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Chat qui marque: Tounsi et le comportementaliste [fr]

Chat qui marque: Tounsi et le comportementaliste [fr]

[en] My cat Tounsi has been spraying (marking his territory with urine) since I first got him. About a year ago I finally took the plunge and went to see a behaviour specialist vet. It was a great idea. Spraying is now under control, even though we're not down to zero. But I'm not cleaning every day, I was able to change my pee-imbibed bookcases, and my flat never smells of cat pee. I should have done that years ago!

Lasse de faire la chasse au marquage urinaire dans mon appartement, j’ai fini l’an dernier par consulter un vétérinaire comportementaliste, suite à la suggestion d’une assistante vétérinaire dans mon cabinet habituel. Grand bien m’en a pris, et je regrette de ne pas y avoir été trois ans plus tôt. Je vous raconte.

Tounsi

Le comportementaliste, c’est un peu le psy pour chats, sauf que bien sûr, comme il s’agit d’un chat, c’est le maître qui doit faire tout le travail. La couleur était annoncée d’entrée, et je n’en attendais pas moins.

J’ai donc fait 25 minutes de voiture avec mes deux chats (eh oui, le contexte c’est important!) pour une première séance de plus de deux heures. Le vétérinaire a observé les chats, bien entendu, mais m’a aussi posé trois tonnes de questions. Je lui ai tout raconté, plan de l’appartement qu’il m’avait demandé et photos à l’appui: le caractère des chats, à quoi ressemble notre quotidien, leur relation et son évolution, ce que j’ai essayé, comment je réagis, plus une myriade d’autres choses que je n’aurai pas forcément pensées significatives (c’est pour ça que c’est lui le comportementaliste et pas moi).

Tounsi in basket

Le marquage, c’est complexe. Difficile de mettre le doigt sur “une cause”. Dans le cas de Tounsi, je suis repartie avec les éléments suivants:

  • Tounsi est un chat anxieux. Je m’en doutais (j’avais remarqué qu’il sursautait facilement), mais je n’arrivais pas à en faire sens compte tenu de sa témérité (y’a pas d’autre mot) face au monde. C’est le chat qui entend la tondeuse à gazon et court à travers le jardin pour voir ce que c’est. L’explication, c’est que Tounsi veut tout contrôler, maîtriser, surveiller. S’il se passe quelque chose il doit aller voir, être au courant. Ça colle avec sa tendance à ne dormir toujours qu’à moitié, et ses oreilles sans cesse en mouvement. Tout ça, c’est stressant — ou signe de stress. Certainement une histoire de tempérament…
  • Dans le marquage, il y a un élément important d’habitude. Compte tenu du fait que Tounsi ne marque pas au chalet ni à l’eclau (une ou deux exceptions cependant), ça laisse penser qu’il marque parce qu’il a l’habitude de marquer. Il est possible que quelque chose ait déclenché l’affaire, mais s’il ne marque pas deux étages plus bas dans le même immeuble, on peut penser que ce déclencheur n’est plus là.
  • Un autre élément c’est “l’appel” de marquages précédents. Ça fait des poteaux “zone de marquage”, même si nous ne sentons plus rien. Le nettoyage à l’eau et/ou au savon neutre ne suffit pas, il faut utiliser un produit qui décompose les molécules d’urine, et dresser un poteau “zone de détente” avec du Feliway en spray (phéromones faciales).
  • Tenter de donner à Quintus une autre nourriture, que Tounsi préfère, et qu’il arrive parfois à voler en étant assez aux aguets, ça augmente son stress.
  • Gronder le chat qui marque aussi: mieux vaut l’ignorer que faire monter la tension.
  • Je n’avais pas réalisé que c’était aussi important de jouer avec des chats qui sortent. Lancer de croquettes, cacher la nourriture sous des pots de yoghurt pour l’obliger à “chasser”, jouer avec une ficelle. Même si le chat ne semble pas joueur, s’il dresse les oreilles et regarde le jouet, c’est déjà un début. Persévérer, et faire des petites séances très courtes mais nombreuses! Essayer d’intégrer ça à ses propres activités au maximum, c’est plus facile de tenir sur la durée.
  • Sprayer religieusement de Feliway les nouveaux objets et meubles dans l’appartement. Idem pour les endroits où le chat a marqué récemment. Après, on peut relâcher l’effort. Ça peut aussi valoir la peine, dans un premier temps, de couvrir certaines surfaces de papier d’alu (il semble qu’ils aiment pas trop pisser contre) et de mettre en hauteur livres et autres objets difficiles à nettoyer.
  • Comme pour les humains, des fois un accompagnement médicamenteux peut s’avérer utile: Tounsi est donc reparti avec une demi-dose de Clomicalm, qu’on a doublée par la suite, et à laquelle on a récemment ajouté le Zylkène.

Résultat: du beau progrès. J’ai pu changer mes meubles imbibés de pipi, Tounsi est toujours un chat en alerte mais il est moins stressé. Il reste quelques minis épisodes marquage mais mon comportementaliste ambitieux pense qu’on peut encore faire du progrès!

Tounsi in cave

Note: j’ai commencé à rédiger cet article il y a un an… je crois. J’avais sûrement d’autres choses à dire qui se sont perdues en route! Posez vos questions, j’aurai sûrement des détails à rajouter dans les commentaires.

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Mais qu'est-ce qui se passe? [fr]

Mais qu'est-ce qui se passe? [fr]

[en] What makes the blogger fall off the wagon? Stress. Nothing bad, just a lot of things to deal with right now. Will be back soon!

C’est fragile, la routine. Vous bloguez tous les jours pendant un moment, et paf!, quelque chose vous fait tomber du train.

Quelque chose?

Le stress.

Eh oui, c’est tout bête. Il se passe un truc pas prévu, le stress grimpe, les articles ne s’écrivent pas.

Pas pour rien que ma mission pour 2012 s’intitule “moins de travail, plus de temps pour faire mes trucs”.

Bref, tout va bien, je suis un peu prise dans le tourbillon des choses à boucler (les valises ça attendra la semaine prochaine) avant de partir en Inde pour six semaines.

Bientôt des articles ici, de nouveau. Promis. Mais oui.

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From All to Nothing Doesn't Do it [en]

From All to Nothing Doesn't Do it [en]

[fr] Quand on a couru durant des mois, c'est une erreur de s'arrêter net, au risque de se retrouver complètement déséquilibré. Mieux vaut lever le pied et continuer à un rythme tranquille, comme je suis en train de le faire avec mon horaire d'été "9-12".

It’s a secret to nobody around me that I’ve been pretty insanely busy these last months. Now the summer is here, I have holidays planned, and I need to regain my balance.

When I came back from Paris (I spent a few days there with Solar Impulse for the blogger breakfast we held there) I was pretty much done with deadly rythm of late June. You know, when you have things piled up on top of one another and hardly any breathing space between them. Yes, there were a few crises.

Anyway, when I came back from Paris, I decided to rest. For three-four days, I didn’t work at all. I lounged around, caught up on all the appointments I needed to take (hairdresser, dentist, osteopath and the like), and left the computer behind.

Unfortunately I still felt as stressed and tired. I wasn’t sleeping well. I wasn’t feeling well.

Sometime last week, I headed back to the office to get a few things done, ended up using the Pomodoro Technique and buddy-working with Steph to try and salvage my motivation.

I realized that I had made a mistake by stopping completely after my return from Paris. If you’ve been running like mad for two hours, and you reach the end of the race, you don’t lie down on the ground straight behind the finish line. You keep on going, gently, for a bit, walking. Once you’ve cooled down a bit you stop.

To make things worse, though I don’t have anything really terribly urgent to take care of (well, compared to what the last 3 weeks looked like), I have quite a lot of important stuff to move forward on. Making no progress at all was stressing me out.

I’ve therefore settled into my summer part-time schedule (from 9 to 12), maintaining the healthy mix of pomodoros and buddy working, and it’s doing wonders for my mood and my tiredness.

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Brain Downtime [en]

Brain Downtime [en]

[fr] On a besoin de débrancher son cerveau -- avez-vous assez l'occasion de le faire?

My brain needs downtime. So does yours.

We’ve managed to make our lives so efficient that we’ve removed all the downtime that used to be part of them. We can work on the train, listen to podcasts while we clean and cook, why, we even read on our iPhones as we walk through town.

Sleeping just doesn’t cut it. Of course, we need sleep (that’s also body-downtime), but we need awake-downtime.

What’s your downtime?

For me, reading fiction and watching TV series qualify as brain downtime. My conscious mind is immersed in fiction, though I’m sure a lot is going on in the background. Sailing and judo qualify to, as does riding my exercise bike if I’m listening to music rather than a podcast.

When I’m on the bus and reading FML or flicking idly through my Twitter stream, is that brain downtime?

When I’m walking in the mountains, drinking a cup of tea on my balcony, watching the sun set, taking a bath, or meditating, that’s definitely brain downtime.

Do you get enough brain downtime?

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Tips For the Stressed and Anxious [en]

Tips For the Stressed and Anxious [en]

[fr] Une série de conseils (basés sur mon expérience personnelle!) pour les stressés et anxieux. Top de la liste: s'assurer qu'on dort, mange, et bouge assez (c'est la base). Boire des tisanes de fleur d'oranger. Prendre un bain chaud. Méditer.

Twice a month I write up an article chosen by my readers. This is the second. Vote for the next one!

After years of learning to deal with my stressed and anxious self, here are a few ideas and tips I’ve found help me get through those moments. It won’t replace therapy of course, but it can help!

  • Make sure you have your basics covered (this is your top priority): enough sleep, enough food (preferably more or less balanced), and physical exercise (go for a walk!) — regular hours if possible.
  • Drink orange blossom infusions (“fleur d’oranger”). It’s a relaxing infusion — 4-5 cups a day, and one 30 minutes before going to bed if you have trouble sleeping. I’m a fan ever since drinking those saved one of my exam sessions.
  • Take a warm bath.
  • Lie down, close your eyes, and concentrate on your breathing for 10-20 minutes, without falling asleep, and without starting to think about stuff. When thoughts show up, just let them fly by as you concentrate on your breathing. (This is kind of basic meditation.) Once or twice a day.
  • When stressed, identify the main stressor (if it’s procrastination-related stress) and get it done with. Things usually get better after that.
  • If anxious/down, go for stuff that makes you laugh (it helps the brain switch gears): lolcats, comedy movie, fun friends, comics — whatever does it for you.
  • Sometimes (specially if you’re more down than anxious), watching a scary movie / thriller can do the trick. Anxiety is often something we do to ourselves (need that adrenalin-drug!) so getting a shot through artifical means (the movie) can actually help relax about other stuff.
  • Head out to the countryside/lake/mountains. Look at nature around you — it helps regain a sense of proportion.
  • Watch the Eight Irresistable Principles of Fun video (a few minutes).

Of course, these are very general tips. They are not magic recipes, either: sometimes we’re stressed or anxious for very good reasons, and it’s normal to be uncomfortable. But these ideas might help make things a little bit better or bearable when it’s rough.

Got any tips that work for you when you’re stressed or anxious, and that you’d like to share? The comments are yours.

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Prendre son temps en voyage [fr]

Prendre son temps en voyage [fr]

[en] As the editor for ebookers.ch'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 ebookers.ch (voir l’original).

L’autre jour, je tombe sur cet article du blog de Lonely Planet, Les plus beaux hymnes à la lenteur. Une série de suggestions que je vous laisse découvrir, pour voyager sans courir, parcourir le monde en se déplaçant à petite vitesse.

Je privilégie toujours la lenteur lorsque je voyage. Je suis de celles (et ceux) qui préfèrent voir (et faire) peu mais bien. Un tour d’Europe en deux jours, très peu pour moi. J’aime me poser, découvrir à pied le quartier dans lequel je suis, profiter du voyage-vacances pour ne pas m’imposer d’objectifs clairs en matière de “choses à accomplir aujourd’hui”. Visiter moins, mais mieux.

Les choses changent bien sûr, mais l’essentiel de ma vie jusqu’ici a été placé sous le signe de “trop peu de temps, trop de choses à faire”. Alors en vacances, je me rebelle. Je refuse. Je ralentis. Je m’arrête presque.

Concrètement?

D’abord, je marche. J’aime partir à l’aventure dans mon quartier ou ma ville d’accueil, une carte en poche, et me perdre dans les rues. Je sais me repérer sur une carte sans trop de difficultés pour pouvoir rentrer lorsque l’envie me prendra.

Je prends les transports publics plutôt que le taxi. C’est plus lent, c’est souvent un peu plus compliqué, mais on voit mieux la ville qu’on traverse.

An Indian Home (India 2004) 8Je lis, aussi. Oui je sais, quand on est en voyage à des milliers (ou des centaines) de kilomètres de chez soi, il y a mieux à faire que bouquiner, il faut visiter, visiter, visiter, au risque de rentrer d’une année en Inde sans avoir vu le Taj Mahal… Mais au fond, ce n’est pas si grave. Voyager, vacancer, c’est s’échapper de son quotidien, c’est faire les choses autrement.

Une autre chose que je me retrouve souvent à faire en voyage, c’est du shopping. Habits, livres… Une activité que j’apprécie mais que je ne prends souvent pas le temps de faire lorsque je suis dans ma ville. A l’étranger, ailleurs, même si ce sont les mêmes magasins (H&M a envahi le monde entier depuis belle lurette), je prends le temps de flâner, et du coup, d’acheter.

J’ai des souvenirs mémorables de traversées de l’Inde en train. Pune-Delhi, Calcutta-Pune, Delhi-Pune, Pune-Chennai, Bombay-Kerala… J’adore le train, en Inde. Il avance d’un petit pas à travers des étendues tellement vastes qu’on peut à peine les imaginer de Lausanne. Il s’arrête en rase campagne, on ne sait pas trop pourquoi. On lit, on somnole, on prend des photos, on discute avec ses compagnons de route.

L’avion, à côté, c’est presque dommage. A peine le temps d’embarquer qu’on est déjà ailleurs, sans avoir eu le temps de comprendre ce qui nous arrivait.

Certes, il faut être sur place assez longtemps pour pouvoir se permettre de “perdre” un jour (ou plus!) dans le train. Mais ça fait partie du voyage aussi…

Les vacances stressantes, ce n’est pas pour moi, en tous cas. Mes rêves, juste là? Des vacances à cheval, une descente de fleuve en petit bateau, et reprendre ces fameux trains en Inde.

20040209_steph_eating_train_food2

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Getting Daily Business Out of the Way [en]

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: Not Running (Firewalls and iPhone Alarms) [en]

My Journey Out of Procrastination: Not Running (Firewalls and iPhone Alarms) [en]

[fr] Je ne cours plus. C'est un pas important: si on court tout le temps, on est toujours en train de remettre à plus tard, et ça ne nous aide pas à résoudre nos élans procrastinateurs. Une vie un peu plus calme est un bien meilleur terrain. Je me souviens de deux éléments importants qui m'ont aidée à changer ça: premièrement, délimiter strictement du temps non-professionnel, plutôt que de travailler tout le temps (un piège surtout pour les indépendants). Deuxièmement, utiliser les alarmes (multiples!) de mon iPhone pour rythmer mes journées et mes semaines (ne plus partir stressée au judo parce que je n'ai pas vu passer l'heure, mais avoir une alarme placée assez tôt pour que je puisse y aller tranquillement, par exemple).

This is the fourth post in the series. You might want to read the first three ones: Five Principles, Perfectionism, Starting, and Stopping, as well as Getting Thrown Off and Getting Unstuck.

At some point during 2009, I realized that I had stopped running. I had stopped being late, doing things in a rush, and being over my head in emergencies. As with all virtuous circles, not running was at the same time a consequence of my decrease in procrastination and one of the elements that led to it.

If I look at my life now, I see clearly that I am doing many more things immediately (they never end up on a to-do list, and therefore reduce the number of procrastinable items in my world) — and doing things immediately is only possible when you’re not already running for your life.

I’ve been thinking back and trying to understand how this change happened, and I can think of two important things that I started doing during the course of 2008:

  • strictly firewalling off “non-work” moments
  • using my iPhone alarms to structure my days.

The first, firewalling off “non-work” time, might not seem immediately linked to a decrease in running, but actually, it’s very important. To stop running, you see, you need to learn that things can wait. You need to teach yourself that even though you’re behind on the deadline, you can still stop.

Lots of people stay trapped in a life of stress and running by saying things like “I have to finish this”, “I can’t afford not to”, “I don’t have a choice”. We always have a choice. We always choose to stay up late to finish something a client is expecting, for example, rather than face the consequences of not doing it. Not much of a choice, you may say. But it’s still a choice. And being aware that you are actually making a choice, rather than just enduring a situation you are powerless over, will in fact making you feel better.

More importantly, it opens the door to revealing your priorities: I am staying up late to work on this project for the client rather than relaxing in front of the TV after an already long day of work, because it is more important for me to avoid having a pissed off client than having a healthy balance in my life. Sounds a bit guilt-inducing said like that, but the point here is: what does this choice reveal of your priorities? What is more important, the client, or you, or your health, or your relationship, for example? All the time, we make these choices, but our priorities are so hard-wired in that we don’t realize anymore that they are choices, and we end up being victims who “have to do it”.

The time I learnt to make time off work a greater priority for me was when I was organizing the Going Solo conference. It was a huge amount of work, and though I had a great support network, I was carrying the whole thing on my shoulders and doing more or less that had to be done. I was under a lot of stress. I would wake up in the morning, grab the computer from under the bed, and collapse in the evening after trying to squeeze in some food between two e-mails or Skype calls. I didn’t know what a week-end was anymore. I was exhausted.

One day, one of my advisors said to me something like “there’s only so much you can do in a day” or “at some point, you have to call it a day”. I can’t remember the exact words used, but the point was this: even if you have a ton of work to do, even if you didn’t do what you expected today, even if you’re behind… at some point, you have to stop. Turn off the computer, turn off work.

So, I stopped feeling guilty about calling it a day. I also started implementing mandatory lunch-breaks: I would leave the computer, set the kitchen timer on 45 minutes, and go about making myself food. 45 minutes was the minimum time my lunch-break was to last. Yes, at least 45 minutes.

And that’s where interesting things started to happen: I started cooking again, for one. In 45 minutes, I had time for more cooking than just grabbing a piece of bread and cheese — so I did it! I also started relaxing a bit in the middle of the day. I’d read something, or lie down. “Time out” like that is important, because if you’re using to your whole life being taken up by work, you tend to forget what living is really about.

If you’re less stressed, in a general way, you’ll be more fit to tackle your procrastination issues. You can’t tackle procrastination issues if you’re running around in circles from morning to evening. So first step: run around in circles only during “work” time, and have “non-work” time when you don’t run.

End 2008, I opened eclau, the Lausanne Coworking Space, and started working there. That was a tremendous help in the “firewalling non-work time” department. Without really trying to do so, I gradually and naturally stopped working at home, to work only in the office. I’d be able to relax better at home. I never implemented real office hours (and don’t want to), but I started going down there in the morning (it’s two floors below my flat!), coming back up for my lunch break (leaving my computer behind!), and closing house in the evening at some point when everybody else started going home.

And that’s the context in which I made my second big step: using iPhone alarms to pace my day. iPhones allow you to set loads of different alarms, repeating any way you like over the week. So I set a daily alarm at noon to encourage me to take my lunch break (otherwise, I would forget about it and end up without having eaten at 3pm — doesn’t make for a very functional Stephanie). I set an alarm in the evening at 6.30 to think about dinner, except on the days when I’d go to judo. On those days, I set a mid-afternoon alarm to remind me to have a snack, and one early enough to remind me to stop working, pack and leave. I set one to tell me when to get ready for my singing rehearsals. I even set myself a “go-to-bed” alarm at 23:30 and a “Cinderella” alarm at midnight, because I was going a bit overboard with late-night DVDs.

Of course, all these alarms worked because they were there to remind me of some important decisions I had made. I wanted to start getting ready for judo soon enough that I wouldn’t arrive late. I wanted to have lunch at regular hours and take lunch breaks. I wanted to be in bed by midnight so I would have enough sleep and still have a morning the next day. But as I know my sense of time is bad (and being in front of a computer is a killer), I used my iPhone to help me. It made my coworkers laugh that every midday, my quacking alarm would go off — but I knew it was an important crutch for me in applying my priorities to my life.

And that’s when the magic actually started to happen: I had the time to prepare my judo and singing things and set off without being in a rush. I had spare time during my lunch break — I would actually use it to do the washing-up. I even had a moment in the evening, in between 23:30 and midnight, to think about my next day and plan it a little (inspired by FlyLady). I would look up train times the evening before if I had to go somewhere rather than sometime in the morning, and then realize I was running late.

Gradually, some areas in my day and life started to slow down. It wasn’t chaos from start to finish. And slowly, that slowness started creeping into the rest of my life, including work. It doesn’t mean I do things slowly, though. But I take the time to do things. I’m not running anymore.

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

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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A Lot to Write [en]

A Lot to Write [en]

[fr] Beaucoup à écrire mais une déclaration d'impôts à liquider avant.

I have a lot to write. LeWeb was a blast, and as I’ve been a bit under-conferenced this year, it sent my mind spinning and my list of “things to blog about” has doubled (it wasn’t short to start with).

However, to write about stuff I need to think about, I need a certain amount of peace. And that peace will come when I’ve finished dealing with accounting from 18 months ago (you can have a guess) and my accountant has all he needs in his hands to do my tax declaration before I get in trouble with the authorities. (It’s OK, I have a few days left.)

Peace will also come when I’ve caught up on my sleep debt and fought off the little cold that’s tickling up my nose.

And figured out when to do my Christmas shopping.

After that, expect to be knocked out by a series of extraordinary posts. (Well, maybe not extraordinary — I’m trying to learn to sell myself ;-))

In the meantime, here are some photos of me at LeWeb (I didn’t take many and they’re not online yet) and my Twitter stream if you miss me too much.

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