Getting Daily Business Out of the Way [en]

[fr] Je ressens généralement le besoin d'être à jour avec les "affaires courantes" avant d'attaquer le travail "proprement dit", comme lorsque j'avais besoin de ranger ma chambre ou mon appart avant de commencer à étudier pour mes examens, lorsque j'étais étudiante. Je ne suis pas sûre si c'est une bonne ou une mauvaise chose.

Over the last months, I’ve noticed how important it is for me to keep more or less up-to-date with daily business before dealing with “proper work”. Like when I was a student, and I needed to clean the flat before getting to work on my exams.

Non-done daily business floats about in your brain and distracts you. It’s the stuff you might forget to add to your next action lists because you do them pretty regularly all the time, like checking e-mail, responding to the easy ones, writing down expenses, keeping your desk clean, getting back to people who leave voicemail, writing a blog post.

This is the stuff that I’ve got in the habit of dealing with pretty much as soon as it comes in.

Maybe it should go on my lists too (in pure GTD terms, it should probably).

I’m not sure if this is a good or a bad thing.

It is linked, in a way I don’t quite grasp yet, to what I’m going to talk about in the next post of my procrastination series: getting into the habit of doing certain things immediately.

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

[fr] Je continue ma série d'articles sur mon voyage pour me libérer de la procrastination. Deux méchanismes importants que j'ai compris: premièrement, que j'ai tendance à me décourager dès que je fais une petite entorse à une "bonne résolution" ou une nouvelle "bonne habitude" que je me suis fixée. Du coup, je m'entraine à faire de petites entorses et à reprendre l'habitude en question, pour ne pas me retrouver démunie quand la vie me bombarde d'imprévus comme elle a tendance à le faire. Deuxièmement, j'ai identifié que quand je suis bloquée, c'est souvent que je suis stressée, et souvent par une chose précise que j'ai à faire. Identifier cette chose (et identifier que je suis bloquée parce que je suis stressée) suffit en général à me "débloquer" (quand je fais la chose en question).

In this third post about my journey out of procrastination (you might want to read part 1, “Five Principles” and part 2, “Perfectionism, Starting, and Stopping”) I’m going to talk about two things that I noticed happened to me regularly, and which are clearly expressions of the perfectionism and starting/stopping components of procrastination discussed in my last post.

Both are pretty straightforward to understand but it’s worth keeping an eye open for them. I think change is a lot about paying attention to things that didn’t seem all that important in the first place.

When I was a teenager, I switched from using exercise books at school to individual sheets of paper. I did that because I had noticed that as soon as I had an “off” day and was a bit sloppy in my exercise book, I would lose all motivation to continue making the effort to take clean notes (I was a pretty sloppy kid in general). The link to perfectionism is obvious here, right?

Now, way past my teenager years, I still get thrown off easily when I’m on a roll. For example, if I decide to do something every day and I skip a day, I tend to give up. I try to keep my flat clean, but as soon as it starts becoming a little messy, I stop making any efforts. I keep track of what I spend, but if I forget for a few days, then it’s “not worth it” anymore. Perfectionism. All-or-nothing.

I hope you can see that this way of functioning is just not viable, as it puts a huge strain on never making any mistakes or skipping a class. You end up either not trying because you know you won’t be able to live up to the “no fault” standards, or trying and failing, which just proves once more how hopeless you are. And you procrastinate. You don’t put in place habits which will help you stop procrastinating the changes you want to make in your life.

One way I’ve found around this is to do things imperfectly on purpose. For example, I got an exercise bike this summer and I do 30 minutes on it every morning. “Every morning” is the rule, but in practice, I skip a day every now and again. Once a week, on average. Maybe twice. Sometimes I go for four days without touching the bike. I also have a little routine I’ve built up over time which I do after my cycling: sit-ups, stretching, etc. Most of the time I do it, but not always. Sometimes I only do part of it. Sometimes I skip it entirely and only do the bike.

The dangerous and difficult test was the first time I skipped a day. I’d been using the bike daily for 10 days and was very happy with myself. What would happen if I skipped a day? Would I never touch the bike again? Would I continue like before after my day off? Well, I continued. Then I went on vacation for a week. I didn’t use the bike on the first day (I was too tired), but I did on the second day.

Now, this might sound in contradiction with my enthusiasm about putting habits into place and having morning/evening routines that you stick to. But habits and routines, in my opinion, are fragile if they are not resilient to disruption. If you have an exercise habit that you stick to every day no matter what, what’s going to happen to it when you end up in bed with the flu, and it takes you two weeks to be functional again? Will you really pick it up again? Or will you drop it?

It’s not because I skip a day (or two, or three, or a week) that I’m going to give up.

I know that I’m not good at coping with unexpected stuff, and changes. I’ll be in a phase where I have a good life rythm, a good balance, and then something happens that stresses me out and forces me to change my schedule completely for two days, and it’ll take me weeks (if not months) to get back on my feet again to where I was before.

So I want to make sure that my life habits, my “processes”, those that keep me from accumulating a backlog of procrastination-friendly material, are disruption-proof. I think I first got this idea from Merlin Mann’s “Back to GTD” series: yes, you’ll fall off the wagon, but you can climb back on. It’s one of the things I like with GTD (and my partial implementation of it): it’s not very difficult to start doing it again once you’ve stopped.

Maybe exercising is not the best example to use, as nothing “piles up” (except guilt, breathlessness, and a waistline) if you don’t exercise — but it’s a very good case study for me of how, six months later, I am still doing something I decided to do regularly, even if I am prevented from doing so every now and again.

This is actually an excercise in starting and stopping. You learn to interrupt your habit, and pick it up again. Interrupt, start again. At first, you make the interruption easy: on purpose, just once. You become good at starting again. That means that if for some reason you have to stop, then you can start again. (Am I repeating myself?)

For example, I learned that with my exercise bike, if I’m feeling tired or haven’t done it for a few days, I just aim to pedal for 30 minutes. Never mind if I’m below my usual heart-rate. Never mind if I don’t perform well. I just spend 30 minutes on the bike, and I’m off the hook. And although I have now (gradually!) built this wonderful post-bike routine, well, I’m not going to let the size of it discourage me: if I feel a bit under the weather or lazy, I remember that the important thing here is the bike, and it’s ok if that’s all I do. The rest is optional.

The second thing I noticed I was often faced with was the fact that I fall into this “rut” of not-doing, and at some point “manage” to do something, and I become unstuck. Once that first thing was done, the rest followed. For a very long time the process seemed a little magical, because as you know if you suffer from procrastination, when you’re stuck in there, it can really seem (and be) impossible to simply do something. At some point I started figuring out how to get unstuck — and more importantly, how I got stuck.

One of the important things I understood was that when I’m stressed, I get depressed. When you’re depressed, by definition, you have no energy to do things. So, once I’d understood that, I very quickly started asking myself, when I felt in the rut, “what is stressing me?” — and often, the answer was “something I need to do”. One trick I sometimes use is the “cringe list”: write down a list of all the things that are on my conscience and that make me cringe so much when I think about them that I do everything I can not to think about them.

The next step, after identifying the source of my stress, is to actually do something about it, which in many cases (gasp!) means doing the thing I dread the most. But knowing it’s going to get me unstuck often helps — and if it’s not enough, I have a few tricks up my sleeve (like buddy-working or 15 minute timer dashes) to help me. Sometimes the “thing I need to do” seems unrelated to the other things stuck in the procrastination queue. For example, I have a whole lot of work to do, but what’s blocking me is that I need to clean the flat or go shopping before. You’ve probably been there already ;-).

“How do I get stuck” is a trickier question. Usually, it’s because when things are going well, I relax, and stop paying as much attention to how I manage my life (and things, and todos). This allows weeds to start growing in the backyard. Put clearly, I start letting things slip a little, and only “do something about it” once it gets bad enough and I’m stuck. This means that when things are going well, I still need to stay focused on keeping up with what I need to do: it doesn’t work magically, it requires effort all the time.

I have noticed that taking a moment at the beginning of each day to look at what I need to do and make sure I can do the most urgent things helps me not have these “OMG I’d forgotten this really important thing I must do!” moments. Weekly planning helps even more, and my ambition for 2010 is to go beyond that: less fire fighting, being more proactive. I’m aware we’re soaring above simple procrastination issues here, but it’s important to see all the ramifications and how “procrastination” as an identified problem sits with all sorts of other “life organisation” topics.

L'importance du temps structuré [fr]

[en] I've realised that I feel better when my time is at least somewhat structured, so I need to figure out how to manage my "free time" (when there is lots of it, like during this staycation/holistay) a bit differently than "not plan anything and see what I feel like doing".

Ces derniers mois, et je dirais même cette dernière année, j’ai fait des progrès énormes en ce qui concerne la gestion de mon temps. Par cela, je veux dire que j’ai cessé de courir, cessé d’être aussi stressée, cessé de jouer toujours toujours toujours les pompiers. J’ai une vision assez claire, sur le court terme, de ce que je dois faire, je le fais, et en grande partie grâce au fait que j’ai maintenant un bureau séparé de mon appartement, j’ai aussi récupéré mes soirées, mes week-ends, et même des mini-vacances au chalet.

Bref, ça va plutôt bien et je suis très contente de moi.

Par contre, je remarque pendant cette période des fêtes, où j’ai décidé de lever le pied et de prendre des “vacances à la maison”, que si j’ai bien réussi à trouver un équilibre durant ma vie “travaillée”, ce n’est pas si simple pour le temps de loisir. J’avais d’ailleurs déjà constaté ça, à plus petite échelle, lors d’un ou deux week-ends très très tranquilles.

Je me rends donc compte que j’ai besoin de structurer mon temps (jusqu’à un certain point!) pour me sentir bien. Ça ne veut pas dire que je dois faire en sorte d’avoir un “programme” qui remplit ma vie du début à la fin, mais les longues journées de “libre” qui se suivent, ce n’est pas top non plus.

Tiens, c’était déjà pas top durant les longues vacances d’été interminables quand j’étais enfant.

J’ai aussi appris à quel point il est important pour moi d’avoir un minimum de routine dans mes journées.

Du coup, je réalise que j’ai besoin de gérer légèrement autrement mon temps de loisir, et de m’éloigner un peu du “je ne planifie rien et regarde d’un moment à l’autre ce que j’ai ‘envie’ de faire” — ça marche pour une journée (le week-end) mais pas pour bien plus longtemps que ça.

Solution? Pas encore tout à fait trouvée, mais j’y réfléchis, c’est la première étape!

La règle des deux minutes [fr]

[en] I write a weekly column for Les Quotidiennes, which I republish here on CTTS for safekeeping.

Chroniques du monde connecté: cet article a été initialement publié dans Les Quotidiennes (voir l’original).

Après deux chroniques un peu méditatives, je me permets de vous servir cette semaine un petit truc pratique: la règle des deux minutes.

Elle est très simple: si quelque chose prend moins de deux minutes à faire, faites-le tout de suite.

Puis, pour égayer votre journée, je vais vous donner un peu de contexte et des recommandations de lecture (anglophones, donc sortez vos dictionnaires ou filez vite faire un petit séjour outre-Manche pour rafraîchir votre anglais!)

Chez les geeks et les gens bien connectés d’aujourd’hui, il y a un grand amour pour les méthodes dites “de productivité”. Allez savoir si c’est à force de vivre dans un monde numérique où le temps ne se déroule pas à la même vitesse que dans le monde extérieur (“Quoi? Ça fait trois heures déjà que je suis devant l’ordi?!”), ce qui ne manque pas d’avoir des conséquences parfois désastreuses sur la gestion du temps, ou bien parce que le cerveau cyber-compatible est excité à l’idée de systématiser la gestion de sa vie, mais toujours est-il que la productivité ainsi que la lutte contre la procrastination et la désorganisation sont des thèmes récurrants dans le monde connecté.

A coups de blog ou de Twitter, on se refile en effet les adresses de sites comme 43folders ou FlyLady, et les livres tels que “The Now Habit“, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People“, et surtout “Getting Things Done” (abrégé GTD, disponible en français sous le titre “S’organiser pour réussir“) finissent immanquablement par se retrouver dans nos bibliothèques, ou du moins sur nos listes de lecture.

La règle des deux minutes est tirée directement de GTD. En très très résumé, un des éléments importants de GTD est de séparer la réception d’une tâche à faire ou d’une demande (on la met dans la “boîte de réception”), la décision quant à ce qu’on va en faire (jeter, classer, déléguer, mettre sur une liste la prochaine action concrète pour avancer), et le moment où l’on fait les choses.

La seule exception à ce processus, ce sont justement les tâches très courtes. S’il me faut moins de deux minutes pour accomplir une tâche, la mettre dans mon “système” et l’en ressortir le moment venu prendra en fait plus de temps que ça. Autant donc s’épargner du travail en évitant tout simplement que la petite tâche en question se retrouve sur une des ces maudites listes de choses à faire!

Une remarque toutefois: l’utilisation de la minuterie s’impose, afin de ne pas se retrouver encore à la tâche trente minutes plus tard…

Quatre points de départ en français sur GTD pour creuser un petit peu:

Weekly Planning: Third Week (Learning Steps) [en]

Here we are — I’ve completed my third “planned” week since I started looking a bit further ahead than the current day (first week, second week, passing thoughts). Gosh, it was a busy week. I had only two office days, and I realize that it is not quite enough.

Around me, I’m faced either with people who are used to planning their weeks and find it normal, or people who could never dream of doing it, so busy are they putting out fires day after day.

I was like that for a long time. How did I get where I am now? I’ve been thinking a lot about which were the “first steps” on the road from chaos to “planning”.

Oh, before I forget: when I say I plan my week, I mean that I have a rough outline of what I am going to accomplish during the week, and on what day. It doesn’t go any further than that. Like when I “plan” my day, I don’t decide “I’m going to spend between 9 and 9.30 doing this, then do that for 20 minutes”. I know what I want to accomplish in the day, and go from there.

So, back to what brought me here, let me mention a few landmarks or “important steps” you might want to meditate upon if you are currently too busy putting out fires to even dream of planning your week. They’re in no particular order, because I think I haven’t quite finished figuring this out yet. If you spot one that seems doable, then start with that one.

  • Protect yourself. Set a very high priority on keeping “downtime” aside for yourself. Of course there are very busy periods where you won’t get much, but this shouldn’t be your “normal” week. Don’t answer the phone during lunch break, for example. Book an evening a week for yourself, and tell people who want to see you then that you “already have something planned”. Learn to become more comfortable about making people wait. If you always put others first you’ll just burn in the fire.
  • Set maker days and manager days. Yesterday evening, Claude pointed out to me that this was one of my first obvious steps towards weekly planning, back in April. It’s obvious: once you start having a clearer plan of how much actual time you’re going to have in the office to work on projects, it helps you not overcommit.
  • Under-promise, over-deliver. I can’t remember who recommended this, but it stuck with me. It helps me fight against my natural tendancy to underestimate the amount of time I need to deliver something. So I figure out a reasonable estimate, and then add a lot of security padding to give myself space for bad planning and other emergencies.
  • Everything takes more time than you think. I think David Allen says this somewhere in Getting Things Done, but I could be misquoting. It could be Nassim Nicholas Taleb in The Black Swan, too. Or Merlin Mann. Anyway: the unexpected almost always adds time to things. And in the cases where it doesn’t and actually reduces the time you need for something, it’s no big disaster (OMG! I have too much time to do this! I’m going to die!). So, add a lot of padding to any estimation of how much time something is going to take you. It’s always more than you think. Try doubling your initial estimate, for starters, and see if that improves things.
  • End your day by looking at tomorrow. This is something I got from FlyLady when I realised it was important for me to have a “getting started” (=morning) and a “winding down” (=evening) routine. She recommends including 10 minutes in your evening routine to prepare the next day: check the train timetable, know what appointments you have, etc. It’s easy to do, and it means you’re not diving blind into tomorrow anymore.
  • Learn to say no. This is the really hard one for most people. I’ve become pretty good at saying no, but I’ve come a long way: initially, I was somebody who said yes to almost everything. I was both enthusiastic about all sorts of things and terrified of hurting people by refusing their requests. So I didn’t say no. I’ll probably blog about this more extensively at some point (I already did in French), but the important thing to remember is that as long as you have trouble saying no, you will not escape fire fighting. One thing that really helped me learn to say no was to start by never immediately accepting anything. Say you’ll answer in 24 hours. Then I used that time to have a long hard think about how I keep saying yes to stuff I want to do to help out, and then end up procrastinating, not doing it, feeling horrible because deadlines slip, etc. That usually gave me enough courage to say no.
  • Have a list. You can go all GTD or only part-way, like I have, but you need some kind of system or list to capture the things you need to take care of. Learn the difference between a project and a next action, and list only the latter. To start your list, just write/type down all the stuff that’s bubbling at the top of your brain and stressing you out. If you think of something you need to do while you’re working, add it to the list. Ask a friend to hold your hand (it can be through IM) if your list gets too scary. Trust me, it’ll be better when it’s written down — anything is better than being an ostrich.
  • Learn to prioritize. I have huge problems with this (in other areas of my life too). When it comes to work-related stuff, here are a few rules of thumb I use. Invoicing is high priority, because it’s what brings in the money and it’s not very long to do. Anything really time-sensitive is also high priority (if I don’t announce tomorrow’s meetup today, it won’t be any use, will it?) Responding to potential clients. Paid work for clients with deadlines, of course. Asking questions like “what is the worst thing that will happen if I don’t do this today?” or “on this list, is there any item which is going to cause somebody to die if I don’t do it?” (start with “to die” and then work down on the ladder of bad things — thanks Delphine for that tip) also helps. This doesn’t mean you need to order your lists. It’s just to help you figure out where to start.
  • Admit when you’re in over your head. If you over-promised, said yes when you really should have said no, and basically find yourself incapable of keeping up with your commitments, tell the people involved. And use that safety padding again. If you told the client it would be done by Wednesday, and on Monday you already have that sinking feeling that it won’t be possible, tell the client. Apologize. Say you messed up if you have. If you’re pretty certain you can get it done by Friday, tell them that it’ll be done Monday. See? Safety padding. Under-promising. Of course this doesn’t work in all situations, but you might simply not have a choice — and it’s better to be upfront about a deadline slipping than keeping it silent. Not just for the relationship with the client, but for your learning and growing process. Same with money: if you need invoices paid earlier than you initially asked because you have cashflow issues, ask. If you can’t pay the bill, ask for a payment plan. Somebody might say yes.
  • You can only do so much in a day. At some point, you reach the end of the day. Either it’s time, or you’re tired, but at some point, the day is done. Pack up and go home. Watch TV. Eat. (Maybe not in that order.) Do something nice. Take a bath. First of all, it’s no use working yourself silly until ungodly hours, you just won’t get up the next morning, or if you do, you won’t be productive. Second, doing this will help you “grow” a feel for what can be done in a day.
  • Plan your day. At the beginning of the day, look at your list, and think about the 2-3 important things that you want to accomplish today. Rocks and pebbles might help. Forget all the rest and get cracking on those. You’ll be interrupted, you’ll have emergencies, of course. That’s why it’s important not to plan to do too much — or you’re setting yourself up for failure. I started doing this regularly this spring, first with index cards, then with a list in Evernote. At the beginning you’ll be crap at it, but after months of practice, you get better. And this is one of the building stones you’ll need to be able to plan your weeks at some point.
  • Save time for the unexpected. When I was teaching, I did quite a bit of time planning — I knew when I was in class and when I had “downtime” to prepare courses and mark tests. Doing that, I realized that I could not perfectly plan my time. There was always “unexpected” stuff coming up. So I started making sure I had empty time slots of “surprises”. At some point during the last year, I calculated that roughly half my time was taken up by “unexpected” things and “emergencies”. Now, it’s less, because I’m better at planning. So, depending on how deep in chaos you are, you want to make sure you leave enough “free time” in whatever planning you’re doing to accomodate everything you didn’t know about or hadn’t thought about. As organisation increases and stress goes down, the “things to do” will get more under control and there will be less and less emergencies — but it’s still important to leave “breathing space”.

This is more or less all I can think of for the moment. Is it useful to anybody? I like to think it would have been useful to me, but one can never know… would I have listened?

Weekly Planning, Two Weeks [en]

[fr] Après deux semaines de planning hebdomadaire, je vois que j'ai été un peu trop ambitieuse cette semaine. Ça va s'arranger!

So here I am, at the end of my second “planned” week. As I suspected, I was a little ambitious this time around. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • writing a blog post for a client takes up the better part of half a day; sometimes it’s way less, but I mustn’t count on it
  • sorting through 300+ photos also takes up the better part of half a day
  • I need to remember that days with judo are short, as I need to leave the office around 5pm

As I planned “too much”, I ended up giving priority to client work and things others were expecting from me over my personal projects. It sucks, but it’s kind of normal. If I have too much stuff to do “for others” in a week, it means that

  • either I have been saying “yes” too easily
  • or I have not done enough of it over the previous weeks (lack of foresight).

Learning to say “no” more (when necessary) is an ongoing process, and I’m pretty proud at how far I’ve come. It is just not a viable option to say yes to everyone and everything, or you disappear in the process. (Merlin’s time and attention talk, which I’ve started watching, touches upon this.)

As for foresight, it requires longer term planning. Having a view of one’s month, or of the two weeks to come. However, I’m not there yet. It’s no use trying to plan further ahead until I’m at least a brown belt in weekly planning — just as it would have made little sense for me to try and plan my weeks when I was still struggling with the idea of planning my days somewhat. It’s an incremental process, step-by-step.

The fact that I’m not planning beyond the week right now also allows me to relax a bit about the stuff I haven’t got done this week. It’s not like I already have a plan for next week and it’s going to be all disrupted by what I didn’t do this week. I’m going to put the “undone” things back in my master lists, and reevaluate if I’m doing them next week or not.

I Need to Blog! [en]

[fr] Ma vie a pris une jolie forme cette année. Par contre, j'ai un peu négligé mon blog ces derniers temps (je ne dis pas ça par culpabilité, mais parce qu'un sentiment de "j'ai besoin de bloguer!" vient de me prendre aux tripes).

Here we are again. Another long break on CTTS (unplanned, as always) and another “OMG I need to blog more!” post.

But this isn’t a “I feel guilty, my poor readers, I’ve abandoned you” one. I don’t do those, you should know by now.

No, it’s a cri du coeur: I just sent this tweet a few minutes ago, and immediately after was overcome by an urge to blog — 140 characters just didn’t cut it.

I’ve been working too much these last weeks — enjoying life, too, though. I honestly have a very good (happy) “work-life” balance (yeah, I know the expression is loaded, bear with me). But I miss writing here, and I’ve only just realized to what extent.

Once before — OK, maybe more than once — I took the decision to start my work day by writing a blog post. I did it for some time (my excuses, I can’t dig it out of my archives, see the sad mess my blog still is). But then stress shows up again, and emergencies, and… I stop.

I think that the problem with writing a blog post to start off the day is that it can be pretty quick (this one is only taking maximum 15 minutes or so of my time) but it can also take half a day. So, maybe I need to do it this way:

I will start my workday by writing a blog post, but if after an hour of blogging I have not hit “Publish” I will save my post and continue it on the next day.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about is that I need to build in time for research and fooling around online into my weeks. At this stage, I’ve successfully managed to:

  • have a morning and evening routine and regular sleeping hours
  • exercise 30 minutes on my bike every day (give or take one a week, roughly)
  • take lunch breaks
  • have an end to my business day
  • separate maker days and manager days
  • plan regular mini-vacations (a few days at the chalet)
  • have a social life (yes!)
  • have “downtime” for myself at home
  • unclutter the worst parts of my flat in 15-minute increments
  • clean the flat roughly once a week
  • keep my inbox regularly empty, or at least under one screenful
  • set up a “next action” list system, which, whilst not kosher GTD, works pretty well for me
  • keep my accounting up-to-date and my finances in order.

Two years ago, none of this was working. I’m pretty proud of how far I’ve come! So, next missions: blogging and research.

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.

How I Get Organized [en]

[fr] Comment je m'organise, quels outils et méthodes me conviennent. Ces temps, un doux mélange de GTD et de FlyLady, avec des petites cartes éparpillées sur mon bureau pour garder en vue mes tâches prochaines, une minuterie réglée sur 15 minutes pour les gros projets ou les choses qui n'avancent pas, Buxfer pour mes finances et une certaine régularité dans mon rythme de vie.

index cards 2.0 These days, for the first time in a long time, I feel on top of things. I’ve caught up with almost all the backlog I accumulated by being sick for a month and deleting my blog by mistake. So, I thought I’d jot down some notes on how I get organized.

To my shame, I’ve never 100% implemented GTD (particularly the daily/weekly reviews), but reading the book and putting one or two systems in place has been very helpful to me. Over the last two years, I’ve used index cards (very briefly), mindmaps, iGTD, Things, more mindmaps, notebooks, and currently, more index cards. And Evernote. Here are a few words about each method.

  • index cards, version 1: when I started implementing GTD and read the book in 2006, I put all my stuff on index cards and pinned them on cork boards. It didn’t last long, I think it was just physically too cumbersome.
  • iGTD: iGTD was nice, and I used it for quite some time. I had a hard time figuring out my contexts (and sub-contexts). I had an eye-opening moment when I realised that planning tasts in project mode was really helpful (for Going Solo, for example).
  • notebooks: when things became too stressful before Going Solo, I took a notebook and listed all the stuff I needed to take care of on a page. When things were done, I crossed them out. When new things were added, I added them. When the page was too messy, I copied over what was left of the list to a clean page. This worked really really well for me — I still do it at times.
  • Things: I really liked Things. Compared to iGTD, it didn’t suffer from feature creep. I liked the way it organised things by tags. But for some reason (maybe because it’s an application on the computer?) I stopped using it (again, when things got too “urgent” in my life — after SoloCamp last autumn).
  • mindmaps: I used mindmaps at two points in my life, and one was actually before reading GTD. I like the fact that I can organise my tasks in “sectors”, and fold away branches I’m not concentrating on right now. One thing I would tend to do with my mind map is have a branch called “next” to help me focus on immediate stuff.
  • index cards 2.0: what’s been working for me these last few weeks is tiny index cards on which I write stuff I mustn’t forget or need to take care of. I put these on my desk (because I now work at my desk, a big change from the last years). And on my desk, I can pull out the 3-6 things I’m going to do today (some rocks, some pebbles), and basically spread them out and group them any way I like (it’s often quite intuitive rather than officially organised — though the separation between “now” and “later” stands).
  • Evernote: I use Evernote for some of my lists, which tended up to clutter up any kind of system I used to keep track of all my next actions: books to buy, films to see, shopping lists. I also use Evernote to capture stuff I need to add to my desk of index cards.

All these tools work for me, to varying extents, and in varying situations. The system I use now (index cards 2.0, evernote, and some notebook-lists) works well for “immediate” stuff, but it’s missing someday/maybe items.

Now, aside from the tools, here are some elements of my method — some combination of GTD and FlyLady. Here are my main take-aways:

  • thinking in terms of next actions has really helped me differentiate between projects and to-do items (GTD)
  • having an inbox on my desk (a big big basket) to collect incoming stuff and an A-Z storage system with hanging folders (GTD)
  • separating “processing time” from actual “doing time” (GTD again)
  • using the power of 15 minutes (a day! with a timer!) to make progress on daunting projects or stuff I just can’t get started on (cleaning the flat, processing the GTD-inbox to zero, stuff I’m so behind on I can’t even think of it) (FlyLady)
  • putting in place routines to give some structure to my days (an office and alarms on my iPhone help) — including not working all the time! (FlyLady)

Another element I’m really proud of is that I finally have all my finances under control. Last autumn, things were looking pretty grim, between the state of my bank account, the number of bills I had to pay, and no work lined up. My brother patiently helped me keep my head out of water (“so, here’s what’ll come in, in which bills it’ll pay”) during the end of last year, and when eclau opened, I started keeping track of all income and expenses related to it all by myself (a Google spreadsheet can do wonders to get started). Early this year, I opened a Buxfer account and am using it to track all my income and expenses (professional and personal). The wonderful thing about Buxfer is that they have an iPhone-ready site, so I can log my expenses literally the minute I spend the money. This means I’m never (or rarely) behind in doing my accounting.

I think this shows that one should never be afraid to ask for help in getting organised or getting some parts of one’s life under control — and I’d put buddy-working under that same heading. It’s often much easier to do things with other people’s company and support, rather than try to do everything alone.

Office vs. Errand Days [en]

[fr] Ma solution pour rester un peu en contrôle de mon agenda: bloquer des journées entières de travail au bureau sans rendez-vous, et concentrer tout ce qui implique sorties, courses, cours, meetings, rencontres sur d'autres journées. Etre ferme, avec soi-même tout d'abord.

These last weeks have been pretty hectic. Large amounts of stress (work and personal), slipping deadlines, contemplation of possible big changes ahead… I had the feeling that I was spending each of my days running around and not having the time to do any of all the hyper-urgent things I needed to deal with.

Now things are much calmer. I caught up with my deadlines (boy, were they running away fast!) and am much more relaxed. So, of course, it’s easy to figure out solutions that make things better and talk about them when things are better but… who knows, maybe these solutions did actually help me 😉

Actually, “this solution”: concentrate meetings and errands on given days. Book whole days in the office. Be firm with yourself. I actually put huge “booked!” meetings in my calendar. And I don’t make exceptions. Because when you start making exceptions, even with very good reasons, it’s the beginning of the end — and before long your whole week is just riddled with appointments and meetings, like a piece of old Emmental cheese.