J is for Juice

January 22, 2015

Productivity Ninja


In primary school I was fond of telling really bad jokes. One of my favourites was this:

Q: Why did the orange stop rolling down the hill?
A: Because it ran out of juice.

What we need to make things happen these days isn’t just time, but attention. In particular, we need as much of our best attention – our proactive attention – as possible, and at the right times. But what if attention was different to time? What if it were truly possible that, rather than simply managing your precious and scarce attention, you could actually create more proactive attention?

One productivity topic that is often overlooked is how we manage our bodies and brains. This is a vast subject area of course, worthy of several books in and of itself (and there are plenty out there). From what we eat and drink to how we move, how we sit and how we sleep, there are a lot of possible reasons why we feel energized one day but lethargic the next.

So where do you get your ‘juice’, and how do you stop running out of it? Are there things that you do that you know make you feel better? Personally, I know a short run first thing in the morning warms up my body and tends to put my brain into a fuller state of concentration. This is particularly true if I feel tired when I wake. I also know that if 88I’m delivering a workshop or likely to be on my feet all day, then porridge is the only breakfast that gets me through until lunch without me feeling hungry and fidgety. I know that ‘superfoods’ and certain vitamins help me to avoid that end of day ‘zone-out’ and prolong the length of time later in the day that I feel fully alert. And I know that while I’m lucky enough to be able to have a few beers or glasses of wine without getting a headache the next day, I will feel lethargic and spaced out.
There is a whole plethora of ways to look after your body and mind, some of which will have a more noticeable effect on your attention and energy than others. It’s a topic that cries out for extra attention if you’re serious about creating the impact in the world that extra energy and proactive attention can give you. For now, here are a few quick things to illustrate how looking after your health and wellbeing in order to improve your energy and productivity doesn’t need to be a huge extra commitment.

Quick tip…

1. Combine exercise with something else instead of going to the gym.

The psychological effect of adding the gym as yet another chore or another thing to maintain in your already busy life means it’s destined to result in disappointment. Instead, think about what you already do that you could do differently. Rather than walking the dog, try running with the dog. 89Cycle or run to work, or if you have five minutes to wait for a train or bus, spend that five minutes walking up and down the platforms or stairs. There are plenty of ways to tweak your existing commitments rather than adding in a new one.

Find out more about our productivity training and time management workshops on our website: www.thinkproductive.co.uk

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Productivity Ninja’s Thought For The Day: Smile!

January 20, 2015

Productivity Ninja














“A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.”

Phyllis Diller

Find out more about our productivity training and time management workshops on our website: www.thinkproductive.co.uk

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I is for Inbox Zero

January 15, 2015

Productivity Ninja


Think Productive runs a number of workshops on different aspects of personal and team productivity, from how to become a Productivity Ninja and run great meetings, through to email etiquette and team collaborations. But the workshop that sells more than any other is all about tackling the email inbox – it’s called ‘Getting Your Inbox to Zero’.

The term ‘inbox zero’ was first coined by a blogger called Merlin Mann, who gave a talk on the subject at Google as well as writing about email habits on his blog, 43folders.com. The video of that talk at Google went viral, and over the last few years productivity enthusiasts, app developers and whole organizations have become obsessed with the idea of getting their inboxes to zero. It’s not difficult to think about why having zero emails is a compelling thing. For some, it’s a daily practice, for others a summit never reached. There has even been a little bit of backlash, from people saying things like: ‘Why do I care about getting my inbox to zero anyway?’

In this blog post, I’m going to talk about why keeping your inbox at zero matters – after all, email is not your job, it’s a medium through which the real stuff happens.

Merlin Mann is the originator of the term ‘inbox zero’. For many years, his blog, 43folders.com, has been one of the most popular productivity blogs in the USA. His weekly podcast, ‘Back to Work’, can be found on iTunes.


The real goal of inbox zero

In the workshops that we run at Think Productive, we see the effect that getting your inbox to zero –  usually for the first time since day one in the job – can have on people. Their shoulders relax, they have more of a smile on their face and there’s a visible sense of relief, of calm, of having achieved something. It can be truly euphoric when people first see white space and an infinite nothing where they used to see a huge mountain of unwanted rubbish and inarticulate demands.

But while it’s truly satisfying to reach ‘the end’ of email (even if it’s only temporarily ‘the end’ until someone sends you another email), reaching ‘the end’ is not what makes inbox zero a powerful mindset and habit.

The real reason to get your inbox to zero is to free your mind from thinking about email and to spend less time in your email inbox. Reaching zero emails regularly eliminates distraction, reduces stress and helps clarify what tasks you might still have left to do. Because even when you reach inbox zero, there’s still work to do – in fact, it’s where the real work begins. There are still conversations to have, ideas 73to mull, problems to solve and politics to navigate. It’s just that when your inbox is at zero, you can see these things more clearly as you’ll have sorted out in your own mind or on your to-do list what the result of that mountain of emails actually amounts to in the real world. It’s no longer a huge source of discomfort and distraction. It even means you can turn your Outlook or Gmail or Mail app off for a while and do something else.

I don’t write with my email inbox turned on in the background. Sometimes I will try even though I know it’s a bad idea and end up having a bad productivity day as a result (we’re all human!). Deep down, we all know that email is a tool where latest and loudest always trumps the most vital.

Think about how many times today or this week you’ve been interrupted from what you were doing by a new email landing in your inbox or a notification on your phone. Out of those times, how many were the most important piece of information you received that day? You get the idea.

Find out more about our productivity training and time management workshops on our website: www.thinkproductive.co.uk


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Productivity Ninja’s Thought For The Day: Focus

January 13, 2015

Productivity Ninja















“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus”.

Mark Twain

Find out more about our productivity training and time management workshops on our website: www.thinkproductive.co.uk

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Productivity Ninja’s Thought For The Day: Lessons

January 6, 2015

Productivity Ninja














“Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know”.

Pema Chodron

Find out more about our productivity training and time management workshops on our website: www.thinkproductive.co.uk


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Productivity Ninja’s Thought For The Day: Happiness

December 17, 2014

Productivity Ninja















“The first recipe for happiness is: avoid too lengthy meditation on the past”.

Andre Maurois

Find out more about our productivity training and time management workshops on our website: www.thinkproductive.co.uk

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Right now, do you have ‘inner peace’?

December 15, 2014

Productivity Ninja

Real living and real productivity as a human being is about having inner peace or real peace of mind. The current label for this is ‘mindfulness‘. Plato, a Classical Greek philosopher, once said that the beginning of wisdom is in the definition of terms, so how do you define inner peace?

The definition that I have used for many years is “inner peace is having Serenity Balance and a Harmony in our lives achieved through the appropriate control of events”.

Real peace of mind comes through balance and control, and using our most precious resources, which are our energy, attention and time.

Time management is an oxymoron, you cannot manage time you can only manage yourself. Can you put and extra hour in the day? Can you make a minute shorter longer? No!

Everything in life is an event 

Sometimes on training courses I ask a delegate ‘what time is it?’ Easy question, but then I say ‘let me ask you a different question but I use the same words, time what is it?’ Big question! (Unless you’ve seen the recent movie, Interstellar). Several hundred years ago, Sir Isaac Newton said ‘that time was absolute; that it occurs whether the universe is here or not’. On the other hand, Einstein stated that “nothing is absolute, everything is relative” He furthered this by suggesting that “time is just the occurrence of events in sequence one after the other’ – a rather fancy way of saying if nothing ever happened we would have no sense of time.

Everything in life is an event; getting out of bed this morning was an event, getting to work was an event, picking up the phone was an event.  Big event?  Big problem. Time is just the occurrence of all these events in sequence one after the other. Have you ever heard anybody say ‘I’ve lost control of my life’? Or maybe you’ve said this at some point during your life?

The question is, what are we really saying when we talk about ‘losing control of our lives’? We say we’ve lost control of the events that make up our lives. As human beings, we are reactive. We do what everybody else thinks we should do, and when this feels out of our own control, it doesn’t feel very nice.

What’s your next event?

What’s the next event you’ll get involved with? Ask yourself, is my next event an email? Is my next event a phone call? Or is it a face-to-face meeting? Whatever the event may be, we need to continue asking ourselves the Key self audit question before we do anything, ‘what is the best use of my time’? Then stop and listen internally for the answer. Listen to your conscience, and then act.

So, if you feel that you’re not experiencing a sense of serenity, balance and harmony within your life right now, and you’d like to get into the driver’s seat (moving from reactive mode to proactive mode), then feel free to give us a call, we can help!

Content credit: Jim Hetherton

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H is for Habit

December 11, 2014

Productivity Ninja

az_banner3Taken on its own, the information in this blog post is useless. There is simply no point in buying or reading books like this one unless you plan to actually put these ideas to good use. It’s when you begin to use the information in these chapters to change your habits that the whole subject of productivity comes to life.

So why do so many people buy books like this and never even read them? Or buy books like this and read them for extra knowledge, but without actually making any change? Well, one reason is that it takes a lot of self-awareness to be able to analyse and change your habits.

The whole subject of you and your habits is most likely not what you wanted to read about – people want ‘tips’, ‘hacks’ and ‘shortcuts’. You wanted secret magic formulae to make it all better. Sorry to break the bad news to you, but there’s no magic shortcut, no secret formula. The only way to make lasting change is to make the effort to change your habits.

The four-stage model of competence

The four-stage model of competence offers us a window into our own minds. It details the process of taking any piece of information or new skill, from something that we can’t do for love nor money right through to a learned habit or behaviour. The model suggests that we go through four distinct phases as we learn:

1. Unconscious incompetence

2. Conscious incompetence

3. Conscious competence

4. Unconscious competence.

Unconscious incompetence, for example, is when you look at somebody doing something and say: ‘Wow, how do they do that?!’ You can’t do it and you wouldn’t know where to start if you were asked to try. It’s like when you see a juggler or magician and their skills just amaze you (unless you happen to be a juggler or a magician …).

On the other hand, conscious incompetence describes the period in which you’re learning something new and failing. As you learn, you keep screwing it up, but at the same time you’re starting to analyse for yourself where competence could come from. You’re starting to see what you’d need to do to get good at it. Imagine you are learning a new language, and the sentence structures and some of the vocabulary are coming together. When your errors are pointed out, you kick yourself and say, ‘Oh no! I knew that!’

Find out more about our productivity training and time management workshops on our website: www.thinkproductive.co.uk

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Productivity Ninja’s Thought For The Day: Wisdom

December 10, 2014

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“The pine stays green in winter… wisdom in hardship”.

Norman Douglas


Find out more about our productivity training and time management workshops on our website: www.thinkproductive.co.uk

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G is for Getting Things Done

December 4, 2014

Productivity Ninja


There’s been a long history of seminal books about the subject of time management. In the 1990s, the biggest book was Stephen Covey’s personal development bible, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which I’ll cover in more detail later on. Covey was the last of the traditional time management teachers, releasing his book just before the advent of email as an all-encompassing business tool.

In 2001, David Allen’s Getting Things Done became the book of the noughties. He was the first to suggest that the approach to getting things done should be primarily bottom-up as opposed to top-down. Previous great-writers on core themes like personal development, leadership and time management always start with the ‘visioning’. The common ground running through so many self-help books is that you start by picturing your goal or defining what you’re trying to achieve. From there, you work backwards, from life goals through to annual goals through to quarterly targets all the way back to defining ‘what shall I do today?’

Getting Things Done turned this on its head by asking: ‘What’s on your mind?’ This simple insight that for most of us, getting clear on current commitments is the first step towards achieving the bigger vision – or even being able to see the bigger vision at all – was one of the reasons I think Getting Things Done had such success.

David Allen was born in 1945 and grew up in Louisiana, USA. He is the founder of the David Allen Company, one of the USA’s best-known productivity companies. His most famous work is Getting Things Done, although the more recent book, Making It All Work, is actually the one I would recommend if you have yet to read any of his work.

Below is an example of one of David Allen’s key messages that I’ve incorporated into my working life.

The two-minute rule

Getting Things Done advocated the use of the two-minute rule Simply put, if you come across something and the next action takes less than two minutes, just do it straight away. The two-minute rule is extremely effective for a few different reasons:

1. It means you don’t need to spend time adding it to a list and then time in the future re-reading it and trying to remember it.

2. It keeps your lists shorter.

3. It obviously keeps a lot of things moving.

4. The two-minute things are often the fiddly and annoying things, so forcing yourself to do them straight away saves a lot of procrastination.

5. It creates the positive psychology of completion, which is rare in so much of our work these days.

Find out more about our productivity training and time management workshops on our website: www.thinkproductive.co.uk


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