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!