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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In Love With Evernote [en]

[fr] Evernote est un must si vous avez un iPhone. Cette application vous permet de prendre des notes dans toutes les formes (audio, texte, et image avec un bout de reconnaissance de caractères), les taguer, et les synchroniser via le serveur d'Evernote avec votre accès web ou l'application qui tourne sur votre ordinateur. Il y a également un plugin Firefox. Même si vous n'avez pas d'iPhone, je vous encourage vivement à voir en quoi Evernote peut vous être utile.

Pour ma part, voici quelques utilisations que j'en fais:

  • photos de cartes de visite, d'horaires de bus/train, d'heures d'ouverture de commerces
  • liste-photos de choses prêtées
  • notes de recherche ramassées sur le web
  • idées à creuser quand je serai en ligne
  • choses à écrire/bloguer
  • choses à acheter
  • livres lus et films vus
  • photos des choses que j'ai laissées au chalet, pour savoir si j'y ai déjà un pyjama ou non
  • ... et je cherche encore!

Et vous?

When I told you about my favourite iPhone apps, I wasn’t sure yet whether I’d like Evernote or not, as I had only just installed it.

I now know.

Evernote is your ubiquitous backup brain. It’s a place to store all the stuff you want to remember, be it snapshots (with text recognition to some extent), text, or audio notes. You can add notes and access them from the web, the desktop app (Mac <strong>and</strong> Windows, please), or your iPhone or Windows mobile phone.

If you have an iPhone and aren’t using Evernote yet, do not waste one second. Download the free Evernote iPhone app immediately, and sign up for an account. Even if you don’t have an iPhone (or a phone running Windows mobile), I really recommend you sign up, install the desktop app, and take a close look to see how it can be useful to you.

You should also install the Firefox extension or the bookmarklet if you’re using another browser.

Now that you’re done, here are some screenshots and ideas to get started using Evernote with your iPhone. First, here’s what it looks like:

Evernote

The little “Tips” tab near the bottom has a bunch of good ideas in it that made me go “oooh” and “aaaah” as I read through them. Amongst other things, I learnt to take screenshots on my iPhone:

Evernote 1

You can easily record any kind of note from your iPhone. Take a snapshot, or record some thoughts in audio format. The notes sync with the server, which will in turn sync with your desktop app — so you have everything everywhere.

Evernote 2

As you can see, notes are tagged. You can prevent the iPhone from syncing over 3G if you’re worried about bandwidth limits. I’m personally so way under mine that I turned it on.

Evernote 6

Here’s a list of what I’ve been putting in Evernote so far:

  • business cards (a bit disappointing with the MacBook iSight, haven’t tried with the iPhone camera so far — but I was a bit let down by my high hopes for textual recognition in photographs; expect it to work “a little”)
  • bus and train timetables (Lausanne and elsewhere)
  • opening hours
  • photos of things left at the chalet
  • photos of things lent to people (books, DVDs)
  • ideas for blog posts (with or without photo)
  • things I need to look up or think about
  • books I’ve read and movies I’ve seen
  • things I want to buy
  • “quotes” from books I’m reading

Other ideas:

  • recipes
  • research material
  • & (limited here only by creativity and current needs)

Bus timetable, to come back home from town without missing my last bus at night:

Evernote 4

Contents of my drawer at the chalet to help me remember that I already have a woolly pullover, a cap, a pair of pyjamas and toothpaste up there next time I go:

Evernote 5

Now, even if you tag your stuff, the pile of notes is going to build up, and you might want a little more organisation. You store notes in notebooks. Here are some of those I’ve created (with the desktop app):

Evernote 3

Notebooks can be public. For example, “Things Read and Seen” is online for everybody to see.

As notes may be a little slow to load on the iPhone (and connectivity might abandon you) you can mark some notes as favorites — they will be available offline.

With the Firefox extension, you can put snippets of web pages into notes (just highlight and click on Evernote), as well as whole pages. You can import bookmarks and notes from delicious or Google Notebook.

I’m curious. What are the other great uses of Evernote I haven’t discovered yet? The comments are yours.

Thanks to Stowe for pointing out Evernote to me way back when, even though I didn’t “get it” at the time. Thanks to Julien for recently telling me how much he liked it on his iPhone and how he was using it.

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Let's Buddy Work! [en]

[fr] Un bon truc quand on n'avance pas dans son travail: trouver quelqu'un (souvent en ligne) avec qui travailler en tandem. "Bon, alors moi, je vais écrire cet e-mail pendant que toi tu lis ce rapport, et on se retrouve dans 30 minutes pour se donner des nouvelles." Un moyen de s'encourager et de se soutenir mutuellement -- souvent, en aidant l'autre à déterminer quelle est sa prochaine tâche, à charge de revanche.

More than once, buddy working has saved my day. I think Suw came up with the term and the idea — though I’m sure there are many other people using this kind of technique. Suw’s the person I’ve done it most with, but not the only one. I’ve done it with Delphine a couple of times, and with a few other people.

How does it work? Basically, take two people who are faffing away or procrastinating through the day. Put them in touch through IM. Each helps/supports the other in figuring out a task to accomplish (15-30 minutes). Both go off and do their task, and come back into the chat to report on progress!

One of the first times I remember doing this was not for work, actually, but for something like washing the dishes. It’s a simple trick, and it works offline too. It gives you a little nudge to do things and is encouraging when you have somebody to share it with.

Do you do this? Do you have similar tricks to share? I’d love to hear about it!

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Inbox to Zero in no Time [en]

[fr] Un moyen radical (et quasi instantané) pour atteindre le fameux et très convoité inbox zero.

So, having trouble keeping your inbox count down? Piling up in the hundreds, the thousands, even? I have a totally foolproof method to bring your inbox count down to [the coveted zero](http://www.43folders.com/izero). It’s been tested in GMail, but I’m sure it works in other e-mail clients too.

The best part of it is how fast it works. The result is guaranteed.

Are you ready for it? Just follow these two simple steps:

– click on “Select All”
– press the “Archive” button

There! You’re done! Inbox to zero in now time at all. It works — or you can have your money back.

Now, for the slightly more serious part.

I really did this, this summer if I remember correctly, during a conference. I mean, I wasn’t going to go through all that piled up e-mail anyway. Most of the e-mails were obsolete — when stuff is really important, people e-mail again, and again, or call you, or tweet you, or catch you on IRC or at an event.

Once your inbox actually is at zero, it’s much easier to keep it to zero. Archive without mercy. Answer easy stuff as soon as you see it (I do that to the point some people have told me my e-mails have become a bit curt, so I’m trying to add a bit of cream in again — but the basic principle remains: do it now). My inbox sometimes goes up to 40 or 50 if I stay away from the computer, but then I bring it back down again, over a few days. If I haven’t seen zero in some time, it’s time to deal with those two things lying at the bottom of my inbox for the last 10 days — or decide that I won’t, and archive them.

Sometimes, I feel I can’t keep up anymore, or don’t want to “deal”, so I archive.

Does that sound like I’m mistreating my e-mail? Sure. But so is letting it pile up in your inbox for weeks, months, and years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huh?

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

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

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

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

David Allen, Getting Things Done

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

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

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

David Allen, Getting Things Done

And a bit further down the page:

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

David Allen, Getting Things Done

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

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

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

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

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The Shadow IT Department (and Shadow HR) [en]

[fr] Un article qui montre du doigt un nécessaire changement de mentalité dans les départements IT: nombre des outils que les employés utilisent pour améliorer leur productivité ont en fait été introduits de façon "sauvage". Vouloir tout contrôler à tout prix n'est pas la meilleure solution.

Here’s a very interesting piece I picked up in [Bruno’s links](http://www.lunchoverip.com/2007/02/links_for_20070_8.html): [Users Who Know Too Much (And the CIOs Who Fear Them)](http://www.cio.com/archive/021507/fea_user_mgmt.html?action=print). It talks about the chasm between what technology IT departments make available, and what tools employees install and use behind the IT department’s back to be more productive at work.

> And that disconnect is fundamental. Users want IT to be responsive to their individual needs and to make them more productive. CIOs want IT to be reliable, secure, scalable and compliant with an ever increasing number of government regulations. Consequently, when corporate IT designs and provides an IT system, manageability usually comes first, the user’s experience second. But the shadow IT department doesn’t give a hoot about manageability and provides its users with ways to end-run corporate IT when the interests of the two groups do not coincide.

> “Employees are looking to enhance their efficiency,” says André Gold, director of information security at Continental Airlines. “People are saying, ‘I need this to do my job.’” But for all the reasons listed above, he says, corporate IT usually ends up saying no to what they want or, at best, promising to get to it…eventually. In the interim, users turn to the shadow IT department.

I remember that when I used to work at Orange, many of my most useful tools were things I “wasn’t allowed” to have on my computer. I also remember that when [I got really bad RSI](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2002/10/20/hiatus-repetitive-strain-injury/) and [using dictation software](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2002/10/31/trying-dictation-software/) was the only way to get me back to work, the IT department flat-out refused our request for [Dragon](http://www.nuance.com/naturallyspeaking/). (Somebody actually said that if I couldn’t type anymore, they should just get rid of me.) My boss had to have a chat with somebody else’s boss to finally have the program installed on my computer.

The bit that actually prompted me to write this post is the comparison with the way HR organises the company:

> For example, a similar dynamic has long played out in HR. A company’s employees have titles and reporting relationships that give their work a formal structure. But at the same time every company has an informal structure determined by expertise, interpersonal relationships, work ethic, overall effectiveness and so on. Companies suffer when HR is out of phase with the informal structure. Employees are demoralized when the formal architecture elevates someone at the bottom of the informal architecture, and people who occupy the top spots in the informal architecture leave when they aren’t recognized by the formal one. Good HR departments know where employees stand in both the formal and informal architectures and balance the two.

A few months ago, I was giving a talk on blogs (etc.) to a bunch of Internal Communications people, and one of my points was that there *is* an informal structure inside the company (the value of which is in fact recognized by the companies, who will invest in “teambuilding” or “recreation” activities to encourage transversal communication), and that use of tools like blogs can help make this structure more visible and efficient. (Think [Cluetrain, these 50](http://www.cluetrain.com/book/95-theses.html).)

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