Weekly Planning: Third Week (Learning Steps) [en]

Here we are — I’ve completed my third “planned” week since I started looking a bit further ahead than the current day (first week, second week, passing thoughts). Gosh, it was a busy week. I had only two office days, and I realize that it is not quite enough.

Around me, I’m faced either with people who are used to planning their weeks and find it normal, or people who could never dream of doing it, so busy are they putting out fires day after day.

I was like that for a long time. How did I get where I am now? I’ve been thinking a lot about which were the “first steps” on the road from chaos to “planning”.

Oh, before I forget: when I say I plan my week, I mean that I have a rough outline of what I am going to accomplish during the week, and on what day. It doesn’t go any further than that. Like when I “plan” my day, I don’t decide “I’m going to spend between 9 and 9.30 doing this, then do that for 20 minutes”. I know what I want to accomplish in the day, and go from there.

So, back to what brought me here, let me mention a few landmarks or “important steps” you might want to meditate upon if you are currently too busy putting out fires to even dream of planning your week. They’re in no particular order, because I think I haven’t quite finished figuring this out yet. If you spot one that seems doable, then start with that one.

  • Protect yourself. Set a very high priority on keeping “downtime” aside for yourself. Of course there are very busy periods where you won’t get much, but this shouldn’t be your “normal” week. Don’t answer the phone during lunch break, for example. Book an evening a week for yourself, and tell people who want to see you then that you “already have something planned”. Learn to become more comfortable about making people wait. If you always put others first you’ll just burn in the fire.
  • Set maker days and manager days. Yesterday evening, Claude pointed out to me that this was one of my first obvious steps towards weekly planning, back in April. It’s obvious: once you start having a clearer plan of how much actual time you’re going to have in the office to work on projects, it helps you not overcommit.
  • Under-promise, over-deliver. I can’t remember who recommended this, but it stuck with me. It helps me fight against my natural tendancy to underestimate the amount of time I need to deliver something. So I figure out a reasonable estimate, and then add a lot of security padding to give myself space for bad planning and other emergencies.
  • Everything takes more time than you think. I think David Allen says this somewhere in Getting Things Done, but I could be misquoting. It could be Nassim Nicholas Taleb in The Black Swan, too. Or Merlin Mann. Anyway: the unexpected almost always adds time to things. And in the cases where it doesn’t and actually reduces the time you need for something, it’s no big disaster (OMG! I have too much time to do this! I’m going to die!). So, add a lot of padding to any estimation of how much time something is going to take you. It’s always more than you think. Try doubling your initial estimate, for starters, and see if that improves things.
  • End your day by looking at tomorrow. This is something I got from FlyLady when I realised it was important for me to have a “getting started” (=morning) and a “winding down” (=evening) routine. She recommends including 10 minutes in your evening routine to prepare the next day: check the train timetable, know what appointments you have, etc. It’s easy to do, and it means you’re not diving blind into tomorrow anymore.
  • Learn to say no. This is the really hard one for most people. I’ve become pretty good at saying no, but I’ve come a long way: initially, I was somebody who said yes to almost everything. I was both enthusiastic about all sorts of things and terrified of hurting people by refusing their requests. So I didn’t say no. I’ll probably blog about this more extensively at some point (I already did in French), but the important thing to remember is that as long as you have trouble saying no, you will not escape fire fighting. One thing that really helped me learn to say no was to start by never immediately accepting anything. Say you’ll answer in 24 hours. Then I used that time to have a long hard think about how I keep saying yes to stuff I want to do to help out, and then end up procrastinating, not doing it, feeling horrible because deadlines slip, etc. That usually gave me enough courage to say no.
  • Have a list. You can go all GTD or only part-way, like I have, but you need some kind of system or list to capture the things you need to take care of. Learn the difference between a project and a next action, and list only the latter. To start your list, just write/type down all the stuff that’s bubbling at the top of your brain and stressing you out. If you think of something you need to do while you’re working, add it to the list. Ask a friend to hold your hand (it can be through IM) if your list gets too scary. Trust me, it’ll be better when it’s written down — anything is better than being an ostrich.
  • Learn to prioritize. I have huge problems with this (in other areas of my life too). When it comes to work-related stuff, here are a few rules of thumb I use. Invoicing is high priority, because it’s what brings in the money and it’s not very long to do. Anything really time-sensitive is also high priority (if I don’t announce tomorrow’s meetup today, it won’t be any use, will it?) Responding to potential clients. Paid work for clients with deadlines, of course. Asking questions like “what is the worst thing that will happen if I don’t do this today?” or “on this list, is there any item which is going to cause somebody to die if I don’t do it?” (start with “to die” and then work down on the ladder of bad things — thanks Delphine for that tip) also helps. This doesn’t mean you need to order your lists. It’s just to help you figure out where to start.
  • Admit when you’re in over your head. If you over-promised, said yes when you really should have said no, and basically find yourself incapable of keeping up with your commitments, tell the people involved. And use that safety padding again. If you told the client it would be done by Wednesday, and on Monday you already have that sinking feeling that it won’t be possible, tell the client. Apologize. Say you messed up if you have. If you’re pretty certain you can get it done by Friday, tell them that it’ll be done Monday. See? Safety padding. Under-promising. Of course this doesn’t work in all situations, but you might simply not have a choice — and it’s better to be upfront about a deadline slipping than keeping it silent. Not just for the relationship with the client, but for your learning and growing process. Same with money: if you need invoices paid earlier than you initially asked because you have cashflow issues, ask. If you can’t pay the bill, ask for a payment plan. Somebody might say yes.
  • You can only do so much in a day. At some point, you reach the end of the day. Either it’s time, or you’re tired, but at some point, the day is done. Pack up and go home. Watch TV. Eat. (Maybe not in that order.) Do something nice. Take a bath. First of all, it’s no use working yourself silly until ungodly hours, you just won’t get up the next morning, or if you do, you won’t be productive. Second, doing this will help you “grow” a feel for what can be done in a day.
  • Plan your day. At the beginning of the day, look at your list, and think about the 2-3 important things that you want to accomplish today. Rocks and pebbles might help. Forget all the rest and get cracking on those. You’ll be interrupted, you’ll have emergencies, of course. That’s why it’s important not to plan to do too much — or you’re setting yourself up for failure. I started doing this regularly this spring, first with index cards, then with a list in Evernote. At the beginning you’ll be crap at it, but after months of practice, you get better. And this is one of the building stones you’ll need to be able to plan your weeks at some point.
  • Save time for the unexpected. When I was teaching, I did quite a bit of time planning — I knew when I was in class and when I had “downtime” to prepare courses and mark tests. Doing that, I realized that I could not perfectly plan my time. There was always “unexpected” stuff coming up. So I started making sure I had empty time slots of “surprises”. At some point during the last year, I calculated that roughly half my time was taken up by “unexpected” things and “emergencies”. Now, it’s less, because I’m better at planning. So, depending on how deep in chaos you are, you want to make sure you leave enough “free time” in whatever planning you’re doing to accomodate everything you didn’t know about or hadn’t thought about. As organisation increases and stress goes down, the “things to do” will get more under control and there will be less and less emergencies — but it’s still important to leave “breathing space”.

This is more or less all I can think of for the moment. Is it useful to anybody? I like to think it would have been useful to me, but one can never know… would I have listened?

Similar Posts:

Weekly Planning, Two Weeks [en]

[fr] Après deux semaines de planning hebdomadaire, je vois que j'ai été un peu trop ambitieuse cette semaine. Ça va s'arranger!

So here I am, at the end of my second “planned” week. As I suspected, I was a little ambitious this time around. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • writing a blog post for a client takes up the better part of half a day; sometimes it’s way less, but I mustn’t count on it
  • sorting through 300+ photos also takes up the better part of half a day
  • I need to remember that days with judo are short, as I need to leave the office around 5pm

As I planned “too much”, I ended up giving priority to client work and things others were expecting from me over my personal projects. It sucks, but it’s kind of normal. If I have too much stuff to do “for others” in a week, it means that

  • either I have been saying “yes” too easily
  • or I have not done enough of it over the previous weeks (lack of foresight).

Learning to say “no” more (when necessary) is an ongoing process, and I’m pretty proud at how far I’ve come. It is just not a viable option to say yes to everyone and everything, or you disappear in the process. (Merlin’s time and attention talk, which I’ve started watching, touches upon this.)

As for foresight, it requires longer term planning. Having a view of one’s month, or of the two weeks to come. However, I’m not there yet. It’s no use trying to plan further ahead until I’m at least a brown belt in weekly planning — just as it would have made little sense for me to try and plan my weeks when I was still struggling with the idea of planning my days somewhat. It’s an incremental process, step-by-step.

The fact that I’m not planning beyond the week right now also allows me to relax a bit about the stuff I haven’t got done this week. It’s not like I already have a plan for next week and it’s going to be all disrupted by what I didn’t do this week. I’m going to put the “undone” things back in my master lists, and reevaluate if I’m doing them next week or not.

Similar Posts:

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!

Similar Posts:

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.

Similar Posts:

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.

Similar Posts:

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.

Similar Posts:

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.

Similar Posts:

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!

Similar Posts:

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.

Similar Posts:

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.

Similar Posts: