Socks, Drawers, Tidying and Packaging [en]

[fr] Comment une histoire de rangement d'habits m'amène à accepter que j'apprécie le soin porté à l'apparence.

Right at the beginning of 2016, I stumbled upon this article, which in turn led me to this one, which in turn led me to read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.

It’s a short book. But, like Sarah Knight, it didn’t take me long to reorganise my sock drawer. I kid you not. Those who know me will be aware I am a proponent of minimum viable tidying. My place isn’t a dump (some hotspots are), but it’s not the tidiest place around and I definitely have way too much stuff.

Tidy Socks

I’m a long-time fan of A Perfect Mess, and Marie Kondo clearly takes the antithetic approach, with a cult of tidiness, order, and organisation which goes way too far for me. I was surprised, as a person who has never held tidiness or neatness in high regard, to find that I was very much drawn to the ideal she describes in her book. I dream of a life with pared-down possessions, where everything has a place, where my t-shirts and underwear are artfully folded in their drawers, where everything is under control.

Control. This is the draw. We crave control in an often misguided attempt to relieve our anxiety. This is not completely stupid: having control on our environment does make us feel better. Less moving parts are easier to feel in control of, one reason maybe why I regularly fantasise about a simpler life, and why we relax better on vacation (away from everything, life is indeed simpler).

So, if I’m not ready to let go of the belief that having a little bit of mess in our lives can be a good thing, what am I taking away from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up? Quite a few things, to be honest, and in a way, it probably has already been life-changing for me.

The first thing I’m keeping is a precious tool to help me part with things: Marie Kondo advises starting with the easiest (hence socks) and emptying everything on the floor, before taking each item in your hands and asking “does it spark joy?” — I’m not too big on the formula, but I really like the idea. Does this object make me happy? Or does it make me feel guilty, bad, indifferent? There are a few things to unpack here.

  1. I like the idea of surrounding yourself with stuff that makes you happy.
  2. I like the idea of choosing what to keep rather than choosing what to part with.
  3. I like the idea of honing one’s parting skills with easy things first.

Number 2. up here reminds me of a packing tip I read long ago, I think it was on Tara Hunt’s blog (can’t find it anymore, and can’t find it on my blog either, though I’m sure I blogged about it at some point). It went something like this:

Instead of asking “can this be useful?” ask “might I be in big trouble if I don’t pack this?”

It changed my way of packing forever. The shift from “can it be useful” to “do I really need it” was really an eye-opener for me.

And Marie Kondo’s “spark joy?” test does the same thing. Instead of choosing things to throw out, I’m choosing what I keep. She also has some interesting thoughts about how to part with objects. Consider what their purpose has been in your life, thank them for it, and send them on their way to where they can fulfil their new purpose. In a very Shinto way of viewing life, Marie Kondo animates objects in a way that makes sense to me.

In that same vein, another takeaway for me is greeting your home when you come back. I’m not sure if I’ll actually do it, but I like the idea of projecting some kind of “personhood” into one’s living space. I just realised that I’ve been doing this for 20 years when I go judo training: we greet the dojo when we enter.

Another major take-away has to do with clothes. I was sure I’d blogged about my desire to try putting together a seasonal capsule wardrobe, but again, I don’t seem to have done it. (Senility? I keep thinking I’ve blogged things but I haven’t. I blame Facebook. For thinking I’ve blogged when I haven’t. For the capsule wardrobe, I blame Andrea.) So, yes, keeping clothes I like, rather than based on criteria like “does it fit”, that makes sense. And then, drawers. Yes, think about it: shelves suck. You can’t access what’s at the back. Piles fall down with time. And my IKEA PAX cupboards actually have drawers that I can buy and stick in them. Done. Ordered. My clothes will live vertically from now on.

I’ve already put this in practice at the chalet, where I’m staying now. I brought some dividers to tidy up my drawers, and have been experimenting with folding my clothes so they can be stacked vertically side-by-side in the drawer. What a revelation! This is similar to when I learned how to take off my socks properly.

I had honestly never given any thought to how I remove my socks. I don’t wear them half the year, anyway. But I did pester against balled-up socks in the laundry. The day I discovered the technique for removing socks without balling them up or turning them inside-out, all became clear to me: with no effort, from one day to the other, I changed the way I remove my socks — never to look back.

I can feel something similar going on with how I fold my clothes. I’ve never thought much about how I fold my clothes. I just fold them, and pile them up on top of one another. Like I was taught. Or hang them. Now a new world is opening up to me, one where I can pull out a drawer and immediately see all the clothes in it, without having to dig through a pile that inevitably topples over at some point.

The most surprising thing is that I’ve found myself quickly folding my clothes and putting them back in the drawer at the end of the day, instead of just letting them pile up somewhere random — on top of the chest of drawers or on the hooks behind the door. Folding is quick, and they have a place, so putting them there is a no-brainer.

Clothes folded in drawer

I think my future looks like tidy, organised drawers.

But this isn’t just about clothes. You see, I’m realising that I actually enjoy seeing a drawer full of neatly stacked underwear or t-shirts when I open it, rather than a big mess.

I have to admit it: I care about appearance.

This is a big thing.

You see, officially, I don’t care about what I call “packaging”. What’s important is what’s inside, right? Who cares if you make things look all pretty, as long as what you’re selling is good? Their true value should suffice.

I’m not interested in — or good at — making things “look good”. I don’t really do it for myself, either: forget make-up, and clothing is practical. I do my nails, dye my lashes and eyebrows, wear jewellery and have a good hairdresser, but that’s it. In my professional life, my disdain of packaging has long been a pain-point: I’m sure it costs me, compared to others who are great at packaging (and might not even have as much substance underneath the shiny wrapping).

I have a kind of snobbishness about it, though I’ve never really managed to pinpoint its origin: don’t let yourself be blinded by the packaging, see the value of what’s inside, blah blah blah.

But it’s hypocritical, because I’m expecting other people to not pay attention to something that I, as a person/consumer, pay attention to.

I appreciate it when people dress well and have good haircuts. I appreciate products and services that are nicely packaged. I love the box my iDevices come in. One of the reasons I use OSX is that it looks good, and I’m staring at it all day, right? When I buy home-made syrup my friend here in Gryon makes, I love the little labels she puts on the bottles. I like wrapping on presents. I like the card the vet sends me for Christmas. I like the pretty price-list my nail stylist has on her door.

However, when it’s my turn to do it, it doesn’t feel worth the trouble. For others, obviously, and for myself — and I’m not talking about self-grooming here. I love my flat, for example, but have never put up anything on the walls, though it’s been on my to-do list for 15 years and I would enjoy having pretty things around. Because it doesn’t feel that important. Because I don’t think I care. I don’t think I should care.

But I do.

And this is what this whole clothes-folding-stacking business is opening my eyes to: despite my official stance on the matter, I do enjoy pretty things. I do value packaging. I feel I am allowing myself to connect to something I have most of the time forbidden myself from acknowledging: there is pleasure to be found in being surrounded by things that look nice — and there is also, therefore, pleasure to be found in making things look attractive.

For me, and for others.

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Here Comes Everybody: Organisations and Transaction Costs [en]

[fr] Je lis "Here Comes Everybody" et je blogue mes notes. Un deuxième chapitre fascinant (en tous cas pour moi) sur les coûts organisationnels.

In an effort to be a better reader, here are some notes and related thoughts to my reading of Clay Shirky‘s book Here Comes Everybody (chapter 2).

Making a decision inside a large unstructured group is hopeless, as you’ve most certainly experienced if you’ve found yourself caught up in a spontaneous “dinner party group” of 15 people or so at the end of a conference (a larger group is more complex). What ends up happening is that somebody steps up and seizes power, either by dictating a venue and giving marching orders, or proposing a decision-making process for the group. If that doesn’t happen, you can bet that some group members will get tired of the situation and head off in their own separate sub-groups, in which it was possible to reach an agreement for action more easily. (I personally usually end up playing “friendly dictator”.)

“More is different” (Philip Anderson, 1972). Aggregates exhibit novel properties which their components did not have. Scale changes the nature of things. This is super important.

At some point of group size, it becomes very costly to maintain connection between each member of the group, and so the “everybody interacting with everybody” dynamic of a small group breaks down. Add more employees to a late project and it will make it even later, because more people involved means higher cost of coordination for the group (Fred Brooks in The Mythical Man-Month). But it’s an inevitable problem: large groups have to be managed in some way, and that’s why people gather together into organisations.

A hierarchical structure simplifies communication between organisation members, but also requires resources to maintain itself. This means that job number one of any organisation is self-preservation, as if it breaks down there is no way in which it can fulfil its stated mission.

Preserving the organisation requires work, and comes at a cost. It’s worth it as long as this cost is lower than the gain from having an organisation (i.e., the organisation allows us to do stuff that would not be possible in an open market of individuals, who would all have to independently agree on how to work together: higher transaction costs).

The Coasean ceiling (Ronald Coase, 1937, The Nature of the Firm): when the organisation grows so much that the cost of managing the business destroys any profit margin. There is a cost whether your hierarchy is flat or deep: if it’s flat, each manager has more subordinates, and so has to spend more time communicating with other people; if it’s deep, there are more layers, and information has to transit through more people.

The first org chart, probably: Western Railroad (McCallum, 1855 or so). It’s a management system designed, amongst other things, to produce “such information, to be obtained through a system of daily reports and checks, that will not embarrass principal officers nor lessen their influence with their subordinates.” No wonder the head so often seems disconnected from the hands and feet in the organisation!

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Fiddling With Video: Lightroom, YouTube, and iMovie [en]

[fr] Je m'amuse avec iMovie. Ça donne une vidéo de chats, bien sûr.

In November, I had Thierry Weber come and give my SAWI students a short practical course about YouTube and online video. It gave me a kick in the pants to (1) accept that YouTube has grown up a lot since its early days and is now a nice platform and (2) decide to put more video material out there.

I still have issues with video: either you edit heavily, and it takes hours of work to get a few minutes out of the door, or you share raw, unedited clips and it takes a long time to consume, requiring the viewer’s undivided attention. Also, like audio, there is no way to really speed through video: if it’s an hour long, that’s the time it’ll take you to watch it. You have way less freedom than with text regarding which bits you skip, pay attention to, go back to, or pay little attention to.

I have hours of video shot in India in 2004 that I have not yet done anything with. And that’s just one example.

So, between the kick in the pants, the HD iPhone always at hands, and cats (the primary source of all online content), I’ve been doing more video these last months. Some of them have ended up on my YouTube channel, but not many (can you imagine I actually have the username “steph” on YouTube? yeah.) But most of them are sitting on my hard drive due to logistical difficulties in turning them into something. (Ugly sentence, sorry.)

Today I had made enough progress sorting my photographs that I felt it was time to tackle my videos. Here’s a peek at how I’m doing things.

  • Firstly, I import all videos into Lightroom with my photos, be they from the iPhone or my proper camera.
  • I use Lightroom to organise them in a separate folder than the photos (per month) and topical subfolders if needed. This means that in my 2013/03/ photos folder, in addition to the various photos subfolders I may have (2013/03/Cats at the chalet or 2013/03/Mountains) I will have a folder named 2013/03/videos 03.2013 which might contain 2013/03/videos 03.2013/Cats in chalet garden and a few others, feline-themed or not.
  • If anything needs trashing, I do it in Lightroom, ditto for renaming. Clips can also be trimmed in Lightroom if I haven’t done it before on my iPhone (oh, a note about that: a clip trimmed on the iPhone isn’t recognised for import by Lightroom; it seems that restarting the phone gets rid of the issue.) If I’m going to upload individual clips to YouTube I keyword them “YouTube” and upload them directly to YouTube from the website.
  • For stuff I want to edit: I import the clips I need into iMovie (hopefully I will have collected the clips needed for one project into one single directory in Lightroom, like 2013/01/videos 01.2013/India snippets and keyword them with “iMovie” in Lightroom. This means they exist twice on my hard drive, but I don’t think there is a good way to avoid that (except maybe trash the Lightroom versions, which I’m loathe to do because I like the idea of having all my video stuff organised somewhere, and I like the way Lightroom does it better than iMovie).
  • My video editing skills are extremely limited: today I figured out (without access to iMovie help, which is online!) how to add a title and credits to my little series of clips stuck together end-to-end to create a mini-movie. Head over to YouTube to see my cats explore the big outdoors are the chalet for the first time.

There we go, more cat videos on the internets from my part!

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Cockerel, Anybody? [en]

[fr] Plein de nouvelles!

So, what’s up?

I’m in the UK. I’m helping Aleika find a new home for one of her cockerels, Hercule Poirot. He’s a super-good-looking guy, and he takes his job with the hens very seriously.

Hercule Poirot Head Shots 4

Do you know anybody in the UK who has chickens (hens!) and would like a stunning rooster to look over them? Do let me know.

I have had a week of holiday planned here for months, and in between Safran’s death and Somak’s appointment as Professor of Physics at Presidency University, Kolkata (so… back to India for the three of them!), we decided I would be taking Quintus back with me.

Quintus in Birmingham 6

Do you know any good people in Calcutta/Kolkata? I’m particularly interested in getting in touch with

  • people who are into organic farming/gardening in the area
  • expats who have done the move from the UK sometime during the last three years or so (moving companies! shipping! organisation!)

For those who may not know, Bagha was also initially Aleika’s cat, and I adopted him when they moved from India to the UK, coming back home from India with him in my luggage. So, a little sense of déjà vu here 😉

On the work front, the OrangeCinema Official Bloggers project is underway. I spent a few days grading final reports for the course on social media and online communities I co-direct in Lausanne (some excellent, I have to say) and we’re preparing to welcome students for the third year of the course in September. I am looking for more writers for the travel blog, and eclau is looking forward to everyone in Lausanne hearing more about coworking through the opening of a second space there, La Muse (which started out in Geneva). I will by the way be attending the Coworking Europe Conference 2012 in Paris (and probably speaking, will confirm in a couple of weeks). I have rekindled my enthusiasm for organising Bloggy Friday meetups (please do come to the next one, July 6th!) There’s more to say, but this is becoming a long paragraph 😉

What else should I tell you? I’m reading Drive, by Dan Pink, a fascinating book on motivation — and you should too, whether you’re interested in how your own motivation works, or in how to keep other people motivated (I’m thinking of taking a Sagmeister). I’ve started a group on Facebook for people in and around my area (and a bit further out) who like growing stuff on their balcony and elsewhere. I’m in the process of figuring out how to continue juggling judo, sailing, and singing (answer: be super organized). On the way to Birmingham, I stopped by for a day to stay with Steph and meet Emile The Cat.

Emile The Cat 1

I might not have told you, but Steph is my organisation inspiration (amongst many other things, which include being a very good friend!) and so I seized the occasion to face my calendar head-on and get a few holiday/travel dates sorted out. Short version: I don’t have a week-end available until June 2013 (don’t panic for me: it includes week-ends I have blocked out as “must stay at home and relax”).

I’ve also been realizing what a long way I’ve come regarding my organisational and time-management skills. Oh, I still fall in the pit every now and again, but a few discussions lately with people who seem to share the same core issues I have (had?) with time management, procrastination, perfectionism made me realize how far I have traveled.

I’m sure there was other stuff I wanted to say/blog about, but that’s the lovely thing about a blog, right? I can just write about it tomorrow, or the day after, or when I think of it. “Just.”

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Variety is the Spice of Life [en]

[fr] De l'importance de varier les choses que l'on fait pour être heureux, les façons dont on s'organise, et le type d'article qu'on publie sur son blog. La routine ne tue pas seulement le couple. Vous avez d'autres exemples?

I’m in India. I’m reading “The How of Happiness“. The two are completely unrelated aside from the fact they come together to give me the title of this article.

Photo credit: Sunil Keezhangattu/Flickr

Don’t let the slightly corny title put you off as it did me, The How of Happiness is an excellent, solid, well-researched and practical book.

I don’t want to delve into the details of the book, but just share with you something that has fallen into place for me during the last week. It has to do with variety.

You see, in her book, Sonja Lyubomirsky doesn’t only go through the various things you can do to make yourself happier, or help you pick those that seem the best fit for you: she also insists on the necessity of varying the way you put them into practice.

The example that really made this point hit home for me was the one on “counting your blessings” (yes, corniness warning, directly from the author herself, but don’t let that stop you).

First, the test groups who were asked to write down the things they were thankful for 3 times a week ended up seeing less improvement in their happiness than those that were asked to do it only once a week. Doing it only once a week makes it more of an event and keeps boredom/immunisation at bay.

Second, even then, Sonja Lyubomirsky invites the reader to not do it in the same way every week. By writing, by conversation with a friend, upon certain occasions, about certain areas of your life, or in yet a different manner, so that it remains a meaningful practice. (Page 97, if you want to look it up directly.)

This immediately reminded me of a flash of insight I had one day walking in the mountains around my chalet. I can’t remember exactly when it was, but I can see the road I was on and I remember the insight quite clearly.

Update: I found the article I wrote at the time, it was in 2009!

I was thinking of the different ways in which I had got organized, and how I seemed to become “immune” to a given method after some time had passed. The flash of insight was this: “maybe I just need to keep on finding new ways of getting organized.” I brushed off the idea, because it wasn’t comfortable, and wrote it down to the need to have different techniques for different contexts. For example, there are times when I’m more stressed than others. Times when I have more work than others. Times when I feel productive, and times when I need to kick myself down the two floors from the flat to the coworking space to get to work. Even my recent musings on freeform versus structured work go in that direction.

But in fact, I was right. Just like it’s important to vary “happiness activities/techniques” to prevent habituation (or worse, boredom), I think it’s important to vary one’s organization methods. Or at least, for me, it is. And it could well be because there is a “happiness” component for me in the act of getting organized. I like the feeling of being on top of things, of finding solutions to be productive despite my built-in procrastination engine, of learning how I function, of coming up with strategies to prioritize and get things done. And maybe — maybe — for me, trying to find one method that I can just stick to is a big mistake.

Another area I’ve recently connected “variety is the space of life” to is blogging. I’ve been hanging out with the communication team at Wildlife SOS these last days, volunteering a bit of my time and expertise to help them make better use of social media.

As I was inviting them to vary the type of article they publish on their blog (at the moment, almost all the stories are animal rescue stories), I realized that this was another example of this theme at work: “variety is the spice… of reader engagement?”

Even if as a reader, animal rescue stories are my favourites, I will actually enjoy them more if they stand out against other types of articles. And for another reader, the favourites might very well be “behind the scenes” articles or “get to know the team” ones.

By publishing only one type of “top post”, one turns it into the “average post”. Add a sprinkle of intermittent reward to the mix, and you’ll probably positively influence the way readers perceive your content. Isn’t it more exciting to head over to a blog which might or might not reward you with a new article, which might or might not be the type that moves you most?

Now think about relationships: don’t we say that routine is the biggest love-killer? Oh, some habits are nice — but you also want new stuff, changes from the habitual, different way of being together and relating to one another. Surprises. The unexpected. This is nothing new.

So, let me summarize. Variety is the spice of life. Not only should you flee excessive routine in your marriage or relationship, but also in the following areas:

  • activities that make you happy
  • how you get organized (work, and probably life too)
  • the kind of content you publish on your blog

Can you think of other areas where it’s a little counter-intuitive, but it actually turns out to be really important to add variety to the way you do things?

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Comment j'organise mes photos sur mon disque dur [fr]

[en] I organize my photos into yearly and monthly folders. Inside the monthly folders, I create "shoot" folders with a name that'll help me identify what they are about easily. For my trip to India, I've had to add say folders too, as I'm taking many photos nearly every day.

OK, ce n’est pas de la grande science, mais si ça peut être utile à quelqu’un, voici le système que j’utilise depuis de nombreuses années pour ranger mes photos sur mon disque dur. C’est assez simple mais ça marche pour moi.

Bangalore 041 Gandhi Bazaar.jpgJ’ai un dossier “photos” dans lequel je crée un dossier par année (2006, 2007, 2008, etc.). Dans chaque dossier “année” je crée douze dossiers “mois” (01, 02, 03, etc.). Au début, je rangeais simplement toutes les photos d’un mois donné dans le dossier du mois, mais suivant quand, ça fait vite beaucoup de photos.

Donc habituellement, je groupe mes photos par “gros paquets” à l’intérieur d’un mois donné en créant des répertoires comme “Promenade au bord du lac”, “Apéro de l’eclau”, “Sortie bateau”. Ça m’aide à facilement retrouver mes photos.

Je ne suis pas très systématique ni soigneuse dans ma façon de nommer mes photos. A nouveau, je fais des gros paquets, je choisis un nom générique (Bangalore) et je numérote automatiquement (impensable de faire ça à la main). Après, des fois, je rajoute des précisions, soit sur mon ordinateur, soit sur Flickr. Ça dépend de mon humeur!

Maintenant que je commence à utiliser sérieusement Lightroom, je cherche à tâtons comment mieux nommer mes photos. Pour ce voyage en Inde, par exemple, j’ai trop de photos chaque jour pour utiliser mon système de classement habituel, donc j’ai créé encore des répertoires par jour à l’interieur des dossiers “mois” — et je suis en train de nommer mes photos “Ville ### Série de photos” (exemple: Bangalore 041 Gandhi Bazaar). On verra si je continue comme ça!

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Voyager plus, voyager moins, voyager mieux [fr]

[en] As the editor for's travel blog, I contribute there regularly. I have cross-posted some of my more personal articles here for safe-keeping.

Cet article a été initialement publié sur le blog de voyage (voir l’original).

Après avoir vécu une année en Inde et m’être fait des amis aux quatre coins de la planète grâce à internet, j’avais envie de voyager. Moi qui avais toujours été plutôt casanière (et d’une certain façon, je le suis encore), j’ai enfin compris ces gens qui partaient loin loin loin lors de leurs vacances.

Etudiante à l’époque, mon budget voyages était plutôt réduit. Employée, j’ai découvert que pour pouvoir partir en vacances, je devais organiser mon travail pour que tout ne s’arrête pas en mon absence. Passant dans le monde de l’enseignement, la fatigue et la masse de travail (ainsi que les plages vacances obligées durant les vacances scolaires!) m’ont plus ou moins clouée en Suisse durant deux ans.

Lorsque je me suis mise à mon compte, du coup, c’était aussi l’occasion rêvée pour moi de voyager plus. J’avais des tas d’excuses professionnelles pour mes déplacements (conférences, clients à l’étranger, etc.) et surtout, je pouvais travailler sur place. Je pouvais donc voyager sans prendre de vacances! En pratique, je faisais un mix des deux: j’allais quelque part “pour le travail”, et je rajoutais 3-4 jours sur place pour les “vacances”. Cela permettait de plus de justifier les frais (vu que c’était “pour le travail”) et de ne pas faire sauter la banque en explosant le budget vacances.

Bien plus vite que je ne l’avais imaginé, ces voyages dont je me réjouissais tant sont devenus “trop de voyages“. Tout devient routine lorsqu’on le fait trop. Une ville étrangère ressemble à une autre ville étrangère. Un hôtel, à une chambre d’hôtel. On va quelque part, on travaille, on voit trop de gens durant pas assez de temps, on rentre, on défait la valise, on recommence. Voyager devient du travail. On n’a plus envie de prendre 2-3 jours pour découvrir une nouvelle ville: on a juste envie de rentrer à la maison.

Peut-être que ce n’est pas comme ça pour tout le monde — mais pour moi ça l’est devenu.

Changement de vitesse, du coup, et depuis deux ans je voyage beaucoup moins. Presque plus. Mes déplacements professionnels sont réduits au strict minimum. Et là, après 4 ans à mon compte, je retrouve le besoin de prendre de vraies vacances. Pas juste un week-end prolongé ou une semaine au chalet. Pas 2-3 jours dans une ville quelque part après une conférence. De vraies vacances, trois semaines au moins (il paraît que c’est ce qu’il faut au minimum pour vraiment se ressourcer), sans obligations professionnelles, dépaysantes.

Voyager moins qu’avant, mais voyager quand même, et voyager mieux: pour sortir de mon quotidien, vider ma tête, la remplir de choses autres.

Et pour ça, surtout si on est indépendant, il n’y a qu’une solution: bloquer les dates longtemps à l’avance. Ensuite, selon l’envie, on peut réserver son voyage dès qu’on peut, ou bien au contraire profiter des offres dernière minute pour partir à l’aventure!

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Huit conseils de survie pour indépendants [fr]

J’écris beaucoup en anglais sur des sujets qui touchent les indépendants, dans la catégorie Being the Boss et aussi, dans une moindre mesure, Life Improvement. Aujourd’hui, j’ai envie d’offrir à mes lecteurs francophones indépendants quelques conseils de survie. J’aurais bien fait de les suivre à mes débuts, et je suis bien consciente qu’on n’apprend jamais mieux qu’à travers ses propres erreurs, mais parfois, parfois, les expériences d’autrui peuvent être précieuses.

Sans plus attendre, lançons-nous donc.

1. Barricader votre temps personnel

Surtout en début de carrière indépendante, à plus forte raison si l’on a transformé en métier une passion, il est facile de se laisser griser par la liberté des horaires et l’impression que “le travail n’est plus du travail”. Le problème de la plupart des indépendants, c’est qu’ils travaillent trop. Fatigue, stress, ou même burn-out les attendent au contour.

Préservez jalousement votre temps personnel: pour dormir, manger, vous détendre, et fréquenter famille et amis. Même si c’est frustrant au départ, fixez-vous des règles: pas de travail le week-end, ou le dimanche, ou après 19h. Ou pas de travail le matin si vous avez travaillé le soir. Plus tard, avec l’expérience, vous apprendrez quand vous pourrez faire des exceptions sans trop en souffrir. Mais pour commencer, soyez stricts.

2. L’agenda de votre client n’est pas plus important que le vôtre

La liberté d’horaire qui va avec beaucoup de métiers indépendants est très agréable et pratique, mais cela ne signifie pas que vous devez à tout prix offrir la flexibilité maximale à vos clients. Si vous avez l’habitude de concentrer vos rendez-vous sur certaines journées (une pratique que je recommande) et que vous y tenir nécessite de ne voir le client que dans deux semaines, ce n’est pas votre entière responsabilité. Si votre client annule un rendez-vous et veut du coup vous voir sur une de vos plages de temps personnel, apprenez à être ferme.

En donnant la priorité à l’agenda de votre client, vous cédez à son urgence, et mettez le petit doigt dans l’engrenage d’une forme d’esclavage.

Cela ne veut pas dire qu’il ne faut jamais faire d’exceptions. Mais faites d’abord l’expérience d’être intransigeant, pour être ensuite libre dans vos exceptions.

3. Etre plus cher, quitte à perdre quelques clients

La plupart des indépendants que je connais travaillent trop et ne gagnent pas assez d’argent. Souvent, simplement parce qu’ils ne sont pas assez chers. Il vaut mieux perdre des mandats parce qu’on est trop cher (et croyez-moi, si vos prix sont justes vous serez régulièrement “trop cher” pour quelqu’un) que d’accepter des mandats trop gros pour des tarifs trop bas et travailler à perte ou pour 20.- de l’heure, à ne plus s’en voir les mains.

“Gérer” un client (du premier contact, voire des efforts marketing engagés pour l’attirer, jusqu’au paiement final) c’est aussi du travail, et même si vous ne pouvez pas le facturer, vous devez en tenir compte lorsque vous calculez vos tarifs pour rentrer dans vos frais. Ce sont vos frais fixes, si on veut — le “coût d’acquisition” du client.

4. Faire payer des acomptes

Face au client qui est souvent une entreprise, l’indépendant est en position de faiblesse. Si quelque chose va de travers, c’est en général l’indépendant qui casque (comprenez: il ne se fait pas payer, ou cède à la pression de faire du travail supplémentaire pour le même montant). Le client court très peu de risques de payer pour du travail qui n’est pas fait, comme le travail est généralement facturé après-coup. Bien sûr, l’indépendant peut engager des poursuites si son client ne paie pas, mais il n’a pas à disposition l’appareil judiciaire ou les ressources financières (ou le temps!) pour mener ce genre d’opération jusqu’au bout. Sans compter que les sommes à investir dépassent souvent largement celles qui sont dûes.

Afin de partager un peu les risques, il faut faire payer un acompte au client avant de démarrer le travail. 50%, c’est bien — au minimum 30%. L’intérêt de l’acompte est double: d’une part, il vous donne de quoi payer une facture ou deux pendant que vous travaillez sur le mandat (que le premier indépendant n’ayant jamais connu de problèmes de liquidités s’annonce!), et d’autre part, il permet de trier les clients. Un client qui refuse de payer un tel acompte n’est probablement pas un client avec lequel vous désirez travailler — ce qui nous amène au point suivant.

5. Repérer au plus tôt les “clients difficiles” et ne pas travailler avec

Un client qui commence par mettre en question vos tarifs ou vos compétences, refuse de régler un acompte, annule un rendez-vous ne va pas magiquement se transformer en client modèle pour la suite de votre relation. Si ça démarre mal, il y a de fortes chances pour que ça continue mal et que ça finisse également mal, et que vous ayez eu avantage, en fin de compte, à ne pas travailler pour le client en question. Un client qui commence par être difficile continuera généralement à l’être.

Ayez donc l’oeil vif et alerte lors de vos premiers contacts avec un nouveau client, pour les signes avant-coureurs de problèmes à venir. S’il fait des problèmes pour payer votre acompte, par exemple, il y a fort à parier qu’il fera des problèmes ailleurs aussi.

Le cadre de travail, c’est nous, en tant qu’indépendants, qui le posons. Ce n’est pas au client de dicter les termes — mais si vous le laissez faire, il le fera, parce que quelqu’un doit bien diriger les opérations. Ayez donc un cadre de travail, un processus, que vous expliquez au client et auquel vous vous tiendrez. C’est rassurant aussi bien pour lui que pour vous.

Et renoncez sans regrets aux clients qui s’annoncent trop difficiles.

6. Avoir des traces écrites

En parlant de cadre de travail, ayez des traces écrites de vos accords avec vos clients (on dira que l’e-mail, c’est suffisant dans la plupart des cas). Les discussions se font souvent par téléphone ou en face-à-face, et dans ce cas, dites au client que vous allez lui envoyer un petit mail récapitulatif de votre accord. Terminez celui-ci par quelque chose comme “merci de bien vouloir me confirmer par retour de mail que tout ceci est en ordre pour vous”.

Il n’est pas inutile non plus d’avoir un document “générique” détaillant vos conditions, que vous pouvez joindre à un tel envoi. Versement d’acompte, conditions de paiement, d’annulation, ce qui est inclus ou non dans la prestation, et même, si c’est pertinent pour votre situation, la petite phrase “je décline toute responsabilité en cas de XYZ”.

La plupart de vos clients ne vous causeront jamais de problème. Mais pour celui qui le fera, ce serait quand même dommage de ne pas s’être couvert un minimum. Et le faire par écrit dans un document “générique” me paraît une bonne solution pour ne pas froisser le client normal, bien-pensant, et honnête.

7. Engager un comptable

A moins d’être un pro de la compta vous-même, engagez un comptable. Oui, ça fait des frais, mais que de soucis en moins! Les comptes de votre entreprise seront en ordre, votre déclaration d’impôts aussi, et en cas de contrôle fiscal, c’est un professionnel qui s’en sera occupé, ce qui ne peut que faire bonne impression.

Si votre comptable est trop cher pour que vous lui confiez la tâche de faire toutes les écritures, regardez si vous pouvez trouver quelqu’un d’autre à qui déléguer cette tâche (y compris le classement ordré de vos quittances).

Et si vous le faites vous-même, faites-le à mesure! (Oui je sais, c’est pénible et en général on n’arrive pas à tenir, c’est pour ça que je recommande de confier cette tâche à quelqu’un d’autre.)

8. Facturer à mesure

Entre le moment où l’on facture et le moment où l’argent arrive sur votre compte en banque, il peut s’écouler du temps. Il est donc impératif de ne pas attendre d’avoir besoin d’argent pour envoyer vos factures! (Rigolez, ça paraît stupide, mais je l’ai fait longtemps et j’en connais d’autres dans ce cas.) Dès que le mandat est terminé, la facture part.

Un autre avantage à faire payer des acomptes: j’envoie personnellement souvent mes factures avant d’avoir effectué le travail, précisant les conditions de paiement (acompte de 50% dès réception de la présente, solde à payer x jours après la fin du mandat ou la date de la conférence ou de la formation). Comme ça ma part est faite.

Comme vous le voyez, ces conseils concernent l’hygiène de vie de l’indépendant (et sa santé mentale sur le long terme!) plutôt que des questions pratiques sur le réseautage, la négociation, l’établissement des tarifs, ou l’organisation du travail. Ces derniers points sont importants également, mais les compétences dans ces domaines sont complètement inutiles si on ne tient pas le rythme. (C’est tout lié, c’est sûr, mais il faut bien hierarchiser un peu.)

J’espère qu’ils pourront être utiles à certains!

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Getting Daily Business Out of the Way [en]

[fr] Je ressens généralement le besoin d'être à jour avec les "affaires courantes" avant d'attaquer le travail "proprement dit", comme lorsque j'avais besoin de ranger ma chambre ou mon appart avant de commencer à étudier pour mes examens, lorsque j'étais étudiante. Je ne suis pas sûre si c'est une bonne ou une mauvaise chose.

Over the last months, I’ve noticed how important it is for me to keep more or less up-to-date with daily business before dealing with “proper work”. Like when I was a student, and I needed to clean the flat before getting to work on my exams.

Non-done daily business floats about in your brain and distracts you. It’s the stuff you might forget to add to your next action lists because you do them pretty regularly all the time, like checking e-mail, responding to the easy ones, writing down expenses, keeping your desk clean, getting back to people who leave voicemail, writing a blog post.

This is the stuff that I’ve got in the habit of dealing with pretty much as soon as it comes in.

Maybe it should go on my lists too (in pure GTD terms, it should probably).

I’m not sure if this is a good or a bad thing.

It is linked, in a way I don’t quite grasp yet, to what I’m going to talk about in the next post of my procrastination series: getting into the habit of doing certain things immediately.

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My Journey Out of Procrastination: Getting Thrown Off and Getting Unstuck [en]

[fr] Je continue ma série d'articles sur mon voyage pour me libérer de la procrastination. Deux méchanismes importants que j'ai compris: premièrement, que j'ai tendance à me décourager dès que je fais une petite entorse à une "bonne résolution" ou une nouvelle "bonne habitude" que je me suis fixée. Du coup, je m'entraine à faire de petites entorses et à reprendre l'habitude en question, pour ne pas me retrouver démunie quand la vie me bombarde d'imprévus comme elle a tendance à le faire. Deuxièmement, j'ai identifié que quand je suis bloquée, c'est souvent que je suis stressée, et souvent par une chose précise que j'ai à faire. Identifier cette chose (et identifier que je suis bloquée parce que je suis stressée) suffit en général à me "débloquer" (quand je fais la chose en question).

In this third post about my journey out of procrastination (you might want to read part 1, “Five Principles” and part 2, “Perfectionism, Starting, and Stopping”) I’m going to talk about two things that I noticed happened to me regularly, and which are clearly expressions of the perfectionism and starting/stopping components of procrastination discussed in my last post.

Both are pretty straightforward to understand but it’s worth keeping an eye open for them. I think change is a lot about paying attention to things that didn’t seem all that important in the first place.

When I was a teenager, I switched from using exercise books at school to individual sheets of paper. I did that because I had noticed that as soon as I had an “off” day and was a bit sloppy in my exercise book, I would lose all motivation to continue making the effort to take clean notes (I was a pretty sloppy kid in general). The link to perfectionism is obvious here, right?

Now, way past my teenager years, I still get thrown off easily when I’m on a roll. For example, if I decide to do something every day and I skip a day, I tend to give up. I try to keep my flat clean, but as soon as it starts becoming a little messy, I stop making any efforts. I keep track of what I spend, but if I forget for a few days, then it’s “not worth it” anymore. Perfectionism. All-or-nothing.

I hope you can see that this way of functioning is just not viable, as it puts a huge strain on never making any mistakes or skipping a class. You end up either not trying because you know you won’t be able to live up to the “no fault” standards, or trying and failing, which just proves once more how hopeless you are. And you procrastinate. You don’t put in place habits which will help you stop procrastinating the changes you want to make in your life.

One way I’ve found around this is to do things imperfectly on purpose. For example, I got an exercise bike this summer and I do 30 minutes on it every morning. “Every morning” is the rule, but in practice, I skip a day every now and again. Once a week, on average. Maybe twice. Sometimes I go for four days without touching the bike. I also have a little routine I’ve built up over time which I do after my cycling: sit-ups, stretching, etc. Most of the time I do it, but not always. Sometimes I only do part of it. Sometimes I skip it entirely and only do the bike.

The dangerous and difficult test was the first time I skipped a day. I’d been using the bike daily for 10 days and was very happy with myself. What would happen if I skipped a day? Would I never touch the bike again? Would I continue like before after my day off? Well, I continued. Then I went on vacation for a week. I didn’t use the bike on the first day (I was too tired), but I did on the second day.

Now, this might sound in contradiction with my enthusiasm about putting habits into place and having morning/evening routines that you stick to. But habits and routines, in my opinion, are fragile if they are not resilient to disruption. If you have an exercise habit that you stick to every day no matter what, what’s going to happen to it when you end up in bed with the flu, and it takes you two weeks to be functional again? Will you really pick it up again? Or will you drop it?

It’s not because I skip a day (or two, or three, or a week) that I’m going to give up.

I know that I’m not good at coping with unexpected stuff, and changes. I’ll be in a phase where I have a good life rythm, a good balance, and then something happens that stresses me out and forces me to change my schedule completely for two days, and it’ll take me weeks (if not months) to get back on my feet again to where I was before.

So I want to make sure that my life habits, my “processes”, those that keep me from accumulating a backlog of procrastination-friendly material, are disruption-proof. I think I first got this idea from Merlin Mann’s “Back to GTD” series: yes, you’ll fall off the wagon, but you can climb back on. It’s one of the things I like with GTD (and my partial implementation of it): it’s not very difficult to start doing it again once you’ve stopped.

Maybe exercising is not the best example to use, as nothing “piles up” (except guilt, breathlessness, and a waistline) if you don’t exercise — but it’s a very good case study for me of how, six months later, I am still doing something I decided to do regularly, even if I am prevented from doing so every now and again.

This is actually an excercise in starting and stopping. You learn to interrupt your habit, and pick it up again. Interrupt, start again. At first, you make the interruption easy: on purpose, just once. You become good at starting again. That means that if for some reason you have to stop, then you can start again. (Am I repeating myself?)

For example, I learned that with my exercise bike, if I’m feeling tired or haven’t done it for a few days, I just aim to pedal for 30 minutes. Never mind if I’m below my usual heart-rate. Never mind if I don’t perform well. I just spend 30 minutes on the bike, and I’m off the hook. And although I have now (gradually!) built this wonderful post-bike routine, well, I’m not going to let the size of it discourage me: if I feel a bit under the weather or lazy, I remember that the important thing here is the bike, and it’s ok if that’s all I do. The rest is optional.

The second thing I noticed I was often faced with was the fact that I fall into this “rut” of not-doing, and at some point “manage” to do something, and I become unstuck. Once that first thing was done, the rest followed. For a very long time the process seemed a little magical, because as you know if you suffer from procrastination, when you’re stuck in there, it can really seem (and be) impossible to simply do something. At some point I started figuring out how to get unstuck — and more importantly, how I got stuck.

One of the important things I understood was that when I’m stressed, I get depressed. When you’re depressed, by definition, you have no energy to do things. So, once I’d understood that, I very quickly started asking myself, when I felt in the rut, “what is stressing me?” — and often, the answer was “something I need to do”. One trick I sometimes use is the “cringe list”: write down a list of all the things that are on my conscience and that make me cringe so much when I think about them that I do everything I can not to think about them.

The next step, after identifying the source of my stress, is to actually do something about it, which in many cases (gasp!) means doing the thing I dread the most. But knowing it’s going to get me unstuck often helps — and if it’s not enough, I have a few tricks up my sleeve (like buddy-working or 15 minute timer dashes) to help me. Sometimes the “thing I need to do” seems unrelated to the other things stuck in the procrastination queue. For example, I have a whole lot of work to do, but what’s blocking me is that I need to clean the flat or go shopping before. You’ve probably been there already ;-).

“How do I get stuck” is a trickier question. Usually, it’s because when things are going well, I relax, and stop paying as much attention to how I manage my life (and things, and todos). This allows weeds to start growing in the backyard. Put clearly, I start letting things slip a little, and only “do something about it” once it gets bad enough and I’m stuck. This means that when things are going well, I still need to stay focused on keeping up with what I need to do: it doesn’t work magically, it requires effort all the time.

I have noticed that taking a moment at the beginning of each day to look at what I need to do and make sure I can do the most urgent things helps me not have these “OMG I’d forgotten this really important thing I must do!” moments. Weekly planning helps even more, and my ambition for 2010 is to go beyond that: less fire fighting, being more proactive. I’m aware we’re soaring above simple procrastination issues here, but it’s important to see all the ramifications and how “procrastination” as an identified problem sits with all sorts of other “life organisation” topics.

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