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Spring through life | Will you join me for a deep-clean?

Spring, ah spring, yes spring. It's the season of renewal and every year I can't let it go by without feeling the need to clean my life. Like the turn of a new year, spring is like a reset button for me.

I clean my home, myself, my thoughts, my agenda, my values and my dreams. I love the idea of 'springing through life'. I figure that if I can't add some extra spring to my life by the end of, er, spring, what's it all for, huh?

And just how many times can I say the word spring in one post anyway?* Spring.

This year, as I go through my deep-clean process, I thought you might like to spring through life too?

I don't want to overwhelm you with a '30 days to change your life' sort of plan - I find those more than a little daunting myself. I don't want to have to do something every single day, I want rest time to think about the things I'm doing, to take it seriously and really make some valuable changes.

So I'll be aiming to post a Spring through life post each Tuesday and Saturday throughout this beautiful season. Each post will help us tackle a different area of our lives that could do with a rethink:

♥   Our homes and how we run them
♥   Our relationships and how we nurture them
♥   Our body and how we connect with it
♥   Our time and how we value it
♥   Our dreams and how we free them

By the time summer strides in, I plan to feel as cute and newly-hatched as a baby cockatoo (which sounds far cuter than it really is - look).

Will you join me?

* Turns out it's about 16!


Fitting it all in | Finding time


Sorry, that was a 'let it go' bellow. Do you do those? When I feel all restless and itchy with all the things I have to do and all the things I want to do, a good bellow can help me work out what matters. It's not a scream - I save those for other occasions - but a raw, cleansing, get this stress out of me bellow. Give it a go - really belt it out (into your pillow, in the car or across the cliffs if you're really lucky). Aaaaeeeeeeeeoooooooooaaaaaaaaeeeeeeeeemmmmmmmmmmm or gggggrrrrrrrraaaaaaaaaaaawwwwweeern or whatever your bellow sounds like. A bellow is a very personal thing.

Feel better?

It's much too easy to get overwhelmed by life, don't you think? Some days I feel like I'm eating adrenaline I'm so pent up with the longing of it all. Like everyone else, I'm a busy, busy person - busy is the new 'fine'. We don't ask 'how are you?' anymore, we ask, 'how are you, busy?'. But then again, to paraphrase Dash from The Incredibles - if everyone is busy, does that just mean nobody is busy?

Last weekend I had the great pleasure (and frankly pant-wetting experience) of speaking at the massively awesome Problogger conference or #pbevent as it is forever tattooed on my tweeting fingers (Sunday morning a kind soul told me that if you sat in the #pbevent hashtag area on Twitter it would automatically put the #pbevent hashtag in for you... Sunday morning...). I talked about how to manage your life so you can manage your blog.

Can I just interrupt this post to thank all the bloggers who were in the audience on Saturday? It was an honour that you missed the Chris Ducker dance party next door to hang with me. You were a gentle, kind and uplifting audience and you made the whole experience a delightful one for me. I hope I somehow did the same for you.

My talk was basically a three parter, so I'm going to do three blog posts, each with my top 5 tips for that area of blog time management:

1. Finding more time to blog - hello!
2. Making the most of that time - up on Wednesday
3. Using tools to help - up on Thursday

Let's begin.

If you love doing something, you just go ahead and do it. You don’t need reminding. You don’t need prodding. The things we absolutely love just get done.

So first my question to you is: do you love it enough?

"It's not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?" -  Henry David Thoreau

So my second question is: what do you want to be busy about?

Make sure you are mostly busy about the things that really matter to you.  Define your dreams, don't be scared of them. Make them bigger than the sky and then work out later how you are going to make them real.

What do you want in your life right now? What makes you want to get up and do a happy dance like nobody is watching?

Sometimes figuring out what we really want is the hardest thing of all. We can be either overwhelmed by or not inspired by the choices we think we have. Here are some resources to help you begin:

How can I figure out what I really want to do with my life on Quora
What would it take to make you happy on Oprah (yes, I'm going there!)
The burden of choice on Psychology Today
11 scientific studies that will restore your faith in humanity from This Week

Once you've unleashed your dreams, then you can do the reality check (and sadly you must). Just don't let your reality check bring you down.

I wish it wasn't true, but it is: routine is king when it comes to time management. Lots of creative types run a mile from routine, claiming it's stifling, it's rigid, they're just not built that way. But the truth is, routine gets all those little jobs done that often stand in the way of having time to be creative. Routine is our shortcut through the mundane.

Make sure you have a planned, sustainable routine for all your ongoing daily, weekly, monthly tasks. Here are my go-to sites for getting and staying organised: Planning with Kids (love you Nicole!), i heart organizing, clean and scentisble (though I'm not fond of the cutesy blog name!) and, of course, The Organised Housewife (love you Kat!). Search for 'routines' on any of those blogs and you can't go wrong.

Whatever routine you work out for yourself, write it down and pin it up somewhere prominent. Make sure all members of the family are on board the routine train and blow the whistle. This train - with all its schedules, stations and routine stops - is departing!

Once your train is chugging along, you'll soon start to see lots of daily / weekly / monthly tasks that you can tackle in batches. Good places to start batching are meals, emails, dealing with paperwork, cleaning, filing, writing your blog and scheduling social media. You'll find out more about batching and getting sorted ON your blog on Wednesday.

Finally, remember: eat the frog first. Get the worst thing on your to do list out of the way first and it's probably the worst thing that's going to happen to you all day. For me, that's getting out of bed.

You can read this question two ways and both are important:

1. How long until you achieve your 'I'll get around to it one day' dreams?
2. How many hours do you actually have in one day?

The first question can only be answered by you, but the only truly acceptable answer is "by this time on this day". I'll talk more about this in my next post.

The second question is all about being realistic about how much time is actually available to you. The tendency for most of us when we want to do 'more' is to 'borrow' time from sleep. We get up an hour earlier or go to bed an hour later. Sometimes more.

Used occasionally, this strategy makes sense for most of us. We can all get by on a little less sleep every now and then. The important thing to remember is that regularly cutting back on sleep is definitely not a solution to fitting more into your life. If you continually get less sleep than you need, you are only circling a Catch-22 that is going to end in tears. Without sleep, you won't be able to use the time you actually have as optimally as you can so you'll find yourself trying to get more time from somewhere so you'll borrow more from your sleep so you'll find yourself... screwed, basically. 

Never underestimate the importance of sleep in a happy life.

Know yourself: how many hours are realistic in your 'one day' and learn how to use those hours as efficiently as possible to wake up your dreams. This might mean that you need to stop doing some of the more unnecessary things you're currently doing. Lower your expectations about silly, mundane things so you can free up time for cool, important things. Only you will know what they are, but some of the 'unnecessary' that I've let go of includes ironing, over-cleaning the house, filing paperwork (except tax stuff), stopping for lunch (I'm happy at my desk) and (mostly) watching reality television...

Planning is good (more on planning on Wednesday), but over-planning simply takes time away from the fun. Spend some time choosing the type of bait you need for the type of fish you want to catch, but don't spend time planning how to get the bait on the hook. Just bait the damn hook.

When we're racing to pursue our dreams we often get in our own way wondering about the 'what ifs' and the 'shoulds' and the 'might haves'. Know your dreams, be realistic about your dreams, have a plan for how to achieve those dreams and then get out of the way! Let what will happen happen.

If you could take back into your everyday all the time you waste on worrying, over-analysing, over-planning and spending time on the unnecessary, I guarantee you will have enough time in your 'one day' for everything you want to do in life.

What is one unnecessary thing you currently do that you can happily stop doing tomorrow?*

*  Just so you know, my blogging mission after #pbevent is to BRING BACK THE COMMENT LOVE! How I miss the way we all used to comment on each others' blogs instead of on SM. If I can help bring the blogging community back to the blogs in some little way, I reckon we will all fall in love all over again.

Photography for beginners | How to organise your digital photos

When photography went digital I had a feeling akin to elation. No more sticking photos into albums (or not, as the case most definitely was). I saw a future where my entire library of images was all contained on a single USB stick (which it is) and searchable by year, month, subject… just searchable (which it isn't, not really).
The trouble is, as soon as we went digital, we all started taking more and more and more and more and more photos and videos. The sheer enormity of capturing our life and the lives of our children soon became apparent. There are just so many images! What do we do with all those images?
Well, we need help in two areas. The first is a system that sorts out our images into an organised, searchable library. The second is ideas on how to get our images off our computers and out into the big wild world where they can have meaning and context. I’ll cover this aspect of things next week.

An organised, searchable library

Why are you keeping them?
The most important thing to consider when you’re deciding how to organise your digital photos is what you want to organise them for.  Are you simply wanting a place to keep everything neat to look at later on? Do you want to edit your photos? Do you want to share them online via email or social media? Do you want to send them off periodically to be printed?
How will you remember them?
Once you know what you plan to do with your images, you need to decide the best way to arrange them. Are you a chronological keeper, arranging everything by date? Or are you more likely to find things if they are allocated an event – weddings, school, holidays, birthdays, etc.
Edit out the flops
The temptation with digital photography is to keep every image you ever created. The trick to creating an efficient library is to get rid of the duds. That’s all the images that wouldn’t have made the cut when film was around. Weird poses, out of focus, over-exposed or just 97 versions of the same subject. Does this hurt your eyes?

Find the winner and discard the rest. It’s actually good to get into the habit of doing this via your camera right after you take a series of images. That way you don’t even waste your time uploading them in the first place.
Create a naming system that works for you
Your camera will call your image something useful like “IMG002317″, which you’ll need to rename if you’re ever going to find it again. I rename mine by event then by place then by date and then by a note if necessary, just to be sure. So on my hard drive the image below is called “Stripey socks_Home_291213_Lottie” – don’t be scared of long file names, detail is important and your computer doesn’t mind!

Stripey socks_Home_291213_Lottie

I rename my files immediately after I download them. I batch them (by highlighting all the ones I want to work with) in Windows Live Photo Gallery (which is generally the inbuilt software that opens if you import photos and you have a PC) and right-clicking on the first image and selecting ‘rename’. I then add the final ‘note’ part of the file name on an individual basis where necessary. I generally just add notes so I can search based on that later – most photo organisers allow you to search most readily on the file name. So, here I’ve added an ‘all three’ note which allows me later to search for photos containing ‘all three’ of my children. Another way to do this is to tag my photo with ‘all three’…
Use tags to make it easier to search for groups of images
You can add as many tags to a photo as you like (as far as I know). So, in the above photo, I might tag it ‘beach’, ‘all three’, ‘holiday’, ‘sundown’ and any other word that I might later want to use to group this photo with like photos by. You can use tags in most photo organisers (including Windows Live Photo Gallery) – just google your package along with the words ‘how to tag using…’.
Create albums
It’s tempting to just keep all of your photos in the date folder from when they were taken, but inspire yourself a little by arranging them by event. You can have an album for ‘babies’ where you show all your children’s baby photos (as well as your own?); ‘holidays’ to group together all the family holidays; ‘weddings’ so you can get all misty-eyed over all the nuptials you attend… the list is endless (and truly feels endless once you get started with one… albums are addictive!). Luckily, creating a virtual album is so much easier than sticking photos in those old photo albums, especially the ones demanding fiddly little photo corners…

Photo editing and organising software to help

Of course you can create a system of organisation right on your computer’s hard drive, but there are software programs (many of them free) that can do it for you. The true value in these programs is that they allow you to see your images all at once and edit your series much more efficiently. They also have the added bonus of image editing – goodbye red eye, hello cute filters!
Adobe Lightroom
In my digital photography course, we are using a professional package called Adobe Lightroom 4 to sort and manage our shots. Lightroom allows us to create virtual ‘Collections’ of photos and manage them via keywords, flags, metadata descriptions and date / time / subject. It’s a pretty full on piece of kit that I am still trying to get my head around, but if you’re serious about your photography, this is the one to get.
Adobe Photoshop Elements
Stumping up for the full (pricey!) version of Adobe Photoshop is probably not necessary as Photoshop Elements also has a built in photo organiser. You can filter photos by People, Place and Event views (as well as the usual time/ date filters). You can also use the face recognition software to pull stacks of images of each person. Geo-tagging is also possible via an interface with Google Maps. Handy for those ‘where were we again?’ moments.
There is seamless integration between both of these packages (should you happen to have them) and both Lightroom and Photoshop allow you to upload images directly to popular social media sites like Facebook, Youtube, Flickr and Vimeo.
Since these ‘professional’ packages come at a cost, it’s good to know that there are loads of options for free digital photo organisers. Here are my two picks for PC users. If you happen to have a Mac, iPhoto probably has all the organisation elements you’ll ever need.
We use this at home and it’s always been a simple, clever tool. It has onboard editing tools and gathers every photo that is on your computer’s hard drive into one place, organised by date. You can also tag photos (“star”) to find later and also search by words used in folders. Many people complain that as Picasa continually searches your computer for images, it makes your computer work heavy, slowing down other programs (that’s the best way I can put it in terms I can understand!), but as all that is way beyond my technical expertise, I can’t say I’ve ever noticed it. As it’s a Google product, you can upload straight to blogger, gmail and Picasa Web Albums so it makes it easy to edit and share your images.
This is pretty much the most popular online photo sharing and storing facility going. It’s simple and reasonably quick to upload photos and there is a generous storage allowance (you can pay $25 a year to get more). You can organise your photos into albums and it’s up to you whether you keep them private or share with the masses. If you elect to share, take some time to look at the usage rights that you are allocating your images so you can be in charge of who can use them and whether they are free.

Other good sites for online photo organising are Photobucket, SmugMug, Phanfare or Zenfolio.

The most important organising tool

If you’re new to image organisation, I’d definitely start with Picasa and move on from there if necessary. Chances are, it will have everything you need. Remember, the most important piece of kit you’ll need for keeping a well-organised image file is the delete key!
What system do you currently use to organise your photos?
:: Last week: Understanding exposure ::