A love letter to being human.

11/1/2012 |

I’ve just spent a month living in a beautiful little cabana hut on a deserted beach in Sri Lanka. I’ve been writing, re-writing, editing and generally getting immersed in the subject matter of productivity for my book, “How To Be A Productivity Ninja”. I could have written the book at home, but then I know what I’m like – I needed some seclusion, away from the internet, away from the email and interruptions, away from people (!) and alone with just my thoughts and my computer keyboard. That and the fact that I hate English winters.

To be honest, I was a slightly worried I’d be lonely or go mad, which I didn’t. But what my self-imposed seclusion did give me was a pretty big moment of clarity.

I HAD thought that I was writing a practical book full of top productivity tips. “ Here’s how I do it, here are some best practices, here are the ways you can turbo-charge your productivity”. I had a top publisher lined up and ready to release it, I was prepared to be a little more ‘businessy’ and ‘corporate’ in my tone of voice than our workshops are and I was excited about taking it to the business-market masses. A little bit of compromise traded for a little bit further reach.

It hasn’t turned out quite that way. I realised that “How To Be A Productivity Ninja” isn’t really a book about productivity at all. It’s really a book about screwing up, feeling overloaded and being trapped in the information age we live in – and of course, how we deal with all the things that our busy lives throw at us as a result of this. By being separated from the information culture I’m so used to, with no Facebook or iPad to distract me, I spent a month remembering what it’s like to just be human. I started to feel that the more important thing to do with this book was to be me, be human.

Productivity Ninjas are not superheroes. This I always knew. At Think Productive UK we’ve always been keen to avoid the ‘guru’ mentality and work with people as people, foibles and all, rather than selling the dream of becoming perfect productivity superheroes overnight. I think people respect us more for taking this approach and the empowering message as a result is that whilst none of us can be superman, we can all be a ninja.
So, as my book enters the final editting stage in the early part of 2012, here’s what it means for me, for Think Productive UK and for the book itself.

For Think Productive UK: We’re going to remain reassuringly human. In our work, we’re going to continue to acknowledge that mistakes are made, accidents happen and that life deals us curveballs – and that this doesn’t stop any of us from being better at what we’re trying to achieve. We’re going to continue to be passionate advocates for the practical change that people can really make.

For me personally: I’m making space. Anyone who knows me probably knows explicitly or has a hunch somewhere inside their minds that I’m one of those people who likes to spread themselves a bit too thin. I want to change the world and I want to do it now. Well, my time away left me feeling fired up to change the world even more. Despite working harder in December than I’ve worked in a long time, I also feel re-energised by the process. But my time away also left me feeling like I need to develop a sustainable lifestyle outside of Think Productive UK (which in 2011 included sitting on 3 charity boards, volunteering lots of time for free and being involved in a couple of other charity start-ups as well). So, I’m going to be cutting back on some of the work I do with people already changing the world, to make way for the energy and attention needed to start up some new projects of my own. They’re doing just fine.

For the book: It’s going to be 100% Ninja. I’m going to keep it 100% human, 0% superhero guru, 0% management-speak and jargon. I can’t promise the dream of productivity perfection because I’m a terrible liar. I hope the publishers like it. More importantly though, I think you’re going to like it more as a result of me not making the compromise. It may mean I sell a few less copies, but I’ll live with that.

On December 24th, at approximately midday, my draft was finished. 82,000 words completed. I can honestly say it’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. 18 months of ideas, sporadic writing, talking, pitching, meetings, re-writes, procrastination.

The final part I wrote was a paragraph about celebrating imperfection, looking out for happy accidents and reminding the reader not to try to be a superhero but just to do their best, to work smarter AND work harder, and to remember their ultimate mission is to change the world. I realised, perhaps like a lot of writers, that I was really writing this whole thing for myself as much as for you – as my own personal instruction manual, my own love letter to the importance of being human and making the most of the short time that we have in this amazing world.

2012 has started with me buoyed up to make more changes, be even more of a ninja, up my game and stay as focussed as I am ambitious. But it’s also started with me realising more than ever the importance of remaining reassuringly human and avoiding beating myself up in search of perfection – and realising how determined I am to inspire others to do the same.


Graham’s book, “How To Be A Productivity Ninja” will be released in 2012. As soon as we have an exact date, we’ll let you know.




  1. Martin

    Love this. Human yes. Mess yes. Life struggle yes. We all have it, some of us much too often – and at some times in our lives way too much.

    The spirit and skill of How To Be A Productivity Ninja offers us a way not towards a pretend perfection but to a better way of getting through, being more fully humanand content whilst transforming our little bit of the world.

    OK … now what’s my next action?

  2. Elena

    Great blog post Graham. Very inspiring. Can’t wait to read the book!!
    Also, makes me realise I need some time on a beach! :)

  3. Amy Kweskin

    Inspirational, Graham. My favorite line “my own love letter to the importance of being human.”

  4. Chet

    A nice post and something we all need to learn to do more. Like you I’m planning to cut back on some of the things I’m involved with to give me more time to focus on the few remaining things and to enjoy the pleasures of life a bit more.


Leave a Comment