Tag Archives: productivity

The legacy of Roger Bannister

Although it seems a particularly inappropriate time to say it, over the past few years I grew sick of hearing about Roger Bannister. Working in personal and corporate development, it seemed like every book or PowerPoint presentation wasn’t complete without a reference to the four minute mile.

As if getting someone in a suit to reach inbox zero was on par with breaking a time /distance record that had held since man developed accurate timepieces.

That record lasted less than 50 days before it was broken by someone else. The commonly held perspective is that once someone had proven it was possible, others could finally believe it and do it themselves. This is, of course, somewhat simplistic, as a group of runners were all hitting around that mark, but the story does have a nice ring to it.

For me, the real lesson to take away from Roger Bannister’s four minute mile was that he was an amateur. It’s hard to imagine in today’s world of professional athletes, where running or kicking a ball is a career in itself. That famous four minute mile run almost never happened because of bad weather. Harder to imagine is that Bannister came to do it after going to work that day and the success built on a training regime of sneaking in a mere forty-five minutes daily.

It’s not so much about proving something so others can do it. Instead, it’s having the grit and determination to do something yourself, even if it’s not your main priority in life.



January Monthly Review: Fear Setting

January is a strange month. Everyone starts out with a higher level of enthusiasm which then fizzles out faster the the New Year’s Eve fireworks.

Now we stand on the cusp of February and it’s easy to wonder where the past month went. For most of us, the lofty goals we had in mind when the calendar ticked over have already fallen by the wayside. That doesn’t mean we should abandon them completely.

Technique One – Monthly Review

Regardless of whether you abandoned your goals back in week one or if you’ve been grinding away on them the whole way through, a monthly review is an essential technique for staying on track.

Before you begin – no judgement. Don’t beat yourself up for not doing as well as you’d hoped, you’re only human. The fact you are taking the time to do a review at all puts you ahead of the rest of the pack.

Look back over January with an honest pair of eyes. Were you realistic about what you wanted to achieve to begin with, or were you just flush with optimism for the future? Do you even still care about those goals you set? If you don’t, then there is nothing wrong with abandoning them and moving onto something else. The real value is progress on what matters, not for progress’ sake itself.

The final question to ask is what you did right / wrong when it came to working on your goals and plans for the month. Learn the lessons so you don’t make the same mistake again. Improve on your strengths to get even more value from them.

Now set yourself up for a great February. It doesn’t matter about January anymore. Let it go. Instead, focus on how you can gain the momentum that will carry you forward for the rest of the year.

Technique Two – Fear Setting

Tim Ferriss did a great Ted Talk explaining fear setting better than I can. It’s a great technique you can use if you’re not making progress because something is holding you back. If you’ve struggled to really commit to your goals, then this is a reversal of the process. Instead, you define your fears.

For most people, thinking about their fears is counter-intuitive. Why would you spend so much time and energy thinking about the things that induce anxiety and discomfort? Isn’t that the exact opposite of what we are told to do for a happy life? Mindfulness is a hot topic for a reason.

Fear setting is hard, but by going the extra mile and breaking down those fears, you take away their power. Fear is often a series of unanswered ‘but what if?’ questions. They spiral and debilitate. The power comes in getting to those answers.

Like a monthly review, the process is quite simple. You just follow a series of questions and steps to get to a place where you are able to action the right things.

Firstly, you have to define those fears in the extreme. What is the very worst thing that could happen. Be as detailed as you dare.

This is the point where most people stop in life. This is the anxious point. But what could you do to prevent those things from happening? This is the second question Tim asks as part of the technique and it’s amazing how easy it is to come up with answers. Pre-empting the worst case scenario often prevents it.

But what if that bad thing holding you back actually happened anyway? Before it does, take the final step of working out all the things you could do to get out of the hole. It’s amazing how resourceful you can be. That’s because by doing it up front, the pressure is off. When you’re in that place, the fear is the stronger emotion and it stifles ingenuity and creativity. By fear setting up front, you’ll already have the answers should the worst happen.

So by combining the two, you can guarantee yourself a better February, no matter how the year has gone so far.

Need more help? The Realist’s Guide To Resolutions is a practical approach to goal achievement, no matter what time of year.

Ultimate Mindfulness Planner: The Trigg Life Mapper Review

I was gifted The Trigg Life Mapper at Christmas, by someone who had no idea that it was on my purchase list, which was a lovely surprise. Of course, it is exactly my sort of thing.

My morning review. It’s so dark here in England right now.

According to the guys over at Think Trigg it:

“fuses the principles of planning, productivity, habit, mindfulness and gratitude to provide a daily, weekly and annual framework that will ensure you work less, get more done and constantly strive towards meaningful targets”

I’m always trying to fuse the principles of productivity and purpose, so I couldn’t wait to try this out. There have been a few stand out features so far.

Think about what you should do, not everything you could do

It is the first planner that has forced me to use the Covey-style matrix on a daily basis. Anyone who has read anything about time management or productivity will know what this is, but it is another thing entirely to do it as the core planning task of your day. So far it has forced me to be more focused (and therefore more productive) than anything I’ve used before.

Best feature – the focus on what matters most


Because I do more granular planning in my Leuchturrm Weekly Planner (see here for my overview post), the appointment section doesn’t work for me. Instead, because it is fairly inobtrusive, I simply use it to list 3 things I am grateful for as I start my day. I found that to work quite well, although I appreciate I’m probably a bit of an edge case here.

Appointments section – easily modified if required


Although the planner has a daily focus, it is also designed to force a weekly review – something I believe is critical to any kind of success. The review section is quite small, but it is followed by a ‘Priority Planning’ page to allow you to set up your ideal next week.

Review section with quotes to ponder

Revisit your goals and projects each week

Other reviews are at the six month and end of year points. This is probably sufficient for most people, although I’d like there to be monthly/quarterly review points as well to allow for course correction earlier in the process.

6 month review section for each life area

For those of you who plan out your weekends as heavily as your weekdays, Trigg – like so many other planners out there – gives a reduced space for Saturday and Sunday. There is also no specific structure for these days, just a standard blank space.

Weekend mindfulness and focus optional

The one thing I don’t really use is the Month by Month Theme section. I appreciate the idea of having a theme for each month, but I can’t quite factor out how to use this in my own process as the date spaces are too small for any meaningful annotations.

Lamy safari for scale

Begin with the end in mind

The key to getting the most out of the planner is to take the time in the beginning to set it up right. I can see how this is daunting for most people. After all, it starts with a declaration of who and what you intend to be.

Daily reminder of what I’m aiming for

You then set out your yearly intentions in the key life areas of Self, Relationships, Passions and work. As with everything, this will only work if you review it daily, but it can certainly help you set your big picture planning for the year.

Knowing what you really want is always the first step

If this seems a bit daunting, then there is a help section on how to think about the annual forecast. Honestly, if you’re ready for the Trigg planner, you probably already have some sense about what you want. So although it seems intimidating, it took me only an hour or two to set up fully.

Quick reference guide

Begging for a simple design tweak

There’s so much good stuff in here that I really feel like a single bookmark is not enough. Just putting that out there so it can be considered for next year’s edition!

Trigg, Leuchtturm and coffee, my 2018 morning setup

So, in summary, there is no such thing as a perfect planner, but it is possible to modify and mix to create something that works well for you. Trigg has added a whole new level to my morning mindfulness. I now organise the granular detail over in my Leuchtturm planner with much more intention, rather than creating a crazy-making ‘To Do’ list. The result? I had my first guilt-free weekend in about a year. That’s priceless.

I’d recommend this for anyone who is ready to take their focus to the next level.

You can buy the Trigg Life Mapper from Amazon or over at Pocket Notebooks


Personal Post: The Year That Was 2017

Is it a sign I’m getting older that my first thought is about how quickly the year has gone? Probably. But here we are on the cusp on 2018 and I find myself at that point in the year when I look back and see what I can learn before moving forward.

Lesson 1 – The best laid plans…

I spent the early part of 2017 setting up my life so I could become entirely location independent. Armed with a laptop, all I needed was a decent wifi connection and I was good to go. I got to spend months in the sun, living the dream and writing. Then, happily but ironically, circumstances have changed so that for the next two years I have virtually no choice but to be tied to that place called home.

Lesson 2 – Marketing makes no sense…

Never trust anyone who promises you a fool-proof system to fame or money. Whether it’s sales, platform building, advertising models or social media, no one has all the answers. In a world that is rapidly transitioning towards entrepreneurs and gig economies, there are more scammers out there than there are genuine business minds.

Lesson 3 – It’s all about helping others…

I’ve done some amazing things this year. But the thing that has given me the most satisfaction is hearing from people who have found The Realist’s Guide To Sugar Free useful. Some of the Amazon reviews have been amazing and I am so very grateful. It was because of this I wrote The Realist’s Guide To Resolutions. There are so many self-help achievement books out there that are really boring for the vast majority of readers. I happen to love them. So, once again, I studied, distilled and made a light and fun read for other people to get the benefits without having to wade through books that are, ultimately, trying to get business people to buy consulting services.

Looking forward…

I’ve come to realise that the main thing is about being happy with what matters to you. It’s not about being what other people expect you to be. If I can continue to stay true to myself in 2018, help others along the way and take it some spectacular sunsets, then I’ll be fine.

Whatever you want from 2018, I wish you every success.

The Realist’s Guide To Resolutions – How To Set Goals and Stay Motivated In The Real World

If you want to stop smoking, lose weight, get fitter, improve your career prospects or simply finish a project that’s been hanging around on your to do list for the past ten years, this book will give you the kick up the backside you’ve been looking for.


Top 5 podcasts for writers of 2017

Over 2017, podcasts remained one of my favourite forms of entertainment and education. Thinking about this post, I couldn’t help but wonder if there would be any changes from my Top 5 of 2016. Or – even more impressively – if any from my Top 5 of 2014 would make it back onto the list.

To kick us off, returning for the second year: Cortexbroadcast_artwork_cortex_artwork

“CGP Grey and Myke Hurley are both independent content creators. Each episode, they discuss the methods and tools they employ to be productive and creative.”

Despite the not-a-schedule schedule being even more erratic this year, I’ve still looked forward to getting the alert that a new episode has arrived. For independent creatives in any field, Cortex is a conversation between friends about productivity, efficiency and a new way of working. Plus, someone gave me a knowing look and a ‘nice Cortex T-shirt’ comment at a hotel breakfast buffet this year and it made my day. Honestly, it’s not as creepy as it sounds. Monkey brain wins every time.


The only podcast to have featured on all previous lists is the amazing Writing Excuses.


“Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.”

Although the number of writing podcasts on my app of choice (Overcast, if you’re interested) has increased this year, this is still the best one out there dedicated to craft. This year there have been a number of co-hosts who bring new perspectives. Although I miss hearing from the main hosts sometimes, I would much rather that than have no weekly podcast at all. Whether you’re still working on your first draft or if you’re a seasoned professional, there really is something in here for everyone.


Sticking with a writing theme, Creative Penn podcast has been a great resource and a show I’ve consistently listened to over the course of the year.

“Interviews, inspiration and information on writing and creativity, publishing options, book marketing and creative entrepreneurship”

It is much less craft-focused than Writing Excuses, but still manages to stand out in a tough field of shows that want to teach you how you can make a living with your writing. I’ve discovered that most of them are seriously geared towards getting you to buy the premium course that shows you how. This is less pushy (maybe because it’s more British?), which I prefer, especially as there’s still lots of useful information and some very interesting guests.


Writing related, but in a different way, I have a brand new stationery podcast making it onto the list this year in the form of the RSVP podcast.

“A podcast about stationery and so much more!”

What started off as an April Fool’s one-off episode on the Erasable podcast (also worth checking out if you’re a fan of writing by hand, specifically with graphite – yes that is still a thing), became a podcast of its own. In a world full of default male voices, it has been fantastic to hear these three women bring a fresh spin on things. Plus, they don’t have a problem with calling out BS, drinking fine beverages and smashing the patriarchy, so what’s not to love?


Finally, in a very different  style, The Tim Ferriss Show is another overall favourite of 2017.

“Each episode, I deconstruct world-class performers from eclectic areas to extract the tactics, tools, and routines you can use.”

The thing I love about Tim and his products, be they books, videos or podcasts, is that nothing is off limits. As someone who loves to try new and inventive ways of life hacking, the wide range of topics always keeps me interested. Almost everything out on the internet is as niched down and specific as possible, but Tim constantly surprises me with some of the people he interviews and the experiments he’s prepared to try. I come away with something worth pondering every single episode and that’s pretty unusual.

So those are my top five podcasts of 2017. Some new ones and two old ones, but all of them worth checking out, especially if you’re a writer, creative, entrepreneur, life-hacker or simply enjoy damn fine audio.


2018: How to do more and worry less

As we hurtle towards the end of 2017, it’s inevitable that we start to look back over the year and ahead towards the new one. It’s a time of hope and dreams. It’s a shame then, that such determination and promise for the future only rolls around once a year.

I love personal improvement books. I’ve read hundreds of them by this point. But most people don’t. I can’t blame anyone for that. They’re notoriously dry and you have to dig through hundreds of pages to find the four really useful paragraphs they contain. You already know what I decided to do about it, right? Ta-dah!

The working title for this book was ‘goal setting for normal people’. It was never going to be the final name, but during the writing process I wanted to keep in mind the heart of what it should be about. Quite simply, to take the wisdom of those hundreds of books I’ve read, along with research papers, personal experiences and the behavioural lessons learned from writing The Realist’s Guide To Sugar Free. Then put it in an easy to read, useful and actionable book.

So what’s in it?

Plenty of information, without all the waffle and buzzwords. Things such as:

  • How to set the right goals for you (and not feel guilty about the ones you don’t)
  • How to plan for success (beyond the first week)
  • How to hack your brain to do this smarter not harder (great if you struggle with motivation and willpower)
  • How to track progress and level up (so you can continually dream bigger)

The Realist’s Guide To Resolutions will be published on December 28th. I wanted to make it available for those people who like to take advantage of the downtime between Christmas and New Year, or prefer to start the year with the thinking already done.

I’ve got my own yearly review day booked in for December 29th. I’ll consume several cups of very nice coffee, read the letter I wrote to myself at this time last year and write the one to open next year. I’ll look back at all the things I’ve done (fond memories of my four month sabbatical by the sea) and work out what I need to do to make next year even better. No doubt I’ll be slightly daunted by the sheer number of notebooks I’ve filled over the course of the year. My guess is upwards of twenty. Gulp.

If you’d rather wait until the festivities are out of the way and 2018 has arrived, then the pre-order will be delivered to your device for when you’re ready to start.

Like Sugar-Free, it’s a quick and easy read, with a dash of humour thrown in. It’s also reasonably priced (only 0.99 in most regions!) so you can get the most bang for your (literal) buck.

Here’s to a fantastic 2018, whatever that means for you.

The Realist’s Guide To Resolutions is available for Pre-order at Amazon.co.uk (or go to Amazon.com to jump to other regions)

Upcoming Offer

For those in the US, the kindle version of The Realist’s Guide To Sugar Free  will be discounted to 99c for New Year (December 29-January 4).


Moleskine vs Leuchtturm1917 Weekly Planner Review

For years, the Moleskine Planner in its various formats has been the ‘go to’ product for those wanting an analogue calendar/organiser. It was the brand I picked for 2017, because the layout worked great for me. The trade off, of course, came with the paper quality. You can check out the original review of the Moleskine Weekly Planner I did back at the beginning of the year.

Molekine top, Leuchtturm bottom

For 2018 I have chosen to go with the Leuchtturm1917 Weekly Planner instead. As the two are very similar, I thought it would be useful to do a direct comparison for those people who are interested in trying a different brand.*

Paper Quality

There’s no point avoiding the elephant in the room. If you want to write with fountain pens, the battle of Moleskine vs Leuchtturm in the planner selection is no different to the regular notebooks. Leuchtturm1917 paper wins hand down. Even gel pens show through worse on the Moleskine paper:

Moleskine paper

Leuchtturm1917 paper

Year Overview Sections

Moleskine bottom, Leuchtturm top

There is a difference in approach here. The Moleskine overview is closer to the project planner section in the Leuchtturm (more on that below). The ‘by day’ view in the Leuchtturm probably offers similar space, but is visually less useful to me:

Leuchtturm day overview

Weekly View

Both have the same format: days on the week on the left hand side, lined page for notes on the right hand size. Because of the extra width of the Leuchtturm, you get more writing space for both.

Leuchtturm top, Moleskine bottom

Blank Pages

Last year it really annoyed me that my Moleskine planner had four blank pages at the back. For a whole year? Impractical. Leuchtturm, by comparison, has ten. Still not a great number, but much more useful.

Bonus features

Leuchtturm has a project planner view of the month. For high level use, this is something I’m really looking forward to trying out.

My Moleskine planner is from 2017, but it no longer came with an address book. The Leuchtturm1917 planner for 2018 came with a separate address book (with a section at the front for listing birthdays perhaps?), as well as some stickers and a grid guide.

Leuchtturm – 2 bookmarks!

Bookmarks – Moleskine has one, Leuchtturm have two. I think two is significantly more useful, given the project plan feature. However, they are both a good length, rather than being less than an inch longer than the length of the book. Small thing, but it really bugs a lot of people when the bookmark is too short.

Moleskine comes with more information at the front. Flight durations, time zones, measurements and conversions. Useful in their own way perhaps, but I’ve not used them once, even when planning travel for the year.

On balance, I think the Leuchtturm1917 wins as a more functional planner. Better paper, more of it, two bookmarks and a project planner. However, you can’t downplay the form factor and brand recognition that comes with Moleskine.


*Not an affiliate link. As I’m in the UK I can get Leuchtturm1917 notebooks from Amazon, but in the US it seems harder. I’ve used Goulet for fountain pens though and they’re a great company to order from.