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.