The Simple Life [en]

I’ve been at the chalet since December 29th. I like it here. I’ve been “down” 5 times: once to see a new client in Zurich (more about that in the weeks to come), once to bring a car back to Lausanne, once to get my nails done, once to get an MRI done (wrist, nothing too bad), and once for a foundation board meeting.

Chalet et Grand Muveran

My life is simple here. Few possessions, few activities, few people, few responsibilities. The Paradox of Choice in reverse. As I’ve often noticed in the past, freedom is in fact in all that you can’t do.

That’s why people go away on holidays. There’s stuff to do on vacation, of course, but there is so much more from the daily grind that you can’t do.

Here I eat, take care of the cats, go skiing, buy food, fool around on the computer with my slow 3G connection (when I’m lucky, otherwise it’s Edge, or nothing), do some work, sleep.

But this state does not last. I’m already starting to make connections here. I’m starting to know people. I go to the cafĂ© in the village which has great chocolate cake and wifi. I’ve been through this when I lived in India: within a few months, I’d reconstructed for myself a life full of things to do, of people, of meetings, and activities. That’s how I am — I cannot remain a hermit for very long.

At the end of the week I’m going back to my city life. I’ll miss how easy it is here to talk to people. I’m not from here, but I feel like I fit in. I like the outdoors. I like my clothes comfortable and practical before pretty. I don’t need a huge variety of restaurants, shops, night-clubs, or theatres to make me happy.

I know I’ve already mentioned it, but my life slows down when I come here. Even with an internet connection. I try to bring this slowness back into my life in Lausanne, but it’s difficult. Specially as things will be a rush next week: I’m hosting a WordPress meetup workshop on Tuesday evening, then there is Lift, then I have a friend visiting, then I’m coming back up here 🙂 for a few days. The week after that will see me back in Zurich…

As I write this, maybe what I get here (or elsewhere on holiday) that is hard to get in Lausanne is long stretches of time with no outside commitments. No meetings, no appointments, no travel. Just weeks ahead with nothing else to do but live and ski.

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Slowing Down: About Cleaning, Laundry, Accounting, and Backlogs [en]

[fr] Il vaut mieux avoir un style de vie ou processus qui nous permet de faire les choses à mesure (compta, rangement, nettoyages, vaisselle...) que de courir et devoir s'arrêter pour s'occuper des désastres accumulés qui ont commencé à nous pourrir la vie.

I’ve just spent about 2 hours tidying up the flat and cleaning it. And yesterday, as I was about to head out to my concert, I couldn’t find my flashlight (which we need for one of the songs). It wasn’t where it was supposed to be, I couldn’t find it in the half-unpacked bag from our last concert two weeks ago, and basically lost 20 minutes turning the already messy flat upside down. (I found it finally. Hidden inside one of my concert t-shirts I’d taken out of the bag.)

This experience has allowed me to realise, after all these months of living a reasonably tidy and organized life (not too much, but enough to be functional), that it’s much easier to find something when the place is not in a mess *and* it’s nicer to clean/tidy as you go along rather than have to stop to do it (although I actually do like cleaning).

A year an a half ago I set off on a process which helped me crawl out of 10 years (maybe even a lifetime) of feeling overwhelmed by the mess in my living space (thanks, FlyLady). There’ve been ups and downs, but overall I have been living in a tidy flat for many months, doing my accounting, putting my laundry away instead of living in the laundry basket, and giving my flat a quick cleaning session once a week. I’ve been slacking these last few months though, probably because of calendar overload.

What’s the general teaching here? In the spirit of the “not running” and “doing things now” principles I detailed in my “Journey out of Procrastination” series, I’d say the following:

It’s better to go slower and have a process/lifestyle which allows you to deal with things as they come, rather than running around and having to stop to deal with the accumulated backlog once it starts impeding on your ability to live happily.

In practice, for me, that means I need to pay attention to build enough time into my days/weeks for:

  • unpacking bags
  • putting things away after I’ve used them
  • washing the dishes after the meal/snack
  • doing my accounting at least once a week
  • cleaning the flat roughly once a week
  • putting my laundry away the day after laundry day
  • taking things to the office

In summary: planning ahead enough so that I’m not in a rush. Added bonus: life is more enjoyable like that.

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My Journey Out of Procrastination: Doing Things Now [en]

[fr] Une clé pour procrastiner moins: faire les choses à mesure. Evident, bien sûr, mais important. Pour pouvoir faire les choses à mesure, ralentir, prendre le temps. Comprendre au fond de soi et pas juste dans sa tête qu'une tâche effectuée maintenant ne sera pas à faire plus tard.

This is the fifth post in my ongoing series about procrastination. Check out the previous ones: Five Principles, Perfectionism, Starting, and Stopping, Getting Thrown Off and Getting Unstuck, and Not Running (Firewalls and iPhone alarms).

Obviously, doing things now (as opposed to later) is the remedy against procrastination. If you do things now, then you can’t procrastinate them, right?

Now that the obvious is out of the way, let’s dig a little. Doing things now is both the result of not procrastinating and part of the cure against procrastination. This means that if we understand what’s going on, and manage to make a habit of doing certain things immediately, we have a key to easing the accumulation of incoming tasks on the procrastination list.

At one point in my life (the “when” is a little fuzzy here) I really understood (deep down inside) that if I did something now, then it meant that I wouldn’t have to do it afterwards. I’m sorry for stating the obvious. Everybody knows this. But between knowing it in your head and knowing it in your gut, there is a difference. The procrastinator’s gut believes that if you don’t do it now, with a bit of luck you’ll be able to continue ignoring it safely until the end of time.

So read this again: if you do something you need to do now, you will not have to do it later.

I know that one decisive “aha!” moment in that respect was when I reached the “2-minute rule” part of GTD. Here’s what this rule is about: when you’re in the “processing” phase of GTD, going systematically through a pile of stuff and deciding what you need to do about each item — but not actually doing it, just making decisions and putting tasks in the system for later — well, there is one situation where you do what needs to be done instead of putting your next action in the system, and that’s when it takes less than 2 minutes to deal with the task. The logic behind this is that putting a task in the system and retrieving it later is going to take two minutes or so — so you’ll actually spend less time if you just do it now. Also, a 2-minute interruption in your processing is not the end of the world.

The trick here is to use a timer — if the timer goes off and you haven’t finished what you thought would be done in 2 minutes, then you stop, put the task on the right list, and continue processing.

Now, I’m not saying that this is where I got the “do it now” revelation, but it’s definitely one blow of the hammer that helped drive that particular nail in.

Another moment I remember is when clicking around on a few links on the FlyLady site brought me to Bratland. I like this metaphor of the “inner brat”, the part of you who finishes the toilet roll but doesn’t put a new one on for the next person (who, if you live alone, is going to be you). The brat who spills the milk and doesn’t clean up, so it ends up caking the kitchen counter and it takes you 5 minutes to get rid of it instead of 30 seconds. I started keeping a kind but firm parental eye open for my inner brat, and that is something that helped me not create more work for myself by letting things drag along.

One area I managed to put this in practice rather well is e-mail. If an e-mail comes in my inbox, and I answer and/or archive it straight away, it won’t be sitting there looking at me next time I go into my inbox. I know this goes against the “deal with your e-mail only twice a day” (or whatever) rules — I’ll write more about why I think my way of dealing with e-mail works, though.

But clearly, if you are the kind of people for whom tasks tend to go onto todo lists to die or weigh on your conscience for months, there is a decisive advantage to not letting them get on the list in the first place.

Related, but not exactly in the “doing things now” department: I have a trick I use when people ask me if I can do something for them (I’m usually tempted to say yes, because I want to be helpful and I want people to like me, and then I feel horrible because I let things drag along and don’t do them). I ask the person to send me an e-mail to remind me about it. This has three advantages:

  • if the person doesn’t really need me to do this for them, they won’t e-mail
  • I don’t have to answer right away
  • I have a “physical” reminder already in my system (I know that I am going to deal with stuff that reaches my inbox), that I will answer when I have the brain space to do so, and if necessary, can politely steer to “sorry, have other commitments” or “this is stuff I get paid for” or even “so sorry, I know I said yes, but actually, to be honest, I just can’t because xyz”.

One important element to be able to start doing things that need it “right away” (you do not want to be putting things like cleaning up spilled milk on your to-do list) is to slow down, run less. If you’re trying to run out the door because you’re late for an appointment, you’re not going to clean up the spilled milk. You’re not going to do the washing up right after your meal. You’re not going to put the laundry away today if you haven’t planned that you need time for that. Yes, household chores, but it’s the same thing with work-related stuff: accounting, invoicing, getting back to prospective clients. You need wiggle space in your days, and that will not happen if you’re running from morning to evening.

I had forgotten about this when I wrote my previous post in this procrastination series, but one thing that helped me break out of the vicious running cycle was heading up into the mountains with no internet for a few days, in summer 2008. Up in the mountains, with nothing to do but eat, sleep, walk, and read a bit, I slowed down. I started taking the time to do things. And I kept a taste of this when I came back to my work-life.

I’ve found that, in the spirit of incremental changes, it’s no use deciding “from now on, I’m going to do all the regular stuff I should be doing as it comes in, Ă  mesure“. Picking an area or two where you stick to it, on the other hand, is helpful. It’s helpful because it means one area where you will be accumulating less procrastinable material, and one area where you can experience the change, the slowing down, the “less backlog”, and get a taste of what it can be like to encourage yourself to make these changes in other areas of your life too.

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Back Home [en]

[fr] Retour en plaine.

So, I’m back home. I haven’t turned on the router yet. Arriving in my flat a bit less than two hours ago, I saw myself preparing to leave, frantic, packing late, rushing to do things before my week offline (most of which I did not manage to do). I didn’t want to go on my holiday. If I hadn’t set the dates in advance with a friend, I certainly would have cancelled.

Back here after five days in the mountains, I feel different. I feel slowed down. I realize that I’m taking the time to do things. Unpack my toiletries. Empty my backpack. Take a bath. And I want to sit down and write a bit before I go back online, because I’m not sure what will happen when I will. It’s silly, isn’t it? I’m in charge, so I should decide — but there are different me’s, and it’s not always the one I want which wins.

Online — my office — is a fast-paced world. Spending five days away from my world of too many choices did me a lot of good. Nothing but walk, eat, sleep, read, and sort photos. In discreet but present company.

I can slowly feel it starting — this feeling that I need to quickly do this, quickly do that. But I don’t want to live my life quickly. I want to take the time to enjoy it. Slowly, more slowly.

As I was soaking in my bath a little earlier, I realized that I could enjoy this slowness whenever I wanted. I mean, there is nothing material to prevent me from doing so. Thing is… how do I switch into the mood? That’s the big question.

I’m a bit apprehensive right now. I want to go and check on my office, see what happened while I was away. It’s exciting, in a way. But I’m afraid of getting caught up completely. Where will I start? Do I just jump in? Do I take advantage of my “rested” state of mind (physically exhausted, mind you) to try and do things differently? Plan ahead? Tomorrow is catching up day. Go through e-mail (oh yes) and decide what I need to do next. Deal with emergencies. That’ll be enough for a day.

Online is fast-paced, but it’s also noisy, busy, full of people (and very quiet of course). It’s a busy city. As I’m “always on”, I think my life has become a bit of a “busy city”. So has my flat. Part of why I get sucked up in it has to do with how I deal (badly) with alone-ness. But maybe now that I’ve had a few silent days of walking in the mountains with myself, things will be different.

It’s quiet outside.

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Slow SSH Login from MacBook [en]

[fr] La connection SSH vers mon serveur depuis mon MacBook est très lente (je dois attendre plusieurs minutes pour qu'il me demande mon mot de passe). Il me semble me souvenir que depuis ma machine Windows à la maison également, il n'y avait rien de cela. L'autre semaine, j'ai essayé de me connecter depuis un tout autre endroit et la réponse a été instantanée. Idées?

Well, it seems that writing about my technical problems here is more efficient than bugging people repeatedly on IRC about them, so let’s continue. Welcome to Bunny’s Troublshooting Centre.

I have trouble SSH’ing into my server from my MacBook. Trouble, here, means I have to wait a couple of minutes (no exaggeration) for the password prompt. If I’m quick enough and type my password in before it times out, I’m in.

I logged in from somewhere else the other week and it responded almost immediately. I don’t recall that logging in from home (same wifi/DSL connection) from my winbox was sluggish.

Any ideas? I’ve run SSH with the verbose option on, and it does throw up a few warnings an errors. I don’t really want to paste it all here, but if you tell me what bits are useful I can put them in a pastebin. Thanks for any ideas/help/assistance.

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Indian Things I Love [en]

I’m regularly told that I give a bad image of India (the horror stories and all that). Here is some of the nice stuff that I never write about. Things I like about India.

I’m regularly told that I give a bad image of India (the horror stories and all that). Here is some of the nice stuff that I never write about. Things I like about India:

  • the rivers
  • poha
  • riding on the back of Madhav or Shinde’s bikes
  • the shopping stalls near Laxmi Rd
  • walking in the university campus
  • going to the movies
  • mad shopping binges
  • kathi rolls and kheer kadam from Radhika’s
  • chay
  • the smell of incense and fresh coriander
  • people who smile at me or compliment my dress
  • rickshaw drivers who go by the meter
  • chatting with people on the train
  • coloured clothes and cloth
  • travelling by train
  • shopping
  • changes of plans and surprises when they go the way I want them to
  • painted signs and boards
  • rangoli
  • sari bags
  • krack cream
  • the dampness of the air on arrival in Bombay airport
  • kulfi and gulab jamun
  • butter naan and butter chicken
  • the warmth
  • having all the time in the world to take my bath and eat my breakfast
  • glass bangles and silver anklets
  • reading for days on end
  • children in school uniforms
  • eating on the kitchen floor
  • the cup of tea offered by the internet cafĂ© manager because I’m waiting for the end of the power outage
  • Hindi and Indian English
  • negociating seating arrangements and luggage storage with fellow train-passengers
  • sticking 46 large stamps on the 6.5kg book parcel I’m sending home
  • the Kal Ho Na Ho ringtone on Anita’s cellphone
  • sweet-smelling flowers in the night
  • Hindi music in the car
  • chay with milk straight out of the goat’s udder at Taramai’s

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