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space time

We have five senses, and none of them is equipped to perceive time, so we do the best we can with the senses we have available. We saw last week how we organise time spatially – along lines, left and right, up or down.We use our vision to map the past, present and future, and orientate ourselves in that analogue space. Everyone does this a little bit differently, and some people even add extra features like colours.

There’s a drawback, though. We fool ourselves into thinking that we can actually manipulate time, and manage it, as if it really exists as a physical, external thing. So people focus on time-saving tips the same way as they do with space-saving tips. The key word is “organising” – in the same way you can go to Ikea and buy a nifty new “storage solution”, to get your stuff organised, you can buy an app or a technique that claims it will do the same thing for your time (without the Byzantine shopping rules).

Two things.

Number one: buying storage solutions is dealing with the symptom, not the root cause. Instead of going to IKEA to find more ways to store and organise our stuff, we should get rid of it, or better still, not get the stuff in the first place. Similarly, the way you “de-clutter” your time demands isn’t by becoming a Zen master at organising them better. You have to throw stuff out – prune that to-do list so it only has three items. Prioritising is not having a long list of things to do and then putting them in the right order. It’s doing the necessary things, executing what you have to do, here and now.

Number two: time is a construct of our imagination. Time is psychological. It follows that the tools of choice should also be psychological; not an Allen key and self-assembly instructions. That’s why we talk about Time Intelligence – by which I mean training your mind to think smarter and treat time as a concept, rather than a thing. Then it becomes less of a struggle, you’re not battling against the clock. You’ve got time on your side.




TimeHow much space do your past, your present and your future take up? Here are two ways to find out how you organise time in your mind: Get some paper and draw three circles, representing your past, present and future. They can be any size, placed anywhere on the page and linked or unlinked.

Turn the paper over and then draw a straight line. Then mark four points on the line.

1) The start of the historical past (HP)

2) The start of your personal past (PP)

3) The start of your personal future (PF)

4) The`start of the historical future (HF)

How did you do? On the first exercise, are the circles linked or separate? Are they all the same size, or do they vary. If so, which is taking up the most space, and which the least?

On the second one, how close together are the personal and historical points? Or is your lifespan a small interlude in a long line of history?

Both of these tests were devised by Thomas Cottle, a US Navy doctor, to study time perception. They show that we find it pretty easy to organise time spatially, and that everyone has their own way of coding the way they organise it. I’ve uploaded mine here, so you can compare it with what you did.

In my version, the circles run North-South, they’re distinct from each other, and the present is much bigger than the future. The past is pretty tiny as well.

On the timeline exercise, the HP is at the start of the line. My PP and PF are quite close together about half way along and the HF starts at the same time as my PF.

You’re probably thinking how wrong I am. Why have I put the past below the future, when it clearly goes to the left/right (delete whichever is not applicable). How can the historical future start at the same time as my own future? Why don’t I take up more space on the line?

Get your colleagues and friends to do the same experiment and compare your results. It’s striking how different the pictures are. So what are the implications when you’re communicating your own ideas about time? What do you need to do to adjust the picture so that they can understand what you mean when you’re talking about big the future’s going to be, when you could fit theirs on a full stop?

Because we organise time spatially, it means we can fall into traps as well. More about that next week.


Delays Expected

Until this week, the best thing I’d read about procrastination was “The Procrastination Equation” by Piers Steel.  It’s evidence-based, and pretty good about the “How To” in overcoming procrastination. The best thing about it, is that it’s not preachy. If you check out any articles on the internet, most of them will tell you that you procrastinate because you’re lazy, and if you just got off your arse, well, that will fix your procrastinating. The protestant work ethic frowns deeply at procrastinators. There’s a special circle of Hell reserved for us, where we’re always waiting for the right moment, but it never comes.

This week I read this article, though (by Eric Jaffe). I thought it really got to the heart of procrastination, and didn’t need 215 pages plus notes to get there. There are some top quotes in there:

“It really has nothing to do with time management. To tell the chronic procrastinator to just do it would be like saying to a clinically depressed person, cheer up.”

“The chronic procrastinator, the person who does this as a lifestyle, would rather have other people think that they lack effort, rather than ability”

“…procrastinators comfort themselves in the present with the false belief that they’ll be more emotionally equipped to handle a task in the future. The future self becomes the beast of burden for procrastination”

These all resonated with me, particularly that last one about the future self. Honestly, when I get hold of that future self guy, I’m going to tell him what I think about him.

When I coach people who procrastinate, the first thing I do is to find a link to their deeper values and re-frame it so that it becomes important at a personal level. Very often, people will baulk at doing something that is on their To Do List, put there by someone else. So really, they have an Ought To Do List. Words like “Should”, “Ought” and “Must” are modal verbs, often issued from a disembodied voice, nagging us to do something. We meet this voice with resistance, passive aggression and failure to act.

Many team leaders and bosses will have encountered this at work. Subordinates just won’t do what they’re asked to do, and there doesn’t seem to be a good reason. I think it’s because the task you’ve given them has no worth, to them. It doesn’t line up with their values, and until it does, it gets shoved down the list. So you have a choice, you can show them a carrot, or a stick, tell them to JFDI, or find out what really motivates them, and connect the task to that. In short it’s a problem of motivation, rather than time management. Or if you can’t be bothered with that, give it to someone who gives a damn.

One other thing. That shadowy figure of authority, can be anyone, though. If you’ve ever had “Tidy Bedroom”or “Clean Fridge” on your To Do List for more than a month, it’s probably an “Ought to Do” coming from a parent, echoing back through the years, not you!

So you’re there, waiting for the right moment, like you’re in a Samuel Beckett play. Inspiration will visit you, one day. Until it does, find something worthwhile in the task, take a small step in that direction, get some momentum, and keep going.

How do I get more organised?

How do I get more organised?

Clients tell us “I just need to be more organised”. They feel overwhelmed and harassed. If they could just get everything straightened out, they’d be OK. In actual fact, we usually find that lack of organisation is only part of the issue. So here are some tips to getting more organised and being more effective.

1) Use visual tools, like a wall planner or a personal kanban system using post-it notes. Don’t be tempted to use an app, at least to begin with – you need something that exists in the real world. Something that’s easy to complete and in your face every day, not shiny nagware that costs you time to set up and er…organise.

2) Be ruthless. Prioritise 2 or 3 things and DO THEM. I love this story (thanks to @brainpicker for this) about a training exercise given to a group of US Generals. They were asked to write a summary of their strategic approach in only 25 words:

The exercise stumped most of them. None of the distinguished men in uniform could come up with anything.

The only general who managed a response was the lone woman in the room. She had already had a distinguished career, having worked her way up through the ranks and been wounded in combat in Iraq. Her summary of her approach was as follows: ‘First I make a list of priorities: one, two, three, and so on. Then I cross out everything from three down.’”

3) Prioritise by using your big goals as a yardstick, not by the size of the fire. You’ve got big goals, right?

4) Execute. Don’t stop after the “tidying up” phase. Organised and Effective are not the same thing. Being organised is not an end in itself, and if you don’t make progress on those 2 or 3 things you prioritised, you’ve just been rearranging the furniture, not doing anything new.

5) If you’re struggling, get help.



It’s February; we’re running out of steam on those New Year resolutions. What happened to all that willpower and motivation? Where did the light-footed exuberance and optimism of a new start, turn into a trudge through a muddy, ploughed field, with no end in sight?

It happens at work as well. All through the year. The team starts a new project full of optimism, energy. Planning is done by groupthink with a “How could anything go wrong?” mindset. Six months down the line people are looking for a scapegoat, and the exit, before they get engulfed in the crapstorm of blame and recrimination.

Where did it all go wrong?

“What do you do when the plan starts to fall apart, when willpower has gone and working long hours just doesn’t work?”

I’ve written before about the pre-mortem. It’s a thought experiment. You fast forward to the future, a future where your resolution/project failed disastrously, and list the reasons why it did. It forces you to remove the rose-coloured spectacles and face a different reality. One where willpower, guts, blood, sweat and tears are all exhausted. All those plentiful resources that you start with are depleted. Time has run out.

At the planning stage it doesn’t feel like this could ever happen. The glass is completely full, never mind half full. And it feels like it will never be empty. There’s even a superstitious feeling that imagining it being empty will help bring it about failure. We mustn’t allow negative thoughts to drag us down. Think positively.

Any plan must be capable of failing. So planning for failure must also make sense. What are you going to do when the plan starts to fall apart, when willpower has gone and working long hours just doesn’t work?

First, name some of the possible triggers. What will I do about my diet when I have to go to three business dinners in one week?s When I’m stressed out by my boss, and I’m reaching for a cigarette, how will I respond?  What will I do when I just want to pack in the new routine, because it’s too hard and I’ve run out of willpower?

Then come up with a plan for when you meet these inevitable obstacles.

But it’s more than having a theoretical plan. Rehearse the whole scene, including visuals and dialogue. You need to be ready with an automatic response that doesn’t need any willpower to put into action. “If this happens, I know that I need to do this”. “When we’re faced with situation X, we’ll recognise the trigger and  do behaviour Z”.

By the time your faced with the nightmare scenario, it’s OK. You’ve already been there in your head. You know what to do, because you planned for this, and you’ll be happy you did.


Looking For A New JobIt’s a New Year. Time for a change. A new job. How can you use psychology to give yourself an edge?

“The VIA survey will give you brilliant material for an interview. You’ll have a scientifically validated list of the qualities that make you unique.”

A really good place to start is the VIA survey of character strengths – It’s free, you just have to register to use it. I like it because it makes you think about who you are, not what you do. You’ll get a list of your signature strengths, like Love of Learning; Fairness, Equity and Justice; or Judgement, Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness. You can read more about it in the Martin Seligman book “Authentic Happiness”. Seligman was the founding light of Positive Psychology, which shifted the focus from a “What’s Broken?” model to “What’s Great” frame. That’s an excellent jumping off point when looking for a new job, you can play to your strengths. Otherwise it’s easy to waste a lot of time rectifying or concealing your “weaknesses”. The VIA survey will give you brilliant material for an interview. You’ll have a scientifically validated list of the qualities that make you unique.

It’s also good to find out what your motivations are for leaving your current job (assuming you have one). I love Daniel Pink’s book ” Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” . I love it because research shows that what we think motivates us (money, shiny things, big houses) isn’t what motivates us. What we really seek is Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Very different to the carrots and sticks usually on offer in the workplace. You might want to buy your old boss a copy as well. Did you know that having a bad boss is the most common reason for wanting to get a new job?

I’d also modestly suggest getting a Time Intelligence Report for yourself. It will tell you how you score on Motivation, Planning, Execution and Reflection, as well as the all important Time Perspective. Why do you need to know these things? Well, if you’re looking for a new job, you need to change from your current negative state of disillusionment with the past (old job) to a more optimistic, future-orientated state of optimism. The Time Intelligence Report will get you there, with a personal diagnosis and list of positive actions to take.

The Time Intelligence Report is only £1 until the end of January.

You can get it here

Looking Back

At the end of December, you can’t open a newspaper or magazine without seeing a review of the past year. What happened, who died, who won, who lost? You might be tempted yourself to have a bit of a self-audit of the year just gone, and maybe use it to cook up some New Year’s resolutions of your own.

It’s a worthy endeavour,but  I’m always reminded of a quote I first heard from Tony Robbins – [Tweet “You can’t use your rear view mirror as a navigation aid”]. In other words, you shouldn’t be using your past experiences to determine your future goals. I’m pretty sure this works for companies as well as people. A lot of what passes for corporate strategy is either re-jigging something that worked in the past or fixing a sticking-plaster over something that didn’t work, and dressing it up as innovation. No one sits down with a blank sheet of paper and just riffs on the future to create a new world of possibilities. Unless you have a coach.

A good coach will invite you to just go wild and dream, without looking over your shoulder at the Shoulda, Woulda, Couldas. The future doesn’t have to be the same as today, with the volume, contrast and brightness turned up a bit. It could be an extraordinary place. Learn from your past mistakes, by all means, but don’t rely on them to illuminate the way forward, get yourself a coach if you want to escape from the confines of your own thinking.

What are you forecasting for yourself next year? Get in touch with me if you need some help getting past your limiting beliefs and shaping a future that you want to thrive in.

Me? I’m finally going to learn the harmonica, after thirty-five years of not getting around to it.

Have a great Christmas



present & listening

Paying attention

Paying Attention. Focus. Being Present. Mindfulness. Whatever you call it, people think we have lost the ability.  They say we’re more easily distracted, because there are so many more distractions than there used to be. I’m slightly sceptical of these statements about the hectic pace of modern life. Mostly because people have been making them for 2000 years. Here’s a quote from Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor who ruled from 160 to 180 AD, I guess in response new papyrus technology, or recent increased chariot performance.

“Confine yourself to the present”

So how do you actually do that? What’s the instruction manual for being present? There’s been an upsurge in courses and writings on Mindfulness, because of the perceived benefits in treating depression`and anxiety, and reducing stress. It’s a bit of a mash-up of different Buddhist teachings, with a 21st century spin, and it seems to work. But for me, being able to pay attention to your own thoughts, and not judge them, isn’t being in the present. If your mind wanders off, wondering “What’s for Dinner?” , and you consciously attend to it, that’s being in a present that feels a bit irrelevant. I’m probably missing something, because it’s becoming big business –  Google are running courses in it for their employees. Note to Google’s HR department, being present is different to presenteeism…… but they probably already knew that.

Here are some really easy tips for not only being present, but showing other people you are as well. I know they work, because my clients tell me they do:

  1. If you find your mind wandering while someone else is talking to you, you can keep yourself on track by silently repeating their words to yourself.
  2. Any form of exercise gets you back in touch with Now. Including sex.
  3. Become a good listener. Stop yourself from formulating snappy responses in your head, while someone else is talking. Just attend to what they’re saying, tune out those voices in your head.
  4. Do one thing at a time. However great you think you are at multi-tasking, you’re actually crap. You can’t check  email and pay attention to your kid’s football match at the same time. You’re actually micro-switching from one task to another, and doing neither very well.
  5. Be spontaneous. Get comfortable with unpredictability. Learn improv,  tell jokes. Take up a sport where you have an opponent, or a whole team of them.
  6. Stop making numbered, ordered lists.

Good Luck and let us know how you get on by leaving a comment.


I’m one of the pioneer service providers for Google Helpouts, giving 30 minute coaching sessions to walk up clients.


Google Helpouts


This is the logo for Google’s new video-based service. He’s waving, not drowning.

Being a Helpouts dude has  been a combination of great satisfaction and niggling frustration.

 “I make sure they come away with at least one practical step they can take to solve their issue”

On the plus side,  it’s been brilliant with the guys that made the time to navigate the new service. Establishing rapport over a video link isn’t too difficult, even though the clients are from all over the world. I’ve learnt to be even crisper than I normally am, and I make sure people come away with at least one step they can take towards solving their time management problem. I like the discipline of the half hour slot, it really concentrates the mind. The trickiest part is figuring out if the customer wants to just hangout (it’s all based on Google Hangouts technology) and get a bit of free advice, or if it’s a really pressing problem that they need fixing NOW. If it’s one of those, I can’t over-complicate things. Diagnosis and cure have to be pretty rapid, especially if they don’t intend having a second session. We normally think of coaching as a process. Not as long as therapy, but usually more than one half hour slot.

The feedback has been embarrassingly (for a Brit) excellent, and I’m hoping to get repeat business as a result, which is the whole point of me doing this.

On the sucky side……

“My head space becomes like a hotel room. I have to remake it so the next guest believes they’re the first occupant.”

We have just finished the first week, and the sessions have all been free, just so we can all try it out and see how it works. But there have been about 50% no shows. I guess this is because there’s no cost for non-appearance, just my time. I’m now charging a nominal fee, and I hope that will make people show up. The worst part for me, though, is getting ready for the next client. I’m half expecting them not to turn up, but being in a state of readiness if they do. My head space becomes like a hotel room. I have to remake it (in 60 seconds) so the next guest believes they’re the first occupant.

Speed coaching – for people who don’t have time. It could catch on.

Why not try it out? You need a computer, a video camera, some free software and 30 minutes


Team Meeting Time

Time for a Team Meeting

Time management for teams is vital. Colleagues demand your time. Meetings are a major time-suck. Being time poor is a tragedy of the commons.

Why’s it vital? You and your colleagues hold the key to you all being more productive. If you can just work uninterrupted for 40 minutes at one stretch, you’ll be 66% more productive.

There are two kinds of interruption that disrupt your workflow and kill your productivity:

Interruptions Controlled By You:

  • checking email every time you get a notification (yep, you control this – it’s your choice)
  • checking Facebook
  • getting up for a break
  • interrupting someone else
  • answering the phone (see email)
  • multi-tasking

Interruptions Not Controlled By You:

  • meetings
  • a colleague interrupts you
  • last-minute requests for urgent information
  • needing more information before you can progress
  • an emergency

Step one is to eliminate the ones that you control, by turning off alerts and just focusing on one thing for 40 minutes.

Step two is to make the interruptions that you don’t control more controllable. That means negotiating  with your colleagues, your boss, her boss. You all need to agree that, when your special sign is up, you can’t be interrupted – unless there’s an emergency. You all need to agree that meetings have a declared purpose, that everyone turns up and leaves on time, and that everyone is present during that time – so not covertly checking email or doing something else that wastes your collective time.

So that’s the short-term taken care of. You can then look at longer term distractions. Here I’m thinking of those “initiatives” and “special projects” that management cook up. You have to get them done as well, but how do they align with the company’s strategic objectives, and your own? It’s important to know this, because if you understand the reasons, you can then increase your own sense of control. They belong to you, and you can prioritise yourself. You don’t have to go running back to the boss every time you have a conflict in your schedule.

Because when you do that, you get recommended to go on a Time Management course, and no one wants that, do they?

“At the Harvard Business School, the philosophy has long been to eschew formal training in time management, instead overloading students purposely to force them to learn for themselves how to prioritize and become better time managers.”

Source: http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/7146.html