Boundaries and Outsourcing Our Brains [en]

[fr] Réflexion sur le fait que notre utilisation de la technologie consiste à déléguer certaines fonctions cérébrales (calcul, mais aussi stockage/mémoire), et sur la nécessité de chercher un équilibre dans notre connectivité en posant des limites, sans pour autant fuir dans la déconnexion complète.

I went to a lovely dinner party the other night, put together by the no-less-lovely Cathy Brooks of DoAT. At some point of the evening, we shared our thoughts on what we were seeing that qualified as “most disruptive”. Where are things going, according to the diners?

I have to admit I drew a bit of a blank in the “disruptive” department — I’m trying to quieten down these days. However, there are two things I see going on that seem important to me.

The first is that we’re outsourcing our brains. It’s an evidence — a huge amount of what computing does for us is that. The internet, mobile phones, better interfaces — all that accelerates and facilitates the process.

We don’t just use machines to outsource long complicated mathematical calculations anymore. We use them to decide where to eat. To remember what we need to do tomorrow. To know who acted in which movie. Where we met people, and when. Who they are and what they do. What we did when and where.

We’re using machines to remember stuff. Does it scare you? It doesn’t scare me that much, to be honest, because as long as that information is almost instantly available to us, does it make a big difference if it was stored in our brains or elsewhere? Have you read those SF books (like Alastair Reynolds‘s Revelation Space series — I love his stories) where humans have implants that connect them permanently to a kind of “cloud” or “network”? I mean, it’s just what we have now, with a better interface. I think we’re getting there.

We’ve been doing this with people forever. When you have a close relationship with somebody, you outsource (or delegate) some of your cognitive processes or data storage to them. I can’t remember if I read about this in Blink or The Tipping Point, but it was Malcolm Gladwell who introduced me to the idea.

In a couple, somebody is often in charge of the schedule. Or of cooking. Or of taking initiative for the holidays. Or of keeping up with movies to see. Breaking up (or losing that important other in any way) is traumatizing also because of the “data loss”. It’s a slightly utilitarian and mechanical view of relationships, of course, but it’s onto something.

The feeling of disconnect we have when away from technology (almost like a missing limb) has some kinship with the feeling of lack of access when we’re aware from our external data storage humans. “Oh, if only Andy were here, I’d just ask him X/he’d know what to do.”

Right, enough of confusing humans with machines.

The second thing that’s been on the top of my mind for the last couple of years is the question of boundaries. In an always-connected world, providing better and better interfaces with all the data out there and the spaces we store it in (machine or human), we are forced to learn boundaries. Boundaries with humans, especially when there are too many of them, and boundaries with technology.

For many of us, technology is closely linked to work, and learning to be offline is also learning to disconnect from work. Should we learn to be offline? Is it something we need? It seems obvious to us today, but I’m not sure it will be seen as that important in 10-20 years.

Do we think it’s important to spend days without electricity? Without cars (yes, but once a year)? Without cooking food? Without a roof over our head? Without newspapers or books? It’s different, you’ll say. Not that different — just that those are technologies that were born before us, and we don’t question them as much as those that appear during our adult lifetime.

Disconnecting is a radical way of avoiding the issue of having to set boundaries with technology and people. But we do not owe it to people to be available when they try to reach us. In most of our lines of work, nobody is going to die if we don’t check our e-mail. We can learn to say no, to not respond to certain requests, to not pick up the phone.

Of course we need disconnection at times. E-mail sabbaticals should become an acceptable thing in companies. For that, we need more people who have the guts to do it (responsibly of course). I found that spending a week offline helps reset normalcy. It’s easier to resist the temptation to check your e-mail first thing in the morning when you’ve spent a week without it. It’s easier to slow down when you’ve been offline for a week. I think it’s particularly useful to take these breaks when “online” and “work” are related. In a way, it just comes down to taking a “real” holiday. Just as needing time off work doesn’t mean we should aim to purge work from our lives, needing breaks from tech doesn’t mean we need to try and remove it from our lives.

I believe it is possible to remain connected and at the same time to preserve our personal space and time. Yes, that requires being able to say no, and set boundaries, but that’s simply healthy human behaviour.

Answering when addressed is etiquette that holds in a world where the physicality of space and time already sets boundaries for us — in the digital world, it needs to be rethought.

I remember this researcher who was interviewed in a Radiolab episode (probably “Deception“). He strived to not lie — you know, those social lies you say all the time. “Oh, sorry I can’t meet you for dinner next week, I’m too busy.” Instead, he would say things like (quoting from memory) “I’m sorry, but I’m not actually looking to pursue new friendships right now.” I think this kind of attitude requires courage and diplomacy. And I think that more and more, we’re going to have to learn it.

In a connected world, these social lies become more difficult. I might end up having to own up to the fact that yes, I’m there, at home, watching a DVD, available for my friends and family, but not for my clients. It’s not easy, but it’s doable.

So, I think we should go for balance, and boundaries, rather than rejection and disconnection.

A Balanced Life Has Change and Instability Built In [en]

[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.

Structured vs. Freeform Work [en]

Thanks to the endless “how we work” discussions my friend Steph and I have, I’ve understood that more than simply hanging out online less, one of the things I’ve done since I started trying to be more productive and focused with my work (through Paymo and the Pomodoro Technique) is turn everything I do for work into “must do” tasks.

I’m somebody who has impulses to do things — I’ve mentioned it in passing about blogging, but it’s valid for other things. I suddenly feel it’s important to prepare this or that document, or get back to such-and-such, or clean my desk. And — this is the important bit — I think I enjoy doing things more when they are born of an impulse or an urge rather than because they are on the list of things I must do today.

I’ve learned (with my failed experiment at having readers vote on what they wanted me to write about) that I can turn something I really want to do into something I really don’t want to do by simply putting it on a to-do list or planning a time to do it. It sucks, and in an ideal world I would function differently, but that’s obviously how it works for me. I can kill my enthusiasm by turning something into a task.

So, what to do?

I’d like to make it quite clear I don’t blame Paymo or the Pomodoro Technique. If anything, what has happened to me shows how useful these two tools are at focusing on stuff that must get done.

The problem is that I have reduced my work to “stuff that must get done”. I need to find a balance. Balance! I keep saying that. My big quest of the year seems to be balance.

Paymo is really useful for me to know where my time goes, but its negative side-effect is that it prevents me from freely drifting from one thing to another, and just following my impulse of the moment. What I’ve done for the moment is created another “client” in my list (“various”) which only has one project (“freeform”).

This allows me to put myself in “freeform work mode”, set the timer so I still have an idea of how many work hours I put in each week/day/month, but not have to worry about what I’m doing. I’m going to lose track to some extent of how much time I spend doing certain things, but at this stage I think it’s more important that I find more pleasure in work again.

The Pomodoro Technique is great for knocking down tasks, or making sure I do “maintenance work” on long-term projects where nothing is urgent right now, so I don’t fall behind. It’s great for fighting procrastination. It’s great of doing what really has to be done. But it’s too structured for me to spend my whole work time using it.

So what I’m going to try doing is work freeform in the morning — do what I feel like doing, without obsessing about productivity — and do tomatoes in the afternoon to make sure the important stuff does get done.

I’ll try to remember to report back after a few days.

Do you have any experiences or thoughts to share on working in a structured vs. freeform way? Do you need both, or favour one style? I’m interested in hearing from you about this.

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.

Les trois équilibres de l'indépendant [fr]

Je pense que l’indépendant (créatif) a besoin de trouver un équilibre sur trois plans différents, histoire de ne pas se dessécher ni péter les plombs:

  • une “hygiène de vie” laissant suffisamment de place pour respirer semaine après semaine (avoir et respecter des plages de non-travail, prendre du temps pour soi, faire du sport, manger correctement, dormir, voir des amis, passer du temps avec sa famille…)
  • des coupures pour décrocher, week-ends prolongés mais aussi vraies vacances (on m’a dit que pour vraiment se ressourcer, il fallait compter minimum trois semaines!)
  • durant le temps de travail, assez de temps pour explorer, s’amuser, rechercher, bricoler — et ne pas passer tout son temps le nez plongé dans des mandats.

Pour ma part, le côté “hygiène de vie” fonctionne assez bien, pour les coupures, je suis en train de prendre des mesures, et concernant le temps de jeu/bricolage/recherche professionnel… ces temps, ce n’est pas du tout ça.

Saint-Prex 09

Hygiène de vie

  • Je défends jalousement mes soirées et mes week-ends, même quand le boulot s’empile, sauf quelques rares situations d’exception.
  • Je fais du sport, je vois des gens, je prends des moments pour moi, je ne mange pas trop mal. J’ai en fait pas mal d’activités “non-professionnelles” dans ma vie.
  • J’ai un lieu de travail séparé de mon lieu de vie.
  • Ça n’a pas été simple d’en arriver là, j’ai déjà écrit pas mal d’articles sur mon parcours, mais je n’ai pas le courage de les déterrer juste là.


  • En 2008, j’ai commencé à prendre des week-ends prolongés à la montagne pour me ressourcer, et c’était une bonne chose. 2010, ça a passé à la trappe pour diverses raisons, mais il est temps de reprendre les choses en main.
  • Suite à des discussions que j’ai eues avec mes amis Laurent et Nicole, et sur leurs sages conseils, j’ai décidé de m’imposer au minimum un week-end prolongé (3 jours) par mois et une grosse bonne coupure (disons un mois, hop) par an.
  • Résultat des courses, j’ai établi un calendrier annuel de mes coupures. Ça ressemble à ça: je fais un break d’un mois en janvier (déjà un voyage prévu en Inde en 2011), en été, je pars une semaine en France comme ces deux dernières années, et en automne, je prévois une dizaine de jours en Angleterre pour voir amis et famille. En plus de ça, un mois sur deux je prends un simple week-end prolongé (lundi ou vendredi congé), et un mois sur deux en alternance, un plus long week-end prolongé (4-5 jours) avec option de partir quelque part.
  • J’ai posé toutes ces dates dans mon calendrier, jusqu’à début 2012.

Travail ludique

  • Je bloque un peu sur cette question: je dois prendre moins de mandats (clairement) mais du coup je crains pour le côté financier de l’affaire.
  • En fait, en regardant réalistement mes revenus (j’ai une grille sur la dernière année qui me les montre semaine par semaine) je me rends compte que je n’ai pas besoin d’avoir si peur que ça.
  • Une solution: moins de mandats qui paient relativement peu par rapport au temps/stress investi, plus de mandats mieux payés (je dis des choses logiques mais c’est pas si simple à mettre en pratique). Surtout, moins de mandats “open-ended” en parallèle, qui s’étalent sur la durée avec une charge de travail variable. (J’ai un billet en gestation là-dessus.)
  • Aussi, avoir confiance dans la dynamique qui me permet de vivre de ma passion: donner plus de priorité à sa passion attire les mandats.
  • Bref, avec mes petits calculs, je me suis rendu compte qu’en plus de mes mandats “réguliers” (annuels/mensuels), si j’avais une journée de “travail payé” (consulting, formation, coaching, conférence) par semaine je m’en tirais largement. Ça me laisse donc 3-4 jours, suivant la longueur de ma semaine, pour mes mandats courants, la gestion des clients, et ces fameuses “autres activités professionnelles pas payées” (dont ce blog fait partie).

Et vous, voyez-vous d’autres équilibres à maintenir? Avez-vous des solutions à partager pour ceux que j’ai identifiés?

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.

Finding a Balance in Office Work: Long-Term Projects [en]

[fr] Quelques réflexions sur comment je m'organise pour mon travail "de bureau", et la difficulté que j'ai à avancer sur les projets "long terme, pas urgents".

Here is an umpteenth post about my journey figuring out how to “be the boss of me” — getting work done and still having a life as a freelancer.

Honestly, I have not been doing too badly this year. It’s even been pretty good. 🙂

The other day, when I was catching up with Suw, I told her that I was now pretty competent at managing my days, but not that good at looking beyond that. What I mean is that I have a system to keep track of the next things I need to do, and I’m much better than I used to be at evaluating what can get done in a given day. I still tend to be a bit ambitious, but overall my “day plans” are pretty realistic.

Proof of that, in my opinion:

  • I now very rarely have a day where I’m “running” or “scrambling”
  • I rarely have to work during the week-end or the evening to do stuff that “absolutely needs to get done and I haven’t managed to squeeze it in yet”.

So, the next step is the week. I’m still using maker days and manager days (it’s not perfect, sometimes I give in and sacrifice a maker day, but overall I’m getting increasingly better at sticking to my plan). What I’d like to think about here (you read me right, I’m writing this post to think something over) is what I do (or try to do) during my office “maker” days.

Here’s what I’ve identified so far:

  1. daily business: checking e-mails, taking phone calls, hanging out on Twitter/IM, responding to prospective clients, journalists, people who want to pick my brains, dealing with little emergencies, reading stuff online
  2. “regular” paid work: these are gigs that are long-term and require a little work every day or every week at least, and therefore fall in the “daily business” category too, but are for a client who is paying
  3. my projects: taking care of eclau, Bloggy Fridays
  4. my “promotional” stuff: blogging, keeping my websites up-to-date (technically and content-wise — ahem), writing, planning ebooks but not writing them, preparing general documentation to promote what I do to prospective clients, research
  5. accounting and administrivia: personal and professional, including writing to the gérance to ask them to change the windows so we can save on heating
  6. support network: I have a bunch of friends I’m in regular contact with to talk things over (their things, my things)

OK, the list is a bit messy, but it’s a start. I know that one thing that can usually “kill” an office day is when I’m asked to do a one-off, time-limited gig by a client: for example, a 2-4 hour WordPress training/coaching session. The reason for that is that this kind of gig pays immediately: shortest path to money. So usually, when I make exceptions and kill a maker day, it’s because there is immediate money at stake (as long as it doesn’t compromise the work I need to do for my “regular” paying clients, of course).

Items 1, 2, 3 and 6 of the list above are not really a source of trouble right now. I mean, that’s what I spend my time doing.

Items 4 and 5, on the other hand, are problematic: I keep falling behind. In the case of accounting and administrivia, as they are something I get in trouble about if I don’t do them for long enough, every now and again I go “gosh, am behind, gotta spend a day on it” and I get it done. But I have trouble with regularity (less and less though, to be fair with myself).

The big painful one is what I call “my promotional stuff”. It’s long-term. If I don’t do it, there are no direct consequences. It does not involve other people. Summary:

  • it’s for me, so it tends to end up less high priority than all the rest that is “for others”;
  • no time constraints, so it is less high priority than emergencies and deadlines;
  • some of it is actually difficult for me (preparing promotional copy for example).

So, here are some of the items that are on this long-suffering list of things I want to do but never get around to doing because there is always more urgent stuff to take care of:

  • upgrade WordPress and plugins on a bunch of my sites
  • do something about the horribly out-of-date content on my professional site (organize another WPD?)
  • get a proper lifestream up and running (as Nathalie aptly put it earlier this morning, “FriendFeed is nice and all, but I never go there”)
  • start writing the blasted ebook 😉
  • write more fiction
  • write up shiny material explaining what I do (including “terms and conditions”) that I can send or give out to my clients and prospects (including sending stuff to schools saying “I give talks” and “looking for somebody to teach a few hours on social media over the next academic year?”)
  • catch up with my photo uploading on Flickr (in a way, yes, this also ends up being a “promotional” activity)
  • blog more (you’re getting tired of hearing it, but look, it’s working).

I’ve tried a few times to state (to myself, that is) “Friday afternoon is for administrivia and accounting” but weeks are so short that my resolve usually falls down the drain. I’m thinking that I should firewall time to work on these “longer-term” projects each week — but again, I look at my calendar and think “ugh”. A day a week? Sounds like a minimum when I look at the list right above, but quite impossible when I think of what my usual weeks are like. On the other hand, I do have (what feels to me like) quite a relaxed workstyle, so maybe if I did firewall a day off I’d discover I’m perfectly capable of dealing with the rest of my work on the other four days.

So, the questions for me remain:

  • how many office days vs. meeting days in a week? (right now I try to have three office days, but don’t always manage)
  • what’s the best way to build in time for long-term projects which tend to stagnate at the bottom of the priority list? (firewall a day or half a day off each week, or every two weeks, or something else…)

Dear readers: your insight is much appreciated. How do you do this? Do you do it? What have you tried? How did you fail? How did you succeed?

A Thought or Two on Social Capital [en]

A couple of weeks ago, I was having a nice afternoon in Geneva (a surprise for me!) sipping an ice tea on the terrace of a café in the Quartier des Bains. The people around the table were interesting, as was the conversation. At one point, I was trying to explain how I viewed “social capital” and the meritocratic nature of the connected lifestyle.

As with many things, the Internet has not really created anything new, but given more visibility or weight to something that already exists in the offline world that everybody knows.

As an individual, I have certain connections with other individuals, and a certain reputation. If I’m respected and appreciated, then I have a certain amount of social capital that I can either accumulate or “spend”.

Here’s an example of “spending” some of my social capital: I’m organizing a conference and ask people to blog about it or introduce me to possible sponsors. In “normal” speech, we’d simply say I’m asking for favours — and that’s what it is.

The amount of favours people will do me depends on how much “social capital” I have — how much they respect, regard, appreciate me. It’s pretty simple, really. “Social capital” is just an expression (like “whuffie”) used to give a name to this “thing” that people have more or less of, and which gives them power as an individual in their network.

Social capital can be well spent, or dilapidated. It can also be lost by doing stupid things (the kind of things that “ruin a reputation”). I think it’s a better expression than “popularity” or “reputation” because it stands a chance of being understood as multi-dimensional.

Getting Back on the FlyLady Wagon [fr]

[en] Après un peu de relâchement dû à une période de gros stress, j'essaie de me remettre en mode "FlyLady". Routine du matin et du soir, 15 minutes de débordélisation de l'appart, etc.

Earlier this year I discovered FlyLady and immediately started following some of her advice, quite successfully. I went through a phase of feeling really on top of my life: I had an eye on my finances, I was sleeping, eating, and exercising sufficiently, I had quite a lot to do at work and I was doing it well, and my flat was getting uncluttered, 15 minutes at a time.

Then I went through a hectic few days applying for a consultancy at the UN, being interviewed for it and completing an assignment (which I overdid). I dropped everything to get it done (the deadlines were short) and I realized recently that I never quite managed to regain my balance after that.

I’ve been feeling an itch to get things back in shape these last weeks. I still clean my sink every evening (almost) and make my bed in the morning, but a lot of the rest of my morning and evening rituals has gone through the window.

Here’s my plan:

– morning: get up, 30 minutes on the exercise bike, shower, get dressed, breakfast
– evening: clean sink, plan the next day

Next things I’m going to add are:

– 15 minutes of uncluttering per day
– regular book-keeping (have to figure out what frequency is good, but I suspect once a week or a fortnight)
– plan my laundry days better to include time to put dry clothes away the next day
– regular creative writing slots (50 word stories etc)
– regular “self-promotion” project slots
– weekly “quick flat clean”

(Not all in one go, of course, but those are the next goals on my radar.)

Working Too Much or Not Enough? [en]

[fr] J'ai souvent du mal à savoir si je travaille trop ou pas assez. Mon entourage me donne les deux retours.

I’m very bad at evaluating how much I work. Not in the sense that I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent in the office or on a given project (I know how to look at the clock and add up, even if I don’t usually bill for my time) — but more as in I don’t really know if I’m slacking or “working hard”.

There are days where I feel that I have been working hard for weeks or months. But then there are others where I look at my lifestyle and find it pretty relaxed, overall.

People around me also have differing opinions: sometimes I get the feedback that I should take my work more seriously (“work harder!”) and sometimes — more often, I have to admit — I get amazement or admiration for the amount of things I’m doing.

I guess this ambivalence in my auto-evaluation reflects an ambivalence in my attitude towards work. Part of me has a heavy workaholic streak (I can get “lost” in work easily, and tend to be a little obsessive and perfectionist, which results in difficulty stopping once I get started) but another part of me strongly resists working a lot and wants to have free time and a leisurely pace of life (that was already the case when I was in school: good enough grades, but never really liked studying too hard).

And in the end, what is working “enough”? I think there are cultural standards here, and that “working hard” in the US (for example) is not exactly the same thing as “working hard” here in Europe.