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The Clean Desk

March 4, 2012

I’ve been reading Zen Habits‘ excellent resource on Focus.  One of the exercises he suggests is cleaning your desk of everything that isn’t essential.  I hate to tell you just how CLUTTERED my desk had become.  I had stopped using it, which is always a bad sign.  I just “never had time” to put away elements of projects or file away books, or papers.  I had compensated for this until I had just stopped using it entirely.  So one morning when Gus was at the sitter’s, I decided to follow Leo Babauta’s exercise and I cleared the desk. I got rid of things.  I threw away old art work, cups of pens I didn’t use, filed papers, recycled the rest.  I put art or pictures UP on the wall that I had previously been propped on the desk. Then I wiped the whole thing down with a wet rag and started fresh with just the things I use.  Of course, this was tremendously helpful.  I was ready to work and I felt (guess what?) more FOCUSED in my work.

I think de-cluttering is one of the most powerful things you can do to jump start any clogged part of your life.  It’s not just a physical act, of course, it’s also mental.  When I get rid of THE CRAP, I can breathe easier and focus more.  I’ve been talking a lot lately about the clutter that the Internet creates in my brain–or at least what my habits around the internet create.  When I cleared the history in my browser two weeks ago, I realized that this was a way of clearing my mental desk.  It helped immensely, but it’s a way of life that needs to be MAINTAINED and as some of you know, it’s harder than it seems to keep that desk in your brain clean.

I think you knew this was coming, but I’ve decided to take a two week sabbatical from the Internet.  Starting tonight at Midnight, no e-mail, no Google, no Netflix, no nothing.  Freedom will be turned on to help.  This isn’t terribly convenient.  I am in mid research for an endeavor that requires internet searches.  I was going to wait until this endeavor was complete, but I knew this was part of the issue of the internet–there is always something to keep me snared in.  Instead, I am going to focus on all the parts of this endeavor that don’t require the use of the internet and wait until Mid March to complete it.  There’s people who will want to be in touch, and/or people who I fear might need to be in touch.  It’s all that stuff the connected world has made us expect and worry over, but I am doing what I can to meet these needs and it’s 16 days–not 16 months.  I did this for a month once, I think I can manage half that time.  Graham is in no way expected to participate, but he has been warned that our evenings will not be spent in the usual fair: two blank eyed adults, smirking at jokes, or agape at on screen conflicts.  He is free to smirk and be agape, but he will be doing so alone.  I have big dreams of spending my evenings reading or writing, but in truth I have no idea what I will be doing.  The point is to find out.

In case you are not ready to participate in such a sabbatical, but would like thought provoking ideas about changing the relationship you have to the Interent, here are some resources to read while I am gone:

Zen Habits’ Focus

The Information Diet

James Sturn’s internet free experiment on Slate.

‘Plug In Better’: A Manifesto by Alexandra Sameul (thanks KGK!)

Your Brain on Computers series at The New York Times

See you all on March 21!

  1. Cecile permalink
    March 4, 2012 8:24 pm


    You will find an internet-free time totally wonderful, and I wish you luck and applaud your bravery.

    As to your desk, it looks inviting and spacious and clean, just like a fresh, virgin page, with all the options open.

    When you come back online, can you tell me what the make of your electronic pencil sharpener is? I have been looking for one that looks exactly like yours.

    Here’s to enjoying March, with tangible & real stuff only. Say no to temptation. And you can do ANYTHING for 16 days!

    Enjoy them!

    Warm regards & whoots,

  2. fern permalink
    March 4, 2012 10:32 pm


  3. March 6, 2012 2:44 am

    Keep your desk clean is my first rule for making poetry. Of course I break this rule all the time.

    As for your desk, I love it!

    Hope you’re enjoying your sabbatical!

  4. March 6, 2012 3:01 am

    Ah, I remember one of your last stretches of media deprivation … (go, girl).

  5. March 6, 2012 7:57 am

    I LOVE de-cluttering. I find it so energising. It’s like having that inspiring ‘blank canvas’ or ‘new sketchbook’ feeling for your workspace.

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