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How I work

On this page, I describe my “organization” setup. Methodology, habits, how I use tools in order to get my job done and stay under control. I like to experiment new ideas, methods to improve the way I work. This post is updated periodically based on changes I make.

First, here’re 3 key principals: habits, simplicity, digital.

The power of habits

All my organization is based on habits.

Our days are a succession of decisions to be made for every aspect of the life.

As we all have a finite amount of willpower, we develop habits (good or bad). My objective is to influence my habits, understand them and develop “good ones” that will make me more efficient.

All this is very well explained in this book: “The power of habit“. It’s also a key concept developed by Leo Babauta in his books and his blog “zen habits“.

I’ve “strong” habits I’ll follow day after day, week after week, month after month.

These habits are key as they are the basement. When I start to lose control (because of too heavy stress, work overload, sickness, …) I can detect it because these habits will be impacted.

I’ve built these strong habits over the years: wake-up early to have 30 minutes alone to launch my day, read the news… or keep my email inbox empty (see after “how I manage emails”).

I also have “soft” habits. These are new habits I’ll create on purpose to progress,  test new things, and also have some fun. These habits are experimental and may disappear. For example this year I’ve decided to ‘learn’ things, so I put in place habits like ‘code every day’ for 1 month.

The power of simple

I’m an engineer, so I like complicated things. Over the years I’ve learned that in term of personal organization a key is to be very simple.

Every time I try complicated processes (for example too complicated way of taking notes), I’ll stop it after few weeks. So I always try to keep things simple, basic.

First time I read it, I loved the “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. But after using it, I realized that this method is way too complicated for me. The result is that each time I try, I’ll implement it for few weeks but then will fail.,

I prefer the “simplified” version by Leo Babauta: Zen to Done. If you did not read it yet, please read it.

Back on January ’12 when I started to implement it I published a series of posts. You can read it to understand the process I used to make this a habit I’ll not follow. 6 years after, I’m still using it.

The power of digital

All my setup is based on digital tools. I tend to be paperless and I’m very happy about it as it gives me a lot of freedom. Freedom to always have all my information with me, freedom to work from where I want.

At home, I’ve a scanner that helps me to transform all incoming paper into a digital version.

I keep an updated list of the hardware and software I use here: setup.

 

Let’s discuss the key “processes”: Todo lists, emails, agenda

How I manage my todo lists.

I’ve few key principles

  • A unique place where all my actions are recorded. Of course, for me, it’s a digital tool. I’m quite consistent using todoist for that. It’s important to be able to input an action very quickly, easily, Todoist is good for that on my phone and also in Chrome using the very good extension.
  • Store all actions in the system. I create tons of actions, even small ones. It helps me to keep my mind as empty as possible and to be sure I have a place that records things for me.
  • regular review: weekly deep review of all actions, and also daily review to define the 3 things I’ve to accomplished that day (the MITs from ZTD)
  • monitor achievements. I found that keeping a view of how many actions are late, how many actions I’ve closed is key to remind me I’ve to stay under control and reward me. For that, the todoist “karma” is a very powerful tool.

 

How I manage my emails

I’ll not explain here why emails overload is a pain for everybody.

My principle is to keep in mind that emails tend to become a to-do list where priorities are set for you by others (just sending an email).

This is wrong and very inefficient. My objective is then to consider emails as “inputs” that I’ve to take into account based on their importance.

The first thing is to limit the number of inputs.

I do not receive any newsletter (if I do, I always click “unsubscribe”) as I want to choose when I want to read the news.

I use Gmail and love the “automatic” filtering that decides for me emails go in “promotion” or “notification” sections. I’ll never read these emails.

I’ll process the inbox by batch. My objective is to go fast. For each email, if I’ve nothing to do, I just archive it. If I have something to do (give an answer, forward it to someone, …) and I can do it in less than 2 minutes, I do it, if it’s more than 2 minutes, I send it to todoist.

Often I do it in chrome. Using Gmail keyboard shortcuts is key to go fast.

I’ve few “formatted” emails I use to answer faster (for example to say “Thank you I’m not interested” in a gentle manner).

How I manage my agenda

It’s a strong habit.

Every Monday 8 am I’ll review the agenda for the week and “clean” it.

I’ll say “no” to all meetings to which I feel I can avoid going.

I’ll challenge the duration of meetings “Are you sure we need 60 minutes for that ?”

I’ll also quickly review the agenda for the next week to anticipate important things.

My objective is to have an “empty agenda” where I’ve few meetings but also tons of empty slots. For sure these empty slots will be filled with unexpected discussions, meetings, …