S'organiser… en fonction du niveau de stress? [fr]

[en] I tend to grow out of my "GTD" systems. Initially, I found myself wondering if I shouldn't simply accept that I'm somebody who needs to change systems every few months (victim of "the magic of novelty"). However, I'm now inclined to think that I might need different time/task management systems depending on how stressed I am. It seems logical, after all, that the best way to keep your head out of water when you're on the verge of sinking is not necessarily the best method to be productive when you're not afraid of drowning.

Il y a une dizaine de jours, me promenant dans mon cher Chablais vaudois (je vous dois des photos, et aussi du Bol d’Or, je suis irrécupérable), je méditais tranquillement sur ma tendance (irrécupérable) à sombrer dans la procrastination. En effet, après quelques mois très chargés et productifs, rythmés par les petits billets colorés “à faire” sur mon bureau, la pression s’est relâchée, l’été est arrivé, et… je pétouille.

J’ai toujours bien des choses à faire, je vous rassure, mais je ne suis plus en train de courir derrière les deadlines. (Je suis disponible pour de nouveaux mandats, en passant, ne comprenez pas dans ce “bien des choses à faire” que “Steph est surbookée et n’a de temps pour rien, comme d’hab'”.) Et, misère, les petits billets colorés sur mon bureau ont l’air d’avoir perdu leur pouvoir de m’aider à organiser mon temps.

Ma première idée fut la suivante: peut-être que je suis simplement quelqu’un qui est très susceptible à la magie de la nouveauté, et que je dois simplement changer régulièrement de méthode d’organisation. Peut-être faut-il simplement que j’accepte que “j’use” mes systèmes de gestion du temps, et qu’au bout de quelques mois, il me faut simplement en trouver un autre.

Quelques kilomètres plus loin, ma réflexion avait suivi mes pieds et avancé également: peut-être que l’usure des méthodes de gestion du temps n’était pas une fatalité. En effet, une différence majeure entre la Grande Epoque des Petits Billets Colorés (février-avril) et maintenant est mon état de stress. Je suis beaucoup moins stressée. Et comme toute personne qui a un peu tendance à être motivée par l’urgence et les épées de Damoclès, l’absence de stress signifie que je me laisse un peu emporter par mon envie de me la couler douce.

On comprend donc aisément que les piles de petits billets roses et bleus sur mon bureau, destinés avant tout à me permettre de me concentrer sur les quelques tâches les plus urgentes du jour, ne fonctionnent plus vraiment.

Moralité: j’ai peut-être simplement besoin d’avoir à ma disposition une palette de méthodes à utiliser en fonction de mon état de stress.

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The Wisdom of Small Changes: Incrementally Reclaiming My Flat [en]

[fr] Reprendre contrôle de mon appartement, un petit pas à la fois. Chaque jour, ajouter un nouvel élément à garder sous contrôle. Aujourd'hui, c'est nettoyer la baignoire.

Aussi, diviser l'appartement en zones, et travailler chaque semaine sur une zone, 15 minutes par jour.

Inspiration: toute une longue histoire personnelle, et le site FlyLady.

I’m going to tell you about my plan to reclaim my living space, little by little, over the next weeks and months. However, you know me — I’m first going to get sidetracked a little ;-) and tell you how I got where I am, and how the plan was born.

I have lived in clutter my whole life. Both my parents were pretty active clutterers too, so I guess part of the reason is “in the genes” (we recently cleared out the family home to rent it — oh, boy). Other reasons include the fact that there are much more fun things to do in life than clean/tidy (though annoyingly, each time I actually start doing these things I really enjoy them), and my natural tendency to “not do things” rather than “do things”.

I love living in a reasonably tidy place. It makes me less stressed. It makes me less depressed. It makes me happy to spend my days in an environment which is under my control, rather than a sprawling monster of Things. How to tidy my flat and keep it tidy is something that is always on my mental to-do list.

I’ve lived in my flat since I came back from India, over eight years ago. It has been cleaned more or less from top to bottom a few times since I moved on (in 2007, for example — check the “myflat” tag to see more pictures of my living space and its transformations through the years). Over the years, I’ve become quite good at keeping clutter off the floor, but that’s about it. Clearly, I lack a process to keep My Stuff under control. I have lots of stuff.

The importance of having processes in life was driven home by my foray into the GTD (Getting Things Done) method. So far, I have not succeeded in implementing GTD completely (I particularly suck at weekly reviews, I think I haven’t ever managed to do one). I do, however, use quite a lot of elements from this method:

  • ensure I have a system in which I can capture all the stuff that’s on my mind
  • have an inbox (though I don’t empty it very often, but at least it keeps all the stuff to be dealt with in one place
  • think in terms of “next actions” and “projects”
  • know that when I’m procrastinating, either I have too much stuff sitting in my head, or my next action is not clearly defined
  • use an A-Z classification system, with printed labels on folders, for all my paperwork.

The idea of having a process is underlying in two previous “housecleaning” articles: Taming the Dirty Dishes, way back in 2002, and Keeping The Flat Clean: Living Space As User Interface, in 2003. But it’s not quite there yet, or expressed clearly.

Two years, ago, I had a groundbreaking conversation about my diet with my Doctor. I was leading a very unhealthy lifestyle (even without smoking or drinking) and knew it, but I was so wracked with guilt and discouraged by the amount of changes I had to make to my life that I just didn’t do anything. He showed me how important it was to not disrupt my life and diet completely, but to make small easy changes like prepare a few leaves of lettuce while my pizza was warming in the oven, or cut up an apple before the meal so that I’d eat it for dessert.

A year ago, I officially rediscovered the importance of morning rituals. I’ve also come to accept that having some things under control is better than none, even if all the rest is going to the dogs. Last autumn, for example, I decided that even if my kitchen was a mess, I would at least keep the table clean and void of any clutter, so that I would have a nice place to eat.

Recently, I started cleaning my bathroom sink (almost) every morning. I don’t use soap or anything fancy, but I have a sponge I keep on the sink and I give it a quick wipe whenever I use it. Looking into a clean sink in the morning is clearly nicer than when it’s dirty.

Now that I’m in the habit of (#1) washing my bathroom sink (it doesn’t require any cognitive effort for me to do it, it’s just part of the things I do like brush my teeth or use my neti pot), I’ve started thinking about other small changes I could make. And I’ve already made some:

Last week-end, I decided that if I wanted to tackle this flat, I had to do it little by little. So, on Saturday a week ago, I did two things in that department: caught up with the kitchen dishes (they were running away again) and put the laundry away (I live out of the clean laundry basket). Oh yeah, and I got Roomba to work.

Cleaning my bathroom sink each morning has reminded me of FlyLady. I first heard about it when Florence Devouard mentioned it at Going Solo Lausanne. I didn’t really investigate it then, but filed it away somewhere under “system/community which starts with cleaning your sink, and then you add extra stuff to do each day”.

I looked it up this afternoon and spent a couple of hours reading through it. FlyLady is a system/community designed for stay-at-home moms, or “Sidetracked Home Executives“. It is e-mail based, and indeed, does start with getting you to shine your kitchen sink (read why) and get dressed to the shoes.

Are YOU living in CHAOS (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome) like Franny in the pink sweats? Do you feel overwhelmed, overextended, and overdrawn? Hopeless and you don’t know where to start? Don’t worry friend, we’ve been there, too.

Step through the door and follow FlyLady as she weaves her way through housecleaning and organizing tips with homespun humor, daily musings about life and love, the Sidetracked Home Executives (SHE) system, and anything else that is on her mind.

The whole tone of the site is very caring and motherly, with a lot of educational redundancies and extremely detailed instructions. The system actually instructs you to stop and rest for 15 minutes doing something you like, or to only declutter for 15 minutes at a time. Some of it might make you cringe, or laugh a bit if you’re a computer geek, but I really think they’re onto something and it’s well worthwhile spending some time reading the various pages on the FlyLady website.

Obviously, I’m not a stay-at-home mum and I don’t own a house, so I’ll be taking a shot at my personal interpretation of the programme. Here are the ideas I like:

This “slow but steady” system reminds me a bit of dieting strategies. You’re better off with a diet that makes you lose weight slowly, and is in fact a lasting change to your lifestyle, than with a crash diet that makes you lose loads of weight but will see you put it all on again as soon as you stop.

Same with clutter: if you stop everything for three days to clean the house top to bottom, you haven’t in fact made any changes in the lifestyle that caused you to accumulate so much clutter in the first place. By changing things slowly, you’re actually making modifications to your lifestyle which will allow you to keep the clutter under control, rather than clean everything and end up knee-deep in clutter two months later.

As FlyLady says somewhere on her site (quoting from memory): “Your house didn’t get cluttered in a day, and it won’t become uncluttered in a day either!”

Browsing as I was writing this article has brought me over to SHE forums, a community which functions on “challenges” and peer support to deal with household tasks. Remember Website Pro Day and WoWiPAD? :-)

The FlyLady website method is actually based on a book, Sidetracked Home Executives(TM): From Pigpen to Paradise, and one of the co-authors has a site called The Brat Factor, which is all about taming your inner brat (there’s a CD and DVD involved, of course) — but it looks fun (that’s how you tame brats). Your inner brat is the part of you that procrastinates, leaves the dishes in the sink, doesn’t put the clean laundry away& know him/her?

So, I’m going to set my timer to do 15 minutes of decluttering in my hallway (zone 1, I’ll consider it’s already Feb. 1st). Each day, I’ll add a baby step to the ones I’m already doing. I’ll post each new baby step on my Digital Crumble.

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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.”


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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Hosted Blog Platform Test Write-Up [en]

I’ve tested 13 free platforms, and this is a write-up on the experiment. The ones I preferred were Blogsome, running Wordpress, and Mon-Blog (in French), running DotClear.

Edit 26.12.2006: For those of you trying to choose a free blogging platform, I’ve now been recommending WordPress.com without hesitation for some time now.

As the people I hang out with on Freenode are painfully aware of by now, I’ve been on a blog platform testing binge. In total, 13 free* platforms tested. Here is a quick list of my test blogs — you’ll find detailed comments about each platform on the test blogs themselves, and a general overview below. The ones I preferred were Blogsome and Mon-Blog.

The platforms were tested with FireFox 1.0 on OSX, Javascript enabled, set to block pop-ups and force links opening a new window to open in the initial tab/window (we’ll see this setting seems to have caused problems with many visual editors).

My main interest was to have a peek at what existed (personal curiosity) and see if it was possible to claim the blogs on Technorati. What follows is an account of my personal user experience on these different platforms. It is not the result of a battery of systematic “benchmarking tests”, though here are some of the points I paid attention to:

  1. was it easy to create an account, or did I have to fight?
  2. how easy was it for me to sign back in, afterwards?
  3. overall, did I find the features I expect from a weblog? (note how subjective that is)
  4. how did writing a post go?
  5. could I add images?
  6. could I change the template?
  7. could I add links to my other test blogs? (linkroll management)
  8. could I claim the blog as mine at Technorati?
  9. did I bump into availability problems?

Lets get the last point over with first. I succeeded in claiming blogs on all platforms except three: NRJ blogs, Skyblog, and LiveJournal. The reason for that is that the last two platforms limit links in the blogroll to weblogs using the same platform. This prevented me from using the blogroll to add the Technorati code necessary to claiming the weblog.

Note, by the way, that I am talking about the free version of LiveJournal, as the paid version does not have this limitation. NRJ blogs, by far the worst platform amongst those tested, does not permit linking at all (even in posts!) I’m not even sure if it deserves to be called a “blogging platform”.

As far as linkrolls or blogrolls are concerned, ViaBloga gets top marks for their “almost-automatic linkrolling”. You can simply type in the URL of the blog/site you want to add, and it retrieves title and rss feed, and also creates a screenshot and thumbnail of the site. It really makes you want to add links to your sidebar. One-click blogrolling, if you like. Otherwise, most link management systems are pretty standard.

Some, like MSN Spaces, make you click “Add Link” between each links, instead of systematically presenting you with a form allowing you to add a link each time you go in link management. This is one of the minor but irritating usability problem which plague MSN Spaces. There are major ones too, but I won’t list them too (no paragraph breaks for me, login problems, timeout problems, clunky interface, ugly permalinks, horrible markup) — they are detailed on my test MSN Space.

Visual editors are neat when they work, but they are a great pain when they do not work. Because of my browser settings, I failed adding links to my posts at ViaBloga, for example. I also failed to add photographs at CanalBlog, HautEtFort, and 20six because of this. BlogSpot is clear enough about the fact you need an external service like Flickr if you want photos on your blog, and both LiveJournal and U-blog seem to fail the photo test for various reasons.

Both Skyblog and NRJ blogs are very limited blogging services, the latter being a very pale imitation of the former. Skyblog focuses on making it easy for teens to put photos on the web with brief comments, and, despite many other shortcomings (no permalinks, interface issues, server overload at peak times), I’m forced to admit it does it pretty well — which partly explains its success (it’s the main French language blog platform in blog numbers). The other services passed the photo test with more or less ease (don’t forget I’m a geek, so uploading a photo first, copying the URL and inserting it into a post isn’t an issue for me — it could be for some).

At some point, I had trouble connecting to the following services (or timeouts): Skyblog, MSN Spaces, and 20six (I can’t remember any others, but my memory might be failing me. NRJ blogs distinguishes itself by refusing to publish certain posts, or waiting a day or two before being so.

Now, before I get lost in random comments, I’ll give you a quick low-down on each of the solutions tested, as well as links to other people who have recently reviewed some of them.

  • Pros: WordPress, very easy to sign up
  • Cons: might need to be a bit of a techie at times

Being an avid and enthusiastic WordPress user, the idea of a hosted WordPress-powered blogging platform was very exciting to me. No bad surprises as I already knew the interface (I’m biased, of course), and no major bugs that couldn’t be addressed after posting about them in the forum. I didn’t try the visual editor there, but I assume it will make it more newbie-friendly. Definitely the platform I recommend for the moment.

MSN Spaces
  • Pros: none
  • Cons: way too beta (buggy)

After Roland Tanglao, Robert Scoble, and a dirty word test at Boing Boing, let me add my two cents by saying I am unenthusiastic about MSN Spaces. It’s still way too rough around the edges. Not usable as far as I’m concerned.

  • Pros: community, well-established
  • Cons: lots of settings, limitations of free accounts (no Technorati claim possible)

Well, LiveJournal is LiveJournal, and I know that to get a good idea of what it can do you need the paid version. My first impression was that it seemed to have lots of options in the admin part (a bit confusing), but other than that, it was pretty easy to get going and posting. Google will point out to you many more complete reviews of LiveJournal, so I’ll stop here. My main point was, however, to see if I could claim a free LiveJournal as my blog at Technorati, and that was not possible (short of adding the code via JavaScript in the head of the page, but honestly, I wouldn’t want to go that far for my test.)

  • Pros: well-established, nice admin interface
  • Cons: lack of categories, trackbacks, and image hosting

No big surprise here. I used Blogger for years (though not BlogSpot), and I liked the interface I found during my test a lot. They should wake up and get categories and trackbacks though. We’ll be in 2005 in less than 3 weeks. A good, solid option for people who can live without categories, trackbacks, and hosted photographs.

  • Pros: great link management, wiki-like features, active development
  • Cons: some usability issues and minor bugs; not free

ViaBloga has many good features. The “configurable blocs” system (invented by Stéphane for Joueb.com), which allows you to easily move about elements of your page, is just great (once you’ve figured it out). The platform has real wiki-like capability via keywords, and “cross-links”, which work like a kind of automatic trackbacking system. On the shortcomings side, I would say that although the features are great, the usability and user-friendliness of the administration aspect, which is a little confusing, could still be improved. I’m not a beginner, and it took me quite some time to figure out a certain number of things (and I know Stéphane and Delphine, so it’s easy for me to get direct help). And no, it’s not just because I’m “used” to other systems — I should still be able to figure things out easily.

  • Pros: well-established, community
  • Cons: community (!), some usability problems (cf. ViaBloga)

Joueb is ViaBloga’s community-oriented little sister. The first French language hosted blogging platform seemed to me a little more kludgy than ViaBloga, but there is a happy community there, and Stéphane is an active developper, always ready for feedback and making improvements to his babies. If you’re looking for a French weblogging platform with a strong community, I’d say this is a good choice.

  • Pros: great if all you want is upload your phone photos, spit out a comment, and allow people to comment (though Flickr does it better)
  • Cons: no permalinks or trackbacks, limited server availability, teen-sms-talk and link-whoring comments

I remember when Skyblog was launched, the francoblogosphere was boiling over in horror at this kind of bastardized blogging solution where teens posted pics of their friends and commented in sms-speak. (Sorry, can’t find any posts right now, will add links later if I do.) As I said, Skyblog does not do much, but it makes publishing photos and short texts easy, and it’s pretty successfully targeted at a certain audience. My pupils have Skyblogs and they are obviously all the rage. Lots of photos, hardly any text, and comments abound which either say “ur 2 kool”, “u suck”, or “com visit my sky http://somecoolnick.sykblog.com/”. Not very interesting as a blogging platform, as far as I’m concerned, but obviously successful.

NRJ blogs
Edit 18.12.04: it seems confirmed that NRJ blogs hasn’t launched yet, and Google caught them by surprise.

  • Pros: none
  • Cons: sucks (I mean, some posts don’t even get posted, and finding your blog URL demands a thorough investigation)

I’ll say it loud and clear, NRJ blogs suck, and as a pretty obvious consequence they aren’t taking off really well: less than 50 blogs created since they launched (and NRJ is a major popular radio!) However, I can’t find a link on their home page, so there is a possibility this was a preliminary soft launch. In any case, I’m getting my few days of fame as an NRJ blog star. Neuro, Mr_Peer, and Kwyxz also tried NRJ blogs and were all but impressed. See their posts or my test blog for detailed complaints.

  • Pros: has the usual set of features you expect from a blog
  • Cons: admin interface can feel a little rude at times

CanalBlog was a pleasant surprise. The admin interface takes over your browser, but it works pretty well and it’s user friendly enough in a “MS-Office-lookalike” way. The layouts you can choose from are clean, and they have comments and trackbacks. They have ads, though. I’d say they are a viable platform (er… a viable choice of platform).

  • Pros: nice admin interface
  • Cons: no trackbacks

Too bad they don’t have trackbacks! I like what I’ve seen of the admin interface, nice and clean and uncluttered. As many other platforms do, they force me to go through the home page to log in (which I dislike), but honestly, like CanalBlog (and maybe more, if it wasn’t for the lack of trackbacks), I’d say they are an honest French language blogging platform.

  • Pros: has the set of features you expect from a blog
  • Cons: ugly, cluttered admin interface, server downtime

I really didn’t like 20six. I find their layouts ugly, the admin interface is hell, and their server was unavailable for hours at one point when I was about to do my photo upload test. Even though they know what trackbacks are, I wouldn’t recommend them (go CanalBlog instead).

  • Pros: community, features more or less ok
  • Cons: probably doomed

Well, I’ve spoken a lot about U-blog already, but more in a blogo-political context. When there weren’t so many French language blogging platforms around, U-blog used to be my recommendation. On trying it now, I can’t help saying that it feels a little broken, or abandoned. I was faced with an error when trying to upload a picture, and some of the links in the admin section tell you that this or that feature is only available with the paid version. Given the platform doesn’t seem in active development anymore, I wouldn’t recommend it.

  • Pros: DotClear (clean, beautiful, all functionalities)
  • Cons: launched three days ago

Now this, ladies and gentlemen, was a last-minute and very pleasant surprise. Mon-Blog is based on the weblog engine DotClear, which I have long held in high regard. For the first time, I’ve had a chance to see the DotClear admin interface, and let me tell you, it’s as beautiful as the themes they provide to dress your weblog in. Nothing really missing feature-wise, though it seems templates won’t really be customisable at Mon-Blog for the moment. The service has just launched and some creases need ironing out, but the forums and the developer are reactive. Just go for it. This is clearly my first choice for a French blogging platform.

I hope this will have been of interest to some. Thanks for your attention, and I’m glad to be over with the testing!

Edit 16:20: I’ve just add quick pros/cons bullet points (thanks to acrobat for the suggestion and the proof-reading).

Edit 13.12.04: ViaBloga was included in this survey although it is not a free platform. It is free for non-profit organisations, however. The mistake is mine — being an early tester, I was offered six months free, and in my mind had not switched ViaBloga to the “paying platforms” category. See my comment and Stéphane’s on the subject.

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