Category: Productivity (page 1 of 15)

How to be an effective knowledge worker and ‘manage yourself’

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, at the moment I’m reading eight books on repeat every morning. One of these is Peter Drucker’s magnificent Managing Oneself. I’ve actually gifted it to a couple of Critical Friend clients as it’s so good.

There’s some great insights in there, and some sections in particular I’d like to share here. First off, it’s worth defining terms. Thomas Davenport, in his book Thinking for a Living defines knowledge workers in the following way:

Knowledge workers have high degrees of expertise, education, or experience, and the primary purpose of their jobs involves the creation, distribution or application of knowledge.

So I’m guessing that almost everyone reading this fits into the category ‘knowledge worker’. I certainly identify as one, as my hands are much better suited touch-typing the thoughts that come out of my head, sparked by the things that I’m reading, than building walls and moving things around!

Drucker says that we knowledge workers are in a unique position in history:

Knowledge workers in particular have to learn to ask a question that has not been asked before: What should my contribution be? To answer it, they must address three distinct elements: What does the situation require? Given my strengths, my way of performing, and my values, how can I make the greatest contribution to what needs to be done? And finally, What results have to be achieved to make a difference?

This is a difficult thing to do and, to my mind, one that hierarchies are not great at solving. Every time I’m re-immersed in an organisation with a strict hierarchy, I’m always struck by how much time is wasted by the friction and griping that they cause. You have to be much more of a ‘grown-up’ to flourish in a non-paternalistic culture.

Drucker explains that knowledge workers who much ‘manage themselves’ need to take control of their relationships. This has two elements:

The first is to accept the fact that other people are as much individuals as you yourself are. They perversely insist on behaving like human beings. This means that they too have their strengths; they too have their ways of getting things done; they too have their values. To be effective, therefore, you have to know the strengths, the performance modes, and the values of your coworkers.
The second part of relationship responsibility is taking responsibility for communication. Whenever I, or any other consultant, start to work with an organization, the first thing I hear about are all the personality conflicts. Most of these arise from the fact that people do not know what other people are doing and how they do their work, or what contribution the other people are concentrating on and what results they expect. And the reason they do not know is that they have not asked and therefore have not been told.

The answer, of course, is to become a much more transparent organisation. Although The Open Organization is a book I’d happily recommend to everyone, I do feel that it conflates the notion of ‘transparency’ (which I’d define as something internal to the organisation) and ‘openness’ (which I see as the approach it takes externally).  For me, every organisation can and should become more transparent — and most will find that openness lends significant business advantages.

Transparency means that you can see the ‘audit trail’ for decisions, that there’s a way of plugging your ideas into others, that there’s a place where you can, as an individual ‘pull’ information down (rather than have it ‘pushed’ upon you). In short, transparency means nowhere to hide, and a ruthless, determined focus on the core mission of the organisation.

Hierarchies are the default way in which we organise people, but that doesn’t mean that they’re the best way of doing so. Part of the reason I’m so excited to be part of a co-operative is that, for the first time in history, I can work as effectively with colleagues  I consider my equals, without a defined hierarchy, and across continents and timezones. It’s incredible.

What this does mean, of course, is that you have to know what it is that you do, where your strengths lie, and how you best interact with others. Just as not everyone is a ‘morning person’, so some people prefer talking on the phone to a video conference, or via instant message than by email.

Drucker again:

Even people who understand the importance of taking responsibility for relationships often do not communicate sufficiently with their associates. They are afraid of being thought presumptuous or inquisitive or stupid. They are wrong. Whenever someone goes to his or her associates and says, “This is what I am good at. This is how I work. These are my values. This is the contribution I plan to concentrate on and the results I should be expected to deliver,” the response is always, “This is most helpful. But why didn’t you tell me earlier?”


Organizations are no longer built on force but on trust. The existence of trust between people does not necessarily mean that they like one another. It means that they understand one another. Taking responsibility for relationships is therefore an absolute necessity. It is a duty. Whether one is a member of the organization, a consultant to it, a supplier, or a distributor, one owes that responsibility to all one’s coworkers: those whose work one depends on as well as those who depend on one’s own work.

Reflecting on the way you work best means that you can deal confidently with others who may have a different style to you. It means it won’t take them weeks, months, or even years to figure out that you really aren’t  going to read an email longer than a couple of paragraphs.

[This] enables a person to say to an opportunity, an offer, or an assignment, “Yes, I will do that. But this is the way I should be doing it. This is the way it should be structured. This is the way the relationships should be. These are the kind of results you should expect from me, and in this time frame, because this is who I am.”

It’s a great book and, reading it at the same time as The Concise Mastery by Robert Greene is, I have to say, a revelation.

Image CC BY-NC gaftels

The Future of Work: Trends and Toolsets

Last month I wrote a report for a client about the future of work. In my contract is a clause that says that, apart from anything commercially sensitive, my work for them is shared under a Creative Commons license.

I’m therefore sharing a much shorter version of the 23-page report I researched and wrote for them. There was some really interesting stuff I turned up in my research around organisational structure, culture, and retention, but that section was too intertwined with the client’s plans to be able to easily and effectively separate out.  


“Your best practices won’t save you.” (John Cutter)

The main trends around the future of work seem to be broadly twofold:

  1. Empowering individuals and teams to make their own decisions around technology
  2. Democratising the process of deciding what kind of work needs to be done

4 Kinds of Work in the Future

These two mega themes (taken from ‘uber empowered’ quadrant of the above Harvard Business Review digram) can be broken down into four, more practical, sub-themes:

  1. Demise of hierarchies
  2. Re-thinking the location of work
  3. Workplace chat
  4. Mission-based work

The following posts in this series expand and explain each of the above points. The original report made some recommendations for the client. Given I don’t know your context, I’m going to refrain from appending a conclusion to this series.

1. Demise of Hierarchies

After predictions of its demise, the traditional office structure is crumbling. Only 38 percent of companies in a recent survey say they are ‘functionally organized’. For large companies with more than 50,000 employees, that number shrinks to 24 percent. (Bloomberg)

Holocratic Organization

(image taken from this post)

The buzzterm at the moment is around holacracy, an approach in which “authority and decision-making are distributed throughout a holarchy of self-organizing teams rather than being vested in a management hierarchy”. This governance model has been adopted by Zappos, Precision Nutrition, and (until recently) Medium.

Self-organising is taken to its extreme, or logical conclusion, with Valve, the company best known for the Half-Life game series and ‘Steam’ store. Their handbook for new employees explains that they hire people rather than roles, meaning people are “hired to constantly be looking around for the most valuable work [they] could be doing.” Hiring, firing, and new projects are all managed via a completely flat structure.

Metaphors are important in organisational structure, and many futurists use the idea of the network to explain their ideas. Esko Kilpi, for example, states that “the architecture of work is not the structure of a firm, but the structure of the network. The organization is not a given hierarchy, but an ongoing process of responsive organizing.” In a post examining why employees become disengaged, Stowe Boyd coins the term ‘circumvising’ to explain the shift from ‘supervising’ to a form of work where, “instead of a manager you report up to and who directs the work of those below, the social context…will constrain and support the worker from all around.”

2. Rethinking the Location of Work

Skills for Success in a disruptive world of work

(image taken from this post by Tanmay Vora)

We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us. (Winston Churchill)

One trend of recent years that is universally slated in both the popular press and by futurists is that of open-plan offices. According to Stowe Boyd,

More than 40% of the respondents to a recent Berkeley survey reported that workplace acoustics make it harder for them to do their job, while other factors, like lighting, air quality, seating, etc, were rated as making it easier to work.

The assumption is that open-plan offices enable more serendipitous connections to take place. However, this is often at the expense of ‘deep work’ as noted by Cal Newport in his recent book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. It often leads to more introverted employees using headphones in order to concentrate and feel more comfortable.

Home working solves some of these problems and, indeed, many organisations have a ‘remote working’ policy, meaning some (or all) of their employees are based from wherever they happen to live. This, of course, requires a certain type of worker, with particular expectations around flexibility, availability, and digital skills. Implementing this kind of policy without training and explicit expectation-setting (for both office-based and remote workers) can lead to unnecessary misunderstanding and anxiety.

3. Workplace chat

Slack colours

So this is one megatrend: the widespread adoption of tools based on the chat design metaphor across the board in personal and work life. Chat is the new normal for communication, displacing both email and social collaboration tools. (Stowe Boyd)

The hot new technology that everyone is talking about is Slack, a ‘workplace chat’ tool with APIs meaning it integrates with everything. It is already a billion-dollar business, and this is for at least two reasons. The first is a desire for employees in most organisations to get out of their inbox. Another is that it supports the move away from a static org chart and is more responsive to the true power dynamic within organisations.

There have been many posts about the relative merits of workplace chat apps. Most futurists believe that adopting such tools is not a panacea to current workplace problems, but rather a way to demonstrate in a concrete way how teams can interact in a different way. For example, the theory of social crowding suggests that workplace chat is at its most effective when used by small teams of less than 10. This ensures that those who are doing the chatting are also the ones doing the work.

4. Mission-based work

Life cycle of a brand

Today, all companies need a constitution. No company should operate on implicit cultural rules that are based in a shadowy way on oligarchic myths. (Stowe Boyd)

Often cited as a something particularly important to ‘Millennials’ (those who reached young adulthood around the year 2000), futurists see mission-based work as key to ensuring employee fulfilment at any age. Loyalty these days is often to the job rather than to the organisation — so long as the job matches the ‘mission’ that the employee feels is central to their existence.

Graduates are queuing up to work for brands who match their outlook on life, often foregoing higher salaries elsewhere to do so. Recent research from Gallup included a survey of almost 50,000 business units which showed that employee engagement is a key indicator of business success. This is an important trend to consider.

Further reading

I put together an epic Google Doc of links and images to help with my research for the original report. You can access that here.

Banner image CC BY-NC-SA Daniel Foster

Questions? Ask in the comments and I’ll go into more detail about any of the above.

If you’d like my help in a consultative capacity, please get in touch:

INCOMING: #BelshawBlackOps15 (Part 2)

Every year, I spend a couple of months away from social media, personal email, and blogging. It’s an attempt to allow a different version of myself to take the limelight.

In past years, the months I’ve chosen to take off have been November and December. These months coincide with the nights drawing-in up here in Northumberland. In 2015, however, I’m experimenting with a small change; this year I chose August and December as my ‘months off’. While I’ve definitely found benefit in an single, uninterrupted eight-week stretch, my situation is slightly different this year.

In April, I left the Mozilla Foundation to set up Dynamic Skillset. While I was fortunate to have a lot of freedom over my working patterns at Mozilla, I’m now fully in control of my own schedule. It’s a wonderful feeling and one that I feel I’ve spent my career (so far) working towards.

The August experiment worked well. In fact, it was during August that, after consulting with family, friends, and a financial advisor, I decided to experiment with a four-day working week. It’s too early to draw any firm conclusions, but so far it’s been a revelation.

One day, I hope to be in a position to completely disconnect during my #BelshawBlackOps period. In financial terms, that would mean being able to support my family using the money I earn in just 10 months of the year. Things are going well, but that’s probably a while away yet  especially at four days a week!

As it is, during December I’ll still be available via my Dynamic Skillset and client email addresses. But I won’t be reading or replying to any personal email. Nor will I be writing anything for public consumption. And, perhaps most importantly, I’ll be off social networks.

From December 1st, for a month, I’ll be pausing my personal, published, digital output. This means no Thought Shrapnel weekly newsletter, no episodes of Today In Digital Education (TIDE), no posts or replies to comments here or on any other blog, and no replies to non-work emails.

Questions? Ponderings? You’ve still got a couple of weeks to put up with my digital detritus! Let me know your thoughts.

Image CC BY-NC Geraint Rowland

Setting an Agile School Rhythm [DMLcentral]

My latest post for DMLcentral is up. I’ve been thinking about agile workflows and team productivity a lot recently and, in this post, I attempt to apply it to (formal) education environment. Give it a read and see if you think it works!

Click here to read

Thanks again to Bryan Mathers for the great header image!

Note: I’ve closed comments here to encourage you to reply on the original post.

HOWTO: Trello Kanban

Update: an earlier draft of this included a link to this awesome post on the Trello blog: Going Public! Roadmapping With A Public Trello Board. You should definitely check it out.

(no video above? click here!)


How do decisions get made in your organisation? How does work get done? Do you have agreed workflows? Does innovation happen inevitably or by accident?

The best organisations I’ve worked with have clear processes for how mission-critical things happen. For example, I’ve been part of:

  • a school with an unequivocal behaviour management and sanctions workflow
  • a global non-profit where work is based on ‘sprints’ and agile development methodologies
  • a university and an awarding body with a rigorous approach to issuing qualifications and credentials

Highly productive individuals, teams, and organisations don’t get to that level merely by accident. It happens through hard work on process which, in turn, leads to consistently-great outcomes.

Once you’ve got a strategy (i.e. ‘direction of travel’) and defined workflow (i.e.’milestones along the way’) you’re ready for Kanban:

Kanban is a method for managing knowledge work with an emphasis on just-in-time delivery while not overloading the team members. In this approach, the process, from definition of a task to its delivery to the customer, is displayed for participants to see. Team members pull work from a queue.

I’ve tried a number of ways of adopting a Kanban approach – some of them listed on this wiki page. The one I keep coming back to, however, is Trello. As the video at the top of this post shows, it’s simple but powerful:

Get started in 5 easy steps:

  1. Create a new Trello board.
  2. Create three lists: To Do, Doing, and Done.
  3. Set up tags – anything you want (personally, I use Writing, Editing, Researching, Collaborating, Reviewing, and Planning).
  4. Invite people to your board. 
  5. Add cards to the To Do list, ensuring they’ve got tags, have been assigned to people, and have a due date.


  • Create an Trello ‘organisation’ for all of the boards you share with your colleagues.
  • Add a couple of additional lists: Stalled (so cards don’t remain on your ‘To Do’ list forever) and Useful links (for information everyone needs to hand).
  • Attach an image to each card to differentiate them from others.
  • Change the background colour/image to quickly find the board you’re looking for.


I’m in the midst of introducing a Trello-based Kanban approach in an organisation that’s traditionally relied mostly on meetings and emails to get things done. Having seen a similar approach work so well elsewhere, I’m convinced it will boost productivity and cohesion within/across teams.

I’ll blog more about my findings in due course. 🙂

My current Mozilla workflow: Trello, Google Mail, and GitHub

Like Clay Shirky, I think that over-optimising your setup and workflow for now can lead to long-term anachronism. He says:

[S]ince every tool switch involves a period of disorientation and sub-optimal use, I have to make myself be willing to bang around with things I don’t understand until I do understand them. This is the opposite of a dream setup; the thing I can least afford is to get things working so perfectly that I don’t notice what’s changing in the environment anymore.

In this screencast I show how I’m using Trello, Google Mail, and GitHub as part of my current workflow. This may change by next month – or even next week!

I’d love your comments and questions, particularly if you share your workflow or have any tips/tweaks for mine!

PS In 2015 I’m writing a book in my spare time called #uppingyourgame v2.0: a practical guide to personal productivity which you may find interesting…

On working remotely

As I mentioned recently, I’m a regular reader of Hacker News. Yesterday one of the links on the front page was to a blog post by a UK-based employee of Etsy. He (Jon Cowie) was explaining what it’s been like to work remotely for a tech company over the last three years.

The post resonated strongly with me and I just wanted to pick out some parts from the post and compare/contrast with my own experience working for the Mozilla Foundation for almost the same amount of time.


We’re a heavily distributed team with people spanning 4 time zones, although I’m currently the only person outside the US, which means my work day is between 5 and 7 hours ahead of the rest of my team.

Mozilla is even more distributed than Etsy, it would seem. Normal working hours start for my colleagues in San Francisco, Portland and Vancouver at the same time as they finish for my colleagues in Germany. Needless to say, there’s a need to be flexible! (I’m based in the UK, in a market town in the North East of England.)

The Good

The fact that I’m 5 hours ahead of the rest of my team has also turned out to be a benefit to my productivity here too – because I’m usually the only person on the team at work until 2PM or so in the UK, my entire morning is a block of time without any interruptions where I can get through tons of work. I’m also a morning person, so my brain is freshest when I start work.

This isn’t quite the case for me – my colleagues in Germany are an hour ahead of me – the majority of my colleagues are still asleep when I start work. If you’ve never experienced this, then it’s wonderful. You can get so much done without meetings and other interruptions!

I often joke that a bad commute for me is having to walk around a clothes dryer on the way to my desk, but there’s a serious point to make here – rather than spend 2 hours a day commuting as I did when working in London, I have a 10 second walk to my desk. This also gives me an extra 2 hours a day to play with

The commute thing is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I kind of miss the liminal space inbetween home and work – especially for listening to podcasts, gathering my thoughts, etc. On the other hand, being able to work when you want from pretty much anywhere is amazing.

Another major plus point to remote working is the flexibility that it affords – I’m always at home to receive deliveries. Car needs to go to the garage? No worries, I can pop by…. Individually, these are all very small things, but the cumulative effect makes the trials and tribulations of daily adulting much easier to deal with.

As Jon says, this is difficult to explain on an individual level, but it makes life so much easier. (I love the phrase ‘daily adulting’ – even if it does sound a little seedy…)

The Bad

The fact that your home and your office are in the same physical building can often lead to cabin fever in varying degrees. In my case I don’t find this too problematic due to my aforementioned tendency to naturally avoid crowded and noisy places, but there are occasions where I just need to get outside of these four walls.

I don’t have quite this problem as my home office is physically separate from our house. Still, I mix it up a bit by spending part of the morning working from either the local library or Wetherspoons (cheap, unlimited coffee; decent free wifi; comfy seats). Like Jon, I also exercise before lunch, ready for my colleagues to come online.

One of the toughest parts of my particular working situation, and that which I’ve had to be the most disciplined about, is stopping work at 6PM and not starting again until the next day.

Taking an “almost militaristic” approach to this (as Jon says he does) would be difficult for me. I certainly aim not to work after 6pm, but circumstances sometimes dictate it. For me, with two young children, I’m more interested in being around for them between 6pm and 8pm than I am protecting 8pm to 10pm. It’s horses for courses.

I’d really like Mozilla to implement something like (the code’s on GitHub!)

When you have people working across physical locations, timezones and even countries, communication gets harder. People aren’t able to gather around the water cooler, it’s easy for people to feel left out if they’re the one who isn’t in the office, and including remotes in meetings and discussions can often be tricky.

The way that I always explain the difference to people is that, when your communications are mediated by technology, every interaction is intentional. What I mean by that is you can’t just wander over to a co-worker and ask how they’re doing, or bump into them in a corridor. Sometimes this is great and a real aide to productivity. But sometimes it can feel isolating.

Thankfully I have some colleagues who regularly ping me on IRC and Skype just to talk through various things (work and social stuff). We also have a Friday meeting which is at the end of the day for Europeans and midday for those on US Eastern Time (New York / Toronto). This usually involves talking about non-work stuff with alcohol for us and lunch for them. It’s a nice end to the week.


Be prepared to work at it, and be awesome to each other. Remote working can be an amazingly empowering and positive experience, but it doesn’t come for free. Effort in, results out – from both company and employees.

Like any position in any organisation, there’s ups and downs working remotely for Mozilla. As Bryan Mathers commented when I interviewed him this week it doesn’t work for everyone. It takes a level of maturity and emotional stability that, to be honest, I sometimes struggle with. When most of the signals you’re getting are text-based you can read too much into things. I’ve heard that more than half of face-to-face communication is non-verbal which I can definitely believe.

But despite all of this, working remotely is absolutely fantastic. It means I have no excuse not to be insanely productive. There’s nowhere to hide when it comes to carving out time to go to the gym. My time is (largely) my own to get on and get stuff done. I’m judged by what I produce rather than when I do it.

It may not fit with all industries but I think that, if you can make it work for you and your organisation, it’s a huge bonus.

Do you work remotely? Would you like to? I’d love to read your comments and questions in the section below!

Seven places I find interesting, relevant and useful stuff in 2015

I started using a new web service yesterday and something dawned on me:  half of the bookmarks in the toolbar of my browser seem to be devoted to similar kinds of sites. I’ve come to see these as a series of ‘sieves’. It’s important to use more than one and experimenting with new ones to prevent rust setting in!

Some of these services may be useful to you, so I thought I’d share them along with a couple of reasons why I find them handy. They’re listed in alphabetical order. If you have questions about them, I’ll try and answer in the comments section below.

hckr news - Hacker News sorted by time 2015-01-20 19-57-03

Hacker News

Possibly a little technical for the average web user, but the front page usually contains some gems. It’s basically a site where anyone can submit a link and it gets up-and-down voted by the community. Because of its focus, there’s often some really insightful comments in the threads. I tend to use an alternative interface (shown above) called

Know About It

Know About It

Again, this is a tech-focused site, but can be useful for surfacing some important or interesting discussions happening in various forums around the web.



This is my most recent find and is for everyone! You sign in with Twitter and/or Facebook and it curates the links that most of your contacts are talking about. Good for quickly catching up with stuff without having to endlessly scroll through your streams.



This is a dashboard with three versions: one each for designers, developers and entrepreneurs. My work kind of spans all three. Or at least it does in my head. 😉

Product Hunt

Product Hunt

This is perhaps the site I most look forward to visiting. It’s like other sites in that items can be posted and voted up and down. However, these tend to be niche startups (extremely niche in some cases!) that you otherwise might not hear about.



If you haven’t heard of Reddit then you’re either technically dead, have a moist under-rock home, or haven’t been online long enough. It’s the self-styled ‘front page of the internet’ and there’s always a ‘subreddit’ to find interesting. Can be a time-suck. A couple of my favourites are /r/todayilearned/ and /r/explainlikeimfive/.



This is probably the service I currently use least, mainly because it’s mobile-only. There was a time when I’d check this every day. It does surface some really interesting stuff. I’m not sure of its future since the Flipboard acquisition…


As you can probably see even from the screenshots above, some stuff appears in more than one place. If this happens, I take it as being an indication that this is important to pay attention to. Weak signals!

It’s probably worth pointing out that the above is a marked shift from my online reading habits before the demise of Google Reader. These services are either algorithmically-curated or curated by popular vote rather than  manually curated by me. Our information environments are important – as I pointed out in this DMLcentral post last year!

Oh and a bonus. As emojis are so 2014 here’s a huge list of Kaomojis. I use the one below in my Mozilla email signature and you may have spotted a few in my Twitter timeline…


Header image CC BY Karl Herler

The ABC of creating a system for personal productivity

Productive systems* are about heuristics and workflows. You can spend too long thinking about this stuff. Trust me, I have done. 😉

Here’s an approach that works for me. It might do for you, too. Ask yourself whether the system you’ve currently got meets the following ‘ABC’ conditions. If not, you might want to tweak it.

  • Is it Accessible?
  • Is it Beneficial?
  • Is it Collaborative?

These should be fairly self-explanatory, but if not, read on…


Every part of your system should be available to you, wherever you are. The easiest way to do this is to either use a service that syncs between your smartphone and laptop/desktop – or use a paper-based notebook.

There’s benefits and drawbacks of using both digital and analogue tools. Digital tools can often be accessed from anywhere, but often require an internet connection and/or a device with power. Analogue tools, meanwhile, are flexible but need to be taken with you everywhere. If you forget them, then you’ve got a problem in trying to get hold of the information they contain.


Some productivity tools are what some people call ‘productivity porn’. That’s to say they’re super-slick and give the feeling of doing something to improve your system. In fact, they instead monopolise your time that should be spent doing the actual work you enjoy (or get paid for).

Coming to a decision around this can be difficult, as some tools have a learning curve. With others, the benefits don’t become clear until you’ve used them a while. Tagging can be a bit like that. I’d suggest not jumping on bandwagons, but instead let others review tools and techniques before trying it yourself.


This is perhaps the condition that actually needs some explanation. Imagine your work, your productive system is a jigsaw piece. Unless you’re in charge of absolutely everything in the work that you’re undertaking, you’ll need to inteface with someone else’s system at some point. Even if you use the same tools, you’re probably going to use them differently.

Unless you’re dealing with sensitive information, you might find openly sharing your productive system (your to-do list, your notes, etc.) might be of value to your co-workers. They, for example, may decide to adopt similar conventions around tagging, or use the same headings for their Trello board.

It’s also worth saying that if you use tools designed to be used by more than one person, there’s a chance they can join your workflow. This leads to less disruption for you – and greater productivity!


I’d be really interested to find out whether you think this ABC approach is useful – and what you’d add or take away. I know we’re all interested in creating the perfect system, so I’m minded to end this post by a warning from Clay Shirky:

I actually don’t want a “dream setup.” I know people who get everything in their work environment just so, but current optimization is long-term anachronism. I’m in the business of weak signal detection, so at the end of every year, I junk a lot of perfectly good habits in favor of awkward new ones.

* I’d loosely define a ‘productive system’ as a combination of tools and techniques that allow you to get things done efficiently.

Image CC BY Kyle Van Horn

Scripting the first hour of each (week)day

I’ve just been listening to an episode of the Tim Ferris Show podcast in which he answers some questions from the community. One of them was essentially about remaining productive when you’re having an off day. Tim answered this by talking about ‘decision fatigue’ and suggested scripting the first 30 mins or hour of your day to get into the right mindset.

This is a great idea and something I’ve kind of meaning to write about for a while. I’ve got a half-finished post about President Obama’s advice to limit the decisions you make – even about clothing.

So here we go. Here’s what I do every morning. It might be a slight update from what I wrote for My Morning Routine.

1. Wake up without an alarm clock. This means that it’s not always exactly the same time, but it also means it’s likely to be a ‘softer’ awakening.

2. Get the children breakfast. I try to start their day off well by being interested in what they’ve got to say. I sit down with them at the table and have a cup of camomile tea.

3. Go to the toilet. I check Twitter while I’m there. Well, at least I’m honest.

4. Make my wife a cup of tea. I take it up to her while she’s getting dressed.

5. Get my daughter dressed. She can do most of this now herself as she’s almost four years old. However, she can struggle with some buttons, etc.

6. Wash myself. I go to the gym or swimming every day and have a shower afterwards, so this is quick.

7. Do press-ups, sit-ups, etc. I use my roll mat for this as we have a wooden floor in our bedroom.

8. Get myself dressed. Depending on how I feel I’ll wear jeans and a shirt/jumper or else a t-shirt and a hoodie.

9. Help my son. He alternates between Khan Academy and Duolingo for a week at a time. It’s had a demonstrable effect on his numeracy and French skills.

10. Have breakfast. This is usually just a slice of toast with butter. About an hour before exercise I’ll eat a banana.

This routine is flexible. Kids are wonderful at being able to play and amuse themselves, so sometimes this takes an hour, sometimes two. It depends. Every morning I walk them to school, which I consider a real privilege.

I’ve just realised that the above makes it sound like I do everything while my wife does nothing. That’s certainly not the case! She makes the house run like clockwork. I’m a mere cog. 😉

The thing missing for me is time to take my own emotional temperature. Usually I dive straight into work when I should probably read more Baltasar Gracián first!