stevemedcroft.com
13Jan/190

Design your ideal work habit

Can we program our brains like a computer to do the work that will get us to our dreams?

Create a repeatable daily process to get your most important work done

What were you put on this earth to do? What is your purpose? What do you want to accomplish with your precious, albeit short, life? And are you doing the work you know you need to do every day to realize your dream?

If it only took intelligence or raw talent to achieve our goals, success would be so much easier. But because (except for the extremely fortunate) success requires that we apply ourselves and work really hard for our dreams, they seem out of reach at times.

My biggest challenge is that even though I know what I need to do every day to pursue my lifetime goals (write, publish, and promote my work), I battle with myself to get my work done. I wake every day with the intention to write, with a long list of ideas and even professional writing commitments, then I open my phone, check email, look at what's new on YouTube or Netflix and before I know it, my intention is buried under a day's worth of distractions. Without a process to get the necessary work done every day, reaching my goals is taking a very long time.

When I avoid those distractions and lean into a block of writing time, I am actually productive. I use the Pomodoro method to work in twenty-five-minute bursts of intense focus. I can make 2,000 words of progress on my novel, stay well-ahead of my copywriting deadlines, even draft, polish, and post an entire blog post in one two or three-hour early-morning writing session. So long as I write before I do anything else that day.

I could blame the world for my lack of progress -- it is filled with distraction after all (damn you high-speed Internet access!). I could blame my family (we all need to eat and have that pesky roof over our heads after all). I could blame my job (why do they need actual results for the money they invest in me?). But none of those things are the reasons I haven't achieved my writing goals.

No one is going to hand your dream to you

No one else in the world cares if we accomplish my personal goals. It affects no one. At the end of time, what we chose to accomplish or not accomplish with my flicker of our lifetimes won't make a difference to how it all ends. I alone need to accomplish what I feel I am on this earth to accomplish. I need to do it because what I am asking to happen only affects my life's experience.

It comes back to intention. I talk a good game, but unless I follow up my intention with actual work, I will always fall short of my ambitions. Successful people apply their talents and skills in clear, repeatable, and consistent ways. Accomplished people have a process to follow so they get things done. They are disciplined. They show up and do their work. They learn and iterate They stay their course.

Since intention is not enough for me to avoid my own productivity traps, I need to create a system, a process to make sure that I do the right things for myself every day. But how? How do you do create a work process that overcomes your lazy habits and programming?

This tattoo on my forearm is a reminder to work every day toward my writing dreams.

The epiphany for me was to think of my mind as a computer. In computing, algorithms (software code) are used to make computers perform all kinds of repeatable tasks for us. The computer is not smart or talented or focused, it is simply a machine executing the tasks programmed into it. Computers aren't subject to self-doubt and distraction, they just perform the commands given them. What I wanted for myself was a computer-style program I could run in my brain every day, an algorithm, a set of instructions to execute in a repeatable loop that led to a specific result (writing work output).

Re-writing your brain's programming to get shit done

To create the most-efficient work process, we first have to know ourselves. What time of day works best for us (are you mentally freshest in the morning or does your creativity flow best after everyone else is asleep)? How much time do we need to make progress (Can you spare an hour? Two? Five? What feels like the right amount of time you should spend on your work each day?) What environment suits you best (solitude and silence in the perfect home office, or the background bustle of a coffee shop).

We also need to know how we work. Are you task-oriented (make plans and lists and derive satisfaction from checking off tasks)? Are you goal motivated (thrive when there's a tangible reward at the end of the work)? Are you social (work best within a collaboration with lots of feedback) or introverted (need a cone of silence around you to work)? We need to design our process around our best flow. For me, it's tasks. I am most at peace when I get to check off a big list of things I needed to get done. I also enjoy the process of planning; set a goal, create a strategy for accomplishing the goal, create the tactical plan (tasks) to achieve the goal.

The final piece of the puzzle is to anticipate the potential barriers there are to the sustainability of your program and prepare in advance to manage them. For me, I needed to thwart what Steven Pressfield in The War of Art calls The Resistance; the inner voice that is constantly pulling us away from our creative work. I wanted a process that was so pre-planned, so clear a set of clear instruction, that it required me only to sit down at a certain time and follow it without overthinking. I want a recipe to follow, a formula, a paint-by-numbers approach to writing.

With my intention set, the best working time of day established, an understanding that I need task orientation, a calculation of the hours I can dedicate to writing, and an acceptance that the Pomodoro method is an ideal focus method for me, I wrote the following algorithm to reprogram my brain:

<PRIME - BEFORE BED> - Before I go to bed at night, I review my master writing task list (a OneNote page with lists of all my writing ideas). This master writing list contains every writing idea I have. Whenever I have a new writing idea, I add it to this list. They include copywriting and marketing assignments I need to deliver to clients, blog post ideas, article ideas for a personal project I'm developing, as well as fiction projects. The list could contain first-draft writing, editing, polishing, publishing tasks, any kind of writing work that leads to finished writing projects. Each night I set a specific intention for the next day to focus on five 'on deck' priority projects, sorted in order. Before I go to bed, I make sure I know exactly what writing I'll be doing in the morning, even typing up rough, bullet-point outlines. Planning the night before takes away all thinking in the morning. All I have to do is show up, put my fingers on the keyboard, set my timer, and write what the list says is next.

<START = WAKE UP> - This is the logical first step in my work block. I set Wake Up as the first step in the routine so that when I go to bed the night before, I know that when I wake up, I am immediately executing the writing algorithm. If I don't start at wake up, then I might allow myself to get pulled into distraction.

<MAKE THE BED> - I make my bed when I get up in the morning to declare to my mind that sleep time is over. It is a psychological act. I am also immediately priming myself by checking off a task that the time to complete tasks has begun.

<SHOWER and DRESS> - Again, this is psychological. I could wait to shower and dress until after the writing session is done, but by taking care of it first, I approach the writing desk ready for the rest of day. It becomes one less thing I have to stress over. Showering before working also gives me a few extra minutes to come fully awake, more time for my brain to prime for what's coming. And by avoiding any media, I give my mind fifteen minutes to ponder what I already know (because I prepared the night before) are the first writing assignments for the day.

<COFFEE> - I take a couple of minutes to make coffee before I sit down to the computer. Ritual? Need for caffeine? I don't even know at this point. All I know is that I like coffee, I draw satisfaction from the rhythm, and routine of making it, and by doing it before I start writing, I don't break my writing momentum by doing it halfway through my writing session.

<WRITING LOOP> - I use the Pomodoro method to focus when it's time to work. I've written about this before, but essentially the Pomodoro method is a system for removing all distractions. You set a timer for twenty-five minutes, work with complete focus on one task until the timer goes off, take a five-minute break, then start the timer for another Pomodoro. My first Pomodoro always starts with a handwritten page in my notebook/journal (about whatever is on my mind). For me, this opens the creative flow. I then switch straight to the first task on the 'on deck' writing list. I do five pomodoros in an unbroken block, working only on tasks from the master writing list. During the five-minute breaks, I get up and move around; let my mind work on the writing and let the blood in my body flow. I reward myself with five lovely marks in my notebook to record the session. And I get to check off any completed projects on the master writing task; both blissful, satisfying feelings.

<END SESSION> - I finish my writing algorithm with five minutes of filtering the email in my inbox. Checking and filtering email before I leave the house for work lets me commute without email stress. If I didn't have a plan to get to it, email would be on my mind all morning. I'll wonder if there is an important message waiting that must be taken care of right away (there ever is, but until I know for sure, the possibility creates anxiety)? By knowing that I have a specific time to check email before I move on to anything else for the day, I hold off that anxiety. My mind is at ease simply because I know I am going to get to it.

The whole routine takes me three hours from the moment I roll out of bed to the moment I walk out the door for work. That means I need to get up at 5:30 to leave the house at 8:30, which is not ideal for a non-morning person like me, but by sticking to this routine, I have had the least stress and most productive writing month of my life.

3Jan/190

The Writer’s Essential Toolbox

Stephen King at his writing desk (sometime in the 80's)

I love looking at photographs of famous writer's desks. Seeing the way another creative person works is pruriently fascinating. I can't be the only one. Websites dedicated to sharing famous writer's workspaces exist. Hashtags exist (#writersdesk). Kurt Vonnegut's wife Jill Krementz produced a book of photographs of writer's working spaces (the Writers Desk).

These images are like porn for a writer. Is Stephen King's desk cluttered or organized? Did Hemmingway write in pencil or typewriter? Does Dean Koontz use notecards to plot stories? It is so interesting to look at these images and try to glean some hint, some epiphany that can help my own journey as a writer.

But for all I absorb this kind of imagery, obsession over how other people write is just another way we put off getting to work ourselves. The truth is that I have long settled into my own way of working. Looking for the silver bullet to getting writing done in photographs of other writer's workspaces is just another form of procrastination. I have what I need; a simple set of tools that are essential to me sitting down and getting my writing work done every day. Yes, I have a desk (three actually; one at each day-job engagement I have and one half of the big kitchen table at home). But the desk does not determine the flow of my work. I prefer to be mobile. I write wherever my butt and my brain happen to be when it's time to get the writing done. My workspace is virtual. My workspace is this set of tools:

Good, old-fashioned pen and paper: The most basic tool in my kit is a notepad and pen. To be a writer (to communicate in the medium of language), we don't need anything more than this. Paper and a pencil. A typewriter and a clean sheet of copy paper. A notepad and a pen. I keep my version of these tools close by at all times because even though I am digitally organized, as a writer, capturing ideas and thoughts at the moment they occur is critical to my writing process. So long as you have a pen and some paper close by, you have the most essential tools a writer needs to get started on any project. Mainly because I thrive under the stability of routine and known things, I am a bit particular on which notepad and pen I use; soft-sided, medium-sized, lined notepads from an Italian company called Legami (because I just fucking love them) and a LAMY Studio fountain pen with a medium nib and blue/black ink.

Any old computer: You can't post an article on the Internet using a pad and paper or submit a handwritten manuscript to a publisher or client, so a computer is essential to writing. I use the Microsoft Surface Pro because it's light, it has cellular service built in (which gives me Internet access anywhere whether there is WiFi available or not) and has a strong enough battery that I can work 5-6 hours without recharging. You don't need something fancy though. The great thing about being a writer (compared to say, a photographer or graphic designer) is that we need very little computing power. I've written on an iPad, at a library desktop computer, on whatever company machine was assigned to me in my day jobs, even my smartphone. Anything from the cheapest used laptop to the best credit will buy you will work.

A word processor: We lived in blessed times. There are so many options for word-processing software, that there is the perfect option for everyone out there. It almost doesn't matter which one you choose. For my work, I use one of four.

  • Microsoft Word - I use MS Word for my professional writing (copywriting, marketing pieces, and blog posts for business clients). It's the most widely-used word processor in business, so I can supply finished work in Word to any client without the problem of them being able to access it.
  • Scrivener - Have you heard of Scrivener? (What? You haven't? And you call yourself a writer?) Don't worry, I hadn't heard of it either, even after years of pursuing writing. Scrivener is a stand-alone word-processor and writing-organization system that is perfect for long projects (like novels or non-fiction books). Whereas Word is organized as a single document for each written work, Scrivener is organized as folders containing individual written files that make up longer work (like chapters in a book). As well as all the word-processing functions a writer needs, Scrivener provides tools to create outlines, synopsizes, and manage research material (among other things). It even provides the ability to output work in a variety of formats (so you can output formatted files for printing or publishing on all the available platforms). There's more but I can't do it justice in this small space. Check out Scrivener for yourself if you're serious about writing in long form.
  • WordPress - I built my personal website and my humanbeing.earth project both using the free web-publishing platform from WordPress.org. Its built-in editor is perfect for writing web posts. You can dynamically move blocks of text around to get the right flow, add images, videos, links, and every other element you need to make your work sing online. WordPress offers the ability to create and save drafts, to publish immediately, or schedule posts to go live at a specific future time. It manages versions. It's a powerful writing tool. I draft right into WordPress for content that is going to live on either website.
  • Google Docs - For personal journals or documents that I want to share, I use Google Docs instead of Word. It's free, works like a charm, allows you to create, edit, and share documents whether or not you have an Internet connection, or not. If you don't have access to any of the above and just need a word processor, I recommend Google Docs.
This is it - everything I need to do my writing.

Grammarly: When I started writing, just out of high school in the mid (ahem) 1980's, you spell checked and added diversity to your writing using a printed dictionary and thesaurus. Computer-based world processing, with spell check and grammar functions built in, saved us from that laborious task and made the printed reference all but obsolete. The spell check and grammar functions within Word (and other software tools) are robust and you don't need much more to put out clean copy, but I have recently adopted a tool called Grammarly and recommend it highly. Grammarly is a service you subscribe to that then plugs into your browser and word-processors like Microsoft Word which provides running guidance to help you perfect your written language skills. beyond basic spelling and grammar checking, Grammarly provides you with robust feedback on sentence structure and language-flow problems. You also get data on the kinds of mistakes you make repeatedly (words you use more often than needed, the fact that I miss that serial comma almost every time). Grammarly has been like getting critique-group or editorial feedback on my work as I write. While I don't follow every piece of advice the service gives up, but it informs my writing continuously and I feel my work is stronger after running it through Grammarly than before.

A camera: I know this is counter-intuitive, but every writer needs a basic camera. Why? I write short pieces for web publication on my own websites and to post on third-party publishing platforms like Medium and LinkedIn. Web articles need an image to draw the reader's attention. Sure, you can source images online (like the one at the top of this article), but to avoid rights and usage problems, you're better off using a picture you take yourself (like the one in the middle of this article). The good news is you probably already have the camera you need - your smartphone. Modern smartphone camera's take excellent pictures, plenty good enough for online publication. If you're writing for print, the images need to be of higher resolution. When I need something better, I have a fixed-lens Fuju X100T (the digital equivalent of the 35mm reporter's camera). I use GIMP and DarkTable, both free equivalents of Photoshop and Lightroom, for photo editing.

A process: The best tool I developed for my writing was a simple, repeatable process for getting my work done. I know this is outside of the realm of the what's-on-your-writing-desk nature of this article, but having a work process is just as essential to my writing as a laptop or the right software. We all struggle with getting our writing done. We procrastinate. We get busy with all the other aspects of life. It's hard to put your butt in your seat and fingers on the keyboard some days, but the only true way to progress as a writer is to write. You have to put down words, and put those words out into the world, to get better. I am old enough and wise enough to know where I am weak about writing. I am weak if I let myself get distracted before I work (when I check email, when I go to the office first, when I check in with the news). I am weak when I tell myself I'll write later, after I just do this one thing (or ten things) first. I am weak if I think I'll really, really focus on writing tomorrow. I am best and happiest when I write first thing in the morning, before I do anything else that day. I am strong when I use to the pomodoro method to focus. I am strong when I take a minute to start a writing session with a handwritten warm-up page in my notebook. I am strong when I already have a plan, a task list of writing that needs to be done. To take advantage of where I am strong, and to defend against where I am weak, I have developed an algorithm than I run every morning to get my writing done. I think of myself like a computer, a machine that just has to follow this programmed routine. All I have to do is show up to my writing space and follow the program. No thinking, no negotiation with myself, just show up and follow the instructions. The program works like magic. The writing gets done and I go off into the rest of the day with the sense of satisfaction that the most important thing i want to accomplish in life was done that day. So long as I execute this three-hour morning routine every day, I trust that time and intention will equal a great amount of progress in my writing.

Feedback: The last essential item in my minimalist writing toolbox is feedback. I identify myself as a writer, a human being who uses writing to communicate thoughts, concepts, knowledge, ideas, and stories to the world. I write just for myself occasionally, but my ambition is that my writing is to be read. It is meant to have an audience. Writing is, like Stephen King says, telepathic communication, transmissions of thought from one person to another. I put down thoughts from my mind. Someone reads them and inputs them into their mind. For writing to be effective, the original thought must transfer as comprehensivley as possible. The only way for a writer to know if their work is being received as intended is to hear back from the reader. What did they think of the message? Did they understand it? Did it lead them to wonder, to think, to be inspired? Or was it confusing or uninetresting? Feedback is the only way to develop as a writer.

That's it. Those are my writing essentials, my virtual version of a writer's desk. If I boiled my writing life down to the bare essentials, everything with a purpose and nothing unnecessary, these are the things I need to be a writer.

What about you? What's your desk? What tools are essential to your writing?

1Jan/190

Why Made In Italy matters

Or, Does Made in Italy matter?

I am a partner in a small business with an Italian cycling clothing manufacturer called Santini. My company acts as the U.S distributor, meaning I import product from the factory in Bergamo, Italy and sell and ship it to consumers and wholesale accounts in the United States.

Santini is a proud and successful family business. Started in 1967 and well established globally as a leader in clothing for cyclists, Santini is run today by the founder's daughters. Santini makes almost everything bearing its label in its own factory and has about 120 employees, many who have been with the business for years, even decades. Santini has built long-term partnerships with the world's top professional teams, several of the world's most prominent cycling events, and the Olympic organizing body for the sport of cycling. They are masters at what they do and every year put out world-class iterations of padded shorts, tight-fitting and colorful jerseys, and all the other specialty clothes people who ride and race bicycles wear.

Americans seem to love all things Italian. Italian brands carry a certain cache. They are respected and sought after, even if they are Italian in name and not necessarily origin (an Italian company who makes product somewhere else to save cost). Italian products have such a good desirability factor that even completely non-Italian companies operating out of cheap-to-produce regions like China and South America adopt Italian-sounding names. But why? Why is Italian cycling clothing held in so much regard? Is it actually better? Is there something to the idea that it is somehow better than clothing made in other places?

I've been working with Santini for seven years now. Early in our partnership, at a U.S. trade show, Monica Santini asked me if Made in Italy truly matters to the U.S. customer. There were a lot of Italian brands at the show and the audience seemed to really like and admire the products. What was the audience reacting to? The fact that these products were authentically made in Italy? Or something else about them that could come from anywhere?

Ask anyone if Made in America matters and the answers come freely; to support your own country because we have labor laws so you know the people were treated fairly, to keep your hard-earned dollars in the U.S., because you believe Americans are industrious and smart and skilled so therefore their products will be superior. But Made in Italy?
My friends and acquaintances admit a certain lust for Italian products, but most are not able to articulate a real, tangible reason why it matters if it was actually Made In Italy. Because it's cool or because it's beautiful are the top answers.

I appreciate, and benefit from, the lust for all things Italian. But it's not enough for someone to want our products just because they're cool (or because some magazine or piece of marketing tells you they're cool). I would rather people made a more conscious decision. You have options. If you're going to choose Italian-made, know why. Make a conscious choice.

A formula for excellence

In my opinion, there are five main reasons why Italian products are special. I know some of the insights below are generalizations (they don't apply to every Italian company and could easily apply to products from other places). But for this exercise, these are my observations of what makes Made in Itlay mean something from time spent with Italian companies.

History: Even though many first-world nations have moved on from a manufacturing economy, Italy is still very much a country that makes things. Maybe because Italy is also a family-driven culture, meaning there are a lot of businesses in operation that makes things and are the legacies that previous generations are handing down to their offspring. This is true for Santini. They are a prime example of an Italian multi-generation family manufacturing business. For fifty-one consecutive years, a Santini family member has led the business. They have guided the development and design of the products, established the partnerships, managed the global distribution, and overseen and improved the manufacturing process. The standards that were set by the founder, that allowed his products to stand out in the early market for cycling-specific clothing, have been baked into the business. It is this fifty-one-year history that sets the framework for the everyday operation that leads to the quality standard the products enjoy. There are thousands of similar family manufacturing businesses in Italy, which creates a product culture tied closely to family pride and obligation.

Experience: Italian labor law favors long-term and stable employment. When you hire into an Italian business, you are making a long-term decision, and the company is making a semi-permanent commitment to you. Employees become like family and rarely leave. The experience they bring and the experience they gain while employed stays within the company. Santini is being run by the adult daughter of the founder. She grew up, literally, in the factory (the family had an apartment on the factory grounds when she was in her early teens). The business benefits from everything she's ever learned. There are seamstresses working on the factory floor who've been with Santini for over thirty years. In fact, across the business, there are hundreds and hundreds of accumulated years of experience at work making the products the company sells. That collective, institutional experience leads to better and more innovative products.

Passion for the product: If you ask an American company how their business is going, chances are you'll hear about their financial results. They'll tell you if they grew, if they hit their goals, how much profit did they make. It is normal for us in the U.S. to define ourselves financially because our culture tells us that the sole purpose and motivation for any business endeavor is profit. In Italy, if you ask an owner how their business is doing, they are much more likely to show you the products they are making and ask what you think of them. Could you see the detail that went into making it? Could you see the technological innovations that make it superior? This has happened to me repeatedly in Italy. I know that most people who make things have pride in it, but the way Italians put pride of product above all other measures of success is unique, and I think leads to better products.

A beauty culture: Some of the most stunning luxury products come from Italy. In automobiles (Lamborghini, Ferrari, Maserati), Fashion (Prada, Gucci) and in pretty much every other product category there is, the most aspirational brands are Italian. Italians (again, I'm generalizing, but this is an observation) take national pride in the global status of their iconic brands and the sense of flair and style they represent. This pride in Italian style and status impacts Italy at every level. It is as if you are representing Italy when you sell your products outside the country, and that you have a responsibility to all Italians to hold yourself to the bar set by brands like those above. There is pride in product in other places in the world as well, but only in Italy do I see that pride of product expressed as the responsibility of Italian companies to put out products that fit the Italian sense of place in the world as leader of style and fashion.

Technological mastery: Because there are so many companies still actually making things in Italy, and many of them are proud, family (or closely held private) companies, the Italian home market is extremely competitive. Small footprint manufacturers like Santini are always looking to innovate as a way to stay ahead. Santini has invested in high-end machinery in the factory to make their processes fast and repeatable and they work with like-minded suppliers to source raw materials that put their products on the cutting edge. In a world that says you should make things as cheaply as possible to maximize profit, Santini, like many Italian companies, focuses on investments that raise the level of their products and ensure what they make is the pinnacle of what can be done in their space.

So there you have it. The real reasons Made in Italy matters. It matters because not many non-Italian cycling clothing companies have over fifty years of history and experience perfecting clothing for cycling enthusiasts and racers. Not many outside companies have direct access to the technical innovation available in the Italian textiles market. Not many non-Italian clothing manufacturers invest in the equipment, processes, and people it takes to create durable, highly-technical clothing in a dependable, repeatable way. And it matters because Italian national pride is tied very closely to their position as the maker of the world's most coveted and beautiful things.

What do you think?

31Dec/180

The HumanBeing.Earth project

For 2019, I am launching a new writing passion project called HumanBeing.Earth, the proper launch of an idea that has been perculating in my mind for several years now.

I have always felt that one aspect of writing I was good at was the interview. I wrote a lot of interviews in both narrative prose and Q&A style when I worked for Cyclingnews.com, and always felt that it was some of my best work. I also always felt like it was the most rewarding work - I got to help tell someone's story, someone who had accomplished something, someone who had inspiration and motivation to share, someone another person could relate to or look up to. My favorite interview was a Q&A with a world-class mountain-biker named Marla Streb, who had written a memoir about transitioning from a life of scientific research into professional athletics.

About three years ago, pondering my interview work one day, I had a spark of inspiration. The inspirational spark was that if aliens exist and they encountered earth, could a webste exist that gave them a positive view of human beings, one filled with stories of people overcoming obstacles, of reaching for goals, of pushing human knowledge forward.

I was sufficiently inspired that day to look up potential domain names for such a website and landed on an available domain of humanbeing.earth. It was so perfect. It seemed to say "Here we are! Human beings of Earth. There are seven billion of us, and we all have our own story."

I registered the domain that day. I could see exactly how the website should look - clean and with a focus on the subjects. Long articles, fully flushed out. With a clear message. A good, direct, black and white portrait image. Maybe a gallery of other photos that support the pitch of the piece.

But, I then talked myself out of the idea the next day. A year later, when the domain came up for renewal, I unchecked the auto-renew box to let the domain expire and didn't think about it again. Until...

What kind of writer are you?

In the past six months, I have been on an exploratory mission to try and work out what I want to do with writing. What kind of a writer am I? How can I use writing as my contribution to the world?

I published my first novel at the end of 2017 and spent much of the first half of 2018 picking away at my next one. But I was unsatisfied with the work. I joined a writer's group thinking I could workshop my way through the project, but I had fallen out of love with my current story. I was trying too hard to make myself a novelist. It wasn't coming naturally to me. I worried that I could spend a lifetime pursuing fiction and only make an average contribution to the world.

So I allowed myself to put that project aside and just write whatever came to mind. I wrote journal entries. I wrote blog posts. I took the copywriting assignments coming to me from one of the companies I work with seriously. And most of that work flowed quickly and was satisfying.

I learned that I could write easily, that measured up to my personal standard of professionalism, and that short pieces provided great satisfaction upon completion. I was onto something as a writer. I am better at shorter projects. I am better when I have several different ideas lined up and can create wherever the flow of writing takes me each day.

I wrote about my wife and I decluterring our house. I wrote copy for websites and catalogs. I wrote marketing emails and blog articles. Ideas for new pieces came easily. And as well as all the personal essays and paid copy work, I found myself continuously inspired to write about people. I met a guy at the bike shop who dropped a hundred pounds in one year riding his bike. I envisioned how I could adapt the podcasts I was listening to, which feature people talking about how the build their creative businesses from the Ground Up, etc. Everyday people all around me are doing amazing and interesting things!

And when I stumbled across information for a ghostwriting certification course, I got excited. It resonated. It clicked. I know what kind of writer I want to be. I want to write about people. I want to help them tell their stories.

And back came that same inspiration I had three years ago; feature articles that tell everyday people's stories, with a focus on what they have learned or accomplished that can be shared to help the rest of us.

Since my personal website is a hodgepodge of my personal interests and I didn't want to wipe it clean (again) and rebuild to serve this new set of content, I recalled the original domain name and website idea.

I logged in to my domain provider to see if I could re-register the humanbeing.earth domain and what the hell! It was already there? Already registered. To me! I took that as a sign and started planning out the next steps.

A mission-driven writing project

To kick this new project off right, I first need to clarify my mission statement, the summation of the brooding I have been doing for the past six months about what kind of writer am I? Here it is:

Personal Mission Statement: To use the gift of writing to help extraordinary as well as everyday people tell their stories to educate, motivate, inspire and elevate human consciousness.

That done, I think it's important to clarify the mission for the new project itself. So here's that:

The mission of HumanBeing.Earth: There are more than seven billion human beings alive today. I believe that every one of us has a story to share that can bring great and positive value to the world.

We so often focus our attention and energy on only the top, most public achievers in any area of human pursuit, but some of the most amazing people doing the most inspiring things operate with little or no attention.

The website HumanBeing.Earth is a place to help extraordinary as well as everyday people tell their stories, share their lessons, challenges, struggles, and successes, with the hope that the articles positively elevate human consciousness.

What's left now is to figure out who the first feature will be written about, then let the design and the promotional strategies flow from there.

What do you think? Comment below if you support me on this project. Or if you think I'm off-base somehow.

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5Dec/180

The Physical and Emotional Challenge of Decluttering

Decluttering your life is not as simple as throwing away things. Not only do you need an efficient process to sort and classify the value of objects in your life, you also need to be prepared to deal with the mental and emotional challenges that will arise.

My wife and I are in the process of decluttering our lives. To start, we've gone room by room at our house, decluttering our closets, bathroom, bedroom, and living room. We've moved on to the kitchen. The only physical space we'll have left after that is the garage (where everything we've removed from the other rooms is piled up waiting to be picked over by our kids or donated to Goodwill).

I already feel lighter. Everything that remains is essential to us, useful, productive, and makes me happy to own. Gone are the random piles of things we didn't really know what to do with. Gone are the numerous decisions about what to wear (I pared my wardrobe down to multiple versions of my favorite jeans, tee shirts, underwear, shoes, with a few long shirts and a jacket). Gone is the head slap from tripping over things we bought but never used (with every possible movie and music album on streaming, why we held on to three copies of Old School on DVD makes no sense to me). And gone is the messy, cluttered evidence of the harder choices we neglected to make (we had 100 frames photos piled in a heap inside a coffee table purely because we were overwhelmed at removing the pictures from the frames and setting them up in proper, long-term photo storage).

We have a ways to go. Our home is not completely decluttered yet. Then we have our company office. Then things like cars and bikes. Then we plan to declutter our finances. And, finally, we'll attack the real reason why we're doing all this - to have the freedom to redefine our daily/working lives so we're living the best possible version of our lives.

So the process is worth the end goal, but is not easy. You don't just throw a bunch of stuff away and live happily ever after. It's a process. It requires work. By taking our time and processing through our home one decision at a time, we've learned that decluttering is both a physical and a mental process. Each part of the process needs to be approached differently. Here's what we learned about how to navigate decluttering your home.

The physical challenge - decluttering requires efficiency

Now that we have the experience of decluttering most of our home, we've refined the physical side of the job into a working system. It breaks down like this:

  1. Target - We first identify a category or area of possession that we want to declutter (Closet, Garage, Laundry room, TV cabinet, etc.). It may be that we're just attacking a single cupboard (the spice cupboard was a hot mess, as what our kitchen junk drawer)
  2. Remove - We then pull everything we own in that category or place out so we can see it all at one time. We brought one of those gray hard-plastic folding tables from Home Depot into the house to use as our sorting table. It makes things very easy and efficient.
  3. Analyze - We try to understand what led us to each of the choices in that pile. Which items bring us joy? What about them works for us? What about them gave us challenges? We get clear in my mind what the ideal thing(s) are in that category. Using the junk drawer as an example, we used it to house our spare keys to everything in one place. That's an essential function. As was keeping a pen and a pair of scissors close by. But the loose change, dead batteries, paperclips, and unregarded mail were all a psychic burden.
  4. Separate - We separate everything into three piles trash, give-away, and keep.
  5. Review - More accurately, it starts out as keep for sure, throw-away for sure, and consider for a minute. Items in the consider pile may shift to the keep or throw-away piles, but ultimately, we end the culling with usually 10% of what we started with in the keep pile.
  6. Return - We place the keep items back into the space in a clean, organized way (we buy storage and organizing containers and hangers only at this stage). The end result being that everything is essential, and everything has a place where it belongs.

The mental challenge - decluttering is about confronting attachment

The psychological burden of the process of decluttering your life is that you have to confront the attachment we have to the things in our lives.

In our sorting process, we have uncovered all kinds of useless objects that contribute to the clutter, but are difficult, at first, to let go of. You unpack a cluttered closet only to find a stack of birthday, anniversary, and Christmas cards. What do you do? These are the words of your loved ones, trapped in amber and preserved as archaeological evidence of their love for you? Do you just toss them in the trash?

This is the dilemma. You don't need these things, but you have strong attachment to them. Letting them go seems live a betrayal, a violation of the relationship between you and whatever you have attached as meaning to them. But, no object has any more meaning than you assign to it. Meaning, in and of itself, is a fabrication of your mind. While decluttering the house, we've learned to handle these confrontations with our attachment in a couple of ways.

First, we hold each item in our hand and ask: Do I need this? Does this bring value to my life? If the answer is yes, it stays. If the answer is no, it goes in the give-away pile. If you are clear and honest with yourself, the thing is an artifact of meaning you've attached to it. Asking yourself if the object holds the value, or what it represents holds the value, can you lead to redefine value. You may come to understand that what you actually valued about a thing is the underlying relationship or experience that you used to give the thing meaning in the first place. That discovery can put you on a path to a more fulfilled life, one with a shift in focus from the accumulation of things as a way to measure growth and happiness, to a life that values experiences and relationships. And when the things are all out of the way, your life becomes more open to new experiences and relationships, leaving you richer after all.

One last things on this. Going back to the cards as an example, there are a couple of final tricks to letting go of objects you have a complicated attachment to, an alternative to the just-throw-them-away approach. One trick is to have a temporary holding place in your garage, a bin where these objects can sit for a predetermined amount of time before they get donated or thrown away. We think we can't let go of that sweater our favorite aunt gave us nine years ago for Christmas, but if it sits unused in the holding bin for three months, you've learned that it is not essential to your happiness after all.

Another trick for handling objects you are struggling to let go of, is to just take a picture of them. Keep an album on your phone (and your cloud-based photo storage backup service) of these things. That way, you're free to let the physical object go, but have it saved permanently, with no clutter, to look at any time you want.

We're still on our journey to declutter our lives, but armed with a system for attacking clutter, and a mental process for dealing with the complex attachment issues related to our owning and collection of stuff, we feel great about the way our lives are evolving. What about you? Are you hemmed in by your physical possessions? Are you ready to let the stuff go? Have you found a system for dealing with a junk pile that works for you? How do you deal with the emotional hiccup that occurs when you hold something you value in your hands but know it needs to go in the throw-away pile? Comment below and let's share notes.

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