Archive for Productivity

5 Things 15 March 2017

Each week I hear, see and experience things which could be of benefit for others. Picking up on an idea from Tim Ferris – I thought I’d do a short blog to share some of them. Here goes.



Quote I’ve had in the back of my mind. “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”. Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Thinking along these lines in a world of ever increasing complexity can be refreshing. I’ve been viewing my morning routine through this lens and simplified some of the questions I ask myself each day. What are you doing that could benefit from simplification?

Metaphor to apply. “Do homework on a Friday night“. This one comes from Davina McCall. She was writing about getting the ‘stuff’ you don’t like doing out of the way, to free up your energy for more interesting activities. She learnt this with her kids and the inevitable weekend school homework. What are your equivalent tasks that nag away at the back of your mind when you don’t do them? Accounting for expenses would be fairly highly on my list.

App to explore – Habit List. This was a tip off from Chase Jarvis. I work a fair amount with people looking to introduce or eliminate habits to improve their overall performance. As a result, I’m always on the lookout for tools to help with this. I’ve been exploring this app which is straight forward enough in its concept – to encourage you to develop the habits you want. There are plenty of alternatives available. I liked this one for its simplicity and ease of use. Give it a go.

Taking your cycling to the next level. For those of you who enjoy your cycling and have a particular event you want to train for, here’s a programme that could be of benefit. Elliot Lipski is one of the talented sports scientists who work for Trainsharp Coaching. He has put together this programme which was recently featured on

Seth Godin Wisdom. In the context of thinking about your brand “no one gets a Suzuki tattoo”; in contrast to Harley Davidson. Does your brand and performance mean your customers are willing to go to significant lengths to demonstrate their loyalty?

5 Things 10 Feb 2017

Each week I hear, see and experience things which could be of benefit for others. Picking up on an idea from Tim Ferris – I thought I’d do a short blog to share some of them.  He shares his every week. I suspect mine will be a little more sporadic. Here goes.



Blog post I really enjoyedIs the money in the tin? I met Steve Sutherland the author of this post a few years ago and he mentioned this story. It’s great that Steve has taken the time to share it with a wider audience. Using the tin analogy can be a helpful test when you get ahead of yourself when thinking what progress has really been achieved.


Fortune cookie wisdomDedicate yourself with a calm mind to the task at hand. At the end of a belated Chinese new-year dinner I received this little beauty. I’d spent a day flitting from activity to activity without too much tangible progress. Felt like a timely reminder.


Website and app that got me thinkingStickk. A nice solution to ‘encourage’ your motivation towards a goal. Their approach is to draw on the power of loss aversion.  Essentially you determine a goal, and nominate a sum of money for a cause that you don’t like. Next find someone you trust who will referee your performance towards the goal. If don’t do what you’ve committed to the cause gets your cash. Of course, you don’t need Stickk to do this. However, they do have extra motivational bells and whistles. Worth considering for those new-year commitments that perhaps have fallen by the wayside?


Billboard challenge. Saw this quote outside a church “the problem with the world is that intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid people are full of confidence” – Charles Bukowski. I’ve sat in several meetings over the last week where I’ve pondered this as different people have spoken. What could you be doing as a leader to help mitigate doubts in the people you lead?


Prioritisation tip. This one courtesy of Tim Ferris. When faced with a list of tasks with competing priorities try the following criteria to help cut through the complexity. Ask yourself which of these tasks would make the others easier or unnecessary? It can help bubble to the surface what to do next.




Learning from Toast


We’ve all done it. Forgotten the toast under the grill and ended up with something less than appetising. So, what leadership lesson can we learn from the humble slice of toast?


Making toast could never be described as difficult. Could it? Even for people with the most basic culinary skills. However just because it’s a relatively simple process doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. There are some basics you need to get right. Do that and you are almost guaranteed tasty toast every time.


All too often in leadership positions we overlook the most basic elements of what we and our people need. Unfortunately, unlike burnt toast it’s not so obvious when things haven’t gone to plan. Have you experienced or witnessed any of these in your career?


  • People left confused about where organisations are heading.
  • People working on activity that doesn’t make sense to them. Or worse, they find out someone is doing the same thing elsewhere in the organisation. Or even worse, they find out someone in the same organisation is doing something in competition or conflict with their work.
  • People not letting you know how they feel about something because their appraisal discussion is being conducted in a busy public area.


So how can we check if we have the basics in place. Setting and being able to answer high-level questions is one way. Here’s some examples in three common areas. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity.


Quality of your vision

Is it compelling to the people it is meant to provide direction to?

Is it long enough to be meaningful and short enough to be memorable?

Could you use it to make decisions?


Agreeing objectives

Are they aligned to the organisation’s goals?

Is there agreement about what success looks like?

Is there understanding about the steps towards success and how you’ll assess them?


Running an appraisal session with a member of your team.

Are both parties clear on what is being appraised?

Have you got the right physical environment for the conversation you need to have?

Have you given the right attention to time: when, how long and balance between feeding back and feeding forward?


You may well have your own version of what the basics are in the three examples above. I’d love to hear about them if you do. What’s more important than the number of questions is actually using them. To understand the basics at an intellectual level is not enough. It’s about the execution.


As always I’m interested in your views,





Recruiting based on behaviour and fit

RecruitingIt surprises me when I talk with people about their approach to personnel selection. So often there is an over focus on skills. This is surprising given that so often when things don’t work out it’s as a result of behaviour and attitude.  There’s an obvious yet overlooked point – the skills element can be taught. Particularly when the candidate has the right attitude. Here’s three suggestions to help you understand more about a persons fit.

1) It starts before you even think about recruiting. Have you consciously thought about the type of environment you need to create success? Often this is skipped over. And often this is to the detriment of team performance. So spend some time thinking and articulating what you want to see. Involving others and developing a written team ethos can help here. Use this as a reference point in the selection process. The added bonus here is that you can use it to drive the existing team performance too. I use the ABC approach to get this conversation going – Attitude, Behaviours & Characteristics.

2) When discussing things with the perspective candidates use questions that help you get beneath the typical prepared answers about past experience. Here’s some examples:
– what are you like to be around when everything is going well?
– what do you do that gets in the way of being your best?
– what about others frustrates you? What behaviour does this provoke in you?

3) Get diversity into the selection approach. A good example of this I’ve seen in one organisation recruiting for a senior position is to use more junior members of staff as part of a panel in an interview. If successful the senior person will need to work with and sell concepts to more junior staff.  Why not start that early. This will bring a more varied perspective to the panel.

There are many ways you could go about the selection process. They will all have pros and cons. Just make sure you are objectively achieving the right balance. Jim Collins in Good to Great describes this as “getting the right people on the bus”. The All Blacks are more upfront about it in their selection with the simple “no dickheads” approach. I’ll leave it to you to determine what criteria they use for assessing that.

Getting set for the week

weekly reviewThe weekly review and  forward plan keeps you on  top of your commitments  and actions whilst getting  alignment with your values  and your key roles in life.  Done regularly it becomes the foundation for sustained success and balance. Here’s a basic approach to get you started. Adapt this and make it your own. The more aligned you can get it with your personal situation, the more inclined you’ll be to do it regularly and then reap the benefit.

Getting in the right frame of mind

  • Connect with my values: insert your own values list
  • Connect with my roles: insert your own roles list
  • Connect with the past week: take some time thinking about what worked well over the last week and note any things you’d like to develop further

Five steps to getting clear

Step 1 – Collect in (don’t process)

  • Last weeks diary
  • Work bag
  • Various mail inboxes
  • Wallet/purse
  • Text messages
  • Desk
  • In your head
  • Around the house/office
  • Up and coming calendar (2 weeks)
  • Anything else that’s pertinent to you..?

Step 2 – Read and assess current status of longer-term plans – what next actions are required?

Step 3 – Process in – capture ‘stuff’ into the appropriate place e.g. calendar, action lists, reference material and of course bin what you don’t need.

Step 4 – Establish and write down key priorities for the coming week – be clear what success looks like.

Step 5  – Check balance across your roles and values – make adjustment if appropriate.

Goal 30 to 60 minutes

Of course things will change and you’ll need to adapt. Having completed this exercise you’ll have a reference point to assess those changes against. Give it a go and see how you get on.

What’s your role in helping others get out of their comfort zone?

comfort zone As a line manager it can be very easy to talk  about a member of your team needing to “get  out of their comfort zone”. I believe this  phrase is overused as it doesn’t suggest what  really needs to happen. It can also put people  into a defensive frame of mind and come  across as patronising. Here are 3 questions  you can use to help set up the situation to  achieve success.


1) Is there clarity on the thing you’re looking to achieve?

A lack of clarity on what is expected can cause an individual to procrastinate. Determining the next physical action becomes a whole lot easier when you know what you are looking to ultimately achieve. Don’t underestimate this, as investing time here will pay dividends.  It’s an obvious component that’s missing from many of the development plans I see.

2) What specific development support is required?

If a person understands the goal they need to achieve, determining the development actions becomes more straightforward. A recent example of someone wanting to improve their influence in difficult conversations resulted in 3 clear actions in a 30 day plan:  1) have coffee with three senior managers to understand their handling approach, 2) get and read the book Crucial Conversations and 3) develop a meeting approach and talk it through with a trusted third-party for a particular meeting the person needed to attend.  Of course the actions will relate to the goal. The point here is they are very tangible. Previously the person had relied purely on putting themselves into situations to ‘develop’. With mediocre results. That could be akin to a non-swimmer jumping in a pool and hoping for the best. Your role as the manager is to ask the thought provoking questions that establish the actions.

3) How will I manage myself if things do not work out?

This is a fairly critical point and is backed up by neuro-science. If people feel threatened by the consequences of failing, they will stand a good chance of not realising their full potential. As the line manager you’ll have a big part to play in setting the tone and response when things do not go as we would hope. This takes increased effort as we manage our own emotions. Get it right and you genuinely create a learning environment. The results of that will be significant.

So the next time you find yourself talking about someone needing to “get out of their comfort zone”. Stop and consider your part in making that a real success.

7 Ways to Bring a Better Balance


More and more challenges come our way competing for the precious 168 hours we have each week. It’s important that we take responsibility and work at striking a balance to achieve more of the right things. Here’s 7 things to get you stated.



1. Get a longer-term vision

Having a view on where you’re heading will help bring objectivity and perspective. You are much more likely to make different choices if you can see whether you are moving towards or away from where you want to be. It’s in those choices that balance exists.

2. Get comfortable with seeing day-to-day decisions in the bigger picture context

Armed with your vision you need to use it regularly when making decisions. It’s easier to say “yes” or “no” to an opportunity or task if you can assess its overall impact. This can be as small as do you go for drinks after work…?

3. Get a view of all the areas in your life and asses how you’re doing in them regularly

The wheel of life tool is a simple yet highly effective way to assess where you are in each key area of your life. Some examples: Health, Family, Friends, money and career. Subjectively rating yourself on a scale of 1 -10 will help you understand if there are any areas that are falling behind or way ahead at the expense of others. If you don’t like what you see take action to address this. It’s perfectly normal to have areas that get out of kilter from time to time. This approach will help you manage that.

4. Get creative

This is where you can have fun. Thinking about how you can be creative to get balance and ultimately achieve more is very rewarding. Here’s an example. Say your wheel of life tells you that your health and friends could do with a little attention. Rather than tackle these things separately why not get creative and find a way to achieve both at the same time. One client I worked with started playing tennis with a friend after work. Simple, yet effective.

5. Establish a weekly Review & Plan routine

Establishing a personalised weekly R&P routine will help bring some of the above ideas together. Done well, you get to objectively ‘check in’ with what’s going on in your world every seven days. This helps tidy up outstanding actions and commitments and look forward to help you prepare for what’s coming. At least as important is taking a few minutes to reflect on what went well and what you’d like to improve on. Over a period of time this will put you in a strong position to achieve balance.

6. Start with making sure you’re looking after you

The foundation for balance is making sure you are functioning well. Without that, all areas will suffer. I love the PRIME for Success approach that looks at your Physical activity, your Rest, your Intake, your Mind and your Energy. Read more about that here.

7. Get feedback

It’s easy to kid ourselves that we are more balanced than we imagine. Key to helping this is feedback. This can come in multiple forms from asking people to developing your own personalised dashboard, to track how you’re doing. The dashboard can include whatever you feel is important. I’ve worked with people who wanted to include health information, where they are financially or even how often they got home from work to read bedtime stories to the kids! The impact can be amazing when you see that you haven’t done the latter for two weeks, when you tell yourself being a Mum is so important. The feedback is only part of the story. You then need to make a choice. If you’re truly content with what you’re being told then fine. If not, what adjustments do you need to make?

If you do just one or two of the above I believe you’ll start to get a better balance in your life. I’d love to hear your stories of things you’ve done as a result.

Five questions to support goal setting

goal setting

When it comes to personal development, some people find the concept of goal setting a challenge. Here are five questions to ask yourself to engage your thinking?



  1. What gets in my way of achieving success?
  2. What trophy or award would I like to have in my possession?
  3. What is the smallest subset of the problem I could solve?
  4. If I knew I wouldn’t fail, what would I strive to achieve?
  5. What habit if I achieved it would have the biggest impact on my performance?

Working on the person not the problem

coaching conversationOne of the elements of successful coaching is having the discipline to work on the person’s behaviours and attitude and not the specific ‘problems’ that they bring to the table. The theory being that by working on the individual you get to tackle the problem too.  In my experience both personally and professionally this theory is typically sound.


It’s a concept that some people need time to get their head around.  Often the simplicity leads to calls of “there must be more to this”.  It’s certainly a mindset and skill that requires practice. Time pressures can also play a part here too. A real case of the perhaps now over used phrase “give a man a fish he eats today. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for life”. Here are three questions to help you test what type of conversations you are having:


ONE: Are you being seduced by the content of the situation? Do the questions you ask drive towards understanding the real nitty gritty of the situation? Questions about the situation beyond context setting suggest that you are focused towards problem fixing mode. Turn that around with a direct and open question to the coachee. Something along the lines of “so, stepping back from the situation, what assumptions could you be making?”.


TWO: Are you drawing from your own autobiography? If you think ‘ah, I’ve been here before this is what this person needs to do’ you’ll likely be missing decent opportunities for the person to grow and develop.  The near term satisfaction of ‘helping’ can be so attractive. You could however be doing even more good by supporting the individual to work out their own approach. I like Stephen Covey’s analogy of giving someone else your spectacles and trying to convince them “they work for me, why can’t you see”.


THREE: Are you working on the person’s behaviour? Ask yourself how much of the conversation is devoted to asking powerful questions to help the person understand why they are responding in a certain way. The balance is likely to be heavily in favour of these type of questions if you are working on the person.


Using your judgement is also key to understanding when you really believe the coachee has reached the end of the road and are genuinely stuck. At this point it feels perfectly acceptable to offer a suggestion. In the line manager relationship time sensitivity will also play a part e.g. when there is a genuine ‘crisis’ you will often need to change to a more directive style. Hopefully the need for the directive style is the exception rather than the rule.


As a line manager or coach have a go at monitoring yourself for a month and see where you are.


Five ways to increase your productivity


Here’s five productivity ideas to get your 2014 pointing in the right direction.

  1. Do it now. This is a simple yet highly effective tip I picked up from David Allen. He describes it as the ‘two minute rule’. Basically if a task is going to take less that two minutes, just do it. Don’t be too literal here. If it’s a five minute task and you have five minutes, crack on.
  2. Get tasks out of your head and into a trusted system. We are typically comfortable with the need to use a calendar to manage appointments yet the number of people who I talk with who do not have a consistent tool for managing their actions is surprising. Relying on the mind to manage the volume of items is a high-risk strategy. There are a number of high-tech and low-tech options for you to consider. Perhaps the lowest tech is a paper and pen…
  3. Make it fun. Introducing an element of fun or competition into your mundane and routine tasks can make them more appealing to do. For example listen to music whilst doing housework or seeing how quickly you can cut the lawn then challenging yourself to beat your time at the next cut.
  4. Get even better at what your great at and outsource your weaknesses. I’m not suggesting you ignore your development needs. Far from it. You can however spend too much time on activities that drain your energy, demoralise and actually leave you with an end result you don’t like. If this is you, then think about how you could outsource a task. If cutting that lawn really isn’t something you want to do, could you pay a gardener or give an opportunity for a niece or nephew to earn some extra money. Or could you exchange one of your talents with someone else. Spend some time really thinking about this. Get imaginative with your approach.
  5. Get a healthy support team. Really successful people are always backed up by a terrific support team. Always.  What’s the health of your support team like? Carry out a review and identify the areas that could use some attention. Then commit to do something about it.  When I talk about health that means being proactive. Only pulling on the network in times of crisis is less than optimal.

Give some or all of the above a go.  Let’s make 2014 your best year yet.