Weekly Planning, First Attempt [en]

[fr] Cette semaine, pour la première fois, j'ai réparti mes tâches sur la semaine au lieu de travailler au jour le jour comme j'en ai l'habitude.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I felt the next step to take in my “work life improvement” series was to plan beyond the day, and start looking at my weeks so that I can start building in time for long-term projects. I’ve done this for the first time this week, and overall, the result is pretty positive. Here’s roughly how I did it and what I learned.

1. Define office days and meeting days

This has to be done in advance, obviously, or the calendar fills up. I usually have either two or three of each in a week (minimum one). Every now and again exceptions slip in and an office day turns into a half-baked errand/meeting day, but I try not to. I think I can still improve the way I plan and manage these days (for example: errands vs. meetings, laundry days, exceptions for “immediate” paid work…).

2. Define “areas” that next actions fall in

I’ve refined the list I brainstormed in my “balance in the office” post and come up with these four areas:

  1. things other people expect me to do (paid work, projects involving others, getting back to prospects…)
  2. longer term business development (taking care of my sites, creating documentation, direct marketing…)
  3. stuff I want to do more of (blogging, research, fooling around with cool toys, write ebooks and fiction…)
  4. admin and daily business (personal and professional, checking e-mail, emptying physical inbox, accounting…)

These are my areas — yours might be different. Suw and I chatted about this on Skype on Monday and hers are slightly different from mine. Just find something that makes sense to you.

Looking at my areas, it’s easy for me to see that “bizdev” and “stuff I want to do” are the two areas which will easily be left aside if I just work day-by-day doing things as they become urgent (in bad cases, call this the “Fireman Syndrome”). If you don’t do stuff people expect you to do, sooner or later they nag you or you get in trouble. Same with admin: forget your taxes or invoicing long enough, and you’ll get in trouble.

As there were almost no tasks in these two areas, I realised that to fill them up, I probably need to do a little longer-term planning. For example, what are the things I want to do in the “bizdev” department over the next 6 months? Over the next month? That will help me generate next actions. Otherwise… I’m just flying blind.

3. Sort upcoming next actions in those defined areas

The way I’ve worked these last months I would have one “master” next action list (in EvernoteI love Evernote) and I would regularly “pull out” the 3-10 next things I was going to deal with, under headings like “today”, and then “next”, or sometimes a specific day.

What I did this week is that I first sorted this “master list” into the four areas I defined. I just made four big headings in my list, and that was that.

4. Plan the week!

This is the fun bit, actually. I just made another 5 “day” headings at the top of my list (Monday to Friday) and then started moving items to given days, making sure the urgent stuff was in there, as well as a certain amount of less urgent stuff (specifically from my two “left aside” areas, bizdev and stuff I want to do more of). Two things to pay attention to:

  1. don’t plan to do stuff on errand/manager days, even if you see you will have some office time (a weekly plan is for the “minimum to accomplish” — if you have too much time you can always grab things to do from your master list or even… take time off!)
  2. remember that a fair amount of what you do in your week is going to appear during the week, so leave plenty of buffer time for the unexpected and the unplanned.

5. As the week rolls on…

One of the reasons I like having my tasks in an Evernote note is that they have these neat little “todo” checkboxes (keyboard shortcut: alt-shift-T) that I can check as I go along. Sometimes I’ll do something that wasn’t planned for precisely this day, or that is still on the master list. Well, I check it, and it feels nice. It’s also nice to see a day with a list of completely checked tasks by the time I leave the office.

My Tuesday was a meeting day, but I made the mistake of planning quite a lot of stuff to do on that day because it looked as if I was going to have enough time in the office. Big mistake. So halfway through my Tuesday, I grabbed nearly all the items I had placed under the Tuesday heading and dumped them under Wednesday (a full office day).

On Wednesday, I didn’t manage to do everything I had planned (unsurprisingly, as I shifted the “Tuesday problem” to Wednesday). So I checked the actions I did accomplish and left the others unchecked. This meant that Thursday, in addition to the rather modest list of things I had planned to do (buffer time, remember? specially at the end of the week) I was able to go back and check tasks that were leftover from Wednesday. But I didn’t move them over to Thursday — somehow it felt better to be able to start Thursday with a “clean slate” and catch up when I felt like it.

So, Monday morning, I’ll be wiping the slate clean and planning next week — looking forward to it!

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Brain Space [en]

[fr] Mon amie Steph a utilisé hier au téléphone l'expression "brain space" pour exprimer qu'une tâche était peut-être minime mais qu'elle occupait beaucoup de place dans son esprit (dans le genre envahissante). Je cherche une bonne expression en français, mais j'échoue: "espace mental", peut-être?

Yesterday, I was having a lovely “catch up” phone call with my good friend Stephanie Troeth. At one point, she mentioned something that wasn’t a huge project but it “took up brain space”.

I thought, “Brain space! What a great expression!”

Of course, it’s about stress, attention, you name it — but I think that “brain space” is a really good way to express what it feels like.

Regularly, I’m asked to do a small thing (or worse, I volunteer) and it ends up eating at my ability to focus on something else. It’s on the “stress-list”. It’s the thing I’m asked to do but I’m not really supposed to be doing, so I have to use up energy to explain that to the client. It’s the thing that seemed simple initially but ends up having an emotional charge that is more important than expected. It can even be my taxes, which I put off doing each year until it’s really really late (think October or even November, people).

David Allen’s Getting Things Done method also recognizes that each “thing you have to do” eats a certain amount of storage space, irrespectively of how large the thing actually is. Hence the lists. Getting things out of your head.

Over the past year, I’ve been trying to learn to say no to assignments which will use up too much brain space. I’m getting better at it, but it’s not completely painless yet. I’m also very much aware that I’m flirting with the limits of how many different projects or clients I can have, or even how many friendships I can keep alive (Dunbar’s number, anyone?) — even with the help of technology, which in my opinion does allow one to push those limits further.

Thanks to Steph, I now have a new way of classifying tasks and activities, by the amount of brain space they take up.

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S'organiser… en fonction du niveau de stress? [fr]

[en] I tend to grow out of my "GTD" systems. Initially, I found myself wondering if I shouldn't simply accept that I'm somebody who needs to change systems every few months (victim of "the magic of novelty"). However, I'm now inclined to think that I might need different time/task management systems depending on how stressed I am. It seems logical, after all, that the best way to keep your head out of water when you're on the verge of sinking is not necessarily the best method to be productive when you're not afraid of drowning.

Il y a une dizaine de jours, me promenant dans mon cher Chablais vaudois (je vous dois des photos, et aussi du Bol d’Or, je suis irrécupérable), je méditais tranquillement sur ma tendance (irrécupérable) à sombrer dans la procrastination. En effet, après quelques mois très chargés et productifs, rythmés par les petits billets colorés “à faire” sur mon bureau, la pression s’est relâchée, l’été est arrivé, et… je pétouille.

J’ai toujours bien des choses à faire, je vous rassure, mais je ne suis plus en train de courir derrière les deadlines. (Je suis disponible pour de nouveaux mandats, en passant, ne comprenez pas dans ce “bien des choses à faire” que “Steph est surbookée et n’a de temps pour rien, comme d’hab'”.) Et, misère, les petits billets colorés sur mon bureau ont l’air d’avoir perdu leur pouvoir de m’aider à organiser mon temps.

Ma première idée fut la suivante: peut-être que je suis simplement quelqu’un qui est très susceptible à la magie de la nouveauté, et que je dois simplement changer régulièrement de méthode d’organisation. Peut-être faut-il simplement que j’accepte que “j’use” mes systèmes de gestion du temps, et qu’au bout de quelques mois, il me faut simplement en trouver un autre.

Quelques kilomètres plus loin, ma réflexion avait suivi mes pieds et avancé également: peut-être que l’usure des méthodes de gestion du temps n’était pas une fatalité. En effet, une différence majeure entre la Grande Epoque des Petits Billets Colorés (février-avril) et maintenant est mon état de stress. Je suis beaucoup moins stressée. Et comme toute personne qui a un peu tendance à être motivée par l’urgence et les épées de Damoclès, l’absence de stress signifie que je me laisse un peu emporter par mon envie de me la couler douce.

On comprend donc aisément que les piles de petits billets roses et bleus sur mon bureau, destinés avant tout à me permettre de me concentrer sur les quelques tâches les plus urgentes du jour, ne fonctionnent plus vraiment.

Moralité: j’ai peut-être simplement besoin d’avoir à ma disposition une palette de méthodes à utiliser en fonction de mon état de stress.

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How I Get Organized [en]

[fr] Comment je m'organise, quels outils et méthodes me conviennent. Ces temps, un doux mélange de GTD et de FlyLady, avec des petites cartes éparpillées sur mon bureau pour garder en vue mes tâches prochaines, une minuterie réglée sur 15 minutes pour les gros projets ou les choses qui n'avancent pas, Buxfer pour mes finances et une certaine régularité dans mon rythme de vie.

index cards 2.0 These days, for the first time in a long time, I feel on top of things. I’ve caught up with almost all the backlog I accumulated by being sick for a month and deleting my blog by mistake. So, I thought I’d jot down some notes on how I get organized.

To my shame, I’ve never 100% implemented GTD (particularly the daily/weekly reviews), but reading the book and putting one or two systems in place has been very helpful to me. Over the last two years, I’ve used index cards (very briefly), mindmaps, iGTD, Things, more mindmaps, notebooks, and currently, more index cards. And Evernote. Here are a few words about each method.

  • index cards, version 1: when I started implementing GTD and read the book in 2006, I put all my stuff on index cards and pinned them on cork boards. It didn’t last long, I think it was just physically too cumbersome.
  • iGTD: iGTD was nice, and I used it for quite some time. I had a hard time figuring out my contexts (and sub-contexts). I had an eye-opening moment when I realised that planning tasts in project mode was really helpful (for Going Solo, for example).
  • notebooks: when things became too stressful before Going Solo, I took a notebook and listed all the stuff I needed to take care of on a page. When things were done, I crossed them out. When new things were added, I added them. When the page was too messy, I copied over what was left of the list to a clean page. This worked really really well for me — I still do it at times.
  • Things: I really liked Things. Compared to iGTD, it didn’t suffer from feature creep. I liked the way it organised things by tags. But for some reason (maybe because it’s an application on the computer?) I stopped using it (again, when things got too “urgent” in my life — after SoloCamp last autumn).
  • mindmaps: I used mindmaps at two points in my life, and one was actually before reading GTD. I like the fact that I can organise my tasks in “sectors”, and fold away branches I’m not concentrating on right now. One thing I would tend to do with my mind map is have a branch called “next” to help me focus on immediate stuff.
  • index cards 2.0: what’s been working for me these last few weeks is tiny index cards on which I write stuff I mustn’t forget or need to take care of. I put these on my desk (because I now work at my desk, a big change from the last years). And on my desk, I can pull out the 3-6 things I’m going to do today (some rocks, some pebbles), and basically spread them out and group them any way I like (it’s often quite intuitive rather than officially organised — though the separation between “now” and “later” stands).
  • Evernote: I use Evernote for some of my lists, which tended up to clutter up any kind of system I used to keep track of all my next actions: books to buy, films to see, shopping lists. I also use Evernote to capture stuff I need to add to my desk of index cards.

All these tools work for me, to varying extents, and in varying situations. The system I use now (index cards 2.0, evernote, and some notebook-lists) works well for “immediate” stuff, but it’s missing someday/maybe items.

Now, aside from the tools, here are some elements of my method — some combination of GTD and FlyLady. Here are my main take-aways:

  • thinking in terms of next actions has really helped me differentiate between projects and to-do items (GTD)
  • having an inbox on my desk (a big big basket) to collect incoming stuff and an A-Z storage system with hanging folders (GTD)
  • separating “processing time” from actual “doing time” (GTD again)
  • using the power of 15 minutes (a day! with a timer!) to make progress on daunting projects or stuff I just can’t get started on (cleaning the flat, processing the GTD-inbox to zero, stuff I’m so behind on I can’t even think of it) (FlyLady)
  • putting in place routines to give some structure to my days (an office and alarms on my iPhone help) — including not working all the time! (FlyLady)

Another element I’m really proud of is that I finally have all my finances under control. Last autumn, things were looking pretty grim, between the state of my bank account, the number of bills I had to pay, and no work lined up. My brother patiently helped me keep my head out of water (“so, here’s what’ll come in, in which bills it’ll pay”) during the end of last year, and when eclau opened, I started keeping track of all income and expenses related to it all by myself (a Google spreadsheet can do wonders to get started). Early this year, I opened a Buxfer account and am using it to track all my income and expenses (professional and personal). The wonderful thing about Buxfer is that they have an iPhone-ready site, so I can log my expenses literally the minute I spend the money. This means I’m never (or rarely) behind in doing my accounting.

I think this shows that one should never be afraid to ask for help in getting organised or getting some parts of one’s life under control — and I’d put buddy-working under that same heading. It’s often much easier to do things with other people’s company and support, rather than try to do everything alone.

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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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Lunch at Seesmic [en]

[fr] Apparition dans le Seesmic du Jour suite à mon passage dans les bureaux de la startup de Loïc Le Meur hier. Je passe les commentaires sur mon accent vaudois... 😉

I was invited to drop in at the [Seesmic](http://seesmic.com/) offices yesterday for lunch and a chat. Lunch was really nice — sushi in a place where you can tell the chef to serve you what he wants. My dream come true! We need more restaurants like that. Where we don’t need to choose what we eat.

But anyway. Over lunch, Loïc was mentioning that his e-mail had become unmanageable, and that the only way he actually managed to deal with “stuff” was to do things immediately, when he thought of them. There’s something to be said for that — I’ve been doing it more and more with e-mail myself. Anyway, poor Loïc seemed swamped (and Vinvin chimed in with similar feelings), so I asked if they’d heard of/read [Getting Things Done](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Getting_Things_Done). Yes, they’d heard about it, but had never really investigated.

I heard about GTD for a year before actually heading over to [43 Folders](http://www.43folders.com/), reading up, and ordering the book. Many people had sung the praises of Getting Things Done to me, but I kept thinking “just another over-hyped magical self-help productivity solve-all-your-problems snake-oil method”. I guess one person too much told me about it, and once I read the book, I really kicked myself for not doing it earlier. [It’s changed my life](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/03/11/getting-things-done-its-just-about-stress/), even though I keep falling off the GTD wagon — but one nice thing about it is that it’s a *forgiving* system.

It takes a certain amount of commitment to learn and get on (if you’re not commited enough to read the book, fuggedaboudit), but once it’s in place, it’s not that hard to get back on when you fall off. In my opinion, it can also be beneficial even if [imperfectly implemented](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2006/08/21/bridging-the-gap-between-me-and-orthodox-gtd/) (which is my case: I have an overflowing inbox, my lists aren’t up-to-date, and I never really managed to get the daily/weekly/monthly review thing going — but I strive towards that).

So anyway, Loïc immediately decided he was going to have me talk about GTD on the [daily Loic.tv show](http://www.loic.tv/). Here we are, then, me trying to actually get some information across (not easy with the two French clowns) in [Seesmic du Jour 107](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MwGxSFLeLU):

I got to say a few words about [Going Solo](http://going-solo.net) too, which was nice 🙂

Unfortunately they left out the bit where I hit Loïc on the head with my teaspoon, and nearly whacked him with my MacBook. He spent his whole time interrupting me, and then complaining that I wasn’t saying anything! I actually got him to leave the table so I could say a few words about Going Solo with a reasonably straight face…

Thanks for the invitation!

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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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Vie de bâton de chaise [fr]

[en] If you follow me on Twitter, you'll know that I have top-priority conflicts these days (well, have been having them for a couple of weeks, and it's not going to get better, not with all the mad travelling all over the place -- but I'm happy about the travelling, so I won't complain too much).

A bit like Suw, I feel the need to reclaim blogging as a priority. So watch this space -- and in the meantime, if I'm silent, enjoy the cute kitty photos.

Mon pauvre blog… bien délaissé ces temps. En fait j’ai des tonnes de choses à écrire — je ne mens pas, ma liste “blogme” dans [iGTD](http://bargiel.home.pl/iGTD/) ne cesse de s’allonger, et j’ai même la tête qui menace de péter avec tout ce que je n’ai pas le temps de coucher sur clavier. Des tonnes à écrire, des autres tonnes de choses à faire, d’endroits où aller, de [voyages](http://www.google.com/calendar/embed?src=5844p36ob825j95ijode3ihm54%40group.calendar.google.com) (malheureusement à mes frais pour la plupart), de gens à voir, d'[appartements à organiser](http://steph.wordpress.com/2007/04/01/the-last-shelf/), de rendez-vous divers et variés y compris avec une très sympathique journaliste — jetez un oeil à 24heures ou la Tribune de Genève de demain et aussi [online](http://www.lesquotidiennes.ch) (j’avoue me réjouir beaucoup de la parution de ce portrait, qui combine une version courte papier, une version plus longue en ligne, un photo quelque part, des liens, et même un extrait vidéo).

Donc, juste là, depuis quelques semaines, je cours après ma vie et j’ai un peu de peine à la rattraper. Oh, je vais bien — très bien, même. Mais bloguer a tendance à ne jamais se retrouver assez haut sur la liste des priorités pour que je le fasse (c’est le problème aussi avec [le fameux livre](http://climbtothestars.org/categories/livre/), mon matériel d’enseignante à débarrasser, les catégories de ce blog à refaire, bref, vous voyez. Priorité numéro 1: ce qui paie directement le loyer et les croquettes de [Bagha](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/tags/bagha).

Ce n’est pas pour dire que je ne blogue plus, hein. D’ailleurs là, je suis en train d’organiser mes “choses à faire” pour les semaines à venir, et je peux vous dire que j’ai la ferme intention d’être bien présente ici (pas sûre en quelle langue, par contre) comme [mon amie Suw](http://chocnvodka.blogware.com/) qui est un peu dans la même situation que moi, et qui a décidé de [bloguer chaque jour durant une semaine](http://chocnvodka.blogware.com/blog/_archives/2007/4/26/2907465.html) histoire de réorganiser un peu ses priorités.

C’est aussi un peu pour ça que j’écris ce billet. Pour écrire, il faut commencer par écrire.

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Getting Things Done: It's Just About Stress [en]

[fr] Getting Things Done: non pas un moyen d'accomplir plus de choses, mais un moyen de passer moins de temps sur ce qu'on a décidé qu'on devait accomplir. Moins de stress. Plus de liberté. Plus de temps à soi.

Anne seems to have struck a chord with [thing #8 she hates about web 2.0](http://annezelenka.com/2007/03/ten-things-i-hate-about-you-web-20):

> Getting Things Done. The productivity virus so many of us have been infected with in 2006 and 2007. Let’s move on. Getting lots of stuff done is not the way to achieve something important. You could be so busy planning next actions that you miss out on what your real contribution should be.

[Stowe](http://www.stoweboyd.com/message/2007/03/anne_zelenka_on_1.html), [Shelley](http://burningbird.net/linkers/linkers/) and [Ken](http://ipadventures.com/?p=1653) approve.

It’s funny, but reading their posts makes GTD sound like “a way to do an even more insane number of things.”

Huh?

That’s not at all the impression I got when I read and started using GTD. To me, GTD is “a solution to finally be able to enjoy free time without feeling bogged down by a constant feeling of guilt over everything I should already have done.”

Maybe not everyone has issues doing things. If you don’t have trouble getting stuff out of the way, then throw GTD out of the window and continue enjoying life. You don’t need it.

But for many people, procrastination, administrivia piling up, not-enough-time-for-stuff-I-enjoy-doing and commitments you know you’re not going to be able to honour are a reality, and a reality that is a source of stress. I, for one, can totally relate to:

> Most people have been in some version of this mental stress state so consistently, for so long, that they don’t even know they’re in it. Like gravity, it’s ever-present–so much so that those who experience it usually aren’t even aware of the pressure. The only time most of them will realize how much tension they’ve been under is when they get rid of it and notice how different it feels.

David Allen, Getting Things Done

GTD, as I understand it, isn’t about cramming more on your plate. It’s about freeing yourself of what’s already on it, doing the dishes straight after the meal and spending your whole afternoon walking by the lake with a friend without this nagging feeling that you should rather be at home dealing with the paperwork, but you just don’t want to face it.

Here are the very few sentences of “Welcome to *Getting Things Done*”, the forward to GTD (and yeah, there’s a bit of an upbeat, magical-recipe tone to it, but bear with me):

> Welcome to a gold mine of insights into strategies for how to have more energy, be more relaxed, and get a lot more accomplished with much less effort. If you’re like me, you like getting things done and doing them well, and yet you also want to savor life in ways that seem increasingly elusive if not downright impossible if you’re working too hard.

David Allen, Getting Things Done

And a bit further down the page:

> And *whatever* you’re doing, you’d probably like to be more relaxed, confident that whatever you’re doing at the moment is just what you need to be doing–that having a beer with your staff after hours, gazing at your sleeping child in his or her crib at midnight, answering the e-mail in front of you, or spending a few informal minutes with the potential new client after the meeting is exactly what you *ought* to be doing, as you’re doing it.

David Allen, Getting Things Done

I don’t hear anything in there about “doing more things is better” or “you should be doing things all the time”. The whole point of GTD is to get **rid** of stuff so that it’s done and you can then go off to follow your heart’s desire. It’s about deciding not to do stuff way before you reach the point where it’s been on your to-do list stressing you for six months, and you finally decide to write that e-mail and say “sorry, can’t”.

That frees your mind and your calendar for what is really important in your life (be it twittering your long-distance friends, taking photographs of cats, spending time with people you love or working on your change-the-world project).

You’ll notice that I didn’t use the word “productivity” in this post a single time. “Productivity” is a word businesses like. If people are “productive”, it means you get to squeeze more out of them for the same price. That isn’t an idea I like. But being “productive” can also simply be understood to mean that it takes you less time to do the things that you’ve decided you needed to do. In that way, yes, GTD is a productivity method. But I think that calling it that does it disservice, because people hear “squeezing more out of ya for the same $$$” and go “eek, more stress”.

Bottom line? (I like ending posts with bottom lines.) If you see GTD as something that takes away your freedom and free time, turns you into an even worse workaholic, and encourages you to become indiscriminate about interests you pursue and tasks you take on because you “can do everything”, think again — and re-read the book. If you spend your whole time fiddling with your GTD system, shopping around for another cool app to keep your next action lists in, and worrying about how to make it even more efficient, you’re missing the point. But you knew that already, didn’t you?

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