Productivity Ninja’s Thought for the Day

September 1, 2014

Productivity Ninja

Ninja Thought for the Day 5

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“D is for Distractions”

August 28, 2014
Graham Allcott

Graham Allcott


“D is for Distractions”

Much of our best work – the quality thinking and quality doing – happens when we’re able to fend off distractions and keep our attention on the things that matter.

There are two types of distractions: external and internal. Let’s start with those external distractions that we have to battle with on a day-to-day basis. I’ll start with this thought: If you could design a more interruption-filled, uncomfortable, judgement and stress-fuelled environment specifically for the purposes of keeping someone off-topic and unproductive, you’d design something that looks much like the average open plan office. If you’re unfortunate enough to work in an open plan office, then many external distractions can’t be controlled. However, what you can do is:

Much of our best work – the quality thinking and quality doing - happens when we’re able to fend off distractions and keep our attention on the things that matter.

  • Turn off email and social media notifications so that your screen, phone or tablet is not constantly flashing new pieces of information in your face. These interruptions may feel small individually, but added together they take out a huge chunk of the day’s attention.
  • Take some time in your week when you purposefully work somewhere else in the building, away from bosses, colleagues, email inboxes and the like. Even two hours a week spent ‘going dark’ – absent from view but using your proactive attention to focus – can be extremely valuable.
  • Spend more time plugged in but offline – you don’t have to have your email inbox and phone switched on the whole time! Again, even at your desk you can control the distractions at source to some extent.
  • Pay attention to how much information you are exposed to, both outside of work and in the rest of your life. Watch less TV; choose not to read the free newspapers; take some time off the internet; be ‘screen-free’ for a day or all weekend. The downside to our instant information culture is that it distracts us from the present moment and from our own thoughts. It’s important to give your mind a rest and a chance to wander once in a while.
  • Meditate. We will cover this later when we come on to Zen, but these final couple of points are not disconnected from work productivity. In fact, they’re absolutely essential to maintaining good proactive attention.


Even harder to deal with than those external distractions are the internal distractions: the little voices and vices inside your head. Yes, it was you that retreated from the challenges of that spreadsheet to go and check the BBC website. Yes, it was you that spent time on that shiny new thing instead of following through on that more valuable but scary thing. There’s no-one else to blame (and yes, I’m just as guilty of sabotaging my own work too!).

Why does this happen? Well, put simply, lots of distractions give the illusion of having value. So when we’re stuck or struggling or feeling frustrated we tend to look for some kind of instant gratification.

Low-grade useful stuff we procrastinate with:

  • Checking email
  • Checking notifications
  • Internet ‘research’ into topics that in reality we don’t need to research at all
  • ‘Catching up’ with the news (which we’ll read, hear or watch later anyway)
  • Making another cup of tea or snacking
  • Optional meetings


Downright useless stuff we procrastinate with:

  • Solitaire/Tetris/Angry Birds/Minesweeper/Candy Crush (delete according to your device and generation)
  • Office gossip
  • Loops of videos or celeb gossip online – usually justified with some kind of ‘five minutes of chill time’ internal dialogue.



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Productivity Ninja’s Thought for the Day

Productivity Ninja

Perfecting the art of a good subject line is key to excellent email etiquette. Do this by writing it last instead of first

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Resistance is Futile

August 26, 2014
Graham Allcott

Graham Allcott

Routines can distract resistance for just long enough to get you into momentum

Resistance is Futile! Resisting tough tasks makes work harder in the long run

Getting going and building momentum can be difficult at the start of your day. Routines are a great tool to distract resistance for just long enough to get you into momentum. Following a particular pattern at the start of your day, where the fifth of six elements happens to be doing a piece of work that your resistance would usually shout and scream about is a clever way of nipping in with the work before your resistance notices. For a long time when I worked from home, my morning routine was deliberately regimented:

1. Drink water
2. Ten minute run
3. Shower
4. Breakfast
5. Worst task of the day
6. Daily Check-list

Hidden inside so many positive and comfortable tasks was doing something truly dreadful. With the endorphins from my run still pumping around my body, the resistance didn’t know where to look. These days, every morning is different but those that start with good routines tend to continue on into more productive days.

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Productivity Ninja’s Thought for the Day

Productivity Ninja

Ninja Thought for the Day 3

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“C is for the CORD Productivity Model”

August 21, 2014
Graham Allcott

Graham Allcott


Your job is not your job…

There is a fundamental difference between the kind of job you might have had in the pre-digital age and the kind of job you have now as a knowledge worker. In the industrial age, your job was to perform a function – think packing boxes in a factory or serving drinks behind a bar. Your job as a knowledge worker is to deliver the right outcomes and information in much the same way as someone behind a bar needs to deliver a good beer. But that’s not really your job. That’s not the bit they pay you for.

What you’re paid to do is work out what the job is, how it should look, how to go about it, and so on. What you’re paid to do is take information from other people’s emails and priorities, react to what’s happening in the wider world, apply professional expertise and define the work. What you’re really paid for is the thinking process that goes on. After all, anyone could type and send that final email signing it all off if they were told exactly what to say!


How strong is your CORD?

My book, How to be a Productivity Ninja, uses the CORD Productivity Model, which we developed through my company, Think Productive, and have taught to thousands of people in organizations around the world over the last few years. It’s an illustration of ‘information workflow’: the journey that you go on with any piece of information, from receiving it to its final conversion into something that’s either done or not done.

There are four stages to this process: Capture and Collect, Organize, Review and Do. To improve your productivity, you must focus on the habits that support each of these four stages. Think of it like a chain – one weak link will affect its overall strength. Your productivity is only as good as the weakest of these four crucial elements.

Using CORD to overcome ‘information overload’

Recognizing these four distinct phases of knowledge work can be a great help when we’re faced with the feeling of 33 ‘information overload’. Using CORD, you can work out where the ‘blockage’ in your workflow is and which element of the CORD process you have neglected.

Is it down to too much information coming in? Is it too much information remaining undefined and disorganized, with no sense of the potential meaning or outcome? Is it because you need to take a step back and revisit priorities and see the bigger picture? Or is it that the time for thinking is over and you need to knuckle down and clear the decks by simply getting on with delivering on your commitments?

CORD can act as a diagnostic tool to help you put your attention in the right place and become motivated and in control again.

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Productivity Ninja’s Thought for the Day

August 20, 2014

Productivity Ninja

Ninja Thought for the Day 2

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“B is for Batching”

August 14, 2014
Graham Allcott

Graham Allcott


“B is for Batching”

If you think about any activity you might need to undertake, from writing a report to filling in your expense claim, or from conducting research to planning a meeting, the scale and scope of the task is much easier to contemplate when you’re underway than it is before you start. There’s a certain set-up time required to get into the mindset of writing a report or compiling your expenses. You need to remind yourself how the systems work, line up the right documents on your screen or get the paperwork in front of you. This set-up time can be a barrier to productivity or even a root of procrastination. Often, the set-up takes as long as the task itself – think about how long it takes to key in all the security information you need to access your online banking versus how long it takes to actually make the bank transfer. Yet once you’re in the zone with something, it’s quite easy to keep going.

Batching is a technique to reduce this set-up time and help you to stay in the zone. The idea is simple: store up similar tasks into batches, so that you do lots of them less often rather than more regularly as individual tasks. There are lots of ways to work in batches. Here are a few you can try:

  • Save up the filing you need to do into a tray on your desk. Only complete the filing once that tray is full.
  • Save up invoices that you need to pay and do them once a week or once a month rather than as they arrive.
  • Turn on your email, process it to zero, then turn it off again.
  • Buy things in bulk – anything from buying the year’s birthday cards for your whole family from a card store through to stationery supplies for the office. Stocking up means fewer trips to the shop or less time spent on the website fiddling around for your credit card verification.
  • Set up meetings and schedule travel at the same time each day. I don’t schedule new meetings or calls until the end of every day. My diary is pretty complex, so getting into the mode of understanding my schedule is a big set-up cost just to schedule one lousy meeting. So, if I receive emails asking me about dates or looking for my availability, I save them in a folder all day so I can deal with it all at 6pm before I finish work.
  • Think about projects. Batching together all the thinking needed to keep projects on track and doing this just once a week provides amazing clarity and saves a huge amount of time otherwise wasted stressing about the status of different projects.


The batching approach applies outside of work too. Why not think about batching when:

  • Ironing your clothes – it’s much easier to do extra shirts when you’re already ironing than to have to get the ironing board out again tomorrow!
  • Cooking – it takes just the same effort to make ten portions of chilli con carne as it does to make two!


Can you think of any other things in your life you could try batching (let us know your batching ideas by replying below!)?

 B is for Batch

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How Expensive are Your Meetings?

August 11, 2014

Productivity Ninja

How expensive are your meetings?

Today Think Productive is delighted to share a contribution from learning and development consultant Jim Hetherton:

How Expensive are Your Meetings?

Have you ever walked out of a meeting saying to yourself “that was a complete waste of time, there is another two hours I’m not going to get a refund on”?

Meetings are an unavoidable fact of life and according to an LSE study the average manager spends 18 to 26 hours per week in formal and informal meetings; and the average meeting comprises of eight people!

What is Opportunity Cost?

Simply stated: “What you would have done if you didn’t make the choice that you did”, so the moment you commit to X you have decided not to do Y, as a leader we need to ask some important questions before we call meetings. One such question is what sort of ROI or return on investment will we get from the meeting?

Too often we hold a £5000 meeting to solve a £500 problem, in normal business life any expenditure also has to have a receipt or some proof of purchase, but sadly the same rationale seems not apply to meetings. The table below gives you some indication of the true cost of meetings in financial terms, so before calling another meeting, do the maths!

Annual Salary (£)

Weekly Salary (£)

Overheads (+40%)

Total per Week (£)

Value per Hour (£)*

Value per Minute (£)











































  • based on a paid 37½ hour week


By Jim Hetherton

If you feel your meetings are inefficient, unproductive or ineffective then have a look at our ‘Making Meetings Magic’ course. This course offers facilitation training that gives you an opportunity to think about what makes effective and productive meetings, and gives you the tools to help you make every meeting magic!

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“A is for Attention”

August 6, 2014
Graham Allcott

Graham Allcott


“A is for Attention”

Your attention is one of your most invaluable resources and often more limited than your time. Have you ever got to the end of a day where you’ve still got loads to do, you’re still motivated to do it and you have all the tools or information that you need, yet you’re still just staring into space? Under those circumstances, you’ll often tell yourself you ran out of time, but actually you just ran out of attention.

There are several ways you can manage your attention. Likewise, it’s possible to manage your mind and body to give yourself a better quality of attention by considering organizational structures, technology habits, psychology, nutrition and other practical stuff.

Attention as an Art

The ‘art’ of attention management and productivity lies in finding your own personal formula for getting into a state of what psychologists call ‘flow’ and what Buddhists call ‘Zen’: the ability to be present, in the moment, focusing your attention only on the one thing you want to focus it on. Most people experience this fleetingly, usually in moments where you’re up against a deadline and that deadline means you forget your hunger, you forget the other 10,000 things you could be doing at that moment and you’re 100 per cent engaged in the work. Or you experience it because you’re in a crisis and there’s one thing that’s so big it commands all of your attention. But it is possible to reach this level of Zen-like calm regularly in your work – you just need to make some effort eliminating distractions. (We’ll come to that later.)

The art of attention-based productivity is personal, less predictable and in some ways unique to each of us. In her book, ‘The Artist’s Way’, Julia Cameron talks about creativity being like an ‘inner child’, and we know what children need: protection, nurturing, motivation, food, teaching, safety, to be listened to, to be treated as an individual and to be free from stress. So one key productivity lesson is to learn to be a bit kinder to yourself. The truth is too many people are quick to beat themselves up when things don’t go their way, but a cycle of ‘stress, lower productivity, more stress, even lower productivity’ isn’t good for anyone. Our instincts and sense of guilt often favour the stick not the carrot.

Attention as a Science

The science bit of attention is in the organizational structures, the use of tools and technology, the building on what you know has worked in the past (for you and for others) and in maintaining a regular ‘feedback loop’ where you spend some of your attention being conscious and mindful around your own habits and analysing what’s working for you and what’s not. When most people think about ‘productivity’ as a subject, they think about the science stuff. They read productivity websites that have articles called things like ‘Seven great new android apps’ and ‘What Mozart knew about productivity’.

To order my new book  ”Introducing Productivity” simply click here!

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