Introducing September's Productivity Experiment: The lemon

6/9/2013 |

9 - global office-02

It’s not been the best of times. My wife Chaz is having our first child in November and we’ve discovered over the last few weeks that the baby has some complications.  Some “structural problems” is what the amazing NHS folks in the lightly coloured shirts and chino trousers seem to call it.  So we ask questions and try to remember the answers on the way home, we ask each other what it all means, we calculate percentage chances and we ask Dr Google who unhelpfully directs us to alarmist articles featuring distraught parents from the archives of the Daily Mail.

September was supposed to be safely “early enough” that I was to make my first trip to Australia.  It’s been planned for a year.  I was going to give a keynote at Australia’s biggest volunteering conference, run some productivity masterclasses in Oz’s coolest cities and go and meet my new Australian publishers ahead of my book launching there early next year.  A really exciting work trip, popping in on my friends at in Dubai on the way back home.  A final, pre-fatherhood work fling!

Yet as the time approached and the hospital visits became a bit more frequent, it became clear that Australia would be too far away.  I needed to be here for September.  At the moment, “life” is getting in the way of all of those best-laid plans.

So over the weekend I stared at my diary and wondered what to make of the emptiness.  I wonder how much of a stretch it would be to continue with September’s scheduled productivity experiment “Global Office” in which the intrepid ninja runs his office as normal with just a laptop bag and an internet connection.  No matter how hard I try, Costa Coffee in Kings Cross doesn’t have quite the same ring and excitement as the Sydney Opera House.

And then I remembered the words of my coach, Rasheed Ogunlaru, from a time a couple of years ago when I was panicking and scared.  He stopped me in the middle of my paranoid rant and said “Graham, this is your material”.

Productivity is nothing to do with perfection.  It’s about making the best reality.  And as the old saying goes, “when life throws you a lemon, make lemonade”.

So this month is no longer “global office”, or “out of office” as I was planning to rename it.  This month is “the lemon”.


What’s my hypothesis?

Every new experiment starts by me asking me what’s my hypothesis.  But since I haven’t had time to think of one, let me offer the truth instead.  I have an empty diary, I’m upset at having let people down, I’m anxious about our baby and I’m feeling quite distracted.

What I know is that I’m determined to make something of this time anyway.  I suddenly have about seven free weeks in September and October due to cancelled trips.  Yet of course I have no idea how much of that time I’ll be able to devote to work.  I’m both open and uncertain.  It’s like sitting in a rowing boat in the middle of the ocean, with no horizon in sight – it’s your choice if you choose to feel lost or free.


So I guess my hypothesis is that it’s at precisely these times that we need to be a Productivity Ninja more than at any other time.  Having just returned from my “Abyss” experiment, detached from work for a month, I badly need to do a proper weekly checklist review and start doing my daily checklist as well.  It’s at moments like this, bobbing along in your rowing boat in the middle of the ocean, that you realise that you do have the map to help you find some shore.

But since “taking things day by day” has become my catchphrase in the last couple of weeks – and there may be troubling times ahead – I’m going to try and use this month to explore productivity through the eyes of someone distracted and disorientated by “life” getting in the way of best-laid plans too.  And it’ll be interesting to think about how we strike the balance between productivity and being kind to ourselves and those around us at times when the latter feels like the most important thing in the world.

After all, these are the challenges of which Productivity Ninjas are made.


Hopes and fears?

Again, I usually start each month by focussing on my hopes and fears and for this new experiment, I’m unprepared.  To be honest, my hopes and fears have been many in the last few days, but none relate to productivity experiments.

So really, my only hope is that I make something good and interesting from this strange and unexpected blank canvas.  My only fear is that I end the month without any lemonade.


  1. Kirsten Wreggitt

    Dear Graham,

    My heart goes out to you and Chaz. I am in tears reading your blog post. And I am sending you much love and support across the ocean.

    But here’s the thing. You are making lemonade already. You are demonstrating so many of the Ninja principles in your actions! Zen-like calm, Ruthlessness, Agility, and Mindfulness to name a few. You’ve said no to some stuff, moved things around according to priorities, and returned to your tools for clarity.

    I love following you during all of your experiments and I’m always in awe at your ability to look at things through a new lens. What is even more amazing about the “lemon” month is that you are demonstrating that even in the worst of times the system works. Us followers thought perhaps we were the only ones with lemon months!

    Thank you for sharing so honestly. I am sure you will end the month with more lemonade than you could possibly imagine!

  2. graham

    Kirsten, wonderful to hear and thank you for your kind comments and good wishes. It’s still all a little bit day by day, but we’re keeping everything crossed.

    It was a bit of a stressful decision to share it, but I felt it would have been completely disingenuous to spend the month on some new experiment I’d thought up at the last minute, with such an elephant in the room.

    Strangely, it’s also given me a couple of big moments of clarity on my own ‘big picture’, more of which will be on the blog this week.

  3. Kirsten Wreggitt

    I think the truth lies in how we try desperately to separate our business life from our “other” life. You only have one life and being real is the most important way to show up. Thanks for being brave enough to share.

    Warmest thoughts.

  4. georgina goodrich

    Hi Graham,

    I wrote a really good (by that I mean heartfelt, yet funny,yet poignant) reply to this post (if I do say so myself (!!) TWICE but it still doesn’t seem to have appeared so whilst checking in on your website again this week (to recommend it to someone) I thought third time lucky.

    What I said, paraphrasing myself, was that whilst you may think Global Office didn’t work for the month – Global Reach certainly did. I was one of the audience members at the Volunteering Conference (in Adelaide) you couldn’t attend and although you couldn’t see it, the audience were transfixed by your address (which, by the way, looked like it was delivered in a very cream / plain room….that may be the before shot of a nursery perhaps?!). There was thunderous applause and I think it was the best speech of the conference.

    You may feel like you are bobbing away in your boat all alone in the ocean – but there are many people looking out for you and holding out a light so you can find your way home (that’s a bit deep but you know what I mean).

    As it’s the beginning of October now, I wonder what is in store for you this month – I hope some really good news comes your way about baby and I wish you and Chaz the very best. Cheers, Georgina

  5. graham

    thanks Georgina! So so grateful to you for reaching out… not once but three times :)


    hello Graham, so sad to read your blog, it was very brave of you to share your troubles, this time is not just for making lemons its extra time as a couple before your little one arrives. We had very bad odds when we had our children (the genetic consultation we had when I was 6 months pregnant – was ‘maybe you should have thought things through before you got pregnant’!)I had two very beautiful pregnancies with lots of tests,two awful deliveries and two healthy beautiful babies, but I had awful nightmares and nagging doubts during those times that I did not share or face up to. Your ethos and your ability to priortise will see you through these tough times.You will never have this opportunity again. My thoughts and prayers are with you both.x
    From my favourite film comes this quote:”God closes one door and somewhere he opens a window”.


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