Procrastination Busting tool

Recently I’ve had a few things that have been gathering dust on my to do list. I’ve not got round to them and while writing my journal one morning, I remembered a technique I have used successfully in the past. I call it my ‘procrastination busting technique’ but it is a productivity tool from Mark Forster’s book – Get Everything Done. It has similarities to the Pomodoro method from Fancesco Cirillo but with a little twist. The twist is that it uses varying time boxes and I find it a great tool for breaking through resistance over stalled projects and jobs.

When I’ve been stalling over some project or job, the thought of spending an hour or even the next Comodoro time box of 25 minutes on it can be very off-putting. And because of that it doesn’t happen. Good intentions do not pay off and I do all kinds of other stuff. But I probably could bear 5 minutes. That small amount of time doing something I don’t want to do is often much more palatable.

I may not get much done in that 5 minutes. But I would have started and maybe after that I can do another small block of time. And with that I will be on my way. This is the beauty of Mark’s method.

The method starts with building a list of all the things to do, including the things that you should do, and the things that you use to fill the distraction time, email, social media, etc. Then you start work on this list for 5 minutes each. Once you have finished the 5 minutes, or completed all the parts of that work, move directly onto the next item on the list. If you have finished the work, then the next block of time is 5 minutes. If you haven’t then increase the time box until you reach the maximum time box. In the standard method from the book, the maximum time box is 15 minutes. When you reach the maximum and haven’t finished the work then keep to that maximum time box for subsequent cycles. For the standard method, the increment is 5 minutes. So the time boxes are 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes then repeat 15 minutes.

The only equipment you need for this is a piece of paper for the list and something to mark time. Fairly simple.

Below is a worked example.


This is an example base on the example in Mark’s book – with some additions for me 🙂

First cycle

All start with the initial 5 minute time box

e-mail 5
Social media 5
phone calls 5
filing 5
tidy 5
accounts 5
client follow-up 5
blog 5
website tidy 5

Second Cycle

Social media, phone calls and tidying all done within their allotted 5 minutes

e-mail 5 10
Social media 5 5
phone calls 5 5
filing 5 10
tidy 5 5
accounts 5 10
client follow-up 5 10
blog 5 10
website tidy 5 10

Third Cycle

Social media, phone calls and tidying had nothing extra – so stay with 5 minute time box. e-mails and client follow-up all done within the last 10 minute time box – so go down to 5 minute time box

e-mail 5 10 5
Social media 5 5 5
phone calls 5 5 5
filing 5 10 15
tidy 5 5 5
accounts 5 10 15
client follow-up 5 10 5
blog 5 10 15
website tidy 5 10 15

Fourth Cycle

Social media, phone calls, tidying, e-mails and client follow-up had nothing extra – so don’t increase the 5 minute time box. Filing complete within the last 15 minute time box – so go down to 5 minute time box. Still some work on accounts, blog and website tidy so keep the 15 minute time box

e-mail 5 10 5 5
Social media 5 5 5 5
phone calls 5 5 5 5
filing 5 10 15 5
tidy 5 5 5 5
accounts 5 10 15 15
client follow-up 5 10 5 5
blog 5 10 15 15
website tidy 5 10 15 15

All told this has taken about 4 hours … without taking account for breaks. In that time you’ve dealt with e-mails, social media, phone calls, tidying and client follow-up and about 45 minutes work done on each of the accounts, blog and website tidy tasks. Probably you would have had a break after each cycle – 5-10 minute break. So probably would have only done 3 cycles in a morning/afternoon cycle. But in that time you would have still dealt with all the little tasks and have done half an hour of each of the bigger tasks. In that time you probably would have broken through some of the resistance, by having to chunk the task into smaller time boxes.

Working with this method for a day will often break the resistance around some of your projects. For me accounts and paperwork is not my favourite, and I find that I have often put it off until it becomes a big chore. After a day of Mark’s method and then I’ve stared and that is often enough for me to continue. If not, I’d do another day. Once I have this cracked, I can then go to the Pomodoro method of larger chunks of time on various projects.

Mark suggests some tips for success with this in his book and I have found the following are useful.

  • Take regular breaks – after one of the time boxes, and you can time box that too … or maybe add it into the system
  • Be disciplined and keep to the time boxes, starting the next one immediately after the time box (or the break)
  • Don’t have too big a to do list. If your list is large then see if you can group stuff … or just cycle through the top 3/5 backfilling as they are done with others from the to do list.
  • Break big projects into sub tasks and reset the timer back to the starting value to avoid spending too much time on one project to the detriment of another.

There are also a number of variations to the basic method mentioned in the book. One I have already mentioned when dealing with large to do lists. Check out the book and Mark’s website for more great productivity tips. But definitely try this if you have something you’ve been putting off  to break the stalemate.

Interview with Flick Hardingham on using games for learning

This September we held our second #play14 London conference –


We were interested to talk to professionals who use play within their work environment.  Flick Hardingham runs a creative consultancy and uses games extensively.  We asked her a few questions about her use of games in her work.

Please tell us a little about what you do?

Hardingham: I recently launched JOiN THE DOT, a creative consultancy helping companies and individuals kick start creative thinking, solve problems and drive innovation through interactive workshops.

Creativity is becoming an increasing vital tool to compete in today’s rapidly evolving marketplace. The Global Creativity Index, demonstrated how creative thinking and economic development are intrinsically linked. Furthermore, CEOs ranked creativity as the most crucial factor for future success in a recent IBM Institute for Business Value survey. Creativity is the new economy and thankfully, many of the most forward-thinking companies recognise the need to build creative teams and foster a culture of idea sharing.

How do you use games at work?

Hardingham: All of our workshops and learning programmes are based around live, interactive, collaborative challenges using your best resource: unadulterated gray matter. We create challenges a world away from teams’ day jobs, that will arm them with the tools to survive in the creative economy. This includes practical tips and tricks to generate ideas, lead effective brainstorms, tackle any problem through lateral thinking, boost your creative confidence, creative leadership, allocating time for company creativity and building cohesive, collaborative teams adept at spotting opportunities and hacking growth.

We use games as a vehicle to teach these vital skills, with subsequent benefits on communication, collaboration and strengthening team ties. There’s a lot of Lego, brain benders and the occasional nerf gun!

Why do you use games? (as opposed to traditional techniques)

Hardingham: Last year, I qualified as a Primary School Teacher, spending each day ‘tricking’ children in to learning through play. It struck me that as we adults, we are generally expected to acquire knowledge and skills through traditional methods, heavy on PowerPoint, facilitator speak and passive learning. However, these methods ignore the very serious science backing interactive, learning in action.

Games are the ideal environment to inspire creative thinking, as they break conventional ways of working and seeing the world. They are also a lot more fun than a two hour PowerPoint presentation! By encouraging teams to be more playful, they naturally become more relaxed, curious, experimental, open-minded and less averse to risk – all fundamental to a creative mindset.

We’re big into science and the current research by Dr. Stuart Brown, neuroscientist and leader of Stanford’s ‘From Play to Innovation’ class, exploring play and its impact on corporate change. Brown’s research advocates that play shouldn’t stop once we’re fit for facial hair, as it continues to have a dramatic and positive impact throughout our lives. As adults, play creates rich, new neural connections that fire together in new ways building more creative, productive and innovative minds, which in turn creates more creative, productive and innovative people and societies.

The Greek philosophers rained praise on play, hailing leisure time and games as the foundation of ‘the good life’. More recently, Professor Jonathan Gershuny, Oxford University’s time-use expert, found that some of the greatest innovations, art, philosophy and discoveries were formed during play. Play is also our brain’s favourite way of learning and as integral to our biological wellbeing as sleep or nutrition.

Unfortunately, over 15 centuries, the Greek wisdom has gradually lost favour and work has become the golden beacon. JOiN THE DOT is conspiring to drive change through creative thinking and games are our favourite camouflage.

How have your teams/audience responded?

Hardingham: Extremely positively! Since launching in May, we have worked with a wide variety of industries, age groups and skill sets. We supported 94 developers, product managers, scrum masters, testers and consultants at Accenture UK through a digital transformation project, armed Deloitte Digital with the tools to survive in a creative economy, kick started product innovation for consumer finance provider NewDay, helped entrepreneurs think laterally and are working with two media agencies to support idea generation.

We pushed 54 budding founders at Escape The City to form, develop and test over 100 business ideas in one evening. Each entrepreneur left with a framework on how to generate ideas and tools to unlock creativity, helping demystify the creative process.

More recently, 20 communication hotshots from Lansons generated over 200 campaign ideas to meet specific pain points for target customer groups backed by insight in just 90 minutes. The best plans were reimagined in Lego and teams also created a ‘Blue Sky Future Report’, helping them visualise how the campaign might run in global media. 50 nerf darts and threw 87 balls were also fired during this time!

The feedback has been great with participants leaving empowered and inspired to flex their creative clout! Many of the ideas imagined during the sessions verge on creative genius. I have no doubt that the reaction would have been very different, if our sessions were based around more traditional teaching methods.

What’s your fav game you have played with you team/audience?

Hardingham: We developed a new game based on popular TV show ‘Dragon’s Den’ as a creative ice-breaker for innovation sessions. This is an interactive review of some of the best and worst business ideas launched in recent years. Participants play the dragon and decide whether they would choose to invest in each company.

It’s a great way to get everyone warmed up, initiate the dialogue around the basis of a good idea, discuss key learnings from perceived failure and help gauge the group’s current appreciation of business viability. It’s a lot of fun, as many businesses you might expect to have completely flopped are in fact hugely profitable, such as the ‘Pet Rock’ that made ad exec Gary Dahl a millionaire!

Has your team’s reaction to a game ever surprised you?

Hardingham: The only true surprise comes from participants, when they have a sudden realisation that they are creative and can conceive an abundance of brilliant, valuable ideas!

What game would you propose at a play14 event?

Hardingham: One of my favourite games is a take on rolestorming called ‘What Would Bieber Do?’ It’s a great creative problem solving tool and encourages participants to tackle puzzles from all directions. The theory is that if you pretend to be someone else, you’ll feel more comfortable putting ideas forward and it helps people come up with ideas that they may not have otherwise considered.

Everyone wears a character mask, ranging from Justin Bieber, Kermit the Frog or The Queen to a spoilt 6 year old, a local post man or a Chinese businessman. Once in character, they explain how their new persona would tackle the problem.

Flick Hardingham, Founder, JOiN THE DOT

imageFlick loves making things. Connections. Copy. Coffee. You name it. Over the last 10 years, she has been joining dots on almost every continent. She stole her creative talents from the media world, wrapped her head around experential learning theory as a teacher and mastered the agile mindset as a brand and innovation consultant for London’s nimblest start-ups.

She also has a (rather unhealthy) obsession with lateral thinkers and this summer launched JOiN THE DOT, running action-packing, interactive workshops to help companies hone the art of creative thinking, solve problems and generate ideas.

Twitter: @chasingdots

There are a number of different play14 conferences running all over Europe.


Checkout the play14 website to find out when the next one is.

Forgiveness and Permission

I’ve been an advocate of the quote “it’s often easier to ask for forgiveness than ask permission” – attributed to Grace Hopper.  But the word ‘forgiveness’ has started to play on my mind.  I understand the principle of responsibility that lies behind the phrase ‘ask permission’ and appreciate the spirit of JFDI and experimentation that this quote suggests.  But still the word ‘forgiveness’ niggles.  The first sentence from the wikipedia article on forgiveness – “Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.” – sums it up.  Words like victim, offence, and offender all suggest something wrong to me.  Metaphors and quotes, like models are incomplete and probably should not be taken literally but I do think we need to be aware of some of the subtle messages that they contain.  Experimentation and action should be taken in an open manner, with an appreciation for the outcomes and those who may be affected by the outcome.  If something is a good idea and worth doing, don’t hesitate because you feel you need to ask permission, but don’t do something that you think you’ll need to beg forgiveness for afterwards.  Be open, transparent and clear … but also be courageous and do ‘the right thing.’

Respond to change

The Agile Manifesto talks about responding to change rather than following a plan.  The first part of this is to avoid following a plan with no thought, even though circumstances have changed.  The second, often not fully understood, part is around the word respond.

There are two words that describe actions taken when change occurs.  There is the instinctive, quick reaction and then there is the slower and more thoughtful response.  In terms of the Chimp Paradox we’re talking of the Chimp and the Human brain.  The Chimp is more instinctive and emotional responding based on historical patterns.  The Human is more logical and uses reason and can go outside the normal patterns.

The book Thinking Fast and Slow describes the same split in a slightly less evocative way using System 1 and System 2, but describes the rationalising nature of the brain that can often fill in false logic for the decisions made by System 1 (The Chimp) to fool us into thinking that we’ve used logic and rational thinking to make the decision when it was the lightening quick System 1(Chimp).

The creators of the Agile Manifesto seem to have understood this distinction when drafting the value statement.  They clearly suggest that responding to change is a more preferred action to slavishly following a plan disregarding the changes that may occur during the journey.  This is not a knee jerk reaction to things turning on their heads, it’s a thoughtful, rational and logic plan of action.

So in the heat of a change we should not just take the first action that comes to mind, but should undertake a thoughtful analysis and then take action, if needed.  RESPOND to change not REACT to change.

Respond v React


What can we learn from flocks of birds

Flocking birds is a great example of natural self-organisation.  Large groups of birds fly together in stunning patterns.  The computer modelling of this behaviour is based around three simple rules.

  • Separation – members of the flock keep within a certain distance of their neighbours
  • Alignment – members of the flock steer towards the average heading of its neighbours
  • Cohesion – members of the flock steer towards the average position of its neighbours

Seeding the flock with a small number of individuals that fly with some purpose would create flocks that follow these patterns with no direct communication between the individuals and the rest of the flock.

Are there lessons from this model that can be applied to the self-organisation of human teams?  I think so.

The first lesson is the simplicity of the system.  Three simple rules can create the flocking patterns of birds in flight.  A complex system of many rules is not needed to create this self-organisation.  The simplicity of the three rules of flocking have a resonance with the simplicity of [Asimov’s three rules or robotics|].  (Although later works have added at least one more, which is still a simple system.)

The next lesson is that there is no direct control between the seeded birds and the rest of the flock.  They seeded bird ‘leads’ by example and the rest of the birds follow.

The third lesson is the details of the laws.  They are straightforward rules about interaction within a group.

So how could this be applied to a team.

  • Simplicity – a small number of ‘rules’ or ‘conventions’ are all that are needed
  • Team leaders should lead by example – show don’t tell
  • Align the rules around simple social interaction
    • Treat individuals within the team with care
    • Individuals work towards common goals
    • Individuals work close to other members of the team

Bird Flocking

Anything else are support of the rules.  For instance, the goal needs to be clear and measurable such that individuals can tell whether they are aligned or not.  There may need to be some team conventions that help clarify what ‘treating individuals with care’ means.  In basic flocking it is simpler – don’t get too close 🙂

Three simple rules can be used to model the beautiful complexity of the self-organisation of a flock of birds flying in the sky.  It is the same simplicity that can create the environment that allow for the beauty of self-organisation within a team.

Gumption Traps

Recently for me, ‘reading’ has meant ‘listening’ to audio books on my commute to and from work.  I’ve listened to many new books while travelling but have also revisited some favourites from the past.  One such book is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  I first read it, old school paper book, in the 80s and the brown edged paperback is a treasured possession that follows me from one house to another.  In a recent bout of nostalgia I trawled through books from my past in audio format and found a version of ZAMM in Audible and quickly downloaded and spent a happy week listening to it while traveling to work.

One of my favourite sections is where the author, Robert Pirsig, describes ‘Gumption Traps’.


Gumption is a term that Robert Pirsig uses to describe the attitude needed to accomplish a task with ‘quality’.  He describes an initial statement from a Japanese list of assembly instructions that it required ‘peace of mind’.  ‘Gumption traps’ are those situations that would rob you of gumption and ‘peace of mind’.  At the risk of Aristotelean categorisation, he identified two groups of ‘gumption traps’, those that are the result of external situations, or setbacks, and those that are the result of internal situations, or hangups.

He goes on to give some examples of different setbacks – my favourite is the ‘out of sequence reassembly setback’ – where you try to reassemble something only to find that you’ve missed something and it doesn’t go back together.  He suggests some techniques for dealing with the setbacks to reduce the negative effect on gumption.  For instance to try to avoid the ‘out of sequence reassembly setback’, he suggests making clear notes about the disassembly with things like, order, interesting facts about the disassembly, and noting orientation and condition of the parts.

The he looks at the hangups and again discusses some examples of the sort of hangups that will rob you of gumption.  Again in an Aristotelean feat of categorisation he identified three types of hangups – value hangups, truth hangups and muscle hangups.  Examples of the value hangups are ego and value fixidity, with muscle insensitivity and bad surroundings as examples of the muscle hangups.  He introduced the concept of mu a Japanese term for ‘no thing’, when discussing truth hangups and the ‘yes/no logic trap’ to suggest a middle way out of a false duality of either/or or yes/no.  Ask a different question and try to look at the problem in a different way that may open up further options.

While the examples he gives are all relevant to the activity of Motorcycle Maintenance – hence the title of the book – they have their equivalent in any activity.  The current movement of ‘Software Craftsmanship’ has a similar attitude of ‘taking care’ and being mindful of ‘Quality’.

Shitty First Draft

Starting anything can be daunting.  It’s said that ‘Perfection is the enemy of good‘ and the desire to make sure that something is perfect or just right can result in never doing anything.  I’m prone to this problem and have many projects that I’ve spent time on only not to ‘start’ because I’ve wanted to make sure that it was perfect before I showed anyone.  Well I’m going to try a different tack.  This is a tack that I have used with success in NaNoWriMo to complete the required 50,000 words in a month twice now.  Both times I just ‘started’ and continued with the mindset that I was creating a ‘shitty first draft’ and carried on every day until I had reached the required number of words.

But what do I mean with the term ‘shitty first draft’.  This is a phrase inspired by Ernest Hemingway quote that ’The first draft of anything is shit’, but popularised by Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird  It is an antidote for perfection paralysis.  Don’t worry about the state of the first draft, it’s a just an outpouring of ideas to be shaped later.  Miss Lamott justifies just getting it down and not bothering about the quality as ‘no-one is going to see it’.  The shaping comes later.  You can improve on a draft, but you cannot improve on nothing.

It is not for everyone.  Some do need the structure of a full plan with plot, outline and schedule before they start.  For me that way leads to stagnation.  So shitty first draft it is.   I’ll polish as I go on.

First Steps

So this is the first entry of the blog, the first step.  I’ll start with a short bio/introduction, then a short description of the aims for this blog – which will evolve.

Who am I?  I promised that this would be short.  I’m a child of the 60s and compressing the last 50 years of the evolving picture of who I am at any one time into a ‘short bio’ is not going to be easy.  I am many things to many people: brother to four fellow travellers, husband to a wonderfully patient woman, father to four spectacular young men and women, passionate advocate of a better way to work, technologist, geek, nerd and lover of new gadgets and technologies, collector of productivity tools in the vague hope that I’ll find that illusive silver bullet.  That is a start, checkout my current mind map profile.


What do I want to achieve with this blog?  At this moment it time, I hope to use the blog as a discussion forum for ideas that I’ve been fermenting for many years.  Mostly these will be around my current passions, Agile, DevOps and a better way of creating value, and productivity tools, in particular mind mapping.  This will change.

Distilling the sourmash of ideas swirling around from the last 50 years into meaningful talking points is going to be a challenge.  But I’m looking forward to it.  So it’s TTFN and I’ll TTYL