As I blogged a while ago, July is traditionally the month of backlog fights in a typical university year. The students are away, either in vacations or internships, the administration goes slower while some colleagues are in vacations, and each of us has a bit more time to think again about what happened during the last year of collective hysteria, and what are the funny thing s/he would like to work on during the next year.

Unfortunately, it didn't work quite that way for me this year. Even July was a hectic month for me, with 2 weeks of interviews with my colleagues to recruit the next students in our engineering school, and a whole load of meetings and such. Plus an unwelcome sudden death in my family, but that's a personal matter. August, the traditional month of break, vacations and resourcing wasn't quite effective either. I only took 2 weeks of vacations, and the rest was devoted to writing a project for a call for proposal.

At the end, September came before this famous backlog fight, and I was quite exhausted already. Plus, we had on 9/17 a Big Evaluation for the ANR project around SimGrid. I think that I'll blog later about it, but all this to say that until last Monday, I was in the unpleasant situation were the backlog of the current year builds upon the one of last year.

More specifically, I had +10,000 mails in my inbox folder (amongst which +3000 were not read), despite some sparse efforts during last month to classify old stuff. Mails just come faster in my box than I manage to sort them.

Plus, I still have a RANDOM directory in my home, containing several partial system backups that I assembled after my last disk crash, more than one year ago. Since I had no complete backup, I had to get all these partial ones, to try to assemble back my working conditions. After one year, most of these info are either retrieved (and could be erased) or obsolete (and could be erased) or should be archived properly. Of course, my current backup system does not handle this directory since it is more than 16Gb big, and everything in there will get lost at the next disk crash. That's actually a good way to get things sorted down. Wait for the next crash to clean things. It's a bit like waiting for the next time that your house burn to get rid of old papers that you don't want to sort out...

And finally, I didn't manage to take again the good habits of having an organized and updated TODO list, so I started again navigating at sight in the fog.

The mail issue becomes VERY annoying, inducing a global disorganization in my professional life. As a result, I already had a mini-epic-failure (after only 3 weeks of this year) were I forgot to answer to a mail (because I didn't saw it in the mass), blocking a decision process involving the leader of my laboratory. Not cleaver, and bad sign for the future really hectic months.

So, I decided to stop this mess and act.

First, I stopped repeating that giving my whole agenda to a company like google was an error and that I wanted to keep the control of my data. The situation is that I want to take back the control of my professional life, so I pushed my agenda on google back. The result is here. The INRIA will soon setup Zimbra so that our data remain in our company, but I cannot wait until then. For some reasons, I still have issues to synchronize my google agenda with my smartphone so that I get the reminders in my pocket regardless of my localization, but it's underway.

For the RANDOM issue, I didn't address it properly yet. I'm afraid that I'm in fact waiting for the next disk crash to clean things up, will see if I manage to solve that point on time. Likewise, my TODO list doesn't get better yet.

I decided to start addressing the most pressing issue fix, and took radical decisions about mails. The big idea I needed came from Lucas, my personal Organizational God. Instead of carefully sorting stuff once it's dealt with, I now have a filter that copy everything I receive in an archive folder. It removes the archiving issue, and I only have to deal now with stuff in my inbox now. I can of course decide to sort stuff in folders to retrieve them afterward, but I don't have to. I can simply erase everything that I don't need on top of my head, I can always find things back in the archive folder. Of course some cruft gets copied in there, but space disk is cheaper than my time nowadays, and the spam filters I use are effective enough to make it usable.

That's a huge change in my day to day workflow. Of course, it does not make all the backlog disappear in one shoot and mails still have to be handled, but it gives a big advantage in the backlog fight. I switched yesterday morning, and after a few hours, I managed to kill enough cruft to have "only" 4100 mails in my inbox. I'm confident that I can manage to reach the mythic inbox 0 quite soon. That's amazing how a little filter "archive it for me, cause I'll trash it as soon as possible" can change your life. Thanks for the hint, Lucas.

But the most amazing is to spend so much time to organizational issues right now, at mid-September. It feels like tying your shoes right in the middle of the highway. You know that it is a good idea because once you're done, you'll run faster to avoid that big trucks currently aiming at you, but still. Remaining calm and devoting precious time to such a non-vital activity when you see the issues charging you is not trivial. I'm not sure I'll have the guts to process the inbox to zero in one shoot or if I'll switch to a more pressing issue before. And I know I'll regret it later on if I don't...