Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Paris I miss you

Last time I was in Paris, I walked with thousand others for the freedom of expression, against those who tried to mute our journalists. I sang with them. I hoped with them it would be the last time. I witnessed compassion, love and fear.

Friday, November 13th I was running errands when our phones told us what happened. We called friends and family: most of them were not aware of the situation, safe in their homes. 

Today, I am not angry, just sad. Sad for victims, their friends and family. But also for all those who had to witness what happened: EMT, firemen, policemen, doctors, nurses... 

I am also sad for this city I love. It feels like a good time to remember what I like the most about Paris. Remember good times and laughter. 

Walking in small streets and discovering private gardens through an ajar door. The excitment of taking the train to go to Paris as a young kid. The smell of fresh baked bread. Going to see the Christmas windows. The long walks with my mom rue des Francs-Bourgeois.Visiting friends and family. The small chocolatier with its amazing creations. Being amazed by small shops where time had stopped long ago. Chosing a random café to sit and enjoy watching life go by. Stopping in the metro to listen to a talented musician. The galleries with their art you look at while walking by. Laughing at a play. Witnessing the way my dad knows everyone in the district. The kind owner of our local sushi place. The loud crowd smoking, drinking and laughing outside of bars. The incredible feeling of being in a theater on an election night. Going to the market to get fresh cheese and bread. How beautiful the city looks, day and night. The odd person you'll always see when you take the metro.

Paris, I miss you.

Friday, July 31, 2015

National Holiday(s)

This month of July was a bit special: I got to celebrate my first 4th of July and held my first Bastille Day party.

But let's start with the 4th. We didn't had any idea of the traditional (or popular) was to celebrate, but we were lucky to get guidance from our very first (and very dear) American friend, Kate.

Kate suggested that we should go to a baseball game and watch the fireworks from there. We found great tickets online and were excited to see our very first Brave game. Now, keep in mind we didn't grew up watching baseball but soccer, rugby or tennis... Hopefully Kate helped us understand the rules!

After a raining morning, we took the train (yay Marta!) to Georgia State and walked to the stadium. We were at security check right on time for the national anthem. Seeing everyone stop what they were doing was quite a surprise, albeit a good one. We grabbed drinks and took our seats. 

After a pretty eventful game started the fireworks. We were clearly impressed: very long and colorful, one of the best we've ever seen! Then it was time to go back home under the rain.

A few days later, we invited friends over for our first Bastille Day "apéritif". Let me state first that we call the French national holiday 14th of July, not Bastille Day. This name makes sense though as we are celebrating the people of Paris freeing the political prisoners of Bastille, a prison in the East of Paris. 

Traditional celebration would include for some watching (live or on TV) the military parade in Paris, barbecuing, avoiding (or not) the presidential speech on TV and going to watch fireworks in the city of your choice.

So we ended up eating French finger food while having the parade on mute on TV. A piece of home away from home and a great evening!

Here are most of what I made this day (I obviously forgot to take a picture of the crêpes...):

A ratatouille savory cake:

Oignon mini pies (the normal-sized version is called pissaladière):

Shrimp quiches (traditional version of quiche lorraine includes bacon):

One of my specialty, cheese puffs, also called gougères: 

 Red bell pepper with olive oil and parmesan:

Smoked salmon with avocado:

Mini bell peppers stuffed with crab meet and mayo:

And for sweets, we had crêpes, macaroons bought in a French bakery and almond and pears mini pies:

Good friends, good food, good times!

Friday, July 17, 2015

A monkey called procrastination

Sunday, I watched a TED Talk on procrastination by a young entrepreneur and psychology student, Vik Nithy. He explains why our brains lead us to procrastinate and how to avoid it:

Though I can be very efficient, I sometimes find myself procrastinating. I thought for a long time it was because I work better under pressure or the fear of not being able to do what I'm asked, but this video made me realize it was not the core of the problem. My number one reason for procrastinating is the fear of having nothing to do.

When workload is a bit low, I'd rather let an email sit in my inbox and process it just in time to meet the deadline than working on it as soon as I receive it - I'll find a bunch of less important tasks to do instead. At home, I'll push back ironing until 11 pm on Sunday and will watch TED talks for hours during the day instead.

I know I can work fast and without interruption to make sure I'm not late while still producing quality work. But having nothing to do, even if it's the week end and I just want to rest is actually a source of anxiety. 

That's why I postpone washing doors and baseboards this week end. We're renting so we won't do any renovation and furniture can't really be moved around as everything is in the perfect spot. So when I'm done with all those extra cleaning tasks, when I'm fully done decorating, what will be left to do around the house? What will satisfy my need for change? I should know that when I'm done, the first tasks I accomplished will need to be done again. That dust will come back and will occupy me again. That I'll find new spots to clean. That I can always do some yard work instead.

Last week at work was great: I had data to analyze, a plan to get ready to present to my subject matter expert and a clear deadline. This week, I'm almost done with my analysis and only have a few meetings planned. So how do I avoid procrastination?

  1. I define my goals: I always start by defining what I want to accomplish during the week (or the week end!). The plan may change, but at least I have my mind set on accomplishing something. I tend to book time on my calendar to make sure I work on a specific task instead of other that can be less important.
  2. I plan ahead by cutting tasks into sub-tasks: So now I have a goal. But instead of procrastinating more because I don't know where to start, I break down big tasks into smaller tasks. I make list of tests, graphs and equations to perform. I define what's the scope of my cleaning spree and in what order I want to proceed.
  3. I prep well: If I have to stop mid-task to do research, print a document or call someone to get information, chances are I'll be tempted to go back to procrastination. I apply the same rule as for baking: clean your work station, prep tools and ingredients before you start the actual baking.
  4. I don't stop until I'm done: If I stop mid sub-task, procrastination will be more tempting that going back to what I was doing. I always make sure I'm done with my sub-task before I take a break, or that I'm at a point where I'll know exactly where to pick up and what to do.
  5. I do my best to be active when I have energy: Post meal, my energy level drops (especially if I have the opportunity to nap on my couch) so I try to do as much as I can either before meals or 30 minutes after. I used to do my homework and clean my room at 10 pm as a teen: late evenings I'm energetic enough to accomplish a lot.
  6. I reward myself: Sunday, after being done with my bathroom, I enjoyed some down time napping with my cat. And after all my chores were done, the husband and I went outside to enjoy an iced coffee. I've rewarded myself with shopping (I call it self gifts), resting, food, watching a TV show I like, taking a quick break from work to clear my head...
  7. Fill next day's calendar: If my calendar for the following days is a bit empty, I'll spend time listing the tasks I need to do for my different projects. I'll book time (alone or with team members) for the following days to get what I need to get my projects moving.
This process works perfectly most of the time. When it's not enough, I think about time I missed a deadline because of procrastination (being late, not being ready enough for a test / meeting, forgetting to do something). And when neither work, I end up working under pressure to accomplish the task on time.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Of makeup and confidence

My goal is not to judge nor to criticize anyone who enjoy makeup. I love it too. I just wanted to share my thoughts and concerns about makeup and its influence on my image and my confidence.

I started using makeup every day when I started working every day. Somehow, it’s seemed a lot more important than when I was in class. I implemented a morning routine that included makeup. When I discovered YouTube make up tutorials, I felt the need to start using foundation when I didn’t really need it. Even the makeup artist at MAC told me so. Then it was filling my brows that became a necessity.

Little by little, my routine got longer, more complicated and less natural. I’d wear makeup every day and wouldn’t feel good going out without it. I felt slightly envious of the women who didn’t care and skipped most of the steps I forced myself to follow.

One Sunday, I went to my best friend’s and realized in the car you could clearly see I was wearing (lots of) foundation to a summer BBQ. It was not natural and seemed foolish when I knew it was a casual event. I started wear less makeup from that day on.

I took advantage of my coming holidays to stop wearing makeup altogether for a few weeks. Back to the office, I started to apply less foundation, layer less, fill my brows less and skip smoky eyes… I was back to natural, lighter makeup that suits me a lot more. Moving abroad also helped this process as most of my makeup stash spent almost two months travelling.

Today, I skip makeup altogether during weekends (or do my eyes only).  Same goes during holidays: if I’m not doing anything fancy and/or if I’m not feeling it, I’ll let my face bare. I traveled with my colleagues not so long ago and sported a bare face (which I wouldn’t have dared a few years ago).

Those breaks help me remember what my face looks like “au naturel” and to limit the amounts of makeup I apply on week days. They also let my skin breathe, which reduces my need for foundation. I discovered in this process that my “bad” skin was actually due to a bad foundation (a high end one, mind you). But most of all, it boosts my confidence. I’m not less beautiful without makeup, not less feminine. I still get compliments from my husband. My skin tone is even enough, my dark circles only reflect my energy level, my cheekbones are defined enough, and so are my brows.

I am worried for young girls when I see more and more people using drag queen techniques as their daily makeup (mostly heavy contouring). Not because I have anything against drag queens (because I don’t, I believe in freedom and happiness), but because those techniques are not used to be natural but to change the shape of your face. They are on purpose over the board. They are made for partying and having fun, not for every day.

How can you love your face when you’re distorting it every day by applying layer after layer of contouring bronzer and highlighter? How can you like your eyes when your changing their shape with liner and false lashes? How can you have healthy self-esteem when every ad, every magazine is modified to reflect a so called perfection?

Don't let the media, the fashion and makeup industries dictate how you should look. Just love yourself as you are, strengths and flaws.

Edit: I just watched a powerful TED Talk on image, self confidence and makeup. You should take a few minutes to watch it too:

Thursday, June 4, 2015

MS OneNote, my new favorite tool

Ages after everyone else, I finally discovered MS OneNote a few months ago. During a meeting, one of my colleague used it to store meeting minutes, project details, charts and graphs... I thought it was brilliant and used it every day since then.

Here are the main sections I currently use:
  1. Projects: I create one tab per project. For each project, I have a status page (DMAIC phase, deliverable list, next steps) but also a meeting notes. After each meeting, I add my notes and the date, which means I have a unique spot for all information relative to one project. I also like to add a "data play" tab where I put key information, summary of findings, tests to performs, questions to ask... 
  2. Mentoring: I have one tab per mentee with meeting notes and action items. I often send the page to my mentee so he/she has it as a reminder of his/her progress and next deliverable. You can clearly see the progress made and it's very encouraging for them to review.
  3. Liaison:  Each member of the team acts as a Liaison to a number of SLT members. We review results, key projects, resources. It's a good way to make sure I don't forget any of my Liaison.
  4. Personal items: It goes from a work to-do-list to a daily recording of my water intake and meetings and includes random lists and links. I even created a Kaizen packing list that should be useful for the year to come.
  5. Archived projects: I don't want to delete any old project, so I group them under an archived tab.
I love that it's stored on the cloud and can be used with my phone or from home. I find information a lot quicker and find analytics a lot easier this way (I use it as some would use a whiteboard I guess). I've also stopped taking notes in my notebook (except for face to face meetings).

To make it easier, I've created a "cancelled" tag (for cancelled meetings, specialty of some mentees of mine) and a project status template. I try to use reminders as much as possible, as they are linked to Outlook. It's not rocket science or super fancy, it's just a matter of opening OneNote first thing in the morning and keeping it updated as long as you work on a specific topic.

When you work on half a dozen project, mentor as many people and act as a Liaison for a few SLT members, you really need to know where you're at, what you've done and what you have to do. I feel a lot more organized and I don't forget as many action items as I used to. I empty my daily and to-do list on Fridays, add items on Monday mornings.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"It looks like a million dollars"

I took part of a Lean Event last week that ended in a pretty intensive 5S session. I was paired up with the facility Manager and our task was to clean the Maintenance team area (a big room filed with junk and items belonging somewhere else).

Truth is, it was really overwhelming for both of us. Not knowing where to start was our biggest challenge. We eventually decided on a small area containing car tools and equipment. We sorted the tool and put them back into their cabinet (that still needs 5S), thrown away what was empty or broken. We cleaned the area and put back what belonged there only. It took us about half an hour, but it felt really good!

Then the confusion was back: what our next step should be? We walked around the room and adopted two very different strategies:
  • The facility Manager started with what he knew of. Mostly small items or some straightening, but easily done.
  • I focused on the biggest objects: a bin, tires, big boxes... 
After another fifteen minutes, my partner in crime looks around and tells me "you've only touched a few things but it looks like a million dollars, where I've moved a lot but it doesn't seem like it".

The key when you start such a big sorting spree is to start with what will make the biggest impact. It will create a lot of space, but also enable you to see the smaller details better. Its like when you look at stars, you only see the major ones at first, but after a time you start seeing smaller ones. Mayhem is the same, your standards get higher the cleaner the place is. Also, if you need to stop quickly, you'll really see a change.

Same goes with cleaning up your house. Don't get me wrong, I do bleach and clean thoroughly my house on a regular basis. But daily, or before I start doing the cleaning, I focus on what makes the biggest impact: couch cushions and blanket back in order, declutter in front of the TV where all papers end up, put shoes back in the rack, empty trashcans (as it helps me cleaning after)... Making the bed has became one of my favorite new habits, as it easily triggers cleaning up the rest of the room and then the house.

Only after I'll focus on sorting the papers, cleaning windows and mirrors and all the tasks that don't make a visual impact. I can make my house presentable (though not cleaner) in fifteen minutes this way, then I have the bulk of the cleaning left. And it's easier to clean when you don't have clutter in your way.

Good luck with your sorting!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

16 packing tips for a Lean / Kaizen Event

I've been working as a Project Manager for over four years now, but next week will only be the second time I'll have to travel for a Lean Event. After under packing last time to Raleigh (where we got a 20 miles radius power outage and snow), I've decided to make a list and not repeat my errors.

Here are a few tips for packing for a Lean / Kaizen Event:
  • Adjust dress code accordingly: This is not your usual conference trip, you'll probably not be comfy wearing a suit and dress shoes (or a dress and heels) when following the production from step to step. Depending on your industry, you may get dirty (dusty in my case) or have to respect some standards (closed / safety shoes...). 
  • Review dress code with other participants beforehand: Everyone doesn't have the same definition of casual... I shown up in jeans, polo and Converse shoes to my last Lean Event when my colleague was in dress pants and shoes and a shirt. This time I've double checked that we'll be on the same page. Also, having a dress code similar to the on-site team you'll be working with will help you blend in and create a sense of team.
  • Keep temperature in mind: And not only outside temp, but also the facility's! Warehouses full of paper tend to be cooler than outside, except in the middle of summer when they're warmer than outside. If your industry involve strict temp control, cooking, cooling, etc. you want to be ready.
  • Make a list: It doesn't need to be fancy (or written), but having a list of what you want to travel with prevents you from forgetting things. Also, going over it a few time will help you spot the items you missed in that list. If you put your list in your suitcase before closing it, you'll be able to make sure you didn't forget anything when packing to go back home.
  • Choose the right luggage size: Obviously, if you plan on a carry on only, your suitcase size must fit requirements. I know I'll check in a bag, so I'll have to make sure my belongings are not crushed neither lost in a suitcase of the wrong size. I'll put everything I need on my bed and then decide with suitcase I need. 
  • Pack extras: If you're a Lean aficionado like me, you'll probably try to pack as efficiently as possible. But after a day walking the ground, you'll be happy to find a clean, dry pair of socks and a change of shoes.
  • Pack day and night outfits: Chances are you'll meet with your colleagues after hours, either to continue working or to relax. And even if you don't, you'll be happy to find clean and comfy clothes for the evening. 
  • Plan for the unplanned: I always have on me the basic meds in small quantity (pain and stomach meds, but also asthma and allergy meds), some band aids, gums, hair ties, tissues, lip balm, lint roller... 
  • Choose your method: Some like to fold, some to roll. I've tried packing cubes: very efficient but not wrinkle free. I've also tried to fold my clothes and putting them in a vacuum bag (obviously keeping air inside) and though it takes space in your bag, it was very effective. I'll try to roll this time (jeans mainly) and using the cubes for tops.
  • Prevent spills: I've bought some travel size products (tooth paste, dry shampoo) and some travel containers (to bring my own shampoo, conditioner, etc.). I also travel with some of my routine items (hair brush, make up...). I'll make sure they are closed tightly and will use a waterproof and spill-proof bag. That way, there shouldn't be any accident. 
  • Be strategic with make up: I usually use a lot of brushes and different products when I put make up on every day. When I travel, I like to bring a fluid foundation, an eye brow gel, a cream eye shadow, a mascara, a blusher and a brush. If I'm fancy, I'll add an eye liner pencil or an eye shadow palette and a couple of brushes. Usually, the team I'm working with is essentially made of men who don't care about my make up so I aim for the bare minimum amount to feel confident.
  • Working out or not working out, that is the question: I'll be working on routing, sitting in a room all day next week. Because I want to give myself an opportunity to stretch my legs and burn some energy in the evening, I'll bring yoga pants, a few shirts and runners. I'll wear my runners to travel and during evenings, the rest won't take much space.
  • Think about laundry: Add a big plastic bag to collect laundry during your stay and sorting your clothes coming back home easy. You can also steal the hotel laundry bag and turn it inside out so there's no confusion. 
  • Don't forget work essentials: Power cords and plug adapter are too often forgotten. Try to put them in your suitcase (unless it's too heavy and your carry on bag is half empty). Also, copy on your computer files you know you'll need and print time stamp / waste walk templates if needed. 
  • Print travel documents: I always have a printed version of my plane ticket, hotel reservation, car rental and any other key document (address of location, agenda if training...). I also have pictures of my passport and ID on my phone in case I loose anything.
  • Pack the right way: Shoes on the bottom of the suitcase, clothes on top, making full use of the pockets. If you gather / prep first and pack last, you should't need to add any last minute item that'll ruin your whole organization. 
When I arrive to my hotel, I like to unpack right away (including toiletries), because it make the generic hotel room feel more homey. It also help preventing wrinkle in your clothes. Just make sure you limit the number of places you spread your belongings in so you'll repack quickly and easily.

And finally, I like to leave my house clean before I travel, even though I can be in a laundry frenzy beforehand. That way, coming back feels much better!

Friday, May 15, 2015

The cost of life: France vs. USA

One of the questions I’m often asked (aside from why moving from Paris to Atlanta) is about the cost of life here compared to France. There is no simple and straight answer to that question: it depends! 

Writing that post has not been as fun as expected. First because it made me think about the way we live and maybe what we should change. Second because it felt like bits and pieces put together and no real "story telling". Hopefully I'll find a better way to write that type of article next time ! 

Here are some factors to keep in mind first:
  • Without credit score, driver or payment history, we have to pay more for some services and prices should decrease 6 months after our arrival (3 months to go, yay!).
  • We are living outside of Atlanta, a region known for its moderate/low cost of life.
  • We have our habits and even though we are adjusting, our way of life is still very much French, which must have an impact on our budget.
  • Taxes (usually 20%) are incorporated in prices in France, and we don’t tips above a couple of Euros (as staff is paid decently).

Household spends

Rent is quite difficult to assess rent as it depends on city, square feet available, neighborhood, demand, etc. It is overall in line with what we would have paid in France for a similar place in a similar area.
We pay electricity a small fortune because we didn’t had a national issued ID when opening the line, that should go down in 3 months, and we’ll get our deposit back. For the rest of utilities, prices are comparable to France.
For a small price, we’ve subscribed to insurance for our goods as the landlord insures the house. In France, we would have paid it all, spending more money than here.
TVs are a about half price here than France, but other major appliances can be more expensive because of their sizes, such as refrigerator, washer and dryer…

Car expanses

First, I need to point out that cars are more expensive here, maybe because they are bigger. Insurance (again, no driver history) is insanely high, as we pay nearly ten times what we used to. But gas on the other end is so much cheaper (around 1.50E per liter when we left compared to $2.20 a gallon these days).
Getting our driving licenses cost us less than $50 each. In France, including mandatory driving lessons and vehicle registration fees cost around 1500E minimum.
Don't start me on parking... I hate to pay for it and it is usually much more expensive here (you can always find a small street where you can park for free in Paris!).

Health expanses

France is famous for its healthcare policy paid by taxes on labor. Most of what we used to pay was taken directly from our incomes; otherwise it was some small amounts of money for auto medication.
While we haven’t had to go to the doctor yet, we spend quite a lot on our health insurance. We’re happy to find many more over-the-counter drugs here, which prevent us from useless doctor appointments (allergies, small colds, non-severe skin conditions…).
Overall, health, if taken seriously and without any chronical disease, is a lot more expensive here.


This one surprises everyone: healthy, fresh food is more expensive in the US than it is in France! On the other hand, junk food and poor quality processed food is cheaper here.
Butter is about twice the price here, fruit juice is about three times the same and milk is cheaper though. Tomato sauce is also twice the price, bread and "French like" cheese we don’t even consider buying as the price and quality difference is ridiculous. Chicken is cheaper, but beef is more expensive. Yogurts and cheese are also more expensive here, with a lower quality.
What surprised us more about food is how quickly prices evolves here (within a week price can double or be cut in half) whereas they are more stable overall in France.


We used to have a internet + TV combo with our French provider for which we paid less than 50E. Now with AT&T we have doubled our invoice for the same service (and about 500% more commercials on all channels at all times...).
I used to have a company cell phone and still have one now, so no change there. As for my husband, he went from 20E a month for unlimited calls, texts and data (including international calls for most countries) and we're now paying almost $100 for the same service. Though, LTE is way better than the 3G/4G I used to have!
In a nutshell, communications are as expensive here as they were in France 10 years ago, before a very competitive provider decided to drastically cut his prices. Can't wait for it to happen in the US too!

Beauty products and clothing

It usually comes as a surprise too, but both beauty supplies and clothing items are overall cheaper in the US. Or to be more accurate, you have more opportunities here to buy cheap make up/clothing items than in France. And outlets are packed with good deals.
Obviously, French brands are more expensive here. And the US have a lot of high end brands (maybe more than France as you get French brands here but France don't get American ones).
I also found many offers here that will encourage you to buy more. So even if it's cheaper and a good deal, you still end spending more.

Culture / going out

Culture in general cost about the same price, except for magazines. For some reason, when most feminine ones cost less that 2E in France, here they are worth twice that. The good think is that I can always go to Barnes & Nobles, order a Starbuck and read my magazines there before putting them back on shelves.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


It took a while (partly because I changed regions) but I eventually got my Black Belt plaque today. 

After months working hard to get certified and not letting anyone alter my determination, it feels real at last.

I remember years struggling in math classes, teachers and fellow students but also former colleagues not believing in my skills. I remember the pain I felt during BB training trying to understand the concepts and fighting not to fell behind. I remember the surprise of some when I passed the written test and then the project presentation.

I've grown through all of it. I became stronger, learned more skills, proved myself to the business to the point that I got that position in North America I wanted so much. 

Don't let anyone walk on your dreams or tell you that you won't be able to accomplish it. If it is in your reach and you put the right amount of efforts to it, you may certainly will.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Travels tips from an introvert

Before I start a post on how I plan my travels, it’s fair to share my vision of travel first. To me, traveling is about discovering new places, new cultures, new ways of living and eating. It is not necessarily about meeting people, but it certainly is not about sun tanning on the beach all day. (First because I hate sand, second because I don’t like to be in any pool of water bigger than a bathtub and third because I’d get bored too quickly).

I’ve been lucky enough to get the travel bug from my parents and that my husband has it too. Traveling more and more together, we found an organization that works for both of us and was definitely a necessity for our 3 weeks road trip / honeymoon. Here are a few highlights of how we prep for travel:

  • Choose the right destination. I don’t necessarily like to visit highly recommended places (like the French Riviera) and often prefer more authentic ones (like Brittany). It is about finding a destination that you like, that you’ll be able to visit comfortably for your budget, with the right travel time/length of stay balance.
  • Define what you need in an accommodation. To us, Wi-Fi is a must and we don’t like to pay to park. We’d rather be a couple of extra miles away from the place we visit and get free breakfast. I’d choose cleanliness over comfort any day.
  • Don’t underestimate your time on the road. There is always something that will make you lose time on the road so you need to keep a buffer in your day. Also, spending a full trip in your car is no fun. And following a promising sign can be fun!
  • Search for information and advice. When mapping out our road trip to the US West Coast, we joined a forum to get ideas of places to go and a feedback on our itinerary. This was really helpful, but we also chose to keep some visits that are not popular ones (Apple HQ) and skip some classical ones (Lombard Street in SF). This is your trip and needs to be built for you.
  • Plan well but not too much. As an introvert, I like to know what I’m getting into. So I plan what to see in a spreadsheet with estimated duration, cost, address and any relevant notes. I don’t go as far as to put a timeline in there (unless we are not staying long in the same place) as we would have a difficult time to stick with it. It’s also a good way to make sure you don’t leave the place with regrets of visits you missed and places you didn’t know about. My spreadsheets usually have date, address, name and description of what to do/see, budget and planned length.
  • Because you plan the trip doesn’t make it about you. Plan activities and visits that will make your travel companions happy, even if that’s not one of your priorities. I’ve booked an ATV morning for my husband and ended up liking it as much as him.
  • Even out days and nights. After a light day (pool, shopping…), you can plan an evening activity such as a sports game or a show. I wouldn’t pack them all on the same day, but that’s our way of travelling.
  • Pack cleverly. Obviously, take into consideration weather, activities planned and duration of stay. I always make sure I have on me at least our most frequently used medicines, something warm, protection from the sun, water… But I also let some free space for what we’d buy there. I used to pack books but now a loaded iPad is all I need.

While there, we always amend and adjust our stay depending on factors such as weather, tiredness, unexpected extra activity etc. I’m usually the one behind the camera while my husband uses his iPhone and we share the GoPro. I like to keep notes of my days, especially if I want to blog about it or if it’s a special / long trip.

To me, a good trip balances tourist must-dos and places natives like to spend time in. It’s a great way to discover new cultures and ways of life, to make memories that will last forever.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Getting healthy: bye bye Coke, hello gym!

Moving to the other end of the earth is a great opportunity to change your habits, get rid of what you don't like or is not good for you and do more of what you want to start. Right after we moved, there was always a good excuse to eat outside, not to get information about the local gym or make any of the changes we wanted to make. 

A month and a half after, I felt comfortable enough in my new life to get out of my comfort zone again and push the door of the gym. After visiting and talking membership, we subscribed for a two year period with the warranty to be able to stop it if we were to move back to France.

The first session with a trainer was a big eye opener. I knew I was not in good shape, but I thought I'd be healthier than I really was. I also thought I was bad at math and sports alike and that I disliked both. I discovered during Black Belt that my maths skills are actually decent, and I discovered during the past two weeks that if I put my mind to it and follow good guidance, working out is actually something I can enjoy (and eventually become decent at). We now have a session a week to learn new exercises focused on our needs.

When our trainer gave us our meal plan, I immediately rejected it in my head, thinking it'd be too hard, that I'd starve, that I'd been there before and that it wouldn't work for me. I actually had a hard time falling asleep that night, going over and over the rejection of that new diet. But then I tried it with a few extras for a week and quickly adopted it. I can live eating chicken everyday and the choice in veggies that I have is actually decent. The only thing I miss is fruits (except for apples that I can eat now).

While I was drinking at the very least a liter of Coke Zero everyday, I started drinking a gallon of water instead. The change happened overnight and without much frustration as water is preventing me to want to drink Coke. 

After two weeks of working out four days a week, I start to see changes on and in my body. I used to loose a lot of hair, I don't anymore. My nails are healthier and my skin looks better, even though I've got a skin allergy that I don't know the cause of. I have a lot more energy to accomplish chores and all that I didn't had the time to before. 

This new life style forces us to cook a lot more, and I enjoy spending time in the kitchen with my husband. Granted we can't cook like we were used to, we can at least use onions and spices to make our food taste delicious. Ironically, grocery shopping is a lot faster (if not cheaper) as we only visit half the supermarket. We also started to plan our meals for the week using our cook books and modifying the recipes (or changing the sides for instance). Cooking more also means cleaning more and keeping the house in better shape, which is a lot nicer to live in.

I had to change my hectic bedtime routine to make it more structured so it fits my gym oriented needs: thoroughly clean my face, hydrate my all body, drink more water, stretch and the most important: get a good night sleep. 

It's only been two weeks but I love it so far. I always look forward my next work out and improving my performances. Unlike the last time I visited a gym frequently, I understand that it is not an mean to an end but a way of life. I'll need to work out and drink lots of water all my life, especially if I want more flexibility with the food I eat. I now understand that healthy people exercise too, that you don't need to spend 15 min doing push ups but you should alternate several repetitions of each exercise, that you may not want to do a full body work out at once.

I'm no expert and it's going to be a while before I feel comfortable sharing tips that work for me, but I'd recommend getting the help of a trainer / someone who exercises regularly if like me you decide to take the path to health. It can be pricey, but a quick calculation tells me that what we pay today for the gym and trainer doesn't exceed what we use to spend in take-away (that we banned as much as possible).

Friday, March 13, 2015

Five first learnings from my amazing new boss

I've been told that you don't change job, but change boss. I quite like the saying. Part of the decision about taking this new job abroad was linked to my new boss. He was one of the teachers for my Green Belt and Black Belt and I knew we got along and that he is a great guy with values I adhere to. I knew I'd gain a great boss and that I'd learn a lot, and he didn't disappoint!

I've only been there for two months, but here are my learnings so far:
  • He's the first boss I've had who asks me what he can do to help me. Every single day. By removing some road blocks or answering some questions, he is making sure I'm performing at my best. And this is not only about work, as I moved abroad he is always happy to help with personal questions too!
  • Get ready for meetings. Like 100% prepared. His expression is "let's review the agenda". It made me smile at first, but when said meeting was starting, I found out I was really confident about what needed to be achieved and how. I feel a lot of meetings could use more prep, in not only the slides but knowing what you are going to say, how you want to react if anything happen, what is your timing for each item on your agenda, who's talking, who's taking notes... Now I feel like I need to go over the agenda and the flow a few times before each meeting, and it feels good!
  • One big Excel book per project. Use tabs and put pain points, solutions, FMEA, B&E, parking lot, etc. in the same book. As long as you rename your tabs, it will make things a lot easier to find back and share with your team. It really shows how organized you are and how much work, time and effort you put into the project.
  • Learn from your team. Even with years of experience and skills way above mine, my boss is willing to learn from me if I know something he doesn't. Usually, it's a MS Office/IT question, but still, it takes humility to have that attitude.
  • Praise when owned. I don't know if it is a cultural difference, but I have received and witnessed a lot more recognition in here that I'm used to. Nothing boosts me better than a thank you and it sure is much nicer to work in that kind of mood.
I'm sure I'll be adding on to that list over time, but these few simple facts have a great impact on both the quality of my work environment and my performances. I'm never one to slack, but I'll give more, be more loyal and supportive when there is that big of a trust and respect between my boss and I.

Dan, if you read this, don't change anything!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Taking a break?

I haven’t blogged much lately. Well, not in English anyway. Let’s figure out why.

  • I started this blog at a time my career was not fulfilling. This new opportunity however is full of challenges and I don’t feel the need to research and work on content. On the other hand, I created my French travel blog to share with my friends and family pictures and a recollection of our travels, and this new adventure makes me want to share a lot with them.

  • English. Living in France, I was a bit frustrated not to use my English enough. Now that’s the language I use all the time (except at home, where we tend to be between the two languages all the time).

  • In here, I am a Lean Six Sigma expert but unlike France I don’t know everyone and have little access to information that I acquired during the past seven years of my career. This is an uncomfortable position, and though I could take comfort in blogging, I often feel too self-conscious to do so.

  • I thought I could just translate some posts and make them work on both blogs. Actually, what I need is to relate what I live from the France point of view on my travel blog and from the American one in here. This would take me minimal effort as most of the content is in my head, but I don’t feel it would be interesting.

  • I’m making changes in my life that I could / should document somewhere. But how can I talk about small changes (how I now prep for meetings for instance) when I am still experimenting? How can I talk about my journey to get healthy when it has been a week?

As I write these lines, I realize that I could tell you about my new (awesome) new boss, about what I like or not so far in the workplace here, how I try to make my cubicle more homey… This is clearly not an end but a simple break to come back with hopefully good content. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Standard deviation made easy

It took me a while to get comfortable with standard deviation. Even though it was explained to us thoroughly during Green Belt and Black Belt training, I used it without really understanding what was behind it. 

The big epiphany came while working for my Black Belt exam and getting my hands on Six Sigma for Dummies. It was the most brilliant explanation for it and I was glad to share it with my new team as we prepared our upcoming Green Belt training. Let me share it with you.

The standard deviation is the average distance between your mean and your data points. I know. That sounds almost too easy, but that is literally what the formula is. Let’s look into it in details.

Let’s take pizza delivery as an example. Whenever you order, you ask to be delivered at 7:00PM, hoping to be delivered no earlier than 6:30PM but no later than 7:30PM. These are your specifications limits: LSL=6:30 and USL=7:30. 

Over a year, you record the delivery time for each of your orders and plot them into a histogram. Obviously, you’ll want to calculate your mean to get the position of your data set. 

If we look at the mean, it seems acceptable. Though, imagine getting your pizza delivered at 4PM (or even 9PM) when asking it for 7… Let’s have a look at the spread of our data now. The bell curve is not really sharp and we have already pointed out some outliers.

What we need to know is how far are our data points from our central location. To get a real vision, we need to measure them all and compute a mean.

Our new concern is that we have negative values now (everything on the left of the mean). Even if sometimes we wish we had negative minutes, that is not going to happen anytime soon. 

Without going into too much details, our best option to get absolute data (no negative sign) while respecting mathematical rules, is to square our second column (as a reminder 1 x 1 = 1 and -1 x -1 = 1). This is what is called the variance.

Well, now we have square minutes (and way much that the initial distance calculated). I would like a handful of them every time I hit the snooze button of my alarm clock! But realistically, this is as useful as negative minutes. So now if we take the square root of this value, we get realistic minutes back.

Again, the standard deviation is only the average distance between your data points and your mean. To get it, you have to do a few mathematical pirouettes, but hopefully Excel, Minitab and other statistical software will do it for you!