Why the Fifteen-Minute Timer Dash Works [en]

[fr] Utiliser une minuterie pour avancer dans des tâches difficiles fonctionne car cela nous recentre sur le processus, alors que nous sommes en général paralysés par le résultat. Il ne s'agit pas de finir, d'avoir fait, mais de faire.

FlyLady coaches you to unclutter and clean your flat, 15 minutes at a time. It works, because 15 minutes is a short enough amount of time that anybody can afford to take 15 minutes off to do something important, but it’s also long enough that you can actually get stuff done during that time.

There is another reason, though. Many people stuck in the procrastination gut (myself included, pleading guilty) suffer from what I’d like to call goal paralysis. What’s important is the result. Have it done, finished, over with. Produce something visible. We all know we’re in an excessively result-driven culture. And we’re losing the process… in the process.

We lose sight of the pleasure we can have to just do things. Or, even if we don’t derive pleasure from doing them… we forget about doing them, and focus only on having done them. But the first step out of procrastination is doing, not having done.

The timer puts you back in the process. It’s not about finishing in 15 minutes, it’s actually not about finishing at all, it’s about doing some of it.

The timer also works because it has an end. It chimes. When you’re done, you’re done. Many people who have trouble getting started also have trouble stopping once they do get started. It’s the two faces of the same coin: if you know you’ll get sucked up in whatever you start doing, lose yourself in it, isn’t it smart to not start? It is. With the timer, you have a protection about that too.

The only problem is now to become “unstuck” enough to reach for that timer…

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Blogging Like Cleaning the Flat [en]

[fr] Bloguer, c'est comme ranger l'appart avant de commencer à préparer ses examens ou se lancer dans un gros projet. C'est une chose "non-prioritaire" que je fais pour moi, qui me remet en mode "faire", et qui me déstresse (une chose de moins à faire qui me culpabiliserait).

Many years ago, I understood that a first step to getting “back on track” when I was feeling overwhelmed by a huge deadline or lots to do (exams when I was a student, for example) was to clean my flat. Then I could get to work.

That is still true for me nowadays. And there is something else: blogging.

If you look back to this month’s archives, you’ll see that the only posts I’ve written (aside from the few last ones) are short stories (that’s good, I’m working on my fiction writing skills) and a few updates about my broken site (less good, it’s still broken).

Nothing else, because I’m swamped with urgent things to do, and blogging is a “when I have time” thing. (I know, in my line of work, it shouldn’t.)

Both blogging and flat-cleaning are things that I should do but don’t get around to doing because there are many other things higher on my priority list. In a strange way, it makes it easier to do them: there is less pressure. Plus, they are just for me, not for somebody else. You don’t care if my flat is a mess or not. And as for writing, well, I’ve said time and time again that the main reason I blog is for myself.

So, cleaning the flat or writing a few posts like I’ve done today could seem like “not doing what’s important”, but it does chip away at the stuff nagging at the back of my brain, and gets me in “doing” mode. That means that all of a sudden, I find it much easier to do the umpteen things I’ve been stuck not doing, and I feel better. 🙂

Related: I’ve found that at times, making lists of what I’m not going to do (today, before a trip) helps a lot — rather than a long list of stuff I need to do. Specially when it’s impossible to do it all. “Won’t-do” lists FTW!

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A Week of FlyLady Inspiration [en]

[fr] Une semaine à faire 15 minutes de rangement par jour. Les petits pas fonctionnent pour moi! Mon hall d'entrée est rangé, et plein d'autres changements sont en route.

Last week-end, I wrote about the Wisdom of Incremental Change, or something like that. I’ve spent a week now on my FlyLady-ish programme, and am reporting now to the world so you can witness my progress.

Huge progress.

I feel like I have a new life. I feel like soon, I’ll actually be able to bake cookies (one of my fantasies, representing a stress-free life where one has enough time to do useless but pleasant things like baking cookies).

Here’s what I’m doing:

  • morning routine (includes making the bed and rincing the bathroom sink clean)
  • unclutter 15 minutes a day
  • evening routine (includes checking my calendar for the next day, planning train times, and major work activities)
  • clean sink, bathtub, two counters, mirror and toilet with detergent on Sunday
  • clean kitchen sink with detergent on Sunday
  • empty my GTD inbox 15 minutes a day
  • Sunday = bath day!
  • generally, keeping clean/uncluttered areas that way
  • going to bed at midnight (Cinderella technique)
  • set alarms for all regular things throughout the week, including mealtimes

Here are the things I’m thinking of slowly easing into my routines; not all at once, but next on the list:

  • set Roomba to work in a different room each day
  • go through projects, clients, and tasks 15 minutes a day
  • prepare stuff I need the night before (ie. judo bag, snacks)
  • set alarms for snacks between meals
  • do “weekly home blessing” (not right away though)
  • get an indoor bicycle for my bedroom and cycle 20 minutes a day on it
  • add stretching and other exercises to my morning and evening routines (gradually)

It’s interesting how cleaning/uncluttering is contagious: in addition to straightening out my hallway (photos below) I also emptied my big suitcase (it had been lying around since October with stuff still in it), but a few hooks up in the kitchen, and removed all the dead leaves from my plants (poor neglected plants).

Equally of note, I put my clean laundry away the very day I unhung it (it’s easier when the last load of clean laundry isn’t still lying around the room), cleared out my fridge before I went shopping, and threw out a few scary things that were in my freezer (like 2 or 3 year old chicken legs and fish).

Here’s a before and after pair of photos taken from my hallway; click on the photos to read notes:

next cluttered-up space in the zone Uncluttered hallway

I’ve also reorganised the entrance part of my hallway (again, click for notes):

Uncluttered and reorganized hallway

I realised that I have a lot of stuff in my flat which has no home. But I also have lots of spaces which are not home to any stuff. For example, those white shelves in my hallway where just layer upon layer of “things dumped here”. What are they going to be home to? As you can see in the notes, I’m trying to figure out what to put in them — but I’m sure it’s not final. I have cupboards and drawers which are just full of “stuff” that was dumped there at some point when I moved furniture around — I need to have a long hard think about what goes where at some point. (That’s an idea for a future blog post: a list of stuff that I’m keeping but I don’t know where to keep.)

A side-effect of this “more sleeping, more cleaning” regime is that I’m way less stressed (I feel like a big cloud has lifted off my life) and I’m taking time to do things, like eat and cook. I cooked my first chicken last night, and today made chicken salad, chicken soup, and cooked some minced meat that needed it. I think that for quite a few years, I’ve put a lot of energy trying to “escape from” my flat (well, my chaos) when I was in it. Now, I’m happy to be around. Happy to see that I’m taking control of things.

2009 is the year of taking control of my life again. I’ve been letting it happen to me for way too long. So here we go:

  • keeping track of my finances with buxfer — which has a great iPhone site btw, and allows updates from Twitter, so you can enter all your transactions on the road if needed
  • regaining control of my living space with FlyLady
  • keeping control of the “stuff” I want to do with a sprinkling of GTD (and having an office).

I’m going to love 2009!

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The Wisdom of Small Changes: Incrementally Reclaiming My Flat [en]

[fr] Reprendre contrôle de mon appartement, un petit pas à la fois. Chaque jour, ajouter un nouvel élément à garder sous contrôle. Aujourd'hui, c'est nettoyer la baignoire.

Aussi, diviser l'appartement en zones, et travailler chaque semaine sur une zone, 15 minutes par jour.

Inspiration: toute une longue histoire personnelle, et le site FlyLady.

I’m going to tell you about my plan to reclaim my living space, little by little, over the next weeks and months. However, you know me — I’m first going to get sidetracked a little ;-) and tell you how I got where I am, and how the plan was born.

I have lived in clutter my whole life. Both my parents were pretty active clutterers too, so I guess part of the reason is “in the genes” (we recently cleared out the family home to rent it — oh, boy). Other reasons include the fact that there are much more fun things to do in life than clean/tidy (though annoyingly, each time I actually start doing these things I really enjoy them), and my natural tendency to “not do things” rather than “do things”.

I love living in a reasonably tidy place. It makes me less stressed. It makes me less depressed. It makes me happy to spend my days in an environment which is under my control, rather than a sprawling monster of Things. How to tidy my flat and keep it tidy is something that is always on my mental to-do list.

I’ve lived in my flat since I came back from India, over eight years ago. It has been cleaned more or less from top to bottom a few times since I moved on (in 2007, for example — check the “myflat” tag to see more pictures of my living space and its transformations through the years). Over the years, I’ve become quite good at keeping clutter off the floor, but that’s about it. Clearly, I lack a process to keep My Stuff under control. I have lots of stuff.

The importance of having processes in life was driven home by my foray into the GTD (Getting Things Done) method. So far, I have not succeeded in implementing GTD completely (I particularly suck at weekly reviews, I think I haven’t ever managed to do one). I do, however, use quite a lot of elements from this method:

  • ensure I have a system in which I can capture all the stuff that’s on my mind
  • have an inbox (though I don’t empty it very often, but at least it keeps all the stuff to be dealt with in one place
  • think in terms of “next actions” and “projects”
  • know that when I’m procrastinating, either I have too much stuff sitting in my head, or my next action is not clearly defined
  • use an A-Z classification system, with printed labels on folders, for all my paperwork.

The idea of having a process is underlying in two previous “housecleaning” articles: Taming the Dirty Dishes, way back in 2002, and Keeping The Flat Clean: Living Space As User Interface, in 2003. But it’s not quite there yet, or expressed clearly.

Two years, ago, I had a groundbreaking conversation about my diet with my Doctor. I was leading a very unhealthy lifestyle (even without smoking or drinking) and knew it, but I was so wracked with guilt and discouraged by the amount of changes I had to make to my life that I just didn’t do anything. He showed me how important it was to not disrupt my life and diet completely, but to make small easy changes like prepare a few leaves of lettuce while my pizza was warming in the oven, or cut up an apple before the meal so that I’d eat it for dessert.

A year ago, I officially rediscovered the importance of morning rituals. I’ve also come to accept that having some things under control is better than none, even if all the rest is going to the dogs. Last autumn, for example, I decided that even if my kitchen was a mess, I would at least keep the table clean and void of any clutter, so that I would have a nice place to eat.

Recently, I started cleaning my bathroom sink (almost) every morning. I don’t use soap or anything fancy, but I have a sponge I keep on the sink and I give it a quick wipe whenever I use it. Looking into a clean sink in the morning is clearly nicer than when it’s dirty.

Now that I’m in the habit of (#1) washing my bathroom sink (it doesn’t require any cognitive effort for me to do it, it’s just part of the things I do like brush my teeth or use my neti pot), I’ve started thinking about other small changes I could make. And I’ve already made some:

Last week-end, I decided that if I wanted to tackle this flat, I had to do it little by little. So, on Saturday a week ago, I did two things in that department: caught up with the kitchen dishes (they were running away again) and put the laundry away (I live out of the clean laundry basket). Oh yeah, and I got Roomba to work.

Cleaning my bathroom sink each morning has reminded me of FlyLady. I first heard about it when Florence Devouard mentioned it at Going Solo Lausanne. I didn’t really investigate it then, but filed it away somewhere under “system/community which starts with cleaning your sink, and then you add extra stuff to do each day”.

I looked it up this afternoon and spent a couple of hours reading through it. FlyLady is a system/community designed for stay-at-home moms, or “Sidetracked Home Executives“. It is e-mail based, and indeed, does start with getting you to shine your kitchen sink (read why) and get dressed to the shoes.

Are YOU living in CHAOS (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome) like Franny in the pink sweats? Do you feel overwhelmed, overextended, and overdrawn? Hopeless and you don’t know where to start? Don’t worry friend, we’ve been there, too.

Step through the door and follow FlyLady as she weaves her way through housecleaning and organizing tips with homespun humor, daily musings about life and love, the Sidetracked Home Executives (SHE) system, and anything else that is on her mind.

The whole tone of the site is very caring and motherly, with a lot of educational redundancies and extremely detailed instructions. The system actually instructs you to stop and rest for 15 minutes doing something you like, or to only declutter for 15 minutes at a time. Some of it might make you cringe, or laugh a bit if you’re a computer geek, but I really think they’re onto something and it’s well worthwhile spending some time reading the various pages on the FlyLady website.

Obviously, I’m not a stay-at-home mum and I don’t own a house, so I’ll be taking a shot at my personal interpretation of the programme. Here are the ideas I like:

This “slow but steady” system reminds me a bit of dieting strategies. You’re better off with a diet that makes you lose weight slowly, and is in fact a lasting change to your lifestyle, than with a crash diet that makes you lose loads of weight but will see you put it all on again as soon as you stop.

Same with clutter: if you stop everything for three days to clean the house top to bottom, you haven’t in fact made any changes in the lifestyle that caused you to accumulate so much clutter in the first place. By changing things slowly, you’re actually making modifications to your lifestyle which will allow you to keep the clutter under control, rather than clean everything and end up knee-deep in clutter two months later.

As FlyLady says somewhere on her site (quoting from memory): “Your house didn’t get cluttered in a day, and it won’t become uncluttered in a day either!”

Browsing as I was writing this article has brought me over to SHE forums, a community which functions on “challenges” and peer support to deal with household tasks. Remember Website Pro Day and WoWiPAD? :-)

The FlyLady website method is actually based on a book, Sidetracked Home Executives(TM): From Pigpen to Paradise, and one of the co-authors has a site called The Brat Factor, which is all about taming your inner brat (there’s a CD and DVD involved, of course) — but it looks fun (that’s how you tame brats). Your inner brat is the part of you that procrastinates, leaves the dishes in the sink, doesn’t put the clean laundry away& know him/her?

So, I’m going to set my timer to do 15 minutes of decluttering in my hallway (zone 1, I’ll consider it’s already Feb. 1st). Each day, I’ll add a baby step to the ones I’m already doing. I’ll post each new baby step on my Digital Crumble.

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E-mail and Dirty Dishes [en]

[fr] Cet article fait le tour de ma méthode pour gérer le flux d'e-mail qui assaillit quotidiennement ma boîte de réception ainsi que le flux de vaisselle sale qui remplit inexorablement l'évier. Deux choses qui a priori n'ont rien à voir, mais qui au fond peuvent faire l'objet du même processus.

I’m a rather disorganised person. I know it comes as a surprise to many of my readers, because my online presence is reasonably organised (in the highly disorganised digital space we live in) and also probably because my writing is, well, pretty structured or something.

I’m a reformed perfectionist (in some areas). I’m somebody who read A Perfect Mess with glee, because it validated a conclusion I’d reached myself over the years: find the sweet spot between too much mess and too much order.

A few years ago I wrote a blog post titled Keeping The Flat Clean: Living Space As User Interface, after I realised that usability principles and accessibility apply to living space too, not only to websites (nothing revolutionary for the world, but it was for me). This kind of thinking has never left me.

So, what does keeping one’s inbox empty and taming the dirty dishes have in common? It hit me the other day.

It’s about keeping some constantly filling “bucket” from overflowing. It’s about having a process to deal with what comes in on a regular basis, and seeing the bottom every now and again.

Over the last year or so, I haven’t been too bad with e-mail. Here are my seven tricks:

  1. turn off notifiers but check regularly
  2. reply immediately to “small stuff” that doesn’t require much brain power
  3. archive, archive, archive: stuff I’ve dealt with, as well as bacn (I create filters for bacn)
  4. stay on top of the “longer” stuff I need to reply to, at max a few days after getting it
  5. identify the stuff I “should” spend time replying to but for some reason I won’t, and deal with it accordingly instead of letting it rot in the inbox for six months before giving up
  6. if things go out of control, I still try to keep up with what’s incoming so it doesn’t get more out of control, and take stabs at archiving/processing the backlog (in that way, my inbox hovered around a stable 300-400 messages in it for most of last year)
  7. if things are too out of control, I don’t hesitate to do a radical “inbox to zero” (my way).

Result:

  • my inbox regularly goes down to zero (about once a week or so)
  • there are usually between a couple and a dozen e-mails in my inbox
  • people are happy because I’m responsive to their e-mails
  • I’m happy because I’m on top of my e-mail (“empty inbox” has a very interesting psychological effect).

Caveats?

  • I’m not regularly active on any mailing-lists, and filter them all out
  • my estimation is that approx 100 messages a day reach my inbox, bacn included
  • I have to “deal” with 30-40 message a day, probably, once you substract what has been filtered out.

So, what about the dishes? I’ve actually been really bad at keeping up with my dirty dishes over the last year (and cleaning in general, ack). A few weeks ago when I was sick, I decided to take control of my kitchen again, if only so that mess in the kitchen would not:

  • depress me
  • get in the way of preparing food and eating regularly.

So, I did the kitchen equivalent of “emptying the inbox to zero” to get a fresh start (warning: this goes a little beyond dishes). Taking inspiration on my inbox mastery, here’s what I did:

  • put all the clean dishes away (they tend to pile up on the draining board)
  • washed all the dirty dishes, and put them away a little later once they had dried
  • cleared the kitchen table of all the junk that was on it and cleaned it
  • did the same thing with one of the working surfaces and the stove

That was my “kitchen to zero” state. The process for keeping things that way is pretty basic:

  1. make sure I see the bottom of my sink regularly (every day if possible, in the evening so it’s clean in the morning — no rigid rule, but an objective I try to meet regularly)
  2. make sure the draining board is regularly empty
  3. near-to-zero tolerance for anything remaining on the kitchen table and working surface once I’m done eating/cooking

It’s been working well so far. Here’s what I think are the three keys that my systems for e-mail and washing dishes have in common:

  1. go for emptiness: seeing the bottom is important, psychologically
  2. flexible “keep the spirit” approach rather than rigid rule: keeps me from feeling “failure guilt” when I slip a bit, and provides living space (life does not fit in rigid rules)
  3. contingency plan for when I drop off: I know I’ll drop off at times, but I know how to get “back on track” when I do (GTD taught me that was vital)

I’m interested in hearing if you use similar methods, or different ones, and what you think of my “three keys” to a successful system. Does it work for you, or not?

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Huit tuyaux ergonomiques pour le travail à l'ordinateur [fr]

Ceux qui suivent mes écrits depuis les temps préhistoriques (2002 environ) savent qu’il y a un peu plus de six ans, je me suis retrouvée incapable de taper au clavier en l’espace d’environ 2 semaines. Durant une année, j’ai utilisé un logiciel de reconnaissance vocale (Dragon NaturallySpeaking) aussi bien au travail qu’à la maison, pour écrire mon mémoire de Licence et même faire mon dernier examen écrit d’université.

Les douleurs aux mains qui m’ont tant handicapée sont maintenant sous contrôle. Elle n’ont pas complètement disparu, mais je sais maintenant ce que je dois éviter, et comment y remédier lorsqu’elles reviennent (un petit tour chez l’ostéo qui fait des choses à mes “tuyaux” — mes artères — allez savoir& mais ça marche à tous les coups).

De par ma mésaventure, je me suis intéressée de près aux questions ergonomiques touchant à l’utilisation de l’ordinateur. Voici ce que je recommande et pourquoi — prêtez-y une attention particulière si vous souffrez de douleurs dans les épaules, la nuque, les mains&

  1. Clavier bas. Lorsque vous tapez, l’angle d’ouverture de votre coude devrait être minimum 90°, ce qui permet de relâcher les épaules. Je vois souvent des personnes dont le bureau est beaucoup trop haut (ou la chaise beaucoup trop basse). Personnellement, ma position idéale c’est l’ordinateur sur les genoux, donc quand je suis à un bureau je monte la chaise pour avoir les jambes touchant le dessous du bureau. N’hésitez pas à abaisser votre bureau, ou à prévoir un repose-pieds si vos pieds ne touchent plus le sol une fois que la chaise est à la bonne hauteur.
  2. Ecran bas. Prenez un livre ou un magazine et tenez-le devant vous pour lire. Voilà l’angle naturel de lecture. Votre écran ne devrait pas être vertical (ou pire, incliné vers l’avant), mais incliné vers l’arrière. Encore une fois, l’ordinateur portable s’est révélé plus adapté que celui de bureau. Si vous avez un écran de bureau, mettez-le le plus bas possible (j’ai fait la grosse erreur de surélever le mien durant longtemps — aïe la nuque!) et inclinez-le en arrière. Pensez “livre, magazine, journal, lecture” pour positionner votre écran.
  3. Changez de position. “La vie, c’est le mouvement,” me disait une copine physio. Aucune position n’est “bonne” dix heures par jour. Il faut varier. L’ordinateur portable a été pour moi une bénédiction, car il a brisé les chaines qui me retenaient à mon bureau. Travaillez au bureau, par terre, sur le canapé, à genoux sur la table basse& variez souvent. Si vous avez un ordinateur de bureau, trouvez (ou demandez à votre employeur) un bureau à hauteur variable, pour pouvoir alterner les positions debout et assis.
  4. Pauses et stretching. Faites des pauses. Souvent. Encore plus souvent que vous ne le pensez. Par exemple, 2 minutes d’arrêt tous les quart d’heure, ce n’est pas du luxe. Stretching: exercice de la secrétaireUtilisez un logiciel de pause si nécessaire. J’ai utilisé pendant longtemps RSI Guard, qui me forçait par moments à m’arrêter 20 secondes toutes les 3-4 minutes. Dans tous les cas, si vous sentez la tension monter et que vous êtes incomfortable, c’est le moment d’au minimum s’arrêter, se lever, et s’étirer un peu. Si c’est dans la nuque que ça coince, je vous recommande l’exercice de stretching de la secrétaire (cliquez sur la photo pour les instructions).
  5. Raccourcis clavier. Lâchez cette souris! La souris, c’est le Mal. Le trackpad, un poil moins. C’est justement le côté de la souris qui vous fait souffrir? Alors c’est le moment de vous mettre aux raccourcis clavier. Changement d’habitude, certes, mais en fin de compte bien plus efficace, en plus. Ça ne se fait pas tout seul: il faut identifier le raccourci dont on a besoin (tiens, un autre billet en vue?) et ensuite se libérer du “réflexe souris”.
  6. Les mains sur les genoux. Parfois, à l’ordinateur, on n’est pas en train d’utiliser ses mains. On lit, ou bien on réfléchit. On a tendance à lire avec la main sur la souris ou le trackpad, d’ailleurs: pensez à toute la tension statique qu’on se fait subir ainsi au long d’une journée! Donc, quand on ne tape pas, les mains ont une place: sur les genoux (ou bien au-dessus de la tête pour s’étirer).
  7. Fuyez le froid. A l’ordinateur, on se refroidit vite. Taper avec les mains froides, c’est vraiment pas top (plus de micro-dégâts). Durant des années, mon ordinateur était dans un courant d’air — en plus du fait que j’ai facilement les mains froides. Donc, sortez de ce courant d’air, montez le chauffage si nécessaire (ou mettez un pull) et réchauffez-vous les mains. En les frottant l’une à l’autre avant de vous mettre au clavier, ou même en les passant sous l’eau chaude.
  8. Luminosité constante. La luminosité de votre environnement de travail devrait être similaire à celle de votre écran. Donc, le soir, allumez le plafonnier! L’écran qui brille tout seul dans le noir jusqu’à 2h du mat’, c’est pas terrible pour les yeux (et qui dit pas terrible pour les yeux, dit aussi tensions voire douleurs côté tête). Prenez aussi l’habitude de regarder régulièrement au loin.

Bien sûr, au-delà de tous les tuyaux et “trucs” qu’on peut donner, il y a une règle d’or: s’écouter. Si on est incomfortable, qu’on ne respire plus, qu’on ne peut pas “se permettre” de prendre une pause& C’est qu’il faut arrêter.

Les douleurs chroniques, on peut bien vivre avec. Mais on vit encore mieux sans.

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Inbox to Zero in no Time [en]

[fr] Un moyen radical (et quasi instantané) pour atteindre le fameux et très convoité inbox zero.

So, having trouble keeping your inbox count down? Piling up in the hundreds, the thousands, even? I have a totally foolproof method to bring your inbox count down to [the coveted zero](http://www.43folders.com/izero). It’s been tested in GMail, but I’m sure it works in other e-mail clients too.

The best part of it is how fast it works. The result is guaranteed.

Are you ready for it? Just follow these two simple steps:

– click on “Select All”
– press the “Archive” button

There! You’re done! Inbox to zero in now time at all. It works — or you can have your money back.

Now, for the slightly more serious part.

I really did this, this summer if I remember correctly, during a conference. I mean, I wasn’t going to go through all that piled up e-mail anyway. Most of the e-mails were obsolete — when stuff is really important, people e-mail again, and again, or call you, or tweet you, or catch you on IRC or at an event.

Once your inbox actually is at zero, it’s much easier to keep it to zero. Archive without mercy. Answer easy stuff as soon as you see it (I do that to the point some people have told me my e-mails have become a bit curt, so I’m trying to add a bit of cream in again — but the basic principle remains: do it now). My inbox sometimes goes up to 40 or 50 if I stay away from the computer, but then I bring it back down again, over a few days. If I haven’t seen zero in some time, it’s time to deal with those two things lying at the bottom of my inbox for the last 10 days — or decide that I won’t, and archive them.

Sometimes, I feel I can’t keep up anymore, or don’t want to “deal”, so I archive.

Does that sound like I’m mistreating my e-mail? Sure. But so is letting it pile up in your inbox for weeks, months, and years.

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Dealing With Procrastination [en]

In her post about [going freelance](http://www.disambiguity.com/did-i-mention-im-freelancing-or-coping-strategies-from-the-dining-room-desk/), [Leisa Reichelt](http://www.disambiguity.com/) tells us of her favorite method for fighting procrastination:

> My number one favourite technique is called ‘[structured procrastination](http://www.structuredprocrastination.com/)‘ and here’s how it works. You’ve got a to do list. It’s reasonably long. Make sure it’s got ALL the things you should be doing or should have done on it. Then, attempt to tackle the task you think you *should* be doing. You may have some success, but if you are like me, this is a task that you’re probably doing ahead of time and the lack of adrenaline makes it less compelling than it could be. Rather than just surfing the internet or doing something even less constructive – go to your list and pick something else on the list to do.

Leisa Reichelt, Did I mention I’m freelancing? (or, coping strategies from the dining room desk)

Well, it’s not really foolproof, but one thing I often do is just decide I’ll work 30 minutes on something. 30 minutes is an OK time to spend on something, even if you don’t want to do it. Then I’m free to do what I want.

Sometimes, once I’m “in” it, I run over the 30 minutes and finish the task. If it’s very long, however, I force myself to take a break from it after 30 minutes — so that I’m not cheating myself and the next time I convince myself to spend 30 minutes on something, I know it’ll be just 30 minutes.

You see, one of the things I’ve understood about my “not being able to start” things is that it’s closely linked to my “not being able to stop” things.

In that respect, I quite like the [procrastination dash](http://www.43folders.com/2005/09/08/kick-procrastinations-ass-run-a-dash/) and [(10+2)*5 hack](http://www.43folders.com/2005/10/11/procrastination-hack-1025/). I’ve also used the [kick start technique](http://www.self-aggrandizement.com/archives/011705_kick_start.html) with success.

Being quite the [GTD](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Getting_Things_Done) fan, I’ve had a chance to notice more than once that my productivity is usually the right opposite to my levels of stress. And my levels of stress — surprise — are usually closely linked to the number of things I need to do which are floating in my head. **Capturing** all the stuff I need to do and organizing it in one system (which is what GTD is about, really) is often enough to make me feel “un-stressed” enough that I can get to work on the next things I need to get done.

Sometimes, it’s a particular thing I need to do which stresses me most. And when I get stressed, I tend to feel down, and when I feel down, well… I’m not good at doing things. So I go through a routine which is similar to [Merlin Mann’s cringe-busting your to-do list](http://www.43folders.com/2005/05/23/cringe-busting-your-todo-list/) to identify *what it is* exactly that is weighing down on me most. Then, **do** something about it!

And as Leisa mentions, having a list of **all** the stuff you need to do that you can pick from really, really helps.

A word of caution however: “to do” lists are often a trap, because they can contain much more than “things you need to do”, and the items on the list are not always **[simple actions you can take immediately](http://www.43folders.com/2004/09/27/does-this-next-action-belong-someplace-else/)** (“Next Actions” in GTD jargon). Here’s [how to make your to-do list smarter](http://www.43folders.com/2005/09/12/building-a-smarter-to-do-list-part-i/) — it’s useful even if you don’t use GTD.

Another thing I’ve been doing lately (it worked well enough until went through a bad personal phase — nothing to do with doing things — and everything went to the dogs) is deciding that I devote a small number of hours a day to *paid client work*. If you’re a freelancer, specially in the consulting business, you’ll know that a lot of our work is not directly billable. So, I try to keep my 9-12 mornings for paid work and what is related to it (e-mails, phone calls, billing) and the rest of the day is then free for me to use for what I call “non-paid work” (blogging, trying out new tools, reading up on stuff, nasty administrivia…) or relaxing.

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