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January 31, 2013

January is over? Really? (monthly wrap-up)

Weren't we just here talking about new years and resolutions and foil star stickers and stuff?

At the beginning of January I launched into my yearlong science experiment to find out if small daily changes can have the same impact in life that I get from Grand Gestures. Grand Gestures are my thing, people -- move out west! go to Paris tonight! quit my job! start an empire! I've always been a fan of the Herculean effort. If I'm going to do something I'm going to focus all my time and energy and money on that one thing and march like Sherman to the sea until I'm done (but usually at the last minute, or unexpectedly, or on a whim).

The advantage of this personality predilection is that I have a very interesting life. The downside is that no one can march all the way to the sea and back every day. When I'm in I'm all in, but when I'm out my life is on pause. In 2013, I want to try something different and use each day as a miniature goal farm and see if at the end of the year it grows something good.

My tasks for January were fairly simple. In addition to my daily schedule I created a set of specific daily goals for the month and I scored them using the high-tech "foil star sticker on paper" method. The overall theme of the month was raising my energy.

I'm happy to report it was a banner month in the star sticker department!

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Did I get a star every day for every task? Nope. Did I end up abandoning one task altogether mid-month? Yup. Did I fail completely at writing on this here website every day? Indeed. Still, the month was a success because each star represents 100% more accomplishment on these specific tasks than none at all.

That was the whole purpose of my January goals -- to get into the habit of doing a few things regularly. It's no Grand Gesture, but the cumulative impact in the areas I stuck with was clear. Most unexpectedly, I had a huge eye-opener in January. I suddenly realized how much I can accomplish by working toward one task for 20 minutes each day consistently. Twenty minutes, that's it. I never really thought that such a small effort could have almost immediately big results.

The place it showed up for me was at home. I love to have a clean, orderly home but in my world housecleaning a large task that is to be accomplished once a week with vigorous intensity. Maybe it's a holdover from my weird childhood or something. Every Saturday or Sunday morning you could find me burning hours a day just cleaning, vacuuming, tidying, dusting and doing laundry. My definition of clean may not be the same as yours and I can be rather over-attentive in this area, but even I hate burning a whole precious weekend day on cloroxing.

The end result of my clean-crazy has not been entirely pleasing: the day is gone, I'm exhausted, and the weekend is half over. But it fits with my personality, I guess, pulling out the Grand Gesture of Cleanliness once a week like it or not.

In January I committed to doing 20 minutes a day of focused tidying up or decluttering (in addition to my normal daily stuff like dishes and making the bed.) By the second Saturday of January my weekend housecleaning time was cut in HALF. By mid-January I saw fewer piles of mail or books or shoes or, well, anything. Everything was in its place. Last weekend the house appeared to be keeping itself clean. How was this possible in just 20 minutes a day?

I'll tell you how: Over the course of January I devoted an additional unbroken 20-minute block to my home upkeep, totaling 10.3333 hours for the month. If a task couldn't be completed in the 20-minute timeframe, I did something completely unheard of for me -- I started the task anyway and just finished the next day (!!!!) The difference has been ASTONISHING.

This one simple truth has changed my life.

From now on I'm going to apply this strategy to all sorts of projects. By the time I am 60 I might play the guitar or speak fluent French or get all my music organized on my hard drive or knit a sweater. I may actually rule the world. Consider yourself warned.

When you come from the land of Grand Gestures the idea of a small gesture doesn't seem very appealing. It's kind of boring. It doesn't seem worth the effort. ("Why bother with just twenty minutes? I can't get it all done. It will take me at least an hour, a day, a weekend. I'll do it some other time." Sound familiar?)

This past month has been proof to me that one small effort repeated consistently can have truly transformative results.

January was a definite success.

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Posted by laurie at 6:14 AM

January 23, 2013

Wisdom

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It's true -- there is nothing certain. This makes me crazy and also reassures me. When something is comfortable or going well there is no guarantee it will last and that is crazy-making. When things are weird and not-quite-right, there is also no guarantee it will stay that way -- a wonderful thing.

Forget therapy! I get my wisdom at the dry cleaner's.

Posted by laurie at 8:57 AM

January 15, 2013

Cold and cold

Yesterday was the coldest day on record in Los Angeles for the past twenty-two years! For a town that regularly complains with feral despair when the temperature drops below 65℉ you can imagine how much bellyaching there was across the land. As I type this now it's a frigid 50℉ and yet so bright and sunny out the windows, a disparity that has caused us much confusion. Yesterday I heard someone at the office wail out in frustration, "How on earth can people live this way?" and everyone heartily agreed. It is too much. How indeed can people live when it is sunny and yet there is no warm?

Also, there is germy cold and everyone at the studio is sick. Everyone at the grocery store is sick. I leave my house and all I can think about is how delicious it would be to slip into a well-tailored hazmat suit.

The cold and flu season is not kind to germaphobes.

Last week I was so sick I even missed a day of work, though I don't remember much about it as I slept until 5:30 p.m., something which occurs also once every 22 years. During my time of febrile delirium, I discovered a new product that freaked out my little brain:

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This tissue promises to be soothing and cool to the touch on your poor red noz. And people, it actually works. It's so freaky and mysterious and yet at the same time a strange luxury. I am one of those people who always has an endless supply of Kleenex on hand (along with toilet paper and paper towels, you will never run out of these things when you visit my home, I am a mini-hoarder of necessities) but I only stock the germaphobe's delight, the Kleenex Anti-Viral tissue.

Now I have to make a special trip back to the store and brave exposure to the human population so I can stock up on cool touch tissues. What a marvelous time we live in.

Posted by laurie at 10:49 AM

January 8, 2013

And the year 2007 thanks me for finally arriving

Over Christmas I bought myself a Kindle Paperwhite 3G. I haven't made the leap to eReading and I believe it's going to take me a while to get into it, but I'm glad I bought a Kindle. I like it. It's small, portable, useful and aligns with my 2013 zeitgeist.

I'm hoping that the Kindle will help me a little with my book storage issues (I am running out of room at home!) Look, I'm always going to buy books -- I love them, I love the way the feel and smell and the solid way they fit in my hand. What I do not love is boxing them up and moving them or storing them in piles all over the house. If I buy half the books and read twice as much using the Kindle I'm ahead of my own game.

Perhaps the Kindle will come in handy with another 2013 goal: Go On Vacation. My idea of vacation is sitting in a cafe somewhere far away reading a great book. On my last trip to Paris I had to pay a hefty luggage overcharge for all the paperbacks I bought at Shakespeare & Co! That dumb fee cost more than an eReader.

The Kindle is really simple to use and it's much lighter than my iPad. The built-in light is useful at night. I also sprung for the case, when I travel it will make a nice protector. Downloading books couldn't be simpler. I already started my first book, but it's a very different experience on an eReader. I didn't realize how often I thumb ahead in a book or locate passages by sight based on page placement, but perhaps this is something you get used to. I also miss that comforting feeling of holding a physical book. Is this something that wears off? Did you get used to it in time?

My loyalty to Amazon tipped my decision in favor of the Kindle. I've heard wonderful things about the Nook, but I know that Amazon's customer service is the best of the best of the best. I figure if I read one extra book a month (while simultaneously not adding to my overfilled bookshelves) the Kindle will be worth it. (For the record, yes I know libraries are wonderful, yes I love libraries, we all love libraries. But I choose to buy books, author karma, etc. etc. You do what's best for you.)

Have you made the switch to an eReader? Did it take you a while to get used to reading electronically? Do you read mostly digital, mostly paper books or a combination? Has your eReader helped you cut down on physical book storage? (At first I almost said "book clutter" but books are not clutter!)

Posted by laurie at 8:44 AM

January 7, 2013

Winter

Winter in Los Angeles is so cold, every morning it's hard to get out of bed and brave the deep chill. Today it won't even reach 70 degrees, how will we survive? Probably with coffee and Ugg boots and indoor scarves.

And maybe a warm hand-knit hat.

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Posted by laurie at 8:46 AM

January 4, 2013

How Byg?

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Posted by laurie at 7:40 AM

January 3, 2013

Download your own goal-tracker (stickers not included)

Yesterday when we were talking about goals, reader Helga asked:

"Can you talk some more at some point about the mechanics of how you track your goals? I too am a tracking and goalsetting nerd and I love hearing about what other people do. Also, I confess to being thoroughly intimidated by the volume of goals just for January, and would really like to hear how it works. Is it one star per thing per day, etc.?"

Hi! I am so glad you asked and I cannot believe I forgot to include these links yesterday (apparently I am out of practice a bit.) If a tracking system isn't simple I won't keep up with it. Anything too restrictive, overly detailed or color-coded guarantees I won't do it so I created myself a blank grid that has enough room for six write-in goals and little boxes to put in a star each day (or leave blank, if I miss a day). It's simple, visual and cheap. Instead of worrying over a special printable page for each month I just created one with 31 days and I can write the month at the top above the numbers column.

Feel free to download them and use them yourself:

Monthly goal tracker PDF (letter size)

Monthly goal tracker PDF (legal size)

The template has six slots at the top for my daily goals. Six goals per day felt like the maximum I could safely pledge without giving up in a fit of frustration. On January 1st, though, I added a 7th in the margin and the world did not stop spinning on its axis, so all is well. Some goals are simple ("Take vitamins daily") and some have time limits attached ("Exercise for at least 20 minutes daily.") If I accomplish my goal that day I get a shiny star sticker in its spot.

If I don't accomplish my goal for a day, I leave the spot blank but don't give up, just try again tomorrow. The idea is to have more stars than blank spaces at the end of each month. You could also use this template to track a single goal over a month at different levels of progression. For example, if your goal is to walk more you could chart your walks and make notes of time, distance, hills vs. flat, etc. Author Gretchen Rubin has a similar goal-tracking sheet on her website, The Happiness Project, and her goals are already written in if that helps you.

After eleventy-nine years of making goals for all kinds of stuff, I have learned that my systems have to be simple if I'm going to stick with them. This is about as simple as they get. I highly recommend investing a buck fifty into a pack of foil star stickers -- it's only January 3 and already I am addicted to the high of putting stickers all over my chart. This is a ridiculously silly thing that I have only just discovered about myself, but apparently I am still six years old and I love the thrill of checking off another task with a shiny star-shaped sticker.


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Bob has accomplished all his goals for the day.

Posted by laurie at 8:27 AM

January 2, 2013

January (Energy)

Hello, new year, you are all full-up with possibility that something terrific could happen in the next 365 days. My 12-month plan is posted on the wall, I've got a fresh calendar ready and a shiny pack of foil stars from Office Depot because I am an awesomely huge nerd.

This year I am turning myself into my own science experiment. I'm super excited about it. Most of the time the changes that shape me are unexpected and take me by surprise. I prefer shaping my own path, so why not start right now?

Creating lists and setting goals makes me happy. Not everyone is this wired for bullet points, of course. Every time I talk about my love of goal setting it makes some people uneasy, especially The Gratitude Police who show up with their finger-wagging platitudes, saying:  "You should just be happy with what you have! Be grateful! Other people have it worse!"  I don't understand Gratitude Policing AT ALL. Are we supposed to stop setting goals, just be grateful and .. what? Wait to die? I am not built that way. Setting goals is my way of paying back the Universe for the pleasure of living. It's a huge expression of thanks! Trying to live to higher standards is a tenet of every religion on earth. Great spiritual leaders never sat around telling strangers to shut up, be grateful, and stop making improvements.

So, to be clear, this is my personal way of expressing thanks for my life -- by making a plan to not squander all I've been given. I will let my freak flag fly and cover it with foil stars from the office supply store if that is my thrill.

By the way, that IS my thrill.

I'm a huge fan of the Grand Gesture, a big sweeping moment of change. (Think, "I want to quit my job!" or "To hell with this, I'm moving to France!") I've done a few of those in my life and while satisfying, the grand gesture just isn't practical every single day of our lives. In 2013, I'm working my science experiment inside the confines of my day-to-day life, to see if small changes worked every day can really add up into big change by the end of the year.

My January goal is to improve my energy. I need energy so I can accomplish my other goals for the year. This theme is swiped directly from Gretchen Rubin's book, The Happiness Project. I rarely recommend self-help books here because I am sensitive to the amount of cheese one human can push on another, but The Happiness Project is a wonderful book that reads more like a memoir. If you need inspiration, guidance, and fresh ideas on getting your year off to a good start this is the book. The author is charming and pragmatic and she's done all the research for you, essentially rounding up a century's worth of advice and research on happiness and distilling it down to the essence.

(Some of) My January Goals

Take vitamins every single day for the entire month
Get at least 20 minutes of physical activity each day
Go to bed at a regular time every night and try to sleep for 8 hours
Eat three nutritious meals each day
Declutter or clean house for 20 minutes each day
Read one fiction book I'm excited about
Write in the mornings
Floss every night

I'm not posting the whole list lest I seem like an insane person, but you get the idea. Some of these things seem so basic -- take a vitamin -- but I often skip or forget. And others, like sleep, are biological necessities that I have come to think of as luxuries in my weird, busy world. Many of my goals don't initially seem to be in service of the theme but living in a clean home, taking care of myself and relaxing with a good book are things that make me feel lighter and happier. Everything I do and say and eat and drink in January will be intended to boost my energy, that's my plan for the month. Also, it's measurable -- 20 minutes a day, one a month, etc. Hello, science! I am measuring stuff!

Are you making a January plan? I'd love to hear about it!

I'll let you know how mine goes at the end of the month. It ought to be an interesting four weeks. My inner Type-A is saying, I BETTER SEE A WALL FULL OF GOLD STARS. My outer sloth is saying, did I really sign up for this? 

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I'll be here radiating adorableness while you get right on that.

Posted by laurie at 6:46 AM

January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

In 2013, I hope you get everything you want and something so good you didn't even have it on your list.

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Posted by laurie at 2:14 PM