5 things at 5

April 22, 2014

Graham Allcott

Over the weekend, Think Productive turned 5 years old.  Here, founder and chief Productivity Ninja Graham Allcott looks back at the last five years.

5 things at 5…

402317546_8e003baad5_oOn the 20th April 2009, Think Productive was officially born.  I’d been dipping my toe into productivity for a few months before that, inspired by the likes of David Allen, Merlin Mann and the early days of Lifehacker.com.  But on that date, we became registered as a limited company in the UK, we opened a proper bank account and made it all official.  I can’t believe that was five years ago already.  In one sense, it feels like only yesterday and it feels like we’re just hitting our stride.  In another way, it feels like a lifetime of hard graft to get here.  Time is, after all, an unmanageable illusion.  But you knew that already, didn’t you?

I’m not one for big self-congratulatory indulgences and lists of amazing achievements, but here are 5 things I’m extremely grateful for, from the first five years of Think Productive’s journey:

1. Doing the work

This may seem like an obvious place to start, but the work that we do is something I’m constantly reminded is important and even life-changing.  We get lots of emails that tell us as much.  It’s because we live in a world of massive disconnects: between the hours we should work and the hours our boss  feels we should work, between what’s achievable and what we actually want to achieve, between the working styles of organisation culture and us as individuals, between the tech and its usefulness, between thinking and doing, between work and life.  Often these disconnects are silently shattering people, often with them even realising it.

Our work plays an important role here – in helping people to identify what’s broken and offering tools and a way of thinking that helps make it better.  I love doing this work.  I love the difference it makes to peoples’ lives.  And I’m so, so grateful we get to do it.  As time has gone on, we’ve earned the right to think bigger in how we do it, too: now we do it with bigger companies, we do it around the world and we do it on a much bigger scale than when it was just little old me with some slides I’d cobbled together, talking to anyone who would listen.

 

2. People and relationships

Fundamentally, Think Productive is a people business.  Yes, there’s knowledge, expertise, branding and lots of other really vital things, but it only works if we foster great relationships with really talented people who share our values.  I’ve been so lucky over the years, but from the initial spark of my friend and mentor Martin Farrell believing in the concept, to Lee Cottier’s enthusiastic belief that I could make it bigger than just me, to our now-COO Elena Boga taking a huge pay cut and coming on board in an entry-level admin role because she could see the potential, to Dawn O’Connor’s belief that it could be big internationally, to Icon Books’ belief that my book could hold its own in WH Smiths… open, collaborative and supportive working relationships have been at the heart of every moment where we’ve taken things to the next level.  It’s also why I know we’re only just beginning: because we’ve got such a fantastic and capable team of people out running workshops around the world and of course, great people holding it all together behind the scenes at TPHQ.

 

3.  Recession

From a business point of view, we struggled in our first couple of years.  It was something to do with the deepest recession since the 1930′s and the fact that people don’t think about buying specialist training for their staff when times are tough (!).  But in many ways, it taught us a few things.  It taught us that in the short term, survival and working only for the permission to keep doing the work was something worth breaking our guts for.  It taught us how to be lean, to boot-strap and keep a focus on efficiency.  It taught us how to listen to customers and react to the unexpected (like our biggest client having their budget slashed and 60% of our work going down the pan in a single phone call, as I sat at the airport about to go off and write “How to be a Productivity Ninja”).  Recession also means you have to be really good to survive.  So I’m grateful for the fact that it forced us to be really good.

 

4. Getting paid

I don’t want to romanticise the hard times too much.  It’s been a long road and lots of people worked for free or did things above and beyond the call of duty because they knew we didn’t have the money to pay, or pay particularly well.  I personally didn’t see a penny from the business for nearly three years (in fact, the business swallowed up pretty much everything I had and I had to live pretty damn frugally to keep the show on the road), so I’m particularly grateful that now I can actually get paid.  It’s a bit of a myth that entrepreneurs and businesses are driven by money.  Very few great businesses truly are: most great businesses are driven by a belief in a need and a belief in something that helps meet it.  And getting paid and being profitable, whilst of course important in itself in the longer term, is more important as the vindication that what you believe has some truth in it: people agree with you.

 

5. You

You’re reading this because you’re either connected to Think Productive in some way, or we’ve done work with you, or you’ve read my book, or you follow our stuff online.  So most importantly, I want to say thank you for being part of it.  I said earlier that this is a “people business”.  As we continue to grow and expand around the world, my vision is that this becomes a “community business”: A community of Productivity Ninjas around the world, united by doing the work they’re grateful for doing, in a connected and inspired way, without all the stress and bullshit that can so easily take over.  So however involved you’ve been in the first five years of Think Productive, I just want to use this moment to say “thank you”.  And however engaged you are with us, please know that it’s our mission to make you more so over the next five years.  We’d love to hear from you about how we can do that.

Thank you.

By Graham Allcott

Leave a Reply

New Productivity Ninjas for the Benelux region!

March 21, 2014

Graham Allcott

Photo 12-03-2014 18 08 20

I’m delighted to announce that Think Productive has a new international outpost, in The Netherlands.  Fokke Kooistra and Marcel van den Berg last week signed a licensing deal to bring Think Productive’s productivity workshops to organizations in Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Fokke and Marcel share our business ethics and values and importantly, they also share our passion for all things productivity.  They’re skilled facilitators with remarkable track records too, and we’re really delighted and proud to have them on board as our first international partners in Europe.

The deal follows our first international partnership with Dawn O’Connor in Canada and we have several more in the pipeline as we continue to expand in the UK and around the world.

After signing the deal, Fokke and Marcel have spent a few days in the UK observing our workshops and getting to know the team.  We’ll also be looking to develop a Dutch language version of “How to be a Productivity Ninja” for release in the Dutch market at the end of 2014.

By Graham Allcott

Leave a Reply

New Productivity Ninjas for the Benelux region!

Graham Allcott

Photo 12-03-2014 18 08 20

I’m delighted to announce that Think Productive UK has a new international outpost, in The Netherlands.  Fokke Kooistra and Marcel van den Berg last week signed a licensing deal to bring Think Productive UK’s productivity workshops to organizations in Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Fokke and Marcel share our business ethics and values and importantly, they also share our passion for all things productivity.  They’re skilled facilitators with remarkable track records too, and we’re really delighted and proud to have them on board as our first international partners in Europe.

The deal follows our first international partnership with Dawn O’Connor in Canada and we have several more in the pipeline as we continue to expand in the UK and around the world.

After signing the deal, Fokke and Marcel have spent a few days in the UK observing our workshops and getting to know the team.  We’ll also be looking to develop a Dutch language version of “How to be a Productivity Ninja” for release in the Dutch market at the end of 2014.

By Graham Allcott

Leave a Reply

From Productivity to Fruit Ninjas!

March 20, 2014

Productivity Ninja

Week One

Here at Think Productive UK Head Quarters our ninjas have been given the opportunity to sample the fruit delivery service offered by www.Fruitdrop.co.uk - and the impact it has on our productivity, our health and our happiness!

fruit drop 2

A strong advocate of the idea that a healthy body is vital for a healthy mind, Graham Allcott, the founder of  Think Productive UK has written about the benefits of healthy eating relative to workplace productivity in the past:  10 Ways to Eat Yourself Productive .

As an organisation that strives to ‘practice what it preaches’, a healthy stock of fruit is almost ever-present in the  office. There are, however, several benefits to the ‘Fruitdrop’ service that are evident immediately.

First thing on Monday morning a friendly deliveryman arrived with our fruit AND he carried it up to our second floor office! Saving me a trip to the shop in the rain and a slog up the stairs, making the convenience factor abundantly clear! All that was left was for our more artistic team members to decant the fruit and rest of us to start ‘munching’. ..

photo

Week Four

Four weeks later and I am sad to say our final Fruitdrop has been and gone. It was a great service that undoubtedly benefited the team and our productivity! Juicy, delicious and healthy fruit being constantly replenished in abundance meant that everyone had more than enough. Personally, this meant I would snack on fruit rather than crisps or biscuits due to the sheer volume and consistency of fruit that was always there. A reliable, flexible and high quality service – I would definitely recommend signing up for Fruitdrop at any office, check out the boxes and pricing here: http://www.fruitdrop.co.uk/boxes-pricing/

By Productivity Ninja

Leave a Reply

Forget all meetings – except these ones

March 17, 2014

We talk a lot at Think Productive UK about avoiding meetings, and ways to achieve the goal in a different way.

However, we mustn’t overlook the times when only a meeting will do.

eyeball

READ THE ROOM

Image – LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by Sam Bald

The unique facet of a meeting above almost all of the alternatives I’ve listed is that you have all the people that matter in a room together, and you can eyeball them.

This means that you can really get a sense of the nuances, politics and potential commitment of all the key players. You can ask the difficult questions and get back not just answers but promises. What usually goes wrong in meetings is that people use them for getting promises on the detail rather than promises on the higher-level questions, questions such as:

? “What’s the general approach?”

? “If it’s this vs. this, what wins?”

? “Who are we most out to satisfy here?”

? “What’s more important here, quality or cost, and where is the line before that answer changes?”

These are the sky-level questions, built on strategic thinking and the knowledge of the bigger picture. Using meetings to establish and revisit these kinds of questions is key. Let the promises and guidance from sky-level, strategic issues steer the direction of operational decisions without the need for another meeting.

So many meetings focus on the ground-level details, when detail is much better delegated to one individual than discussed in committees. Done well, these kinds of meetings should be intense rollercoasters of emotion, conflict, compromise and heated argument, led by skilful questioning and listening.

MEET WHEN THE EMOTIONAL FALLOUT IS IMPORTANT TO MANAGE

Image LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by libertygrace0

tantrumSimilarly, if you’re conveying difficult decisions, or need to explore a difficult topic that might prove personal and emotional for some of the people involved, you probably need a meeting. I still think you can do more preparation here to limit the time spent and make raising the super-difficult issues a little more palatable.

There’s definitely no honour in hiding behind an email when communicating the kinds of decisions where someone really deserves the right to look you in the eye. One word of caution here though: only manage emotional fallout if it’s important for you to do so. So if John has worked for the company for 27 years and you’re having to make his role redundant, that’s important. If Bill is going to throw a hissy fit because you’ve chosen a different design to his preferred choice, well perhaps that’s something you don’t need to see so let him have that hissy fit somewhere else – most probably at home with his partner.

MEET TO ESTABLISH MOMENTUM, FLOW AND ENERGY

Start projects with ‘kick-off meetings’. The aim here is to gel a team together and go through Tuckman’s classic stages of group development, from ‘forming, to storming, to norming’, so that for the rest of the project, they’re in the next stage: ‘performing’.

Establishing a good energy, flow and momentum is great because it makes future collaborations easier and smoother. Since the purpose of these meetings is about personal chemistry and light-touch interaction with the issues, it’s often a good idea to hold these kinds of meetings in unorthodox settings.

So be brave, and take them tenpin bowling or for a nice meal outside the office.

These are also great occasions for symbolism and storytelling. You may want to invite along someone senior who will have little to do with the day-to-day running of the project but who can stress to the newly assembled team just how important this project is and the bigger picture into which it fits. An hour or two invested at this stage pays back tenfold in increased commitment, enhanced and more intelligent communications and solid, productive momentum.

Find out more about improving your meetings, with our in-house facilitation training

By

Leave a Reply

You don't need to please everyone

March 13, 2014

Graham Allcott

We all have little ‘nightmare scenarios’ that play out in our heads. For the last three or four years, through the process of writing ‘Ninja’, through its’ release and subsequent re-release, one of those nightmares for me has been receiving a 1-star amazon review. Scrutiny and judgement isn’t something anyone likes. You can grow a thicker skin (so they tell me) but no one is totally immune from feeling a little bruised by such things. For about a month in 2012, such was my crippling fear of receiving a 1-star amazon review, that I nearly didn’t let ‘Ninja’ out into the world to play at all. I was clinging on to my creation, wondering whether it should just be given safely to friends and acquaintances who will treat it nicely and only give criticism as polite metaphor.

IMG_0351

photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/stormino/

Well, today I finally received the 1-star amazon review. I logged on and there it was. Well, first I saw the 5 stars of my ‘average rating’ beaten down to 4 and a half and from that moment I knew something must have been rotten in the state of Luxembourg. And, by the way, it’s amazing to me too that I focus on that missing half rather than on those big shiny 4 and a half – glass 95% full or 5% empty, eh?
So I read the review. My heart raced very slightly. Something I loved and cared for and nurtured and put out into the world hoping it would make a difference, just beaten down and rejected. Ridiculed as worthless. Ouch.

And then I remembered.

We don’t need everyone to love what we do. We don’t even need most people to love it (although thankfully, loads of people write lovely things in emails and on reviews that I absolutely never take for granted and that absolutely always make my day when I read them). I remembered the words of my coach, Rasheed Ogunlaru, who got my through my 1-star meltdown a couple of years ago by simply saying “don’t write for the people who might hate it, write for the people who might love it”. And in fact, as Seth Godin and others have said, if you don’t have any 1-star reviews you’re not doing anything important or different enough.

And here’s the real lesson. I read the 1 star review – the thing I’d dreaded for years, remember – and then I just got up and made a cup of tea. A lovely cup of tea. Nothing crashed around me, the world kept spinning and I felt kind of liberated. It felt like some sort of strange rites of passage.  And then when I got back to my desk and continued writing my second book, I did so for the people who gave ‘Ninja’ 5 stars. And I tried harder so that those that gave it 4 stars will give the next one 5. And so that maybe those that gave it a 3 star review will give the next one a 4 or even a 5. But the 1-star folks? It’s nice to finally know for sure that trying to please them doesn’t matter at all.

We don’t need everyone in life to give us 5 stars. Art and opinion and ideas wouldn’t be interesting to us if they didn’t polarise. Guinness wouldn’t be Guinness if it was everyone’s favourite drink. And in the same way, my mini rites of passage has freed me from any lingering responsibility I felt I had to try and fill the 5% of the glass that was empty.

Let me whisper this new little secret in your ear and then leave you a silence so that you can contemplate the vastness of its implication: you don’t need to please everyone.

 

 

Graham’s book is available here. And our time management courses do tend to please almost everyone, so why not drop us a line!

By Graham Allcott

2 responses

  1. Gema says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more Graham! Every word you said here resonates; and the higher you reach in life, the more ambitious you are, the more people will comment… it’s inevitable. BUT – I always remind myself of the following simple scenario; the bus stop. If I was to openly tell a bus stop full of random people my hopes, fears, and share my supposed talents, would I then take their feedback to heart? That is the general public, they are free to think whatever they like – but I am very selective about whose criticism I listen to, and act upon. Otherwise… you’d never do anything at all, would you? :D Thanks for writing Graham, enjoyed it!

  2. think says:

    Thanks Gema! Or… maybe sometimes it’s a cue that we’re at the wrong bus stop too?! :D

Leave a Reply

Productive Team Working: Six ways to encourage your colleagues to be less distracting!

February 24, 2014

Grace Marshall

I was running a How to Get Things Done workshop recently in an organisation with a very collaborative and compassionate team-working culture. People genuinely cared about each other, relied on each other to do their work well, and hated saying no or letting others down.

It was clearly a great place to work. But it was also highly distracting. So after working on personal ways of managing distractions, reducing stress and boosting productivity, the inevitable question came: “What about everyone else? How do we make it work within this culture that is so reactive and interdependent?”

It’s one thing putting personal productivity habits into action, but what about the people you work with?

Aside from encouraging them to do the same workshop ;) here are six ways to encourage productivity and reduce distractions in your working relationships:

1. Be proactive about giving your help

Instead of “Come and find me if you have questions” try “Let’s catch up next week when you’ve had a chance to digest and go over any questions. Is Monday good for you?”

Or ask: “What do you think you’ll need from me?”

2. Think ahead and set expectations

Chief Ninja Graham sent an email round last week to say “next week I’m off the grid”. In Ninja terms, he was ‘going dark’ and would be unavailable on social media, email or phone for the whole week to get a big chunk of writing done.

“I’m around all of this week if you need stuff though. And then back on Monday 3rd March.”

Instead of just doing a disappearing act, he gave us notice. As it happened there was something I wanted to talk to him about. In my own timing, I would have gotten in touch this week, but because of this note we arranged to speak last Friday instead. And that worked out well.

3. Use Agendas

When there’s someone you work closely with, it’s easy to get into the habit of firing off questions when they come to mind and end up constantly interrupting each other.

Instead, keep a running agenda of all the things you want to discuss with them, and ask them to do the same. That way, when you speak, you have a list of everything you want to ask or discuss, rather than interrupting each other throughout the day.

4. Ask

“When do you need that for?”

“Is it ok if I get back to you at 4pm on that?”

“I’ll have a better idea of that on Tuesday, can we speak then?”

Sometimes we assume that other people need things urgently from us. Maybe they do, maybe it’s just when it happens to come up on their radar. Either way, you won’t know until you ask. Avoid mind reading. Just ask.

Ask yourself too: What’s the most helpful way of doing this? How can I best help? Being responsive depends on your ability to respond. You’re probably not giving them your best attention if you’re always working under last minute reactiveness.

5. Use signals

At Think Productive UK, our Chief Operating Officer Elena, puts a china cat on her desk when she needs to focus on a piece of work without interruption. It’s her way of saying to the rest of the office that she’s not available right now. Other people use headphones, signs or other signals.

Make sure you communicate this one beforehand, and use it sparingly, so everyone knows and respects that you won’t be unavailable forever.

6. Set the example

Culture forms from habit, and is perpetuated by unwritten rules. When you form new habits, communicate them well, explain your reasons and most of all show the benefits.

Be the change you want to see. Be the one who gets to the point in meetings. Be the one to use CC clearly and considerately. Be the one to think ahead and give advanced notice instead of asking for things last minute. Be the one to say no nicely.

Because when you do, you give others permission to do the same.

Ultimately it’s not just about you. You can be sure that if distractions are rife and costing you time, attention and peace of mind, it’s costing your colleagues too.

If your organisation has developed a culture of being too helpful, too reactive and mutually disruptive, perhaps it’s time to ask what productivity practices are most helpful to the whole team.

Who distracts you the most at work? Who do you distract the most? What productive co-working practices work well for you?

Share your comments and thoughts below.

By Grace Marshall

Leave a Reply

Knowing is not enough…

February 21, 2014

Graham Allcott

running

Image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/marksteele/

 

I start most days with a really brisk 10-15 minute run.  But for the last three weeks or so I’d gotten completely out of the habit of running.  I felt foggy and tired so couldn’t be bothered to run.  This meant that instead of feeling energised, I felt stressed and not at my best for large chunks of the day.  And this meant I was getting less work done and feeling less and less at my best.

“I’ll get back on track tomorrow”, my brain kept telling me.

“Well, today I have an 8am conference call, so I’ll run tomorrow”.

“Well, I have a little bit of a cold coming on, so I’ll get healthy again this week and start running next week”.

“Run?  In THAT rain?!”.

And then earlier this week I forced myself to get back in the groove.  The running isn’t hard.  After all, it’s only 15 minutes and this time last year I was in training for the London Marathon!  But what’s hard is the putting your trainers on in the morning and breaking the impasse.  That’s the hard bit.

But once I did?  Well, you probably know the answer, because you have your own version of running.  The last two days I’ve felt a much greater sense of clarity.  I’ve got loads more done, I’ve switched off from work much better.  When it comes to momentum, you’re never static, you’re either on a positive spiral or a negative one.

And it just goes to show that even when we KNOW what’s good for us – even when we know that it would be plain ridiculous to procrastinate and deny ourselves what we need – we’re still human, and we still screw it up.

Knowing what’s good for us isn’t enough.

But sometimes the clever and motivated part of us has to work really hard to defeat the dumb and lazy part of us.  Sometimes we need to get beyond the ‘knowing’ and just start ‘doing’ instead.  The running’s the easy bit – but the hard part is to put on your running shoes and getting started.

 

 

By Graham Allcott

Leave a Reply

Kindle Daily Deal – Friday 21st February!

Graham Allcott

KDD-2 (5)

 

For TODAY ONLY, you’ll be able to download a copy of “How to be a Productivity Ninja” from Amazon.co.uk for just 99p!  It’s part of Amazon’s ‘Kindle Daily Deal’ promotion, so you have until the end of the day to get on there and order it.  CLICK HERE!

And if you have the old version on your Kindle already and were wondering whether to buy it again, well now it’s less than a pound, you might as well!

GO ON, CLICK HERE!

It’s a big coup for us to get our little book into such a prestigious and well-known promotion as Amazon Daily Deal, so please help us spread the word today.  I’m told it does wonders for your Amazon ranking (although doesn’t make you much money!) so your support is very much appreciated.  We’re also delighted that for the last four weeks, we’ve been number 1 in the business chart at WH Smiths and it’s also selling well in Waterstones too.

 

Photo 14-01-2014 16 15 09

So a big, big thank you if you’ve bought it already.  I’m really grateful for all the support.  It has a chance to build up a really strong word-of-mouth following, and promotions and recognition like this are a really big part of making that happen, so I hope you’ll indulge my banging on about it and I promise to stop soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Graham Allcott

Leave a Reply

Delegate like a boss!

February 4, 2014

Graham Allcott

delegatebanner

 

 

A few weeks ago, I was interview by Susan Brennan, from Consider It Done Personally.  Susan’s company has put together a whole virtual summit, with interviews featuring a broad range of interesting folks – from Brighton’s very own Mark Walsh, to the founder of BNI Ivan Misner to Finland’s ‘Productive Superdad’  Timo Kiander!

Susan has done an ‘encore’ of our interview, which you can get by clicking here.

It was a lot of fun to do – with Susan asking me about how I delegate – and me talking in a bit more detail about some of the ‘stealth delegation’ techniques I cover talk about in ‘How to be a Productivity Ninja’.

You can join the Consider It Done Club here, and if you want to find out more about the summit, simply contact her directly through her website, here!

 

By Graham Allcott

One response

Leave a Reply

Network-wide options by YD - Freelance Wordpress Developer