Center Yourself

Having figured out the projects that really matter to you and on which you're going to spend your time, think about how you can use that time more efficiently.

Is it easy for you to put in an hour on a project? Or do you spend half the time pulling together the supporting materials you need for it?

Here's a Lifehacker tip on organizing by tasks, "Organizing Hacks: Creating Centers".

Manifesting Decisions

Yesterday I asked you to think about what you are and are not going to be spending time on henceforth.

Did you come up with some projects or commitments to bid farewell to? Today, take time to close those things out.

If there are physical materials that you won't want/need around anymore, decide their fate. Put things in the charity box or the trash. Take a picture of that unfinished painting or whatever to document how far you got (and maybe write a little story about why you chose that project and why you're now parting with it).

If it's something less tangible, say, participation in a club you don't have time for anymore, write a thank you & farewell letter or make a call to conclude your involvement. Acknowledge the good in the activity and then move on to what's a higher priority for you.

If it was something you'd added to your plate just for yourself – "I will learn Swahili in my spare time" or "I will read an entire new book every week" – don't forget to make some kind of parting gesture to confirm that this isn't just it fading down to the bottom of your current list, but coming off that list. It is not still floating out there as an obligation anymore.

Do watch out for those unconscious commitments you've made which show up when you examine where your time goes. By subscribing to magazines or the daily paper, you're committing to at least flipping through each issue. By getting Tivo or switching on the telly every night when you get home, you're choosing to spend your energy keeping up with tv shows. By buying video games, you're planning to spend time playing them. These are all perfectly okay choices, but make them consciously, weighing them against the other priorities you have in your life.

Make your choices and take some time today to rearrange your life to support that choice.

Me? I moved the tv out of the living room, took some of the games off my computer, and said  "kwaheri" to Swahili.

Make the path of least resistance be the path you most want to take.

Not everything started must be finished

We all have pet projects, social commitments, goals for personal or professional growth, and hobbies to which we devote our time. We stroll past the buffet of life and we start loading our plates. The problem is that we make a lot of trips back to the smorgasbord of options and pretty soon the dining table of life is groaning under the load.

Do you really like everything you picked up thinking it would be tasty?

Can you really finish all that? Or would doing so leave you feeling painfully over-stuffed?

Look at what you've obliged yourself to – including those things you aren't actually putting time in on, but which weigh on your mind – and at where the hours of your day go.

Think about how you would prioritize that list. What can you just get rid of because you don't want it anymore? What should you abandon because it just isn't as desirable as the other things on your plate?

Read more about this idea in D. Keith Robinson's To-Done essay, Knowing When To Quit.

Shake up your tongue

Most of us choose what to eat by habit.

Today, go to the market with the best produce in town and pick out a new vegetable and a new fruit to try. As the nice produce person for help in choosing and how to prepare your new treat.

Simple is good.

Vegetables that just need to be steamed and have a little lemon juice squeezed over them are great. Try something else in a family of food you like. Enjoy broccoli? Ever try the romanesque variety? It's Fibonacci-licious.

Most fruit just needs to be cut up, so that's easy. Try something peculiar looking if you're adventurous today. Or if not, just hold an apple tasting.

Bag 8: Media Purge

It's A/V day.

Take a paper sack and go to where you keep all your videos and/or DVDs. Find the ones you don't plan on watching again in the next year. Put them in the sack. We will sort through the sack later, so go ahead and put in those old family videos.

Hunt down the other stashes of video entertainment and do the same. Got a box of old 8mm home movies in the basement? Bring it up.

Find every form of generating a flickering image on a screen and pull together all the examples which you have to confess you won't watch this year.

Now, these get sorted into groups:
#1 – return it to its rightful owner
#2 – get rid of it (sell or donate)
#3 – archive it

Put all the #1 items in the Give Back Basket (see Outbound Traffic)

Put all the #2 items with other things you're planning to part with. It may be worth checking the value of some things to see if they're worth selling online, otherwise, it often pays off to see if you can get trade credit for your old movies and music at a store where you already like to shop. Movies are also often good performers at yard sales. Just turn them into money or credit if it's not too much work, and donate the rest to the library. (Reminder: Yes, the public library has movies.)

Sort the #3 items by media. They are now archiving projects.
– DVDs are probably okay for the moment, but since it's easy, I'd recommend making a backup copy of anything home produced that could not be replaced.
– Laser discs are  probably replaceable with current media and do you really still use the player? Don't keep things you don't have or plan to soon get a means to play.
– Videos are kind of a pain. If you still have a VCR that works great which you use regularly, then it's probably fine to have a box of old home videos in the basement. However, I do strongly recommend periodically backing them up onto alternate media such as DVDs since magnetic materials degrade.

For videos and older movie formats such as film, it's advisable to read up on how to store them for optimal survival and to investigate ways to make backup copies on current formats. Most communities have services who will transfer old media to new. This can be a really good investment for families who want to have multiple copies of those movies of great-grandpa & grandma.

In short, keep the things you use, protect the things you don't use regularly but treasure, and get the other stuff out of your way.

Take Control of Your News

Here's a good tip from Bob Walsh of  To-Done!:

Nowadays, with text, audio and video feeds from every major and minor news organization a click away, Google News, news alerts, RSS,
IM and all the rest, you have about as much chance of getting your head
clear as surviving 10 fire hoses turned full on at your face.
Too much news, way, way, way too much.

All the news doesn’t fit: on paper, on your screen, in your head.

Continue reading All The News Doesn't Fit

Discard Your Isolation: Travel Locally

Many European countries border on as many as 10 or more neighboring countries; the United States only borders on 2. No wonder it's hard for average folks to afford a vacation to experience life in another country.

There is one thing anyone can do, though, and that's visit cultural centers within the big city nearest to you. Go spend a weekend or at least a whole day in a place where people speak a different language, eat new foods, and learn about the history and traditions of another culture.

A great way to pick where to explore is to see what other languages your local election ballots come in or the library's web site is offered in. Or call the local library and ask about census numbers for languages spoken. Searching on the web for your city name and "demographics" will probably also give you interesting information (though do consider the source before you assume it's accurate).

For a San Franciscan like me, the obvious choices are exploring the city's Chinese and Hispanic communities. A third of the population is Asian, so there are many neighborhoods full of Chinese restaurants and shops and we have one of the premier museums of Asian art. With a name like "San Francisco", it doesn't take a rocket scientist or a walk through the Mission District to suggest that Mexican and Spanish cultural are a huge part of the background of the city.

Where can you travel without having to leave town?

Reclaim your commute

Are you getting as much out of your commute as you could? My congratulations if you find it valuable and rewarding time. I suspect, though, that many people feel it is quite the opposite.

I am really happy with mine since I traded in driving for walking and transit. I get a refreshing three-block walk down my hill, a short ride on the Muni metro, a two-block walk over to the transbay bus terminal and usually a good 15-20 minutes of comfortable riding over the Bay Bridge to the stop three blocks from work. By the time I reach the office I've moved around a bit enough to wake up properly and often seen some pretty views from my high seat on the bridge.

What makes it really valuable to me is that I can download my mail before I leave the house and sort through it all before I get to the office. I often am able to compose answers for all the quick questions and usually have time left over to plan out the rest of my day. When I arrive at the office and plug in, I send mail and move on to the appropriate next action, rather than just reacting to whatever is coming at me.

On the way home, I usually just relax and look out the windows at the view. Sometimes I read and sometimes I watch a bit of a DVD on my laptop (old tv shows I'm catching up with are particularly suited to this).

I know folks who drive who listen to books on tape to make their commutes more relaxing and let them claim some of that reading time they wish they had more of. There are other tricks for the car as well, such as practicing a new language or keeping up with your daily news intake with podcasts or NPR.

Start looking at your routine and see how you might make it serve you better.

Make it easy, continued

Not only should you make things spatially convenient. You might want to consider temporal convenience as well.

I am not a morning person. Therefore anything I can do to make it go better is A Good Thing. The best tricks I've found so far are packing a lunch and setting out my clothes the night before, and making sure my backpack is all ready.

What could you do in advance to make your less competent moments a little better supported?

Make it easy

Routines help reduce stress and if you make a place for the things you know you'll need a place for, you'll also reduce clutter.

I have a laptop backback that I use every work day and a wallet I use the rest of the time. The pack has a pocket where I put my phone and my wallet. It also has a springy plastic coil clipped inside it to which I clip my keys. It's long enough that I can lock or unlock the front door without having to unclip them. My keys are always left in the right spot instead of in the door, a jacket pocket, on the stairs, etc.

The bag has a big pocket where I put the things that need to be taken from home to work or vice versa. When I arrive and take my mobile phone out to plug it into the charger (and, yes, I've got one of those at each end, so the phone has its place too), I also check that pocket.

As for pocket accumulations, I have an attractive ceramic pot on my dresser into which I drop all my non-quarters change. The quarters go in an old family heirloom, a little silver baby cup, where they wait until laundry day.

And the mail gets sorted in the kitchen where all the junk & empty envelopes can go right into the recycling. I have a pretty tin inbox for the remaining incoming paper (and that box also has a pen, the stamps & return address stickers for outgoing mail).

When I need to remember to take something with me when I leave the house (e.g. drop this Netflix DVD in the mail on the way to the metro), I just set it at the top of the stairs where I can't miss it.

When I shared a household, we always put the rotating chore wheel (made out of cheerful construction paper to lessen the pain of cleaning duties) on the fridge to indicate who was doing what this week. As a kid, that's also where I could see the menu plan of who was cooking what each night. And, of course, that's a great place for the shopping list.

Figure out what you need and where you need, then set things up to make it all flow smoothly.