjoy the learning, in that we’re learning about something that lights us up or inspires us to do something differently or helps us to master a skill that we’ve always wanted to get better at. Or maybe it assists us in getting things done in a smoother way. Then that learning takes on another deeper level of meaning, too.

If we can keep learning until we do or die, there really is no excuse to take action on that bucket list item we might have that we’ve been putting off, because we don’t think we’re good enough, or we don’t think we have the time, or we don’t think we’re capable enough. Whether that’s learning a new language or writing that book, you’ve always wanted to write. Or mastering the art of throwing pottery. Or changing careers to become something you never thought you could be like a pilot, or an interior designer, or even an astronaut (by the way, NASA is hiring).

The thing is that we can, and in this vein, Becki re-evaluated her life during the pandemic and made changes, so that she could learn more about and do more of the things that bring her joy in this stage of her life.

So my final thoughts on this are: don’t wait for a crisis to make you find the things that will help bring more joy into your life.

Use a planner or journal to write down that big idea. And break down what it takes to achieve into tiny, doable steps to help you get there.

That’s what I did when I pivoted in my career after extreme burnout to become a business coach, a writer, author, and speaker. That’s what I’ve done on every step of this journey from launching a podcast to writing a book, to teaching and speaking in front of people. And now delivering a full-scale coaching programme.

As I say in my book, there is always another way. It starts by asking yourself the question. What if I can?

So that concludes this season of the Creating Cadence Podcast. A big thanks to all of my guests this season for sharing their uplifting approaches to life, work, getting things done, finding joy and crafting meaningful lives. I’m so grateful to be able to have these conversations with you all.

For the next month, I’ll be focused on getting the new coaching programme started, which I’m super excited about. I’ll also be recording the interviews for the next season of the podcast, which kicks off in May.

So you won’t have to wait too long until the next episode. But a few things before you go.

You can find out more about my book at thecadenceeffect.com. And helpful reviews are always welcome to help the book get found by those who need it.

If you liked the show, please share the love by rating it, where you listen to it. (Apple, Spotify, Google Play, or Amazon Music.)

And you can also support the making of Creating Cadence on Patreon or Buy Me A Coffee.

So thanks for listening. Until next time, keep moving forwards with courage, curiosity, and cadence. Bye for now.

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