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This is a newsletter I wrote a few years ago, with a couple of updates because technology changes all the time.  Some friends and I were talking about technology and how much we use it, and a couple of people I know are talking about taking time away from the internet or at least away from social media.  Now seemed like a good time to repost this.

Technically Speaking
by Kim Switzer

How do you feel about technology? Does it make your day? Drive you nuts? Is it a helper or a distraction or some of each? Do you run out to get the latest gadgets, or are you still using a cell phone from 2003?

Don't worry if you and technology aren't best buds. You don't have to ditch it and go live in a cave—you can make it work for you and maybe even learn to enjoy it!

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A lot of people have something of a love/hate relationship with technology, especially the internet and social media. I see posts and notes from people fairly regularly saying they are taking a break from technology, going on a technology vacation, etc. The main culprits that seem to send them skittering away from the internet are Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, the things that can suck you in and hold you captive way longer than you intended to stay. So these people disconnect themselves for a while, then they show up again later seemingly rested, rejuvenated, and glad to be back.

I think time away from the internet, the computer, your cell phone, etc. is a great idea. I'm just not sure doing it in big, sometimes dramatic breaks from the internet is the most useful way to do it. I think incorporating times throughout the week where you aren't on the computer (or the iPhone or Android or tablet or any of that) is extremely important for creatives, and doing it regularly is better for your creative balance than doing technology binge-and-purge cycles.

Don't worry that taking regular time away from technology will put you behind or make you miss something. I do very little on the internet or even the computer in the evenings and on weekends. (Unless I'm sick, in which case I spend way too much time on Facebook reading and commenting on any random thing that comes by to distract myself, but that's a special case.) Most of the time on a work night I might check my e-mail and maybe Facebook once in the early evening. This usually takes about half an hour, and then I put down the computer and pick up some knitting or a journal or a book to read. And a kitty. I almost always pick up a kitty. On the weekends, I usually spend an hour or maybe a little more on Sunday evening doing a quick catch-up, but mostly I fill my weekends with AFK (away from keyboard) activities. I get plenty of non-technology time, and it feels really good to pop back in to my e-mail and Facebook and see what people have been up to. Lots more interesting things get a chance to pile up if I don't check
every 15 minutes.

Of course, when I first signed up for Facebook, I was on there all the time. And I still fall into that now and then—hours frittered away mindlessly scrolling and refreshing, looking for who-knows-what. And that's okay. Sometimes we need mindless distraction to let our brains rest. If you find yourself doing it a lot, it doesn't necessarily mean you have to ditch the technology, though. This sort of behavior is actually an excellent road sign. For me, this behavior lets me know that I'm avoiding something that is feeling too hard or overwhelming. And that lets me know I need to examine whatever it is I'm avoiding and find a way to break it down into smaller steps. Technology becomes a mini-coach, helping me realize that something isn't working and I need to give it some attention.

Quick Exercise: If you find yourself procrastinating or numbing your brain with the internet, social media, other technology, or anything else, try a little journaling. Grab your journal and write down this question: “What in my life needs some time and attention from me right now?” Write about it if you like—just let the words come, don't edit or censor yourself. But you don't need to push for an answer. You can just let this question simmer in the back of your mind and be open to what answers may come up later.

How else can you make technology work for you?

Timers: One of my favorite tools to use. I like to set a timer and write as fast as I can for 10 or 15 minutes. I also set a timer when I want to have a little break and poke around on Facebook or elsewhere on the internet but don't want to get sucked in for half a day. Some of my favorite timers:

  • My iPod Touch timer with its variety of cute sounds (currently, it's set to “trill”).
  • Countdown Timer, a free online timer with a variety of options.
  • Cool Timer, a nifty, free timer to download that lets you play MP3s and all sorts of sounds.
  • Insight Timer, a meditation time available for iPhone, iPad, and Android that uses Tibetan singing bowl sounds; I use it for writing and other things, though, rather than meditation.

 Calendars and To-do Lists: Don't just use these for the normal stuff—deadlines and appointments and anniversaries and such. Get creative! Do you practice The Artist's Way? Put your artist dates on your calendar (one of my friends puts the question “what are you going to do this week?” on her calendar to remind herself to plan an artist date—such a great idea!). Put little questions (like the one from the exercise above) on there so they pop up occasionally and remind you that you want to think about them. Mark off time for working on creative projects, use calendars and lists to remind you that you want to spend time researching a new skill. Put some fun, exciting, creative stuff on there and let your calendars and lists help keep creativity at the forefront of your mind. My faves in this category:

  • Google Calendar--it integrates really well across multiple devices, it's really easy to update, and you can get pop-up or e-mail reminders or both.
  • Remember the Milk--a great to-do list with options; it integrates with Google Calendar, lets you make lists for multiple categories in your life (I have categories for MuseCraft, writing, household stuff, body and exercise stuff, and a few others), and lots of other good stuff.
  • Awesome Note--I love this calendar/to-do list combo! My only complaint about it is that there isn't an Android version.

Various and Sundry Other Bits of Goodness:  you can use technology to inspire you.  Sign up for newsletters, poem-a-day e-mails, quote-a-day e-mails, travel photos, cute animal photos--whatever makes you feel happier and more ready to get back to your creativity.  Use your tech to capture things you want to read later, recipes or tutorials you want to try, classes you want to take, things you want to remember.  Use music playlists (on your MP3 player or on a service like Pandora) to set your mood, podcasts to keep up with topics you like, funny websites to cheer you out of a slump.  Use your technology, then set it aside and go outside and play!  Some of my favorite technology bits:

  • Evernote--a great place to capture notes, pictures, whole websites, whatever you want; you can make notebooks, notebook stacks, use tags to make it easy to find your stuff, web clippers that load right in your browser.  And it integrates across all the devices.
  • Pocket--you can put all sorts of things in your pocket to read later, and most of the stuff is available offline!  And you can set it up on multiple devices and browsers, plus it's really easy to use.
  • Bloglovin--If you aren't already using a blog reader, try this one (it's my favorite since the old Google Reader went away).  Or try one in general.  You can filter the blogs you follow into categories, so if you feel like reading things about embroidery right now you can open up your reader, click your "embroidery" category, and not have to sift through things you don't want to look at right now.  I strongly suggest that you make yourself a "daily" category (or weekly if that's better for you) for the blogs you especially want to keep up with.
  • Diigo--An excellent bookmare device, complete with a "diigolet" you can load in your browser to make bookmarking sites ultra-easy.  And, as with many of my favorite things, it lets you use tags, and it integrates across multiple devices, plus it has room for notes on each bookmark you create.

I could go on, but I won't.  My point is that technology doesn't need to be a burden or some form of enslavement that we need to get away from.  Experiment.  Don't be afraid to ditch things someone said you "need" (three Facebook accounts, one for personal, one for your business, one for your creative stuff?  No way!  Not for me.)  Don't follow any rules about using technology or social media that don't feel good for you or don't leave you time and space to just be you.  Do the techy thing your way, have fun with it, and don't forget to go outside and play in the sun sometimes.

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On Friday, I wrote a blog post about the small changes I've started making in my environment, working to make welcoming, creative spaces for myself.  Over the weekend, I actually completed one of those spaces!

I took my very cluttered, dirty, disorganized bedside cubes and turned them into a space for my books on creativity, other inspirational books, my journal, and a pretty vase full of flowers.  I also completey forgot to take a before picture, and the difference is incredible so I actually regret not having one.  But this is my new, bedside creative space:

Bedside

I'll probably swap out the print above it at some point, but I'm always inspired by Amy Brown's art so this seemed like a good piece to have there for the moment.  I'm going to be adding in some art journaling materials, at least my cute container full of colorful markers and a glue stick.  I've left myself some space to add things I find that I want nearby.

I tried having all of my creative supplies upstairs in my actual studio, but I can't resist the pull of working in my bed (much to my boyfriend's dismay, especially if he's away for a weekend, because I tend to pile things up on his side!).  I have done most of my reading, writing, homework, everything while sitting on my bed since I was a little girl.  I finally realized that this is how I do things.  Putting everything up in my studio with no place for it to live next to my bed just means that I'll bring down what I want to work on and then pile it up around the bed because I don't have a good spot for it.  It makes more sense to make space for the things I want to have near me.

A view of some of the books and things in the cubbies.
A view of some of the books and things in the cubbies.

I'm feeling very accomplished and satisfied by the weekend's work.  And it was a lot more work than I imagined clearing out a relatively small space would be.  There are books, papers, and journals stacked along the wall halfway up the staircase.  I have no idea how all of that stuff fit in those cubbies!

And, as you can see, I celebrated my accomplishment with some fresh flowers.

Spring Celebration FlowersMy next move is some journaling and contemplation to see what part of this ongoing project calls to me next.  I'll keep you posted.  And I'll try to remember those before pictures next time.

Is anyone else working on their creative spaces and clearing the clutter?  I'd love to hear your stories!

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Over the past couple of years, both here and in the newsletter, I've touched on the idea that your physical space and your mental space reflect one another.  And about how you need proper space that feels good to you to do your creative work.  I've briefly brushed up against ideas about clearing clutter, organizing, creating welcoming creative space.  But I've approached this at a distance.  I haven't really been living it at all.  I know it's important, but I haven't been able to really devote myself to it before now.

This week, though, I knew it was time to step into this and make it real.  I've been thinking about it, planning about it, even doing a little work, but for the most part it was all abstract.  This week, I have been bombarded with mentions of decluttering, organizing, etc.  And several of them were in relation to creativity.  If that's not a message from the universe, I don't know what is!  And I know that my emotions and creativity and thought processes all work better when I have even a slightly cleaner, clearer, nicer space to be in.  Imagine what my brain could do if I gave myself a really great space to be in!

I want clean and orderly things around me to open the way to the bright, shiny freedom I see here.
I want clean and orderly things around me to open the way to the bright, shiny freedom I see here.

I declare that I am reclaiming my spaces and making welcoming creative places for myself and my work to flourish!

There.  That's what this is all about.  I'm not going to promise a particular schedule for these blog posts (check under the category "creative space" or the tag "reclaiming" if you want to see more of them when they're done).  But I am going to actually do the work and write about it here.

I'm a little (a lot) nervous about this.  I don't know for sure that this is something I can do, this cleaning and organizing and creating a beautiful space for myself.  There are two of us in our house, and we both make incredible messes.  We are creatives, we are makers, we are busy, and we are naturally slobbish.  You don't want to know what this does to the hard-to-reach nooks and crannies of our house.  Or even the not-really-hard-to-reach nooks and crannies. So I don't know exactly how to do all of this.

I do know this: I am not following any particular plan or organizational/cleaning system or anything like that.  For the longest time (years I'm embarrassed to admit) I would make plans about where to start and what order to clean things in, etc.  And it never happened.  A little cleaning would happen, but it's barely been enough to make a dent.  Now I am following my gut.  And that seems like it might work out, actually.

Last week I felt a pull to clear out the bottom of the linen cabinet, so I did that.  The week before that I cleaned out a massive pile of clothes and magazines and papers that was piled behind the bedroom door making it impossible to completely open it.  Yesterday, after a week or so of having an idea of how I wanted my bedside table to function, I started clearing it out (it's actually two of those stackable cube thingies, so it's four cubes with space under each unit for more storage of stuff that sits on the floor).  In the space of two weeks now, I have made visible changes in my environment.  This is better than I've done in a long time, so I think this "follow my intuition" plan might be the thing.

Anyone else looking to clean and organize and create the space they want to live in?  I'd love company and conversation about it!

Photos:  I know everyone loves before and after pics.  I will post pictures of areas when they are done.  I can't bring myself to post the before pictures.  I promise I will take some so that someday, if I'm feeling feisty and braver, maybe you'll get to see them.  But not right away.

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