Tag Archives: life

The Simple Life

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 café 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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Posted in Personal | Tagged auchalet, chalet, constraints, holiday, life, pace, skiing, slow, speed | Leave a comment

Here We Go Again

[fr] Des nouvelles.

Holidays in Spain. Two weeks of crazy work upon my return. Then orphaned kittens at home.

Things are lightening up: the kittens are weaned and clean, the big cats are taking care of them, and they have future homes. Though I have two batches of exams to grade (one now, one early june) my work life is taking a more manageable pace.

I’ve been the worst slacker in the Blogging Tribe experiment. I have a huge backlog of insanely cute kitten photos and videos to process and put online. I’ve started planting things for my balcony again. The sailing season has started.

Next week’s objectives: go back to judo, get back into something resembling a blogging habit, and start my new exercice regimen.

Longer term? Figure out why despite having identified long ago that I take on too much and need to slow down, and making efforts in that direction, I am failing.

Life is good.

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Posted in Personal | Tagged blogging, exercise, kittens, life, miakittens, news | 1 Comment

How Was 2012 So Far?

[fr] 2012, année chaotique, mais qui se termine avec un retour vers la stabilité. 2013 s'annonce plutôt bien.

A conversation last night had me thinking back about the last few years. This morning, I stumbled upon this post that I wrote end 2009.

2009 was a good year. I felt like I was getting my act together. Everything came crumbling down in 2010, my “shit year“, and 2011 was largely a year of grieving. Healthy grieving, I’d like to add. Not easy to go through, but a hugely empowering life experience.

What about 2012? Well, it’s not quite finished, though I have two weeks of Lausanne life to go before heading off to India for my annual vacation. So I might as well look back now.

2012 has been chaotic. It’s been a year of changes and uncertainty, both personal and professional. You know how at times you feel like your life or a relationship has not reached its point of equilibrium? That it’s in flux, going somewhere, but not there yet? That’s what 2012 has felt like. On a very practical day-to-day level (the most important one, actually!) I adopted two cats, lost one two months later, and brought another one back from the UK just about a month and a half after that. It may seem like nothing, but for somebody who sometimes finds day-to-day life a bit of a challenge, it was quite a disruption in my life, and whatever was left of the routines and habits I’d formed the previous years kind of flew out the window. To give just one example, I climbed back on my exercise bike for what is possibly the first time in 2012… yesterday.

Tounsi & Quintus à l'eclau, proximité 3

In addition to that 2012 came with its lot of work changes and uncertainty: the end of a long-standing gig, two other important sources of work and revenue left hanging for quite a few months, growing dissatisfaction with the social media industry and figuring out where I want to go these next years…

All this shuffling around was taking me somewhere, and I think that with the year wrapping up, I’m pretty much there. Things are stabilizing. (Proof if needed: In addition to climbing back on my bike, I cleaned the dust webs off my ceiling again this week-end, something I’d been doing regularly in 2009 but that disappeared sometime between now and then.)

2013 is looking good — and exciting.

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Posted in Personal | Tagged 2012, bilan, cats, chaos, habits, life, routine, summary | Leave a comment

A Balanced Life Has Change and Instability Built In

[fr] Quelques réflexions sur l'équilibre de vie -- et le fait que celui-ci est en fait un perpétuel déséquilibre, qui doit pouvoir absorber le changement.

I want a balanced life.

When I stop and think about what I want in life, that’s the best answer I can come up with: I want a balanced life.

I’m not an extremist. I want time for work and time for play, futility and depth, travel and stability, arts and science, me and others, and space for my wide variety of interests.

Many years ago, one of my philosophy courses made me suddenly understand that imbalance is what makes life alive. The very chemical reactions which form the basis of life are oscillating reactions, which go back and forth around equilibrium, permanently out of balance, but stable enough to allow us to live and breathe long years.

There is a risk of getting caught up in words, here. Stable, balance, unstable, imbalance.

During my physics classes in high school (what we call “Gymnase”), I learned that there was stable and unstable equilibrium. An object is in stable equilibrium if it is hanging from somewhere. If you make it move, it will come back to its equilibrium point. Unstable equilibrium, on the other hand, is when the centre of gravity is above the support base. Push it over, and it may fall and never come back to where it was. It’s unstable.

This struck me as counter-intuitive. When I first read about the two terms, I thought it would be the other way around. A lamp hanging from the ceiling seemed less stable than a table on the kitchen floor. There was a slight discomfort in the realization that what I considered most stable was in fact labeled by physics as “unstable”.

Me sitting on the couch: that’s unstable equilibrium. I feel pretty stable, though.

Walking: a body which is losing its balance every step of the way.

I’ve written more than a handful of articles that have to do with my quest for balance or related topics. Here are a few I dug up, but you can probably find more if you hunt around:

So for balance, you have to factor in instability. A balanced life is not a rigid regimen of balanced components. A balanced life is elastic, ever-moving, a harmonious danse of spare parts. A chaotic system, probably.

Balance, probably, is an ability to manage change. Interesting idea, for someone with a slight adjustment disorder.

A balanced life is a life that can absorb external elements without being turned upside down. This reminds me of something that’s sometimes said of Indian culture: it’s inclusive, it absorbs rather than rejecting.

So, my balanced life needs resilience. And it will never be really in balance — forever trying to reach it.

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Posted in Personal, Understanding life and the world | Tagged adjustment, balance, life, resilience, unstable | Leave a comment

The Trap of Happiness: Big Things and Small Things, Outside and In

[fr] La clé, pour être heureux, n'est pas dans les événements ou circonstances extérieurs, mais dans nos activités. En nous, et non au dehors de nous. Ce n'est pas très intuitif, d'où le piège. ("Quand ceci ou cela arrivera, alors je serai enfin heureuse.")

I realized today that many of the things I agonize over, the big things of life, are probably not worth spending so much energy on.

These big things of life — work, relationships, where to live — are just the measly circumstantial 10% component of our happiness (50% is due to our happiness “set point”, and the remaining 40% depends on certain intentional activities).

If I’m agonizing over whether to pursue a relationship or not, whether to keep my current line of work or change it, stay put or move to another continent, I’m doing so because at some level, I believe those decisions hold the fate of my happiness. But they don’t.

This is not to say that major life changes have no impact on how we feel. Of course they do. And of course bad decisions can lead to pain and anguish. But if things are going reasonably well and the drive is to be happier, the research presented in The How of Happiness (which I’ve already blogged about) tells us that these major changes will probably have way less long-term effect on how happy we are than certain more modest-looking intentional activities that have been show to reliably increase happiness.

Major events give us a “happiness high”, which is maybe one of the reasons we keep on looking to them as the solution to our lasting happiness. Hence the trap of happiness:

We think that big important things like being in a relationship, having a great job, having kids or living in our dream city are going to make us happy, when in fact it is small day-to-day activities that make use happy. So when we’re unhappy, we yearn for big changes and stay stuck on “if onlys” rather than doing something that will actually make us feel happier.

For me, there is an important corollary to this:

The key to our happiness is inside of us, and not in exterior events.

This is nothing new under the sun, but I think that today I have really understood it.

You see, in addition to agonizing over “big decisions”, I spend a lot of energy hoping or waiting for things to happen which I expect will make me feel happier. Things that are outside my control or depend on other people. Without getting into details, this energy sometimes pushes me down alleys where I do things which I know are doomed to failure, which I know are a bad idea (and I can even explain why), but I have a very hard time stopping myself from doing them.

And I have understood today that the way to fight these “dysfunctional” urges is to remember where they come from: they come from feelings of unhappiness that I’m trying to address in the wrong way. I’m trying to make big things happen outside of me, rather than certain small things that involve only me — the “happiness activities” or “intentional activities” Sonja Lyubomirsky describes in her book.

Not surprisingly, some of them are already part of my “toolkit” for making myself feel better. Before reading The How of Happiness, however, I think I just hadn’t measured how important they were. And now I have extra stuff to add to my happiness toolkit. Yay!

So I’m making a note: to fight my gosh-I-wish-I-wasn’t-heading-for-that-wall-again urges, pick an activity out of my happiness toolkit. And I’m putting “working on being happier through daily activities” above my big “existential issues” on the priority list.

I find it ironic, in a way, that something as important as how happy we are (I mean, a huge amount of what we do, we do because in some way we’re trying to be happy) can be influenced by so small and seemingly trivial things.

It does explain, though, how we can tumble from “happy” to “not happy” in just a few clicks, and climb back to “happy” by answering two e-mails and cleaning the bathroom sink.

It’s not rocket science.

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Posted in Books, Personal, Psychology | Tagged activities, breakthrough, control, happiness, happiness activities, helplessness, intentional activities, law, life, passivity, rule, the how of happiness, trap | 2 Comments

Long Time No Blog

[fr] De retour d'une bonne semaine de vacances, et très peu d'envie de trainer en ligne, même autour de Google+. Période de transition, pas tout à fait à l'équilibre. A tout hasard, je vais écrire un poil ici -- ça a en général bien marché par le passé.

Long time no blog, right? I have lots to write, but I’m also really enjoying my break from the online, and much tempted to spend most of my time away from the computer.

Computer = work, despite all, and after two months of work-overdose ending with a couple of nasty crises to take care of I really really am quite fed up with my work world. (Dear clients and prospective clients who may be reading this: fear not, I’m not going to disappear somewhere and start raising goats. I’m still here. I’m just enjoying the much-needed break. And you’ll enjoy my fresher brain when I’m back.)

Google+ is out, and even Suw is excited about it, but I just don’t feel like spending time on it. (I will, and have actually started but… I’m enjoying the break, remember?)

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I need to do to the way I run my “business” (= “work me”) and now have a plan, but I’m still in this slightly fuzzy place where although things are generally good, I’m not quite happy and know something’s gotta give. Like a chemical reaction that hasn’t reached equilibrium.

One of the things I’m noticing during this break is that I feel tired of documenting my life. Because it’s a lot of what I do: document. Maybe I’m going through a phase in life where I’m more “inward” than “outward”. Maybe I’ve just been working too much, had two difficult years, and need to breathe a bit. Time will tell. Something is tugging at me inside.

As often when things feel “not quite right” and I haven’t been blogging much, I’m going to start by writing here a bit more. I have a bunch of posts lined up — just need to write them without turning them into tentacled monsters.


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Posted in Personal | Tagged blogging, holidays, life, My work, transition | 1 Comment

Don’t You Tire of Real-Time?

[fr] Tout ce temps réel sur le web me fatigue. On néglige les expressions plus profondes que permet le web, sur nos blogs par exemple.

I find that I’m increasingly tired with real-time. Keeping up with the stream. Living on the cutting-edge. I like diving into deeper explorations that require me to step out of the real-time stream of tweets and statuses and IRC and IM conversations.

I like reading and writing.

I’ve never been much of a “news” person — and I know that my little self and my little blog have no chance of competing with the Techcrunches and ReadWriteWebs and GigaOms that seem to be all over the place now.

Life is real-time enough. I like spending time on the web like in a book.

I still love Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr and all the transient stuff that’s floating around — but sometimes I feel like I let myself get lost in it.

Once again, I’m back here, on my blog.

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Posted in Blogging, On Writing | Tagged blog, blogging, life, real-time, realtime, web | 4 Comments

My Journey Out of Procrastination: Five Principles

[fr] Cinq principes importants que j'ai découverts au cours de mon voyage pour me libérer de la procrastination:

  1. le changement radical ne fonctionne pas
  2. ne pas se lancer seul; trouver du soutien
  3. gérer les "arriérés" aussi bien que changer le processus (l'hygiène de vie)
  4. trouver du plaisir dans le "faire", et pas juste dans le résultat
  5. connaître ses limites et les faire respecter (apprendre à dire non)

Les solutions qui ne reposent que sur un de ces principes (comme GTD, même si c'est un système excellent qui m'a beaucoup aidé) courent de grands risques d'échouer, si l'on ne se préoccupe pas des causes profondes qui ont mené à la mise en place (et au maintien) d'un fonctionnement basé sur la procrastination.

When you’re trapped in the procrastination rut, solutions coming from those who are out of it just seem inapplicable. “Just do it,” for example.

I think I’ve recently pulled myself out of the rut for good (fingers crossed), and before I forget what it is like to live with the heavy black cloud of “things I should have taken care of last week/month/year” over my head, here are a few thoughts on what helped me build a life for myself where my invoices are sent, my bills are paid, my deadlines are met, and I actually have guilt-free week-ends and evenings.

It wasn’t always like that. Actually, for most of my life, it wasn’t like that.

Changing, like most changes, has been a gradual process. I know that (for me, at least) one of the thick roots of my procrastination lies in a very archaic urge of mine to not be alone, to not do things alone. I rarely found it hard to do things (even the washing-up) if I had company, and I understood at some point that putting things off until I got myself in an unmanageable mess was in a way something I did to either force myself to ask others for help, or manipulate them into helping me out.

I think it was really important for me to understand this, because unfortunately, freeing oneself of life-threatening procrastination is not just a question of tricks and methods, but also about understanding what role such a behaviour plays in one’s “life ecosystem”, and what can be done to replace it. In my case, it included being proactive about asking for assistance or company, making sure I was having enough of a social life, and sorting out a few personal issue I’m not going to dive in here.

That being said, I learned five important principles throughout my journey that are worth sharing.

The first is that radical change will not work. If you tend to live in a messy home, it’s not spring-cleaning once every three years which will change that. Going from living in a messy home to living in a more or less ordered home is a lifestyle change. It’s like quitting smoking or starting to exercise regularly, or eating more healthily. Reading GTD, spending two days setting up your system, and “sticking to it”, will not be enough (though I’m a great fan of GTD). Be aware that you’re in for a long process, which will probably take years (it took years for me, in any case — maybe even half my lifetime). This means that you need to start by making small changes to the way you do things, instead of aiming for a revollution.

The second is to not do it alone. By that, I mean involve others to support you. Things I’ve done include buddy working, asking a friend to come over to help me clean the flat, or having my brother literally hold my hand during three months whilst I started getting my finances back in order. If it’s easier to do with somebody just sitting next to you, then ask somebody to do just that. I remember one of my first experiences of this was being on the phone with a friend, and we both had a horrible awful pile of dirty dishes to deal with. We both decided to hang up, do it now, and call again an hour later when it was done. Somehow, it felt easier to be doing the dishes when I knew my friend was doing the same thing in another country.

The third is that backlog and process both need to be dealt with. When you procrastinate, you start off in the worst of places: not only do you not have a healthy “lifestyle” process in place for dealing with things (you let them wait until it’s so urgent the only thing left to do is to call in the firemen), but you also have a (sometimes huge) backlog of “stuff” that needs dealing with. Be patient with yourself. Also, understand that there’s no point in just dealing with the backlog if you’re not fixing the process. GTD is mainly about the process. “Do it now” is also just about the process.

The fourth is to find pleasure in the doing. One component in my procrastination is that I’m overly goal-focused. One thing I had to learn to do was to enjoy doing things, and not just enjoy having done them. Life is now, even when you’re doing the dishes or cleaning the flat or paying bills. What can be done to make the process more pleasant? Well, there are things like listening to music or focusing on the task at hand in a zen-like way, but it’s also possible to keep in mind that by paying my bills now, I’m being kind to myself and treating myself well (by keeping myself out of future trouble). It helped me to realise that I really didn’t mind doing the dishes for friends when I was invited — it was doing them for myself that sucked. It wasn’t about the dishes: it was about doing stuff for myself. (Which opens a whole new can of worms: is it easy to treat yourself kindly?) When I started doing my dishes as if I were my own best friend that I loved, things started changing.

The fifth is to know your boundaries and enforce them (aka “say no”). When there is too much to do that you can’t keep up, it means that you’ve been accepting or taking on too much. This is a major chapter in itself (and as I’m getting increasingly better at setting limits and saying no when needed, I’m starting to realize how hopelessly bad most people are at this). If you catch up on the backlog, set up a good process, but keep on piling up your plate with more than you can eat, there’s no way out. Again, this principle opens up potential cans of worms: why is it difficult to say no? Fear of rejection or angering the other are not to be taken lightly. “Just understanding” this is often not enough, as the root of such behaviour is often emotional and needs to be treated with respect. (You’ll probably have noticed: you won’t get much out of yourself — or anyone — if you don’t treat emotional components of problems with respect.)

I think that before diving into any “method” to change one’s procrastinative habits, it’s worth pondering on all five of these principles and trying to keep them in mind whilst going on with one’s life: change will be successful only if you pay attention to them all. This is, in my opinion, where GTD on its own fails at “solving the problem”: it’s mainly about the process (part of the third principle here). You can get started implementing GTD, but if the deeper roots of your procrastination are not dealt with, you will simply fail at implementing GTD properly enough for it to be “the solution”, just like I did. Not that implementing GTD isn’t useful: it was a very important step for me, and helped me a lot (it changed my life, clearly), but it was not enough to free me from procrastination.

Another element I’d like to add, in case it comes handy to somebody, is that I noticed at some point that when I am under stress, I tend to feel down, and when I feel down, I tend to find it difficult to do things, and therefore procrastinate. Figuring out this vicious circle was a really important milestone for me. Of course, it then took many months of careful observation of myself to reach the point where I could go “Oh! I’m feeling down and crappy, am I stressed? What’s stressing me? Oh, let me deal with that now so I can climb out of the pit!” — and now, it never even gets to that stage (or very rarely) because I catch it even earlier and nip it in the bud.

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Posted in Life Improvement, Personal, Psychology | Tagged backlog, boundaries, buddy working, change, doing, goals, gtd, journey, life, pleasure, process, procrastination, saying no | 6 Comments

Two Weeks With (Almost) No Planning

[fr] Pas tellement de planning hebdomadaire ces deux dernières semaines, entre LeWeb'09, la récupération après mon voyage parisien, et la compta 2008 à boucler en catastrophe. On reprend le 4 janvier!

These two weeks went by really fast! The first was spent between TEDx Geneva and LeWeb’09 in Paris, busy blogging (as you can see) and being social and doing things one does when one attends conferences. As for the second, it was spent recovering (major sleep deficit + cold) and dealing with (OMG!) finishing my accounting for my 2008 tax report (no comment).

Although I didn’t really plan the work I still had to do during those two weeks, I didn’t completely give up on it (indeed, this week was spent going “oh, tomorrow I really have to plan my week”) and did manage to place a few of the most important things I was forbidden to forget in my “weekly planning” Evernote note.

I’ve looked at TeuxDeux and it’s pretty, but has a big disadvantage: it’s outside of Evernote. But who knows, I might try it out in the future and adopt it. Sometimes life is full of surprises.

Next week is Christmas week, and the week after is New Year’s week. I’m going to spend them relaxing and writing, so there will only be minimal planning involved until the week of the 4th. However, I have noticed that I remain in a “look forward longer than a day” frame of mind even when I’m not actively planning my weeks, which is a good thing.

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Posted in Personal | Tagged evernote, life, planning, teuxdeux, weekly planning | 1 Comment

Chat ou e-mail pour rester en contact?

[en] I almost never write personal e-mail -- as in, letter-e-mails. I use e-mail a lot for business and factual stuff, but when it comes to catching up with friends and personal relationships, nothing beats reasonably synchronous modes of communication: IM, IRC (and other forms of chat), SMS, Twitter, phone calls, or even meeting face-to-face (yes!).

I wonder if this is a question of personal preference (some people are letter-writers, some aren't) or if something in the nature of the tools pushes things more in one direction than another (for example, talking about one's life and emotions is clearly nicer to do in a very interactive setting).

Au détour d’une conversation avec Fabien ce matin, je (nous) faisais la réflexion suivante: même si j’adore écrire (preuve les kilomètres de texte qui s’alignent sur ce blog, sauf quand je n’écris pas) je ne suis pas du tout versée dans l’e-mail “correspondance”.

Certes, j’utilise (beaucoup) l’e-mail comme outil de travail. Pour des échanges factuels. Pour de l’administratif.

Mais pour parler de sa vie ou de son coeur, je préfère être en intéraction directe: IM, SMS, IRC Twitter, téléphone, ou même (oh oui!) se voir en chair et en os pour boire un café ou manger un morceau.

Déjà avant que l’e-mail ne débarque dans ma vie, je n’étais pas vraiment une correspondante. Ma grand-mère paternelle se plaignait amèrement du manque de lettres provenant de sa petite-fille, les cartes postales signées de ma main étaient dès le jour de leur réception des pièces collector, et les deux ou trois tentatives adolescentes d’avoir des correspondantes dans d’autres pays se sont assez vite essoufflées.

Peu étonnant, dès lors, qu’un fois accro au chat sous toutes ses formes, ce soit les modes de communication interactifs que je privilégie pour mes relations avec les gens.

Je me demande si c’est simplement une préférence personnelle (certains sont épistoliers, d’autres pas) ou bien s’il y a véritablement des caractéristiques des médias en question qui la sous-tendent: l’interactivité (relativement synchrone), par exemple. Parler de ce qu’on vit ou fait (c’est souvent l’essentiel des conversations), c’est bien mieux avec un retour direct d’autrui en face, non?

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Posted in Connected Life | Tagged chat, contact, e-mail, écriture, interaction, lettres, life, outils, préférence, relations, sms, société, téléphone, vie | 3 Comments