Maker Days and Manager Days [en]

A few months ago I wrote an article called Office vs. Errand Days, where I explained that I had started grouping my errands on certain days and making sure that I had meeting-free office days on others.

I’ve just finished reading Paul Graham’s excellent essay Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule, and realized that what I have been doing is separating my days into “manager’s schedule days” and “maker’s schedule days”.

As a freelancer, I am both: I’m the manager who meets people, has speculative meetings, receives new clients or gets interviewed by journalists. But I’m also the maker: a whole bunch of what I get paid for has to be done quietly in the office. And a whole bunch of what I need to do to get paid work also happens in the office.

So, if I’m not careful, I let the manager’s schedule take over my week, I’m super-busy but I don’t really get any paid work done, or proper prospecting.

So, here’s to grabbing my calendar again and making sure I put enough “maker days” into each of my weeks. And here’s to saying “no” firmly but gently when asked to interrupt one of my “maker days”. Even if I’m the person I need to say no to.

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There is Work and Work [en]

We freelancers know it: there are many kinds of work. Non-freelancers probably know it too, but let’s stick to the freelance way of life for the sake of this article.

There is work that gets you paid. There is work that doesn’t get you paid, but that you need to do in order to get the work that will get you paid.

There is also work that you have decided to do and planned, and work that you just happen to do.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the last distinction lately.

Three years ago, I had a big client project and was going through a slow procrastinative summer. At one point, I decided to stop worrying and embrace my summer days: I would work from 9am to noon and then would be free to do whatever I wanted.

It worked really well. I made quick progress on the project and got to enjoy my summer.

This year, I’m having a slow summer too. The weather is nice, people are on holiday, I’m learning to sail, and I’m not swamped with work (I am busy with lots of things, though, I think that’ll never change). And honestly, when I look at my productivity certain most days, I might not be working less if I had decided to do the 9-12.

Deciding to work 9-12 does not mean that I stop myself from working in the afternoons. It means that I don’t have to work in the afternoons. And this is where the work you plan and the work that just happens comes in.

I rediscovered this when I started working in my coworking space, eclau: office hours started to be devoted to “things I had to do” for work, and sometimes, in the evenings or week-ends, I would do some light work that I felt like doing (work that doesn’t feel like work). Blogging, for example. Fooling around online. Sometimes, even doing my accounting because I felt like it. But nothing because I felt I ought to do it.

So, next year, I’m thinking of trying the 9-12 during the summer months. Work well three hours, then do something else or allow myself to be completely unproductive in the afternoon.

Hell, why wait until next year? I’m starting tomorrow.

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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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Office vs. Errand Days [en]

[fr] Ma solution pour rester un peu en contrôle de mon agenda: bloquer des journées entières de travail au bureau sans rendez-vous, et concentrer tout ce qui implique sorties, courses, cours, meetings, rencontres sur d'autres journées. Etre ferme, avec soi-même tout d'abord.

These last weeks have been pretty hectic. Large amounts of stress (work and personal), slipping deadlines, contemplation of possible big changes ahead… I had the feeling that I was spending each of my days running around and not having the time to do any of all the hyper-urgent things I needed to deal with.

Now things are much calmer. I caught up with my deadlines (boy, were they running away fast!) and am much more relaxed. So, of course, it’s easy to figure out solutions that make things better and talk about them when things are better but… who knows, maybe these solutions did actually help me 😉

Actually, “this solution”: concentrate meetings and errands on given days. Book whole days in the office. Be firm with yourself. I actually put huge “booked!” meetings in my calendar. And I don’t make exceptions. Because when you start making exceptions, even with very good reasons, it’s the beginning of the end — and before long your whole week is just riddled with appointments and meetings, like a piece of old Emmental cheese.

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Why the Fifteen-Minute Timer Dash Works [en]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Blogging Like Cleaning the Flat [en]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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