Don't You Tire of Real-Time? [en]

[fr] Tout ce temps réel sur le web me fatigue. On néglige les expressions plus profondes que permet le web, sur nos blogs par exemple.

I find that I’m increasingly tired with real-time. Keeping up with the stream. Living on the cutting-edge. I like diving into deeper explorations that require me to step out of the real-time stream of tweets and statuses and IRC and IM conversations.

I like reading and writing.

I’ve never been much of a “news” person — and I know that my little self and my little blog have no chance of competing with the Techcrunches and ReadWriteWebs and GigaOms that seem to be all over the place now.

Life is real-time enough. I like spending time on the web like in a book.

I still love Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr and all the transient stuff that’s floating around — but sometimes I feel like I let myself get lost in it.

Once again, I’m back here, on my blog.

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My Journey Out of Procrastination: Five Principles [en]

When you’re trapped in the procrastination rut, solutions coming from those who are out of it just seem inapplicable. “Just do it,” for example.

I think I’ve recently pulled myself out of the rut for good (fingers crossed), and before I forget what it is like to live with the heavy black cloud of “things I should have taken care of last week/month/year” over my head, here are a few thoughts on what helped me build a life for myself where my invoices are sent, my bills are paid, my deadlines are met, and I actually have guilt-free week-ends and evenings.

It wasn’t always like that. Actually, for most of my life, it wasn’t like that.

Changing, like most changes, has been a gradual process. I know that (for me, at least) one of the thick roots of my procrastination lies in a very archaic urge of mine to not be alone, to not do things alone. I rarely found it hard to do things (even the washing-up) if I had company, and I understood at some point that putting things off until I got myself in an unmanageable mess was in a way something I did to either force myself to ask others for help, or manipulate them into helping me out.

I think it was really important for me to understand this, because unfortunately, freeing oneself of life-threatening procrastination is not just a question of tricks and methods, but also about understanding what role such a behaviour plays in one’s “life ecosystem”, and what can be done to replace it. In my case, it included being proactive about asking for assistance or company, making sure I was having enough of a social life, and sorting out a few personal issue I’m not going to dive in here.

That being said, I learned five important principles throughout my journey that are worth sharing.

The first is that radical change will not work. If you tend to live in a messy home, it’s not spring-cleaning once every three years which will change that. Going from living in a messy home to living in a more or less ordered home is a lifestyle change. It’s like quitting smoking or starting to exercise regularly, or eating more healthily. Reading GTD, spending two days setting up your system, and “sticking to it”, will not be enough (though I’m a great fan of GTD). Be aware that you’re in for a long process, which will probably take years (it took years for me, in any case — maybe even half my lifetime). This means that you need to start by making small changes to the way you do things, instead of aiming for a revollution.

The second is to not do it alone. By that, I mean involve others to support you. Things I’ve done include buddy working, asking a friend to come over to help me clean the flat, or having my brother literally hold my hand during three months whilst I started getting my finances back in order. If it’s easier to do with somebody just sitting next to you, then ask somebody to do just that. I remember one of my first experiences of this was being on the phone with a friend, and we both had a horrible awful pile of dirty dishes to deal with. We both decided to hang up, do it now, and call again an hour later when it was done. Somehow, it felt easier to be doing the dishes when I knew my friend was doing the same thing in another country.

The third is that backlog and process both need to be dealt with. When you procrastinate, you start off in the worst of places: not only do you not have a healthy “lifestyle” process in place for dealing with things (you let them wait until it’s so urgent the only thing left to do is to call in the firemen), but you also have a (sometimes huge) backlog of “stuff” that needs dealing with. Be patient with yourself. Also, understand that there’s no point in just dealing with the backlog if you’re not fixing the process. GTD is mainly about the process. “Do it now” is also just about the process.

The fourth is to find pleasure in the doing. One component in my procrastination is that I’m overly goal-focused. One thing I had to learn to do was to enjoy doing things, and not just enjoy having done them. Life is now, even when you’re doing the dishes or cleaning the flat or paying bills. What can be done to make the process more pleasant? Well, there are things like listening to music or focusing on the task at hand in a zen-like way, but it’s also possible to keep in mind that by paying my bills now, I’m being kind to myself and treating myself well (by keeping myself out of future trouble). It helped me to realise that I really didn’t mind doing the dishes for friends when I was invited — it was doing them for myself that sucked. It wasn’t about the dishes: it was about doing stuff for myself. (Which opens a whole new can of worms: is it easy to treat yourself kindly?) When I started doing my dishes as if I were my own best friend that I loved, things started changing.

The fifth is to know your boundaries and enforce them (aka “say no”). When there is too much to do that you can’t keep up, it means that you’ve been accepting or taking on too much. This is a major chapter in itself (and as I’m getting increasingly better at setting limits and saying no when needed, I’m starting to realize how hopelessly bad most people are at this). If you catch up on the backlog, set up a good process, but keep on piling up your plate with more than you can eat, there’s no way out. Again, this principle opens up potential cans of worms: why is it difficult to say no? Fear of rejection or angering the other are not to be taken lightly. “Just understanding” this is often not enough, as the root of such behaviour is often emotional and needs to be treated with respect. (You’ll probably have noticed: you won’t get much out of yourself — or anyone — if you don’t treat emotional components of problems with respect.)

I think that before diving into any “method” to change one’s procrastinative habits, it’s worth pondering on all five of these principles and trying to keep them in mind whilst going on with one’s life: change will be successful only if you pay attention to them all. This is, in my opinion, where GTD on its own fails at “solving the problem”: it’s mainly about the process (part of the third principle here). You can get started implementing GTD, but if the deeper roots of your procrastination are not dealt with, you will simply fail at implementing GTD properly enough for it to be “the solution”, just like I did. Not that implementing GTD isn’t useful: it was a very important step for me, and helped me a lot (it changed my life, clearly), but it was not enough to free me from procrastination.

Another element I’d like to add, in case it comes handy to somebody, is that I noticed at some point that when I am under stress, I tend to feel down, and when I feel down, I tend to find it difficult to do things, and therefore procrastinate. Figuring out this vicious circle was a really important milestone for me. Of course, it then took many months of careful observation of myself to reach the point where I could go “Oh! I’m feeling down and crappy, am I stressed? What’s stressing me? Oh, let me deal with that now so I can climb out of the pit!” — and now, it never even gets to that stage (or very rarely) because I catch it even earlier and nip it in the bud.

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Two Weeks With (Almost) No Planning [en]

[fr] Pas tellement de planning hebdomadaire ces deux dernières semaines, entre LeWeb'09, la récupération après mon voyage parisien, et la compta 2008 à boucler en catastrophe. On reprend le 4 janvier!

These two weeks went by really fast! The first was spent between TEDx Geneva and LeWeb’09 in Paris, busy blogging (as you can see) and being social and doing things one does when one attends conferences. As for the second, it was spent recovering (major sleep deficit + cold) and dealing with (OMG!) finishing my accounting for my 2008 tax report (no comment).

Although I didn’t really plan the work I still had to do during those two weeks, I didn’t completely give up on it (indeed, this week was spent going “oh, tomorrow I really have to plan my week”) and did manage to place a few of the most important things I was forbidden to forget in my “weekly planning” Evernote note.

I’ve looked at TeuxDeux and it’s pretty, but has a big disadvantage: it’s outside of Evernote. But who knows, I might try it out in the future and adopt it. Sometimes life is full of surprises.

Next week is Christmas week, and the week after is New Year’s week. I’m going to spend them relaxing and writing, so there will only be minimal planning involved until the week of the 4th. However, I have noticed that I remain in a “look forward longer than a day” frame of mind even when I’m not actively planning my weeks, which is a good thing.

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Chat ou e-mail pour rester en contact? [fr]

Au détour d’une conversation avec Fabien ce matin, je (nous) faisais la réflexion suivante: même si j’adore écrire (preuve les kilomètres de texte qui s’alignent sur ce blog, sauf quand je n’écris pas) je ne suis pas du tout versée dans l’e-mail “correspondance”.

Certes, j’utilise (beaucoup) l’e-mail comme outil de travail. Pour des échanges factuels. Pour de l’administratif.

Mais pour parler de sa vie ou de son coeur, je préfère être en intéraction directe: IM, SMS, IRC Twitter, téléphone, ou même (oh oui!) se voir en chair et en os pour boire un café ou manger un morceau.

Déjà avant que l’e-mail ne débarque dans ma vie, je n’étais pas vraiment une correspondante. Ma grand-mère paternelle se plaignait amèrement du manque de lettres provenant de sa petite-fille, les cartes postales signées de ma main étaient dès le jour de leur réception des pièces collector, et les deux ou trois tentatives adolescentes d’avoir des correspondantes dans d’autres pays se sont assez vite essoufflées.

Peu étonnant, dès lors, qu’un fois accro au chat sous toutes ses formes, ce soit les modes de communication interactifs que je privilégie pour mes relations avec les gens.

Je me demande si c’est simplement une préférence personnelle (certains sont épistoliers, d’autres pas) ou bien s’il y a véritablement des caractéristiques des médias en question qui la sous-tendent: l’interactivité (relativement synchrone), par exemple. Parler de ce qu’on vit ou fait (c’est souvent l’essentiel des conversations), c’est bien mieux avec un retour direct d’autrui en face, non?

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There is Work and Work [en]

We freelancers know it: there are many kinds of work. Non-freelancers probably know it too, but let’s stick to the freelance way of life for the sake of this article.

There is work that gets you paid. There is work that doesn’t get you paid, but that you need to do in order to get the work that will get you paid.

There is also work that you have decided to do and planned, and work that you just happen to do.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the last distinction lately.

Three years ago, I had a big client project and was going through a slow procrastinative summer. At one point, I decided to stop worrying and embrace my summer days: I would work from 9am to noon and then would be free to do whatever I wanted.

It worked really well. I made quick progress on the project and got to enjoy my summer.

This year, I’m having a slow summer too. The weather is nice, people are on holiday, I’m learning to sail, and I’m not swamped with work (I am busy with lots of things, though, I think that’ll never change). And honestly, when I look at my productivity certain most days, I might not be working less if I had decided to do the 9-12.

Deciding to work 9-12 does not mean that I stop myself from working in the afternoons. It means that I don’t have to work in the afternoons. And this is where the work you plan and the work that just happens comes in.

I rediscovered this when I started working in my coworking space, eclau: office hours started to be devoted to “things I had to do” for work, and sometimes, in the evenings or week-ends, I would do some light work that I felt like doing (work that doesn’t feel like work). Blogging, for example. Fooling around online. Sometimes, even doing my accounting because I felt like it. But nothing because I felt I ought to do it.

So, next year, I’m thinking of trying the 9-12 during the summer months. Work well three hours, then do something else or allow myself to be completely unproductive in the afternoon.

Hell, why wait until next year? I’m starting tomorrow.

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Sans regrets [fr]

[en] Regrets are there to help you find the energy to dare or do things differently. Beyond that, they are just a ball and chain which shackle us to our past hurts.

Les regrets servent à puiser l’énergie pour oser, ou agir autrement. Passé cela, ils ne sont qu’un boulet qui nous enchaîne à nos douleurs passées.

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Life Comes in Bursts [en]

A few weeks ago, it looked like I had time on my hands. Things have accelerated recently (including a series of disruptive personal and professional issues, all over the course of a couple of weeks) and I’m now looking at a very busy week before I head off to Leeds next Sunday (not tomorrow, Sunday 10th).

I’m working on a long article in French around “Piracy is not Theft“, and also an English version of my article on care of indoor cats for Kits and Mortar, which partly explains the silence here these last two weeks.

Do you also notice this in your lives? I know all about the “feast and famine” cycle for the freelancer, but I’ve found this to be true (for me) in almost all departments. Nothing on the week-end for weeks, and suddenly 4 things in one. Everything is fine for ages, and suddenly 3-4 nasty pieces of news over a few weeks. Work goes smoothly, and then issues start coming up with a bunch of clients all at the same time.

I understood years ago that imbalance is the source of life. Oscillating chemical reactions are what make our hearts beat and what keep us breathing. Life is never stable, at all levels. So I’ve got better at dealing with these “when it rains, it pours” phases… but still, isn’t it annoying sometimes?

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Busy Week [en]

[fr] Semaine très chargée. Toujours pas le temps de remettre mon blog en état, même si c'est la chose la plus présente à mon esprit chaque jour. En plus mon Mac m'a lâchée ce week-end (heureusement pas durant Lift!) -- réparé déjà, toutefois, grâce à la célérité de Mémoire Vive à Lausanne.

To top it all, just after the Lift conference (you can read the notes I took there by looking at the previous posts), my MacBook fan decided it was time to die. Did you see me holding my ear up to my laptop during the conference? That was because it had started making nasty noises. Thank goodness it waited until the conference was over to die.

Hectic week-end, therefore, but very speedy repairs (thanks Apple Care and Mémoire Vive) — I gave my computer in on Monday, and had it back on Wednesday morning (only because I couldn’t make it on time Tuesday night).

Not having my blog online is turning out to be a rather big source of stress, specially as I have a huge pile of critical things to do for clients or eclau right now. I keep wanting to fix the blog “right now” but I can’t, because other things come first. And while it’s offline, it feels like a kind of part of me is missing — like I don’t have access to all my memories or tools. And that’s what it is, actually. I keep pointing people to stuff on my blog, because that’s where I write stuff I want to be able to point others to. And I can’t.

In addition to that, I understood a few important things about what I actually do for a living (my main focus/skill is strategic stuff), and understanding that is going to change the way I present myself quite a bit. Blog posts and site updates in perspective.

But for now, some sleep, before a horribly busy end-of-week: I need to cram about 3 days work in 3 hours, which is all the office time I’ve got left until the week-end (on the road quite a bit, as you can guess).

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A Week of FlyLady Inspiration [en]

[fr] Une semaine à faire 15 minutes de rangement par jour. Les petits pas fonctionnent pour moi! Mon hall d'entrée est rangé, et plein d'autres changements sont en route.

Last week-end, I wrote about the Wisdom of Incremental Change, or something like that. I’ve spent a week now on my FlyLady-ish programme, and am reporting now to the world so you can witness my progress.

Huge progress.

I feel like I have a new life. I feel like soon, I’ll actually be able to bake cookies (one of my fantasies, representing a stress-free life where one has enough time to do useless but pleasant things like baking cookies).

Here’s what I’m doing:

  • morning routine (includes making the bed and rincing the bathroom sink clean)
  • unclutter 15 minutes a day
  • evening routine (includes checking my calendar for the next day, planning train times, and major work activities)
  • clean sink, bathtub, two counters, mirror and toilet with detergent on Sunday
  • clean kitchen sink with detergent on Sunday
  • empty my GTD inbox 15 minutes a day
  • Sunday = bath day!
  • generally, keeping clean/uncluttered areas that way
  • going to bed at midnight (Cinderella technique)
  • set alarms for all regular things throughout the week, including mealtimes

Here are the things I’m thinking of slowly easing into my routines; not all at once, but next on the list:

  • set Roomba to work in a different room each day
  • go through projects, clients, and tasks 15 minutes a day
  • prepare stuff I need the night before (ie. judo bag, snacks)
  • set alarms for snacks between meals
  • do “weekly home blessing” (not right away though)
  • get an indoor bicycle for my bedroom and cycle 20 minutes a day on it
  • add stretching and other exercises to my morning and evening routines (gradually)

It’s interesting how cleaning/uncluttering is contagious: in addition to straightening out my hallway (photos below) I also emptied my big suitcase (it had been lying around since October with stuff still in it), but a few hooks up in the kitchen, and removed all the dead leaves from my plants (poor neglected plants).

Equally of note, I put my clean laundry away the very day I unhung it (it’s easier when the last load of clean laundry isn’t still lying around the room), cleared out my fridge before I went shopping, and threw out a few scary things that were in my freezer (like 2 or 3 year old chicken legs and fish).

Here’s a before and after pair of photos taken from my hallway; click on the photos to read notes:

next cluttered-up space in the zone Uncluttered hallway

I’ve also reorganised the entrance part of my hallway (again, click for notes):

Uncluttered and reorganized hallway

I realised that I have a lot of stuff in my flat which has no home. But I also have lots of spaces which are not home to any stuff. For example, those white shelves in my hallway where just layer upon layer of “things dumped here”. What are they going to be home to? As you can see in the notes, I’m trying to figure out what to put in them — but I’m sure it’s not final. I have cupboards and drawers which are just full of “stuff” that was dumped there at some point when I moved furniture around — I need to have a long hard think about what goes where at some point. (That’s an idea for a future blog post: a list of stuff that I’m keeping but I don’t know where to keep.)

A side-effect of this “more sleeping, more cleaning” regime is that I’m way less stressed (I feel like a big cloud has lifted off my life) and I’m taking time to do things, like eat and cook. I cooked my first chicken last night, and today made chicken salad, chicken soup, and cooked some minced meat that needed it. I think that for quite a few years, I’ve put a lot of energy trying to “escape from” my flat (well, my chaos) when I was in it. Now, I’m happy to be around. Happy to see that I’m taking control of things.

2009 is the year of taking control of my life again. I’ve been letting it happen to me for way too long. So here we go:

  • keeping track of my finances with buxfer — which has a great iPhone site btw, and allows updates from Twitter, so you can enter all your transactions on the road if needed
  • regaining control of my living space with FlyLady
  • keeping control of the “stuff” I want to do with a sprinkling of GTD (and having an office).

I’m going to love 2009!

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The Wisdom of Small Changes: Incrementally Reclaiming My Flat [en]

[fr] Reprendre contrôle de mon appartement, un petit pas à la fois. Chaque jour, ajouter un nouvel élément à garder sous contrôle. Aujourd'hui, c'est nettoyer la baignoire.

Aussi, diviser l'appartement en zones, et travailler chaque semaine sur une zone, 15 minutes par jour.

Inspiration: toute une longue histoire personnelle, et le site FlyLady.

I’m going to tell you about my plan to reclaim my living space, little by little, over the next weeks and months. However, you know me — I’m first going to get sidetracked a little ;-) and tell you how I got where I am, and how the plan was born.

I have lived in clutter my whole life. Both my parents were pretty active clutterers too, so I guess part of the reason is “in the genes” (we recently cleared out the family home to rent it — oh, boy). Other reasons include the fact that there are much more fun things to do in life than clean/tidy (though annoyingly, each time I actually start doing these things I really enjoy them), and my natural tendency to “not do things” rather than “do things”.

I love living in a reasonably tidy place. It makes me less stressed. It makes me less depressed. It makes me happy to spend my days in an environment which is under my control, rather than a sprawling monster of Things. How to tidy my flat and keep it tidy is something that is always on my mental to-do list.

I’ve lived in my flat since I came back from India, over eight years ago. It has been cleaned more or less from top to bottom a few times since I moved on (in 2007, for example — check the “myflat” tag to see more pictures of my living space and its transformations through the years). Over the years, I’ve become quite good at keeping clutter off the floor, but that’s about it. Clearly, I lack a process to keep My Stuff under control. I have lots of stuff.

The importance of having processes in life was driven home by my foray into the GTD (Getting Things Done) method. So far, I have not succeeded in implementing GTD completely (I particularly suck at weekly reviews, I think I haven’t ever managed to do one). I do, however, use quite a lot of elements from this method:

  • ensure I have a system in which I can capture all the stuff that’s on my mind
  • have an inbox (though I don’t empty it very often, but at least it keeps all the stuff to be dealt with in one place
  • think in terms of “next actions” and “projects”
  • know that when I’m procrastinating, either I have too much stuff sitting in my head, or my next action is not clearly defined
  • use an A-Z classification system, with printed labels on folders, for all my paperwork.

The idea of having a process is underlying in two previous “housecleaning” articles: Taming the Dirty Dishes, way back in 2002, and Keeping The Flat Clean: Living Space As User Interface, in 2003. But it’s not quite there yet, or expressed clearly.

Two years, ago, I had a groundbreaking conversation about my diet with my Doctor. I was leading a very unhealthy lifestyle (even without smoking or drinking) and knew it, but I was so wracked with guilt and discouraged by the amount of changes I had to make to my life that I just didn’t do anything. He showed me how important it was to not disrupt my life and diet completely, but to make small easy changes like prepare a few leaves of lettuce while my pizza was warming in the oven, or cut up an apple before the meal so that I’d eat it for dessert.

A year ago, I officially rediscovered the importance of morning rituals. I’ve also come to accept that having some things under control is better than none, even if all the rest is going to the dogs. Last autumn, for example, I decided that even if my kitchen was a mess, I would at least keep the table clean and void of any clutter, so that I would have a nice place to eat.

Recently, I started cleaning my bathroom sink (almost) every morning. I don’t use soap or anything fancy, but I have a sponge I keep on the sink and I give it a quick wipe whenever I use it. Looking into a clean sink in the morning is clearly nicer than when it’s dirty.

Now that I’m in the habit of (#1) washing my bathroom sink (it doesn’t require any cognitive effort for me to do it, it’s just part of the things I do like brush my teeth or use my neti pot), I’ve started thinking about other small changes I could make. And I’ve already made some:

Last week-end, I decided that if I wanted to tackle this flat, I had to do it little by little. So, on Saturday a week ago, I did two things in that department: caught up with the kitchen dishes (they were running away again) and put the laundry away (I live out of the clean laundry basket). Oh yeah, and I got Roomba to work.

Cleaning my bathroom sink each morning has reminded me of FlyLady. I first heard about it when Florence Devouard mentioned it at Going Solo Lausanne. I didn’t really investigate it then, but filed it away somewhere under “system/community which starts with cleaning your sink, and then you add extra stuff to do each day”.

I looked it up this afternoon and spent a couple of hours reading through it. FlyLady is a system/community designed for stay-at-home moms, or “Sidetracked Home Executives“. It is e-mail based, and indeed, does start with getting you to shine your kitchen sink (read why) and get dressed to the shoes.

Are YOU living in CHAOS (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome) like Franny in the pink sweats? Do you feel overwhelmed, overextended, and overdrawn? Hopeless and you don’t know where to start? Don’t worry friend, we’ve been there, too.

Step through the door and follow FlyLady as she weaves her way through housecleaning and organizing tips with homespun humor, daily musings about life and love, the Sidetracked Home Executives (SHE) system, and anything else that is on her mind.

The whole tone of the site is very caring and motherly, with a lot of educational redundancies and extremely detailed instructions. The system actually instructs you to stop and rest for 15 minutes doing something you like, or to only declutter for 15 minutes at a time. Some of it might make you cringe, or laugh a bit if you’re a computer geek, but I really think they’re onto something and it’s well worthwhile spending some time reading the various pages on the FlyLady website.

Obviously, I’m not a stay-at-home mum and I don’t own a house, so I’ll be taking a shot at my personal interpretation of the programme. Here are the ideas I like:

This “slow but steady” system reminds me a bit of dieting strategies. You’re better off with a diet that makes you lose weight slowly, and is in fact a lasting change to your lifestyle, than with a crash diet that makes you lose loads of weight but will see you put it all on again as soon as you stop.

Same with clutter: if you stop everything for three days to clean the house top to bottom, you haven’t in fact made any changes in the lifestyle that caused you to accumulate so much clutter in the first place. By changing things slowly, you’re actually making modifications to your lifestyle which will allow you to keep the clutter under control, rather than clean everything and end up knee-deep in clutter two months later.

As FlyLady says somewhere on her site (quoting from memory): “Your house didn’t get cluttered in a day, and it won’t become uncluttered in a day either!”

Browsing as I was writing this article has brought me over to SHE forums, a community which functions on “challenges” and peer support to deal with household tasks. Remember Website Pro Day and WoWiPAD? :-)

The FlyLady website method is actually based on a book, Sidetracked Home Executives(TM): From Pigpen to Paradise, and one of the co-authors has a site called The Brat Factor, which is all about taming your inner brat (there’s a CD and DVD involved, of course) — but it looks fun (that’s how you tame brats). Your inner brat is the part of you that procrastinates, leaves the dishes in the sink, doesn’t put the clean laundry away& know him/her?

So, I’m going to set my timer to do 15 minutes of decluttering in my hallway (zone 1, I’ll consider it’s already Feb. 1st). Each day, I’ll add a baby step to the ones I’m already doing. I’ll post each new baby step on my Digital Crumble.

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