My Journey Out of Procrastination: Doing Things Now [en]

[fr] Une clé pour procrastiner moins: faire les choses à mesure. Evident, bien sûr, mais important. Pour pouvoir faire les choses à mesure, ralentir, prendre le temps. Comprendre au fond de soi et pas juste dans sa tête qu'une tâche effectuée maintenant ne sera pas à faire plus tard.

This is the fifth post in my ongoing series about procrastination. Check out the previous ones: Five Principles, Perfectionism, Starting, and Stopping, Getting Thrown Off and Getting Unstuck, and Not Running (Firewalls and iPhone alarms).

Obviously, doing things now (as opposed to later) is the remedy against procrastination. If you do things now, then you can’t procrastinate them, right?

Now that the obvious is out of the way, let’s dig a little. Doing things now is both the result of not procrastinating and part of the cure against procrastination. This means that if we understand what’s going on, and manage to make a habit of doing certain things immediately, we have a key to easing the accumulation of incoming tasks on the procrastination list.

At one point in my life (the “when” is a little fuzzy here) I really understood (deep down inside) that if I did something now, then it meant that I wouldn’t have to do it afterwards. I’m sorry for stating the obvious. Everybody knows this. But between knowing it in your head and knowing it in your gut, there is a difference. The procrastinator’s gut believes that if you don’t do it now, with a bit of luck you’ll be able to continue ignoring it safely until the end of time.

So read this again: if you do something you need to do now, you will not have to do it later.

I know that one decisive “aha!” moment in that respect was when I reached the “2-minute rule” part of GTD. Here’s what this rule is about: when you’re in the “processing” phase of GTD, going systematically through a pile of stuff and deciding what you need to do about each item — but not actually doing it, just making decisions and putting tasks in the system for later — well, there is one situation where you do what needs to be done instead of putting your next action in the system, and that’s when it takes less than 2 minutes to deal with the task. The logic behind this is that putting a task in the system and retrieving it later is going to take two minutes or so — so you’ll actually spend less time if you just do it now. Also, a 2-minute interruption in your processing is not the end of the world.

The trick here is to use a timer — if the timer goes off and you haven’t finished what you thought would be done in 2 minutes, then you stop, put the task on the right list, and continue processing.

Now, I’m not saying that this is where I got the “do it now” revelation, but it’s definitely one blow of the hammer that helped drive that particular nail in.

Another moment I remember is when clicking around on a few links on the FlyLady site brought me to Bratland. I like this metaphor of the “inner brat”, the part of you who finishes the toilet roll but doesn’t put a new one on for the next person (who, if you live alone, is going to be you). The brat who spills the milk and doesn’t clean up, so it ends up caking the kitchen counter and it takes you 5 minutes to get rid of it instead of 30 seconds. I started keeping a kind but firm parental eye open for my inner brat, and that is something that helped me not create more work for myself by letting things drag along.

One area I managed to put this in practice rather well is e-mail. If an e-mail comes in my inbox, and I answer and/or archive it straight away, it won’t be sitting there looking at me next time I go into my inbox. I know this goes against the “deal with your e-mail only twice a day” (or whatever) rules — I’ll write more about why I think my way of dealing with e-mail works, though.

But clearly, if you are the kind of people for whom tasks tend to go onto todo lists to die or weigh on your conscience for months, there is a decisive advantage to not letting them get on the list in the first place.

Related, but not exactly in the “doing things now” department: I have a trick I use when people ask me if I can do something for them (I’m usually tempted to say yes, because I want to be helpful and I want people to like me, and then I feel horrible because I let things drag along and don’t do them). I ask the person to send me an e-mail to remind me about it. This has three advantages:

  • if the person doesn’t really need me to do this for them, they won’t e-mail
  • I don’t have to answer right away
  • I have a “physical” reminder already in my system (I know that I am going to deal with stuff that reaches my inbox), that I will answer when I have the brain space to do so, and if necessary, can politely steer to “sorry, have other commitments” or “this is stuff I get paid for” or even “so sorry, I know I said yes, but actually, to be honest, I just can’t because xyz”.

One important element to be able to start doing things that need it “right away” (you do not want to be putting things like cleaning up spilled milk on your to-do list) is to slow down, run less. If you’re trying to run out the door because you’re late for an appointment, you’re not going to clean up the spilled milk. You’re not going to do the washing up right after your meal. You’re not going to put the laundry away today if you haven’t planned that you need time for that. Yes, household chores, but it’s the same thing with work-related stuff: accounting, invoicing, getting back to prospective clients. You need wiggle space in your days, and that will not happen if you’re running from morning to evening.

I had forgotten about this when I wrote my previous post in this procrastination series, but one thing that helped me break out of the vicious running cycle was heading up into the mountains with no internet for a few days, in summer 2008. Up in the mountains, with nothing to do but eat, sleep, walk, and read a bit, I slowed down. I started taking the time to do things. And I kept a taste of this when I came back to my work-life.

I’ve found that, in the spirit of incremental changes, it’s no use deciding “from now on, I’m going to do all the regular stuff I should be doing as it comes in, à mesure“. Picking an area or two where you stick to it, on the other hand, is helpful. It’s helpful because it means one area where you will be accumulating less procrastinable material, and one area where you can experience the change, the slowing down, the “less backlog”, and get a taste of what it can be like to encourage yourself to make these changes in other areas of your life too.

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E-mail, quand tu nous tiens [fr]

[en] I write a weekly column for Les Quotidiennes, which I republish here on CTTS for safekeeping.

Chroniques du monde connecté: cet article a été initialement publié dans Les Quotidiennes (voir l’original).

L’e-mail, c’est proprement merveilleux, sauf quand on est noyé dedans. Pourtant, il existe un certain nombre de choses assez simples que l’on peut faire pour sortir la tête de l’eau. Beaucoup sont ceux qui en connaissent au moins certaines, bien moins nombreux ceux qui les appliquent: désactiver les notifications automatiques d’arrivée d’e-mail, utiliser des filtres, mettre des répondeurs automatiques, encourager ses interlocuteurs à employer d’autres moyens de communication, par exemple.

Le cauchemar de l’e-mail est à deux dimensions:

  1. la consultation compulsive
  2. la masse d’informations à traiter.

Eviter la noyade est rendu d’autant plus difficile que beaucoup d’institutions (et les individus qui les peuplent) souffrent d’une compréhension très naïve de certains mécanismes liés à l’utilisation de l’e-mail.

Saviez-vous par exemple:

  • qu’en cédant à la tyrannie de la réponse immédiate, on encourage ses correspondants à compter dessus?
  • qu’à chaque interruption, il faut une bonne minute pour reprendre le train de ses pensées, et bien plus pour se replonger dans ce que l’on faisait?
  • que tout programme e-mail est muni d’un moteur de recherche dont l’utilisation rend inutile une grande partie du temps consacré à trier ou archiver ses messages?
  • que la compulsion à vérifier sans cesse son e-mail est motivée par un système (implicite) de récompenses aléatoires — méthode que l’on utilise dans le dressage des animaux?
  • que dans de nombreuses situations, l’e-mail peut (et devrait!) être avantageusement remplacé par d’autres technologies privilégiant les échanges dans des espaces partagés, plutôt que privés comme la boîte e-mail: forums, messagerie instantanée, blogs, wikis…?

J’avoue être sans cesse ébahie qu’à l’heure où l’e-mail joue un rôle aussi central dans nos vies professionnelles, on attend de tout un chacun qu’il ait la science infuse et sache se débrouiller pour être efficace avec cet outil pourtant complexe et délicat à manier. Je ne parle bien entendu pas ici de technologie, mais de culture. Comme avec presque tout ce qui touche de près ou de loin à internet, c’est en effet là que ça coince.

Si vous ne deviez faire qu’une seule chose? Si votre ordinateur vous alerte (son, message) de l’arrivée de chaque nouvel e-mail… désactivez cette notification!

Vous lisez l’anglais et désirez approfondir le sujet?

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Social Media Survival Kit [en]

[fr] Deux règles très simples pour survivre à l'ère des médias sociaux.

Google Identity Dilemma [en]

[fr] Depuis des années, j'utilise une identité "fantaisiste" pour tous mes services Google. C'est mon identité principale (vous voyez de laquelle je parle si on est en contact). J'aimerais passer à prénom.nom comme identité principale (je la possède aussi) mais tous les services Google sont rattachés à la première, et je ne vois pas vraiment comment m'en sortir. Idées bienvenues!

When I created a Gmail address all these years ago, I chose a “funny-cute” name that was easy to remember for most of the people I knew. I was on IRC all day back then, and my nickname was bunny(wabbit_), and people knew I was Swiss.

I didn’t really think my Gmail address would become so central to my online identity, you see.

Of course, I also registered firstname.lastname and redirected it onto my main e-mail address and identity.

As years went by, Google added all sorts of services that got tied onto this identity (not to mention the 2.5Gb of archived e-mails and chats). Google Talk, Google Profiles, and recently, Google Sidewiki and Google Wave.

These last weeks, I’ve been wondering if I shouldn’t “make the switch” and use my more serious “firstname.lastname” e-mail address as my main identity. Actually, to be honest, I’d like to. But there are obstacles — oh, so many.

First, all my contacts are linked to my current account. All my e-mail is stuck in it. My Feedburner and Google Reader settings are linked to it. My blogger blog is. My calendar. Everywhere I use my Google identity for a third-party service, here we go.

And Google does not allow you to link one Google account to another (sure, you can redirect mail, but that doesn’t solve anything).

So, do you see my problem? If you have any bright ideas, I’m listening. I would really like a solution.

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Chat ou e-mail pour rester en contact? [fr]

Au détour d’une conversation avec Fabien ce matin, je (nous) faisais la réflexion suivante: même si j’adore écrire (preuve les kilomètres de texte qui s’alignent sur ce blog, sauf quand je n’écris pas) je ne suis pas du tout versée dans l’e-mail “correspondance”.

Certes, j’utilise (beaucoup) l’e-mail comme outil de travail. Pour des échanges factuels. Pour de l’administratif.

Mais pour parler de sa vie ou de son coeur, je préfère être en intéraction directe: IM, SMS, IRC Twitter, téléphone, ou même (oh oui!) se voir en chair et en os pour boire un café ou manger un morceau.

Déjà avant que l’e-mail ne débarque dans ma vie, je n’étais pas vraiment une correspondante. Ma grand-mère paternelle se plaignait amèrement du manque de lettres provenant de sa petite-fille, les cartes postales signées de ma main étaient dès le jour de leur réception des pièces collector, et les deux ou trois tentatives adolescentes d’avoir des correspondantes dans d’autres pays se sont assez vite essoufflées.

Peu étonnant, dès lors, qu’un fois accro au chat sous toutes ses formes, ce soit les modes de communication interactifs que je privilégie pour mes relations avec les gens.

Je me demande si c’est simplement une préférence personnelle (certains sont épistoliers, d’autres pas) ou bien s’il y a véritablement des caractéristiques des médias en question qui la sous-tendent: l’interactivité (relativement synchrone), par exemple. Parler de ce qu’on vit ou fait (c’est souvent l’essentiel des conversations), c’est bien mieux avec un retour direct d’autrui en face, non?

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PJW Blogminder Plugin for WordPress [en]

[fr] J'en rêvais, on m'a prise au mot: un plugin qui vous envoie une alerte si vous n'avez pas publié quoi que ce soit sur votre blog depuis x jours (entre un et sept jours). Histoire d'éviter que la semaine entière passe sans s'en rendre compte!

A few days, ago, I was dreaming out loud on Twitter about a plugin which would let me know when I hadn’t published anything on my blog after a certain number of days. I guess that, once again, I’d reached the end of a week and realised that I had not written a single thing on CTTS.

Well, my wish was heard, and Peter Westwood has just released the PJW Blogminder plugin. The plugin adds a simple option to your profile page, where you can request a reminder if you haven’t published anything in the last few days (set the number of days between one and seven).

Blogminder screenshot

Nice!

(Now I just need to get my server to send mail… ahem.)

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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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LeWeb'08: The Revenge of E-mail (Panel) [en]

[fr] Quelques notes et réflexions autour de l'e-mail.

I arrived partway through this panel, and thought it was interesting. Here are a few notes followed my some of my rambling thoughts on the topic. (I’ll jump on the occasion to point you out to my friend Suw Charman’s work on “the e-mail problem“.)

The challenge for e-mail marketing is not getting through spam, but getting into the inbox (Nick Heys, Emailvision). I (Steph) had an interesting conversation a few months ago with Hervé Bloch, country manager Switzerland for Emailvision. I’m convinced there is a space for commercial e-mail communication which is respectful, not spammy, and actually adds value. My conversation with Hervé clearly contributed to me thinking that.

Nick Heys says the bottom line is trust: don’t send irrelevant stuff, respect the person’s decision, make sure it’s opt-in&

Olivier Mathiot says the opening rate has plummeted (15% opened today). People open e-mails when they know the sender and trust the content.

Catherine Barba notes that e-mail subjects are often very bad — Robert Scoble adds that there is the same problem with post titles: few bloggers know to write good titles (for viewing in FriendFeed or Technorati).

Strategy from the public: separate accounts (I do that — one for signing up, one for human beings. I have to admit that over the last year I’ve been using my “good” address more and more to sign up for stuff& need to think about that).

Robert mentions that he gets more and more “business” stuff through DMs, which is disastrous because he can’t sort them, forward them, copy other people on the response.

Somebody in the audience mentioning that teenagers have on average 7 e-mail addresses (I find that surprising, to be honest). He says that e-mail is being used to define personas, and separate things out, and that’s where we’re going. I think he misses the point that teenagers do not behave like adults (you can’t draw conclusions about adult behavior by studying teenagers), that putting up barriers between different parts of your life is characteristic to that phase in life, and that ultimately, it is not necessarily a healthy thing when done in an extreme way.

My experience is that we are caught in between two movements: one that tends to separate out parts of our lives, and one that tends to bring our whole life together (integration). We are somewhere in the middle of that tension between two extremes, and neither of those extremes are viable: complete openness and transparency doesn’t work (we do need some privacy) and complete separation between aspects of our lives, taken to the extreme, is split personality disorder.

I do use two (or more) e-mail addresses, but it’s quite clear that over time, their usage tends to seep one into the other. I know from people who use separate addresses for work and personal exchanges that it breaks down for them too.

One completely underused “tool” (or rather, feature) of e-mail is filters. Particularly amongst non-techy people (and possibly techies too), I find that those who are most overwhelmed with their e-mail also do not use filters at all. Filters help you prioritise, keep “for possible future reference but not that interesting now” e-mails out of your inbox, and are pretty easy to set up.

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Qwitted Qwitter After Less Than 24 Hours [en]

[fr] Qwitter, un service qui vous dit quand on cesse de vous suivre sur Twitter. Très peu pour moi -- je viens de le désactiver après moins de 24 heures de service. Non pas que je ne "supporte" pas l'idée qu'on puisse cesser de me suivre (bon dieu non, c'est plutôt que je ne saisis pas ce que 1500 personnes y trouvent à recevoir quotidiennement mes mises à jour) -- mais simplement parce que j'évite d'ajouter à ma vie déjà suffisamment angoissée des sources de "négativité", comme la consommation d'indices de marchés boursiers ou de nouvelles télévisées ou non. (Il y a les gens qui ont des "problèmes d'angoisse", comme on dit, et il y a les autres. Ces derniers ont bien de la chance, et qu'ils s'abstiennent de commentaires simplistes, de grâce.)

I thought I’d try out Qwitter. Not that I’m that obsessed with who stops following me, but I thought it could be interesting to see when my Twitter behaviour made followers drop me.

Well, less than 24 hours later (and after only 2 people qwitting on me), I have decided to turn it off.

Of course, I know people unfollow me. But getting this kind of news in my inbox generates just about the same kind of “downs” as checking the stock market every 10 minutes (instead of once in a blue moon or even once a day) and watching the news on TV (instead of avoiding unnecessary focus on all the wrongs in this world).

So, no thank you, Qwitter. There are enough sources of anxiety in my life without me adding them just for fun.

“Anxiety” is a big word here of course — I mean, who cares about people unfollowing them on Twitter — but still, who has never felt the tiniest pang at losing something they had (or thought they had)? It’s quite clear from research out there (check out Predictably Irrational for example) that being given $1 and then having to hand it back leaves one slightly more unhappy than if one never had that dollar in hand in first place.

Of course, I could filter all the Qwitter e-mails into a folder and check on them only when I want to know when such-and-such stopped following me. But is it really worth the trouble?

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Stephanie Has a Newsletter [en]

[fr] Voilà, j'ai une newsletter. Je la rédigerai en anglais et en français, et y parlerai principalement de mes activités professionnelles. Je vais certainement radoter, il faut vous y attendre -- mais seulement une à deux fois par mois. Je parlerai aussi des choses que je n'aborde pas dans ce blog. Pourquoi une newsletter? J'y ai longuement réfléchi et écrirai sans doute bien plus à ce sujet dans les semaines à venir.

Je suis curieuse. Quelle est votre réaction? Est-ce que vous vous inscririez à une telle newsletter? Je me réjouis de voir ce que va donner cette expérience.

Taking example on my friend Martin, I decided it was time I had my own newsletter. There’s a lot of thinking behind it which I’ll share here at some point (when I’m less in a hurry).

To answer a few questions:

  • I’ll publish a couple of newsletters per month
  • I’ll talk mainly about my professional life
  • Yes, I might ramble
  • I’ll talk about stuff you won’t find on the blog
  • Not everybody reads blogs, no
  • Yes, you can unsubscribe (it’s managed by Google Groups)
  • Nope, I won’t spam you or give out your e-mail address

If you want to subscribe you can do so using the box below.

Google Groups
Subscribe to Stephanie Booth's Newsletter
Email:

Visit this group

What’s your reaction to this? Would you sign up for such a newsletter, or not — and why?

I’m looking forward to seeing how this experiment goes.

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